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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Judge freezes park transfer

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Officers guard a gate at He'eia State Park as property owned by The Friends of He'eia is removed.

ELOISE AGUIAR | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jadine Lee of Kaimukï, left, and Annette Morita of Käne‘ohe participate in an exercise class at He‘eia State Park. The 18-acre park is on the shore of Käne'ohe Bay.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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HE'EIA — A state judge yesterday put on hold a management change at He'eia State Park, one day before Kama'aina Kids was scheduled to take over.

Circuit Judge Rom Trader issued a temporary restraining order against the switch, allowing the Friends of He'eia to remain at the park for now, said Friends board member Tony Locricchio.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources last week announced it had awarded a new management contract to Kama'aina Kids, a nonprofit organization and one of the largest childcare operations in the state.

That would oust the Friends of He'eia, which has operated at the park for 26 years.

The 18-acre park is on the shore of Kāne'ohe Bay, about 1 1/4 miles north of Kāne'ohe. Various community programs use its facilities, and its rental banquet hall is a popular site for weddings, baby lū'au and other events.

The state declined to comment on the restraining order and said it is "sorting out" the judge's order, DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said.

DLNR Director Laura H. Thielen said the process in which the contract was awarded has passed administrative and legal review.

Locricchio said Friends of He'eia has paid rent until the end of August and should be allowed to remain. He already has tried other avenues to fight the management switch, including going to court, but failed.

"We're legitimate legal tenants through Sept. 1," he said. "So five months early, they are attempting to force us out so they can turn it over to Kama'aina Kids in time for huge profits that Kama'aina Kids will get from the summer programs."

DLNR enforcement officers were stationed at the park gate and turned people away.

The Friends of He'eia, a nonprofit group, has operated out of two buildings in the park for 26 years, offering cultural and environmental programs and providing a place for other groups to teach hula, tai chi, kendo, yoga, canoe building and other activities, some at no charge.

In announcing the change last week, DLNR said the public still will have access to the park and be able to rent the banquet facility.

In February, the Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board voted to oppose awarding the park management contract to Kama'aina Kids.

A recent meeting of the Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board aired many concerns from the public about this decision, said David Henken, board chairman.

"Most of the concern were from members of the public ... that this was a back-door approach to get privatization of park resources," Henken said.

The park property contains burial sites and a heiau and is a place that Hawaiians believe is where souls are judged and sent to He'eia-uli, the black place, or He'eia-kea, the white place, said Rocky Kaluhiwa, who lives in He'eia and is a member of the Ko'olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club.

Kaluhiwa said she studied Kama'aina Kids plan for the area and it included a new pier and kayaking, which do not conform to the Kāne'ohe Bay Master Plan.

"We didn't want any new businesses in the bay, nor did we want anymore piers in the bay," she said.

Ray Sanborn, president of Kama'aina Kids, said his plans for the area are not finalized but do include a day camp for children and activities similar to what is now offered there, including interpretive programs, free guided tours, a garden project and pavilion rental.

The free classes and programs that are offered there now will stay, including the canoe building and hula, Sanborn said. Other programs, including those for adults and for tourists, will be added, he said.

Sanborn said he wants to refurbish the buildings and improve the property, through grant proposals.

"I think we can really support the park and put a lot into it," he said. "It might really support the whole (state) park renaissance. This might be a model that's going somewhere else."

Thielen said she heard the community's concerns and adjusted the contract to ensure that the lease is clear that the park is a public place. The state followed the procurement code and ranked all proposals numerically with the contract going to the proposal with the highest score, she said, adding that the process withstood challenges before the department, another state agency and a judge.

The state had been poised to grant The Friends an extended lease but other organizations wanted a chance to bid on the facility, Thielen said. Three organizations bid, including the Ko'olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club.

Kama'aina Kids will take full responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the park plus pay the state 5 percent of its gross revenue from activities at the park.

"If anything, what people are going to see is increased presence and maintenance out there," she said.