Tag Archives: Choon James

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on a Rampage

Woman Criticizes Honolulu’s Government, Has Her Protest Signs Bulldozed

Nick SibillaNick Sibilla, Contributor   

How people respond to criticism can reveal a lot about their character.  Some might try to debate or reason with those they disagree with.  Others prefer to ignore critics.  City officials in Honolulu take a different approach: They use a bulldozer.

Choon James is a successful real estate broker with over two decades of experience in Hawaii.  But the city of Honolulu is seeking to seize property she’s owned for almost a decade to build what she calls a “super-sized” fire station in rural Hauula.

Since January 2010, she has put up signs to protest Honolulu’s use of eminent domain.  These signs declare “Eminent Domain Abuse: Who’s Next?” and “YouTube Eminent Domain Abuse—Hawaii.”  For more than three years these signs have been up without any incident.

DSC07929DSC07926

But now the city is showing a callous disregard for Choon’s freedom of speech.  Back in May, Honolulu seized two of her eminent domain protest signs.  Without her consent, city employees went onto the property and seized and impounded her signs before damaging them. Even worse, the city slapped her with a notice for trespassing, for property she is trying to defend in court.

After these signs were torn down, Choon placed three more signs there.  These lasted just a few months before the city once again seized the signs.  This time, Honolulu was much more dramatic.  On October 18, city workers, backed by police officers, squad cars and a bulldozer, came by and literally bulldozed those protest signs.

The city’s actions show a shameful lack of respect for the First and Fourth Amendments.  Citizens have a right to protest government actions.  The First Amendment was enacted precisely to protect citizens who criticize the government from retaliation.  Lawsuits challenging Honolulu’s unreasonable seizures and chilling attacks on free speech are now pending in federal court.

Unfortunately, Honolulu is not alone in trying to silence critics who question eminent domain.  The Institute for Justice has represented citizens in St. Louis, Mo., Norfolk, Va., Tennessee, and Texas who protested abusive property seizures and faced censorship.  Out of these four cases, IJ successfully defended free speech in three cases, while the fourth is currently in litigation.

After 24 of his buildings were taken by St. Louis, Jim Roos painted a giant mural on a building he owned advocating “End Eminent Domain Abuse.”  But St. Louis labeled the mural an “illegal sign” and wanted to force Jim to remove the sign (and stifle his right to protest) or face code violations.  He teamed up with the Institute for Justice and sued the city.  In a major win for the First Amendment, in July 2011, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jim and allowed the mural to stay up.

In a similar vein, IJ has defended grassroots activists from a frivolous defamation lawsuit and protected an investigative journalist’s right to free speech from a vindictive private developer.

More recently, the Institute for Justice is suing the city of Norfolk for trying to squash a small business owner’s eminent domain protest sign.  The Central Radio Company, a repair shop, has been in Norfolk for almost eight decades.  But Norfolk had plans to seize the property with eminent domain for a private redevelopment project.

To protest, owner Bob Wilson displayed a huge banner on-site.  The city responded by telling Bob he had to take down the sign or face fines of up to $1,000 per day.  Fortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously struck down the city’s attempt to seize Bob’s land; his free speech case is still infederal court.

As the cases make clear, courts routinely respect Americans’ First Amendment rights.  Honolulu should do the same.

DSC07922DSC07920
Postscript: Mayor Kirk Caldwell also shut down the owner’s business with Reynolds Recycling on October 21, 2013. Public push back forced the Mayor to cut a deal with Reynolds to return to the adjacent city Lot 64 on December 20, 2013. The Caldwell Administration did not disclose that it is on a month-to-month lease. Should the Mayor gets permission from the courts to condemn, the last two commercial zone lots will be decimated and recycling business  gone.
DSC07946DSC08057
The only valid reason for Mayor Kirk Caldwell to shove this extra expensive fire station onto this small rural community is he owes a plum building contract to a donor!  The Mayor  wants to build a huge Kapolei City station in the small rural town of Hauula.
The Mayor can be contacted at mayor@honolulu.gov    808 768-4141
City Council Chair Ernie Martin  at emartin@honolulu.gov   808 768-5002
Choon James at ChoonJamesHawaii@gmail.com   808 293 9111

Response to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell regarding the Controversial Hau’ula Fire Station Relocation

REPRINT: Response to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell regarding the Controversial Hau’ula Fire Station Relocation

A Response to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Letter to the Honolulu City Council  Relating to Provisions relating to the Deletion of the Hau’ula Fire Station Project.

http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2013/06/21/19361-caldwell-brace-for-cuts-in-honolulu-city-services/

June 27, 2013

Aloha Mayor Kirk Caldwell,

Re: Your letter to the City Council Chair Ernest Y. Martin and Members of the City Council dated June 20, 2013 concerning Bill 12(2013) CD2, FD1, relating to the Executive Capital Budget; Provisions relating to the Deletion of the Hau’ula Fire Station Project. (Pages 4 & 5) 

Before we respond to your above-mentioned letter as distributed widely, including Civil Beat, we wish to share with you our family’s legacy with first responders.

