BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – As the city’s Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation continues to construct 720 concrete columns along the 20-mile route of its planned rail system, its staff members are quietly informing residents and businesses in the way of the elevated steel giant that they will need to turn over their property to the city.
HART officials are the only ones that know the total number of properties that will be condemned or who will be impacted because they have not turned over that information to city council members or the public.
But HART seems determined to take even more properties than originally planned, since its real estate acquisition budget increased this year from $90 million to $214 million.
Honolulu City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi said she has been receiving complaints from residents and business owners along the rail route because they are being told they must move, sometimes with little notice.
She plans to hold a public hearing next Wednesday at 9 a.m. in hopes those property owners will come forward to share their stories.
Kobayashi also will ask HART officials to explain their plans for condemnation along the route, which spans from West Oahu to Honolulu.
“We want to have a discussion because we have heard many concerns from property owners. We want to know what is going on, what the process is for condemnation, why people are being treated unfairly, how much taxpayer money is being spent, and whether all property owners have been notified of the city’s plans,” Kobayashi said.
The Farinas family, which is made up of 10 people, two dogs, three cats and 65 chickens, says they have to move to make way for the rail.
The Farinas family documented its experiences in a July 18, 2012, letter to HART, which was also sent to council members.
The family said it is in a panic because HART officials told them they must vacate their home within the next three weeks.
The adults each work 40 hours a week, and the family operates an open market vegetable business seven days a week. They have no time to prepare for such a major undertaking.
They wrote: “Our family has been assured by HART representatives that we would not be ‘rushed off’ and would be given ample opportunity to relocate our property, animals and farm equipment. … It is completely unreasonable and heartless for you and your agency to believe that it is even possible for our family to vacate our home, farm and business within three weeks, while working 40 hours a week and caring for our family. Not to mention, we have yet to secure farm land for all of our chickens.”
The family said if HART needed their property by August 20, 2012, the rail authority “should have invested the time, energy and effort into finding a suitable replacement property at an earlier date.”
“As it stands, we have had to find our own ‘relocation property’ and are losing approximately 14,000 sq. ft. of land, along with a vegetable garden, chicken farm and access to well water – all of which are irreplaceable to the values of our family and culture,” they wrote.
They told HART officials that if they continue their “uncompassionate pursuit” to displace their family, farm and animals, “they will have no alternative but to draw attention to the many unfulfilled promises by HART and subsequent hardships that the family has had to endure.”
Kobayashi, who received a copy of the letter, said the council wants to help people who are being stepped on and feel have no recourse.
“We want to protect the property owners and make sure rights are not being abused. Government can condemn land but that does not mean they should treat people badly,” Kobayashi said.
There is a chance the rail project will be stopped.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who is running for Honolulu mayor, promised to kill the project if he is elected and he is ahead in the polls.
In addition, eight plaintiffs took the city to federal court in hopes of proving the Environmental Impact Statement is flawed and must be thrown out, thereby stopping the project in its tracks.
But even if the rail is stopped within the next few weeks, it may be too late for the Farinas family and others along the rail route who are being ordered out now.
City and rail authority officials have so far refused to delay the project and condemnation proceedings until the outcome of the lawsuit or the election is decided this fall.