Kahana Valley evictions delayed


POSTED: Monday, October 27, 2008

Six Kahana Valley families were granted a temporary reprieve from eviction today, according to state Rep. Colleen Meyer.

More than 200 Windward Oahu residents blocked the entrance to Ahupuaa o Kahana State Park at dawn today to protest the actions of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

They were holding Hawaiian flags and signs that read, “stop the evictions,” and “keep Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands.”

However, at about 7:30 a.m. Meyer told the crowd that State Land Board Director Laura Thielen was willing to talk about the leases for the six families , which had expired 13 years ago.

Meyer said she had met personally or talked with Thielen throughout the weekend and was told that she was willing to meet not only with the six families, but with other residents of the valley.

Meyer said Thielen was concerned about talks going on too long.

However, Meyer told the Star-Bulletin that her concern is that this problem has been festering since the leases expired and she was wondering why the state was moving to evict the families at this point.

Deborah Ward, Land Board spokeswoman, declined to comment on Meyer’s statement this morning.

After Meyer’s announcement about 100 supporters stayed in a staggered line in front of the park, despite Meyer’s assurances that no evictions would occur today.

Ervin Kahala, one of the six potential evictees, said that they were not willing at that point “to let down our guard.”

“We’re not just fighting for the six families, but for the Hawaiian families all over the island.”

Kahala walked up and down the line of demonstrators telling them that if the police or other  officials showed up, “don’t fight. Kill them with our kindness.”

“Just be humble. Look strong.”

Kahala said his family has been living the valley since before the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.

Some of the families facing eviction began moving out yesterday. Ashlin Kepaa helped her father move out of a home they lived in all their lives. They had packed up mostly everything in the living room and parlor. They still needed to grab the sewing machine. A lot of work goes into packing up three generations of belongings.

“It was the life, growing up in Kahana,” reflected Kepaa’s father, 46-year-old Thoran Evans. “We never used to have paved roads. Once the paved roads came, you knew that was a sign of change. But we didn’t anticipate change to come this soon. I never thought I’d be facing what I face today.”

The six families faced eviction because of confusion over their expired leases with the state.

The park is open to the public for camping and hiking. These six families live at the base of the valley in old wooden homes with cold water and outhouses and a paved road that leads to more modern homes, also on state land.

The state DLNR, the agency overseeing Kahana Valley, said it told the six families on June 20 that they would have to leave the park because their leases had expired and a state law forbids the issuance of new leases.

Family members said they heard “rumors” of an eviction but received formal warning only several days ago.

“This is a difficult situation for the department and these families,” Thielen said in a statement. “However, Kahana is a public park set aside for all the people of Hawaii, and therefore the law doesn’t permit any new private residential leases.”

In ancient Hawaii, Kahana was a fishing and farming community, a segment of land from the mountain to the ocean known as an ahupuaa, according to DLNR’s Web site. The state bought the land in 1970 to preserve the ahupuaa.

In 1987 it issued 31 permits for private homes for families who had been living in the valley before the acquisition, but the authority to issue new permits ended on July 1, 1993.

In the statement, Thielen said it was not the state Legislature’s intention to provide housing for future generations because the valley would ultimately turn into a subdivision.

Sen. Clayton Hee, who also represents that area, said he twice introduced bills to amend the law so the state could issue new permits, but was unsuccessful.

Hee said he had scheduled a meeting with Thielen today in the hope of stopping the evictions and will reintroduce bills giving the state the authority to issue permits until 2012.

That might allow the families to return.

“I don’t understand what’s the rush,” Hee said yesterday. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. But it is clear to me that the (community) support is overwhelming. It’s becoming a larger issue because there is a recognition that these evictions are unnecessary.”

The eviction might force some of the families into homelessness, a few residents said. Evans said his family would likely move to the beach. The same goes for Kahala and his two children.

“I decided to get me a camping permit,” Kahala said. “From here we go to the beach.”