Wednesday, January 10, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Ka Iwi Coast preservation plan moves ahead

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

The Honolulu City Council is moving forward to condemn land near Sandy Beach that sparked a massive community protest in the 1980s when landowner Kamehameha Schools planned a housing development there.

The arid Ka Iwi Coast is the only stretch of shoreline near Honolulu that remains undeveloped, preservation advocates point out.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Council Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Steve Holmes acknowledged that the legal wrangling over the price the city must pay for the property will continue, but said yesterday’s committee approval marks a significant step toward preservation of the area as open space.

Holmes reflected on the history of the 30-acre parcel by describing the continuing controversy with a quote from a Grateful Dead song: "What a long, strange trip it’s been."

Longtime East Honolulu activist David Matthews — a founder of the Save Sandy Beach Coalition — was moved to tears by yesterday’s council committee action. Matthews, who is about to celebrate his 76th birthday, said "it’s been 14 years, and I never expected to be alive to see this."

Resident Shirley Lum urged council members to: "please take this step toward preserving the Ka Iwi Coast so that everyone can see what’s there forever."

The city plans to create a wilderness park there.

Kamehameha Schools spokes-man Kekoa Paulsen said the matter has been the subject of a lawsuit since 1992, which is now scheduled for trial next summer. Paulsen declined to comment further, citing the pending legal action.

The landowner has maintained that the city must compensate for value lost when the City Council changed the zoning of the land from residential to preservation.

Holmes said a price tag as low as $5 million has been mentioned, based on an appraisal of the land’s worth under the preservation zoning.

But the landowner has mentioned a price as high as $100 million for the more than 230 acres of coastline not in legal dispute.

The controversy prompted the formation of the coalition, a community group made up of people who opposed the Kamehameha Schools move to build a housing subdivision across Kalanianaole Highway from the beach park.

The coalition fought to get voters to decide on the matter in a ballot initiative in 1988.

Voters overwhelmingly supported rezoning the land for preservation by 164,007 to 85,210 votes, although the state Supreme Court later overturned the ruling. By then, political support for the rezoning was strong.

The next step for the city is to have the full council vote on the plan to condemn a little more than 30 acres across the highway from Sandy Beach. Then the proposal must wait another month before a final vote. Thirty days after that, Holmes said, city officials could move to take possession of the land.

"I think this is a historic moment," Holmes said. "We’re hoping that the cost isn’t as high as the developer and the property owner would have us believe.

"There are, no doubt, some rather lengthy legal entanglements that will result, as we all know," Holmes said. "Those entanglements exist whether or not we take action today."

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