By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
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.