My husband’s family has produced four generations of firefighters. His grandfather was buried in his fireman uniform.   We also have family members who are policemen, nurses, schoolteachers, and military servicemen. Many of our close friends are first responders, including lifeguards.  We are ever mindful of the services our first responders provide. We can never pay our first responders enough for the daily volatile and risky environment they’re thrust into.

Regarding your June 20, 2013 letter to the City Council, we also realize that any Mayor cannot possibly micro-manage or know every detail of city operations.  At face value, it’s understandable why you, as mayor, would object to the Deletion of the Hau’ula Fire Station Project this Budget session. We would probably react the same way if we were not intimately involved or had not carefully researched the facts and circumstances relating to this flawed Department of Design and Construction’s (DDC) relocation project.

Unfortunately, a person(s) with considerable influence continues to provide a overwhelming dose of one-sided bureaucratic jargon that does not provide a factual history of this controversial project. This bureaucratic process has become too politicized and evolves with ever-changing made-up premises along the way.

This modus operandi does not serve you as the Mayor, or the public, well.  No matter how thinly cheese is sliced, there are still two sides to it.

There are too much irregularities and evidences to put in this letter. The selected information we share with you here is based on documented facts and records.  We do not manipulate and fabricate new premises along this evolving process.

Mayor Caldwell, the GOOD NEWS is DDC can build another fire station in rural Hau’ula TODAY!

DDC supervised the purchase of Lot 64 TMK:1-5/4/18-24 of 20,297 square feet at 54-290 Kamehameha Highway, Hauula, 96717 on April 19, 2010, using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

 

This City-owned Lot 64 with 20,297.00 square feet is adequate for a typical fire station in Oahu.

For example:
EMMcCullyMoiili_b
The new 2424 Date Street McCully-Moiliili Station, with an estimated price of $4.6M, sits on 19,555 sq. ft. lot and was dedicated on April 1, 2010.

EM FSwahiawa
The 640 California Ave Wahiawa Fire Station that serves a much denser population than rural Hau’ula sits on 20,000 sq. ft. lot.

EMKaneoheFS
The Kaneohe Fire Station sits on 20,075 sq. ft. lot. http://oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20Documents/EA_and_EIS_Online_Library/Oahu/1990s/1990-09-08-OA-FEA-KANEOHE-FIRE-STATION-RECONSTRUCTION.pdf

 

EMKaaawaFS
The Ka’a’awa Fire Station sits on 15, 493 sq. ft.

SONY DSC
The 1610 Makaloa Street Fire Station by the Pan Am building by Kapiolani Blvd sits on 18,953 sq. ft. lot.

This average lot size holds true on the mainland as well. Metropolitan West Seattle, Washington deems 15,000 sq. ft. to 20,000 sq. ft. parcels as customary for their fire stations.

Why then, is the DDC Land Chief fixated on seizing our adjacent Lot 65 for an additional 20,300 square feet? DDC’s 2009 Environmental Assessment for this proposed relocation project stated there would be no increase in service area or personnel.

Why then, a Taj Mahal fire station in rural Hau’ula on twice the average lot size and triple the costs of an average fire station? (The relocation project in Hau’ula’s projected cost is $13M, as recorded in the Ko’olauloa Neighborhood Board minutes.)

After you review this information and others contained in this PDF file, we’re confident you’ll agree that the Honolulu City Council exercised fiscal prudence and protected the public treasury by deleting the $750,000 that was requested for “Planning & Design” by DDC this budget session.  DDC’s request for $750,000 was premature as the civil trial for “public use” had not even been set.

Furthermore, aggrieved citizens have the right to appeal to higher courts in this legal process.

The City Corporation Counsel initiated condemnation action (1CC10-000863 -04. Also see Civil NO: 10-1-0956-05 PWB) on April 21, 2010 during the Mufi Hanneman Administration.

The Carlisle Administration informed residents it was willing to explore alternative sites for this relocation controversy.

Peter Carlisle

This case was set aside by the city until December 12, 2012 when Deputy Corporation Counsel Winston Wong requested a “Valuation Trial”.

