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House Speaker Saiki open to reevaluating Kakaʻako Makai settlement with OHA

House Speaker Scott Saiki speaks to reporters on opening day at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023.
Sophia McCullough
FILE - House Speaker Scott Saiki, right, speaks to reporters on opening day at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023.

State Rep. Scott Saiki has represented the Kakaʻako-Ala Moana district for nearly three decades. In 2012, he voted for a ceded lands settlement that gave the Office of Hawaiian Affairs a land base in what is generally known as Kaka’ako Makai. Now as the House speaker, does he see things differently?

"I would like the public to know that the Legislature over the past few years has really taken some action to address the Native Hawaiian issues in our community," he said, citing the recent $328 million Kalima settlement and other appropriations.

"The Kakaʻako Makai issue, I believe, is really an issue of planning," he said. "I've always felt that Kakaʻako Makai is one of the last remaining parcels of land that can be used as open space, as park space, that can provide ocean access for all residents on our island."

A proposed bill would lift residential development restrictions on the area and raise the building height limit to 400 feet. It is set to be debated in a Senate committee on Thursday.

Saiki and State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, who also represents the area, wrote a column in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this past weekend outlining their concerns about housing developments — including land use and environmental issues.

When OHA agreed to the settlement in 2012, two separate appraisals valued the land at $200 million, the House speaker said.

"If they feel that the settlement agreement does not meet the value that they expected, then we should reopen the settlement agreement. We should discuss, even renegotiate the terms of any settlement," Saiki told The Conversation during a live interview. "It's something that I have offered to assist with and to make a priority here at the Legislature."

He said reopening the agreement would require a lot of time and discussion. Meanwhile, Saiki said the Legislature needs more clarification on OHA's exact plan for the area.

"OHA has told us that they want to build affordable housing, only affordable housing, no luxury development. But at the same time, the bill that they introduced seeks an exemption from the affordable housing requirements," Saiki said.

"OHA has also told us they want to build 400-foot buildings on only three parcels. But the bill that was introduced would allow them to build at that height at any of the 10 parcels that they own at Kakaʻako Makai," he said.

A screenshot of OHA's proposed development of land parcels in Kakaʻako Makai.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
A screenshot of OHA's proposed development of land parcels in Kakaʻako Makai.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 14, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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