For three years, golfers have been teeing off at the famed, 18-hole Ernie Els golf course in Ewa Beach. But the owner has yet to offer kamaaina rates or donate $1.4 million to a community benefits fund as promised.
A Tokyo-based real estate developer was originally supposed to offer these perks to the community when the course opened in early 2009. And some residents say that it’s part of a string of broken promises by Haseko over the course of two decades. Most recently, it decided to scrap a long-awaited marina for a lagoon, in a move that has some residents threatening to sue.
The golf course is part of the 4,800 home master-planned communities of Ocean Pointe and Hoakalei.
Documents suggest that Haseko was able to maneuver its way out of offering kamaaina rates and put off its obligation to pay the Ewa Beach Community Fund $1.4 million. It’s been three years since the company was originally supposed to donate the money to the fund that supports after-school youth programs and senior services, and it could be several more years before it pays up.
No Discount for Locals
During the 1990s, Haseko and residents of Ewa Beach negotiated community benefits in exchange for public support for its development complex, which was supposed to include a marina, commuter ferry to and from Honolulu and a host of resort amenities, according to Tim Tucker, an Ewa resident who led one of the task forces.
“We really didn’t want a gated community,” he said.
Forty percent of the tee-times for the course were supposed to be available for Hawaii residents at discounted rates, according to county documents, which would ensure that the golf course wouldn’t become an exclusive club.
Instead, the golf course has turned into a private club and there are no kamaaina rates.
City planning director, David Tanoue, initially told Civil Beat that Haseko was supposed to be offering the kamaaina rates and keeping a log to show that they were doing so. He said the agreement later changed — the city would drop the kamaaina requirement in exchange for nine acres of land that would allow the city to expand Oneula Beach Park. But Haseko hasn’t transferred the land yet, he said. And there’s no deadline on the transfer.
Sharene Saito Tam, vice president for Haseko, said that the land would be transferred after it built a new access driveway to the park.
“Anyone driving near this area can see that work is currently being done,” she said in a statement to Civil Beat, adding that the land transfer is expected at the end of next year.
Community Donation on Hiatus
So what happened to the $1.4 million?
At issue is whether the course is actually “open for play.”
On a recent visit to the course, Civil Beat found golfers leisurely hitting balls around the course. Golf carts were lined up beside a clubhouse that includes a pro shop, bathroom, a kitchen and an open pavilion.
When the golf course was unveiled in January 2009, it made headlines in Hawaii’s major news outlets. A Haseko newsletter announced that the course was “open for play.”
But, Haseko says it’s not officially “open for play.” Much work still needs to be done.
“While the 18 holes are constructed, the golf course itself is still being worked on, as evidenced by the installation of additional utilities and lakes being constructed right now within the course,” wrote Tam, the Haseko VP. “A temporary trailer serves as the golf course pro shop and the course lacks many supporting facilities to be fully operational.”
Documents show that in September 2009, several months after the course opened, Haseko went to the county and requested that it not have to make the $1.4 million payment until it received a certificate of occupancy for a permanent clubhouse.
The city granted its request.
City planning director, David Tanoue, in a letter to the company, wrote: As “previously discussed, we confirm that the term ‘opened for play’ shall mean the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for the golf course club house.”
The company told Civil Beat that it could be another two to three years before the permanent clubhouse is completed. Neither the county or state has imposed a deadline on Haseko for building it.
Amy Luersen who oversees the Ewa Beach Community Fund said that, at the time, Haseko said it didn’t have the money to fulfill its commitment to the fund.
“They said, ‘we are still going to live by the commitment, but we are doing it as we can,’” she recalled.
Tam did not directly respond to whether financial problems played a role in delaying the payment. To date, the company has paid $600,000 of its total $2 million commitment to the fund.
Asked by Civil Beat whether he thought Haseko has been a good neighbor, Tanoue said yes.
“I think Haseko has been a good corporate neighbor, but with the recent annoucement about the change in the marina to a lagoon, I think that Haseko has taken everyone by surprise,” he said.
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