Only about half a dozen people showed up at Wahiawa Recreational Center Monday night to hear the Office of Hawaiian Affairs explain the proposed Kakaako land deal to settle ceded-land payments with the state.

In fact, there appeared to be more OHA employees on hand than folks from the general public.

The Oahu meeting was much tamer than OHA meetings on the Kakaako plan on the Big Island over the weekend and on Maui Dec. 2.

The Hilo meeting on Saturday was described by OHA officials as “contentious,” with many who showed up opposing the $200 million deal.

In a story on the Maui meeting, the Maui News reported that some of the 50 people who showed up expressed “anger and distrust” with OHA.

OHA’s next three Oahu meetings — Tuesday at McKinley High School, Wednesday in Waimanalo and Thursday in Kapolei — will likely attract larger, more vocal critics and supporters, in part because they are much closer to large population centers.

What comes out of those meetings will be critical, as the Hawaii Legislature — particularly sensitive to constituent concerns in an election year — will make the ultimate decision on whether to approve the deal. The Legislature convenes again Jan. 18.

Land Could Generate Revenue

A settlement deal in 2008 that involved $13 million in cash and $187 million in land parcels in Kakaako, Kalaeloa and Hilo fell apart to a large degree because OHA and the state crafted an agreement without public input.

OHA attorney Bill Meheula said Monday night that the 2008 deal also had legal problems. The current proposal, he said, addresses those concerns; no cash is involved, and the economy is better than it was three years ago.

After Meheula’s overview, OHA CEO Clyde Namuo walked the audience through a presentation explaining the value of the 10 Kakaako parcels.

Namuo pointed out that parcels that hold a radio tower and a restaurant generate revenue that would go to OHA. He said as many as 100 boat slips at Kewalo Basin could be built, too, adding to the value of the area.

Namuo also said the Legislature could revisit a 2006 law that prohibits residential development in Kakaako makai, and mentioned the possibility that President Barack Obama may consider having a presidential library in the neighborhood.

Opponents Want A Better Deal

Some of those opposed to the Kakaako deal argue that what OHA and the state are trying to do is irrelevant because the events that led to the ceding lands — the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the United States — was illegal under international law.

Others want better lands than those in Kakaako — it’s in a tsunami inundation zone. Why not ask for agricultural land? Both views were heard Monday night.

In response, Namuo noted that the most valuable land in the state — Waikiki — is also in a tsunami zone. He said that the land in question also satisfied criteria established by OHA trustees, primarily that they be income-generating lands.

Meheula, meanwhile, argued that — longstanding land claims aside — the Kakaako deal will help Hawaiians now.

Another possible contention: Namuo said that one of the Kakaako parcels fronts the Point Panic surf spot.

OHA is up front about the fact that the Kakaako deal is controversial. Its press release on the meetings states that the purpose is “to soothe concerns.”

Namuo said OHA knows that it can’t satisfy everybody. But the agency feels this is perhaps the best chance to settle an issue that four lawsuits have not been able to resolve. The message from the courts is that OHA and the Legislature must come up with a solution.

“A development like this, an opportunity like this, provides OHA and its trustes with an opportunity to increase its revenues,” said Namuo, who is retiring from OHA at the end of this month. “When I look at this, I get excited because it will be a very hopeful thing for our beneficiaries.”

More public meetings are scheduled for Dec. 17 on Lanai and Molokai. The agency will then revisit all of the meeting places to share the feedback that they heard, and to get more feedback.

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