City Council Votes to Exempt Kuleana Lands from Property Taxes


Source: May 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  After four years of countless meetings with elected officials and testifying before an endless parade of committees, Kuleana Lands are finally about to become exempt from real property taxes on the island of Oahu.

On April 11, 2007, the Honolulu City Council unanimously passed a bill that would establish a real property tax exemption for Kuleana Lands.  It now has 10 days (at the writing of this article) for the Mayor to sign it into law.  Since the Mayor’s administration testified that they support the bill, it is all but certain this will happen.

First of all, I would like to thank each and every member of the Council for their support of the Kuleana Land owners.  Their unanimous vote sends a strong message to the state that they are both understanding and sympathetic of Native Hawaiian issues.

I am deeply indebted to Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz.  He immediately saw that passing an exemption was the right thing to do after listening to the sad history of Kuleana Lands and the current crisis of the lineal landholders.  He quickly introduced the bill and remained a strong advocate for its passage.

I am also extremely thankful to Budget Committee Chair, Councilman Todd Apo, for his steadfast and strong leadership in helping to get the bill over many of the stumbling blocks that plagued it last year and prevented it from passing.  Councilman Apo used his knowledge of the issue to shepherd the bill all the way through to its final passage.

This is truly a momentous piece of legislation for Native Hawaiians.  I encourage all owners of Kuleana Lands who are lineal descendants of original title holders to apply for the exemption as soon as the City and County announces the application procedures, hopefully in the next few months.

Kuleana Land owners should use this time to make sure the names on their property title are current and completely up-to-date.  If the City’s property assessment department can’t find your name as the title holder, you will be forced to get a court order to prove your ownership.  Avoid any delays and extra expenses by clearing up any confusion on your property title now.

I now plan to approach each of the three remaining counties to pass similar legislation for Kuleana Land owners on the neighbor islands.  Within a year, I will finally have the hard data I need on the potential impact of the exemption by using Oahu as an example.  This will help make passing similar bills in Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai counties much easier.

I believe that we have finally helped to put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Kuleana lands over the past 150-years, at least on Oahu.  Now, the very last of the Kuleana Lands that have survived can be protected and kept in Hawaiian hands.  Protecting what’s left of Kuleana Lands will only help to preserve Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.

Kudos to the Honolulu City Council for making this a reality.  I look forward to future opportunities to partner with them as I continue to work for the betterment of our Hawaiian Community.  Mahalo nui loa.

Kuleana lands must be saved


Source: March 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  One issue that has been near and dear to my heart over the past few years is passing a law that would exempt Kuleana lands from property taxes.  Hawaiian families, who have been caring for their Kuleana lands for generations, are now facing sky-rocketing property taxes.  They could end up losing everything if something isn’t done soon to offer them some sort of tax relief.

A brief history of Kuleana Lands:  In 1848, as a result of the Mahele, all land in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was placed in one of three categories:  Crown Lands (for the occupant of the throne); Government Lands; and Konohiki Lands (Kuleana Act, 1850).  (

After native Hawaiian commoners were granted the opportunity to acquire their own parcels of land through the Mahele, foreigners were also granted the right to own land in 1850, provided they had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Hawaiian Monarch.  In order to receive their awards from the Land Commission, the hoa‘aina (native tenants) were required to prove that they cultivated the land for a living.  They were not permitted to acquire “wastelands” (e.g. fishponds) or lands which they cultivated “with the seeming intention of enlarging their lots.”  Once a claim was confirmed, a survey was required before the Land Commission was authorized to issue any award.

The lands awarded to the hoa‘aina became known as “Kuleana Lands.” All of the claims and awards (the Land Commission Awards or L.C.A.) were numbered, and the L.C.A. numbers remain in use today to identify the original owners of lands in Hawai‘i.  By the time of its closure on March 31, 1855, the Land Commission issued only 8,421 kuleana claims, equaling only 28,658 acres of land to the native tenants (cf. Indices of Awards 1929).

According to the Overview of Hawaiian History by Diane Lee Rhodes, many of the kuleana lands were later lost.  The list of reasons include:  (1) Native tenants mostly received lands that lacked firewood or were too rocky and unsuitable for farming.  (2) A number of kuleana were sold by dishonest land agents before the farmers could get a survey.  (3) The land commissioners delayed getting notices to landholders.  (4) Prices were out of reach for commoners.  (5) Finally, foreigners evicted legitimate kuleana owners without due process.

Since most of the Kuleana lands were carved up and taken away or abandoned, the impact on tax revenues would be extremely minimal so there should be no reason why this legislation shouldn’t pass.

This year, the bill got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs (WAH) committee chairman, Senator Russell S. Kokubun.  Unfortunately, the bill was deferred due to concerns that the bill might be unconstitutional.

I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council.  The bill is being spearheaded by Councilmember Todd Apo.  The first hearing for the bill will be February 28th.

If you or someone you know is living on Kuleana lands and are descendent of the original owners, I implore you to consider testifying.  We must put an end to the injustices done to the caretakers of Kuleana lands for the past 150-years once and for all.  If something is not done soon, the very last Kuleana lands that have survived will finally fall out of Hawaiian hands.  Protecting what’s left of Kuleana Lands will help preserve Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.  If you would like a copy of the bill e-mailed or sent to you, please contact my office.

Property tax relief should be left to voters

By: Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Letter to the Editor, Star-Bulletin, February 1, 2006

I was disappointed that the Honolulu Charter Commission recently rejected a proposal that would have given voters the power to make property tax relief a reality. Property owners on Oahu missed a perfect opportunity to set a cap of assessed property values at 2004 levels. I have no doubt that the amendment to the City Charter would have passed had it been added to the November ballot.

This was probably our only chance to reduce our ridiculously inflated city property tax assessments. There is still time before the November election. Let’s give residents suffering under double-digit property tax increases the chance to be heard.