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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 10, 2006

Time to rethink Koke'e lease terms

Those who have held leases on rustic cabins in Koke'e on Kaua'i are understandably upset that their 20-year tenancy is about to come to an end.

While the occupants have enjoyed generous lease terms for their cool uphill cabins, they have also put money and sweat into their retreats. Many have been, in very real terms, unofficial custodians of this beautiful resource.

Now the state tells them it is time to walk.

The bare facts of the situation are that anyone who won a lease two decades ago knew it was for a limited amount of time. In fact, some of the current leaseholders are those who managed to outbid previous cabin owners.

The current owners, or at least some of them, say they are willing to negotiate new leases, but there should be some recognition of the equity they have put into their properties. That's fair.

They also worry that an open bid process would let these kama'aina cabins slip into the control of wealthy out-of-staters.

Those are good and fair arguments. But it cannot be ignored that these were arm's-length leases signed free and clear 20 years ago.

The state should consider a different approach:

  • Take a hard look at the level of competition for the cabins. Where there is no intense interest, give leaseholders the right of first refusal. Fair lease rentals, based on today's market, should be the norm.

  • Where competition for a cabin is intense enough so that control might go to another party, the current leaseholders should be compensated for basic improvements at fair-market value. Also, consider a lottery rather than a straight highest-bidder approach.

  • Other cabins should be converted to more accessible short-term rentals so that a broader cross-section of Hawai'i residents can enjoy this unusual natural treasure.