City's rail rendering
City's rail rendering

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The city’s Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which is acquiring private property in the way of the city’s 20-mile elevated steel on steel rail system, maintains its officials have treated private property owners along the route with respect and paid them the full value for the land the city has acquired.

The Farinas family, which lives in Pearl City, has a different take. They said in a recent letter to HART shared with Hawaii Reporter that their 10 family members, dogs, cats and 65 chickens are being displaced without ample time to move. 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.

“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 wrote.

The Farinas 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.”

But HART Real Estate Acquisition Manager Jerry Iwata said the family was notified on March 14, 2012, that they have a minimum of 90 days before a 30-day notice to vacate would be issued. The 30-day notice was issued on July 17, 2012, he said.

The city has treated the Farinas family fairly, Iwata said. They were paid a mutually agreed price of $558,000 for the property in September 2011,”which put the ownership of the property under the City and the Farinas family was also offered relocation assistance in line with federal policies.” HART also contracted with Helping Hands Hawaii to further assist them with their needs, Iwata said.

Since the city purchased the property, the family has continued to live on the property they once owned but has refused to pay rent to the city, Iwata maintains. In addition, he accused them of subleasing parts of the city property.

“Ample time has clearly been provided to the Farinas family, but HART also has the responsibility to protect taxpayers’ interests,” Iwata said. “Any reasonable taxpayer would agree that HART has been more than fair and must now protect the public’s interest.”

As tension builds between HART officials and property owners in negotiations with the city, Honolulu City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi plans to hold a hearing tomorrow at 9 a.m. on the real estate acquisition and condemnation issue.

She 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, and she is encouraging others to share their stories.

Kobayashi notes HART has upped its condemnation budget from $90 million to $214 million, meaning even more residents could be impacted.

She 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.

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com