Wednesday, September 10, 1997

Leasehold conversion
wins another battle

THE federal appeals court decision upholding the 1991 Honolulu mandatory condominium leasehold conversion ordinance moves the issue closer to resolution but an appeal to the Supreme Court could result in continued uncertainty. A spokeswoman for the Bishop Estate, which owns the land under thousands of condominium apartments, said the estate is seriously considering taking the case to the nation's highest court.

Some of the intensity has gone out of this issue since the Bishop Estate reversed course and offered to sell most of its condominium land. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 apartment units have been involved in the sales thus far, although there has been some resistance to the estate's offers. In addition, there are dozens of smaller landowners who have refused to sell at any price. There are about 30,000 leasehold condominium apartments on Oahu.

Another factor is the stagnant economy of the last few years, which has depressed real estate values, in contrast to the rising values in the period when this issue was before the City Council. Conceivably landowners would be less likely to resist purchase proposals under current economic conditions.

This law would give the city the power to condemn land at a court-determined price in the event that the landowner and condominium owners failed to reach agreement on a sale. The city would then sell the land to the condominium owners.

The ordinance was based on the 1967 state land reform law, which was concerned with residential houselots. That law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 in a decision that could strongly influence the fate of the condominium ordinance. However, ownership of the land under condominiums is less heavily concentrated than was the case in the houselot leasehold situation, and that could be a factor.

The leasehold system, which began as a popular way to reduce the cost of home ownership, has become fiercely controversial and now appears to be on the brink of oblivion. But the last battle may still lie ahead.

City parks director

YOU have to like the spirit of William Balfour, the former sugar plantation manager who wants to run the city parks. Balfour told the City Council's Executive Matters Committee that the physical appearance of the parks is appalling and his first order of business would be cutting the grass. His nomination was approved by the committee on a 3-1 vote and forwarded to the full Council for final action.

Councilman John Henry Felix, who voted against Balfour, maintained that he does not meet City Charter requirements of experience in recreation management for parks director despite his 36 years in agriculture. Felix seems to be hung up on a too-literal reading of the requirements. Balfour looks like a manager who won't let the grass grow too high under his feet.

Hate-crime statistics

HATE crimes against Asian Americans are increasing nationally, a fact that should concern Hawaii particularly with our large Asian population. But Hawaii is the only state that does not collect statistics on hate crimes, so there's no way to gauge whether the trend has affected the islands.

The figures come from the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, which has done its fourth annual audit. The group reported that hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 17 percent in 1996 from the previous year.

It would be pleasant to believe that Hawaii's absence from the statistics is explained by the nonexistence of hate crimes in the islands. Perhaps there are fewer and less serious incidents here, but it would be naive to assume there are none.

The chief of statistics in the state attorney general's office said Hawaii's police chiefs don't seem to be interested in collecting the figures but the office will explore the possibility of initiating a program. It should. Hawaii has an outstanding record in interracial relations, but we're not perfect and we should know the dimensions of the problem.

The island connection

HAWAII has a not-so-proud connection with the investigations of national political campaign fund-raising abuses. Nora and Gene Lum, sentenced to 10 months of federal confinement and fined $30,000 for funneling illegal donations into two campaigns, are former Hawaii residents who moved to California and then to Oklahoma.

The case against the Lums began with an investigation of the business dealings of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. The Lums pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to conceal contributions to the campaigns of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and W. Stuart Price of Oklahoma.

They have been cooperating in the Justice Department's investigation of fund-raising abuses, which may well produce many more revelations.

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