Jammed-up Kakaako streets that were considered privately owned actually belong to the state, according to the Department of the Attorney General.

That opinion could provide the city with a shortcut to address community concerns that the streets are clogged and hazardous due to parking slots that are being rented out by a private company that also claims ownership.

In letters dated Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, the AG’s office offered the city ownership of the streets, though the transfer would have to be cleared by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, which currently has jurisdiction over them.

This would allow the city to simplify and expedite the eminent domain process envisioned in a City Council resolution that would allow the city to condemn the streets, Deputy Attorney General John Price wrote to Donna Leong, Corporation Counsel, who serves as the city’s chief legal advisor. Leong said in an email that the city is in the process of reviewing the letters from the AG’s office, and had no comment.

Businesses have complained about a portion of Kawaiahao Street, where Kakaako Land Company has charged rent for parking stalls.
Businesses have complained about a portion of Kawaiahao Street, where Kakaako Land Company has charged rent for parking stalls. Noelle Fujii/Civil Beat

“The city would now have two different pathways to analyze this,” said Rep. Scott Saiki. “They can go through, consider condemnation, you know, consider eminent domain, but they could also, to force the issue, they should just accept the roads from the state.”

The letters from the AG’s office stem from a successful measure Saiki introduced earlier this year. The roads were dedicated to the state by their original owner, and the Territory of Hawaii accepted them in a joint resolution. Saiki’s measure clarified that the Territorial Legislature’s acceptance of this dedication is sufficient to establish that the state owns the streets.

Those roads would have eventually been transferred to the city, Saiki said, so that’s why the state is offering them to the city now.

“Your acceptance of this offer will simplify and expedite the eminent domain process.” — John Price, deputy attorney general, in letter to city

Correction: An earlier version of this report included a portion of Queen Street as among the roads that the state was offering to the city.

They include Curtis, Dreier, Cummins and Ilaniwai streets and portions of Kamakee, Waimanu and Kawaiahao and streets.

The state considers the portion of Queen Street in the area to already be owned by the city, an AG’s spokesman said Friday.

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the Council has not had a chance to discuss the AG’s offer, and she hopes a public hearing will be held on the matter.

“I don’t know what the legal process is, but whatever it is, I would like to pursue it and of course if that doesn’t work, then we would have to go to condemnation,” Kobayashi said. “Whatever is the best way is what I would favor, just to help bring an end to this whole situation.”

Nearby residents and businesses have complained of traffic being obstructed by parking stalls the Kakaako Land Company has rented out along the roads, some of which are filled with potholes.

Bob Emami, owner of the Car Store on Kawaiahao Street, said the AG’s office letters are good news, but he wants clarification on what the city plans to do next.

“So all this process should come to the end,” Emami said. “Now is a matter of if the city wants to accept it, and if the city doesn’t want to accept it, they have to go through the whole eminent domain, but the problem with the eminent domain is that’s going to take about two and a half years.”

Problems with the streets have existed for years, but the small businesses cannot leave, Emami said, because there aren’t many affordable places for them to move to.

“And me, I cannot go because I own my land, so this is my business,” he said. “That’s why we are so active trying to get the city and the state to do something and just take over.”

Cliff Garcia, owner of Tropical Otto Parts and Tropical Lamp & Shade on Queen Street, said he thinks the city needs to accept ownership of the streets as soon as possible because the eminent domain process would take too long. He’s one of several small businesses that have filed a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the Kakaako Land Company’s ownership of these roads.

Brothers Calvert and Cedric Chun, owners of Kakaako Land Company, declined to comment, according to an email from their attorney, Wade Katano.

Read the two letters from the AG’s office to the city below: 

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