This again was a premature action and denied by Judge Rhonda Nishimura as the initial Trial for “Public Use” had not even been discussed yet.  Despite these circumstances, DDC requested $750,000 for “planning and design” for this project (in limbo) this fiscal year 2013-2014.

What was DDC thinking?

Should the City Council give DDC $750,000 to squander on “planning and design” when the outcome is unsettled and involved in a typically protracted legal process?  The only logical and fiscally responsible action for the City Budget Chair was to delete this so-called “construction funding” for this project for 2012-2013 Fiscal Budget Year.

The 2011-2012 Fiscal Budget Year also deleted this project and noted as “not needed”.  For the City Council to decide otherwise would be gross malfeasance on their part, based on the legal status and other circumstances. As a Hau’ula kupuna said, “Money no grow on trees.”

At the most recent Budget sessions, both the newly appointed Fire Chief and the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) Director initially stated to Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi they were willing to dialogue. We welcome that.  We’re aware city departments such as the Honolulu Fire Department routinely depend on DDC to do the footwork in projects such as this. Unfortunately, this controversial process has morphed into an art of the wordsmith, with bureaucratic jargon substituting as merits.

The record points towards one unelected bureaucrat who abuses government powers of eminent domain at will. There is no denying bureaucrats have easy access to decision makers at City Hall while the public generally enjoy no such privileges.

Sensing this unbalance, we have diligently provided the City Council documented irregularities and nefarious circumstances surrounding this flawed process.  The most affected residents are grateful that the City Council has listened to the other side of the story during its budgeting decisions.

Many residents are unhappy about perceived wasteful spending, perceived or real; others questioned why the city could not renovate the existing structure or tear it down and build anew instead of seizing the last two remaining commercial-zoned parcels in Hau’ula.

Life-long Hau’ula residents are unhappy they were not consulted with. This project would be situated directly next to their homes.

DDC’s failures to consult affected parties grossly violated the basic requisites of Chapter 343, HRS and Title 11, Chapter 200 Administrative Rules, and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds were used in this project.  Hauula qualifies, being a low-income area. DDC’s request for seizing properties was hastily pushed through to meet CDBG’s date lines.
Many would like the city to prioritize scarce funds and allocate precious resources to installing more fire hydrants for fire safety as well. Many neighborhood pockets here do not have fire hydrants. This is a major setback for our firemen and a major public safety concern.

A case in point happened with a domestic fire in Punalu’u on March 23, 2011. Thirty-five (35) fire-fighters, five (5) engines, two (2) ladder-trucks, a water tanker truck and a fire battalion chief responded very quickly but could not effectively protect the public due to lack of basic infrastructure – water hydrants.

Besides lacking in public engagement, there are too many irregularities and nefarious facts and circumstances surrounding this Hau’ula relocation file. We could tell you about DDC hiring their favorite appraiser all the way from Maui   for this project; that DDC’s first choice for the Hauula Relocation site was a 1.65 acre beachfront lot;  or DDC’s careless 2006 request for eminent domain by necessity on another property only to discard  the action promptly after the city council unanimously granted powers to seize private properties.

We could also tell about the recent illegal seizing of free speech signs on May 29, 2013 on our Lot 65.  The crew was sent all the way from Halawa Maintenance Yard to Hau’ula to seize two “Eminent Domain Abuse”  free speech signs on our Lot 65 under the guise of Bill 54 (11-029 ROH).

Who gave the work order for this illegal seizure and bullying?

What are the incurred costs to the taxpayers for this rogue behavior?

In summary, bureaucratic malfeasance in rural Hauula, Oahu, Hawaii reveals the culture in which government will ignore the law, manipulate the process, and abuse its powers in order to seize property just because it can.

Government cannot become so powerful and arrogant that ‘public purpose’ and ‘public safety’ are conveniently used as mere pre-textual ‘legal weapon’ to threaten and brow beat property owners into automatic submission through eminent domain and other tactics.

Fortunately, this out-of-control bureaucratic malfeasance and abuse can be corrected.   The entire City Council is protecting the public in its kuleana by implementing the democratic process of “checks and balances”.

kobayashi09b

As Mayor, you can also support their pono leadership by not allowing DDC’s slop-dash bullying via the big stick of government powers to prevail.

As always, we look forward to collaborating with the most affected parties in a fair and equitable due process. Justice and Equality apply to all.

We can reach a win-win conclusion to this eminent domain abuse story

Mahalo,

Choon James

ChoonJamesHawaii@gmail.com