Thursday, March 18, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Fee-title flap about
rich boils over

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Martin and Mary Anderson own property around the world. But they don't own fee-simple property on Oahu they can readily move into.

Because of that, the Andersons -- leaseholders on a fourth-floor unit at the Kahala Beach condominium -- qualify for the city's condominium lease-to-fee conversion program, which would force landowner Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate into court to sell the unit's fee interest to them.

The City Council yesterday voted 7-2 to give tentative approval to adding the Andersons to a list of 27 Kahala Beach leaseholders seeking mandatory conversion. A final vote will be taken April 28.

The two dissenting Council members, Donna Mercado Kim and John DeSoto, are questioning whether the law's intent is being met if a couple with as many property holdings as the Andersons are getting city assistance.

Kim suggested possible changes to the program to take care of what she considers "loopholes."

The law was intended to help owner-occupants who can't afford to purchase the fee interest of their leased property on their own, and are sometimes forced out of their homes because of higher leases.

Kim called it "a tragedy" that the city is using its powers of eminent domain to "further add to other people's wealth" at the expense of landowners.

Said DeSoto, in describing the fledgling conversion program: "Obviously it's gotten crazy, it's out of control ... it's a damn joke."He said the city shouldn't be involved in forcing the sale of property when its main purpose is to maintain public health and safety.

Leasehold conversion advocates strongly objected to suggestions that the program should be closed to a segment of the population based on financial status.

"Everyone has equal opportunity under the law whether they are a pauper or a billionaire, and to distinguish between individuals based upon their wealth or their standing in life, that is a joke," said Councilman John Henry Felix.

"This is a policy designed to give everyone a chance for honest land ownership, and that applies even to the rich," Councilman Duke Bainum said.

Louanne Kam, an attorney for Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, said the only purpose of a condemnation would be "to provide the Andersons a private financial benefit."

Kam did not question the Andersons' qualifications under the city's law but urged Council members to deny the request.

She pointed out that Martin Anderson, or Martin and Mary Anderson together, own a fee simple home in Lake Tahoe, Nev., 560 acres elsewhere in Nevada, 1,168 acres of land on the Big Island, and the "leased fee interest" under 14 apartment units in Waikiki.

Kam noted that Martin Anderson is chairman of a cattle and game ranch in Kenya, a major owner in a ski resort and in a Fresno box manufacturing plant.

"I don't see how Bishop Estate can argue about a millionaire," Martin Anderson said. "This is our home and we should be entitled to buy (fee interest) like anyone else."

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