SB918 on State Land Leases

Yesterday we discussed SB933 regarding leases, today we take a look at the last of the three bills involving the leasing of state land in Hawaii.

A mamane tree in the fog atop Mauna Kea
A mamane tree in the fog atop Mauna Kea

SB918 contains a large number of small edits to the Hawaii Statutes. All with one effect… Reducing the maximum length of a land lease to 35 rather than 55 years.

Most bills include extensive reasoning for the changes, why the changes are needed, and what the changes would accomplish. The text of SB918 gives no such supporting information. Why is this change needed?

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SB933 on State Land Leases

Three bills introduced in the 2019 Hawaii legislature session directly address state land leases. The first of these discussed here on DarkerView was SB905 which attempts to assess reasonable compensation for a lease. The remaining two bills, SB933 and SB918, concerned with leases seem to make sense as well, but also leave questions.

Sunset over the shoulder of Haulalai
Sunset over the shoulder of Haulalai

SB933 is another that on first read seems to make sense. This bill would require a rent review on all state land leases every decade. Conditions change, economics change, inflation happens, insuring the state is fairly compensated for the use of state land is in the best interest of the public.

While the language of the change is simple, the impact of that language is not clear. Indeed, it seems strange when considering what a rent review would consist of.

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SB905 on State Land Leases

Three bills introduced in the 2019 Hawaii legislature session directly address state land leases. The first of these we will discuss here on DarkerView is SB905 which attempts to assess reasonable compensation for such a lease.

Red and White
The red cinder of Mauna Kea contrasts with white clouds and white telescopes

When considering the issues of land leases in Hawaii there are a few important things to consider. The vast majority of land in the state is owned by either the state itself, or by a handful of large landowners. These entities do not typically sell land, rather much of the land is in long term lease to the current users.

A significant number of commercial developments, some military bases, and large resorts sit upon leased land. Malls, apartment complexes, and a surprising number of private homes are on leased land. This leads to a wide range of potential issues when the leases run out or are open to renegotiation. Sometimes it gets ugly, with families evicted from homes that have been in the family for generations.

As one would expect, the leasing of state land can quickly become a hot political issue. A great deal of land use law, and an even larger body of case law revolves around these leases.

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SB916 State Land Use Requirements

The most direct of Senator Kahele’s attacks on Mauna Kea astronomy is contained in SB916. Indeed this one bill is the most revealing in understanding the motivation behind the remainder of the Mauna Kea bills we have been discussing.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

The provisions of SB916 are particularly troubling. While clearly motivated as an attack on astronomy facilities on the summit of Mauna Kea, provisions of the bill go far beyond the mauna, certainly impacting any use of state land on all islands.

In reading the bill one particular provision stands out, a prohibition of any impact on surrounding resources. This should be a glaring issue to anyone considering supporting this measure. This could in effect prohibit any use of public land…

The bill is simply a wish list for opponents of any development, language that can be used as grounds to sue and obstruct development over a wide range of real or perceived issues.

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SB936 Redistrubuting Mauna Kea Special Funds

Next up in our examination of the current legislature’s crop of Mauna Kea bills is SB936.

An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea

This bill removes two thirds of the revenue currently going to the
University of Hawaii managed Mauna Kea lands management special fund, redirecting the revenue towards two additional funds. One third would go to a new Mauna Kea special fund administered by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. The other third would go to a DLNR administered Mauna Kea natural area reserve special fund.

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