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Bill to allow Kahana leases could win Legislature's OK


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POSTED: Monday, May 04, 2009

Native Hawaiian Lena Soliven is looking forward to renovating her house, now that state legislators appear ready to pass a bill that would enable her to qualify for a long-term lease on state park land in Kahana.

“;I'm truly grateful. It makes me feel awesome,”; said Soliven, who can trace four generations of her family living on the land.

Legislative approval on the bill will allow several qualified people to continue to stay in Kahana as part of a “;living park,”; despite opposition from state Attorney General Mark Bennett.

Bennett said the bill is special legislation and unconstitutional.

The bill has the backing of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The agency says it supports the traditions of Kahana and a move to develop a master plan for the valley.

Some six families with more than 40 people have been seeking to secure long-term leases since last year, when the state said it did not have the authority to issue such leases and planned to evict them in October.

The evictions were delayed, pending the development of legislation to give the state the authority to issue leases.

The state condemned lands in Kahana in the late 1960s to develop an area where qualified residents of varied ethnic backgrounds could live while contributing to the care of the land.

In 1993 some 31 residents received 65-year leases with the agreement they would continue 25 hours of service a month at the park.

State land officials have refused to issue further leases, saying they lack the authority to issue any others.

Soliven said her family members have been in a kind of a limbo for eight years, wanting to improve their house but unable to do so because of the threat of losing their land tenure.

Native Hawaiian Ervin Kahala said he and other residents decided to organize against the eviction after years of waiting and living with the threat of eviction.

“;All these years, people were living on fear,”; he said.

He said his family has lived on the same lands for seven generations and looks forward to continuing a lifestyle of fishing, netting and preparing Hawaiian food, cooking kalua pig and laulau.

“;For me it's just living the Hawaiian culture,”; he said.