Hauula resident fights city’s condemnation of land

"We are the fee owners, and in fact, the first trial for this eminent domain case is not going to start till March, 2014," said Choon James.

Published  6:42 PM HST Oct 22, 2013
Hauula City Trespass Sign
HAUULA, Hawaii -

In a video posted on YouTube, city workers are seen removing protest signs from a parcel of land in Hauula on Friday that Choon James claims is rightfully hers. James is involved in a heated eminent domain battle with the city.

"We are the fee owners, and in fact, the first trial for this eminent domain case is not going to start till March, 2014," said James.

Click here to see Andrew Pereira's report.

However, the city says a Circuit Court order issued in June 2010 transferred sole possession of the parcel to the city, and that's why the signs were removed. In February of that same year, the City Council passed a resolution to purchase the lot through eminent domain.

"Legally, Choon James is still the 'legal title holder' while the matter is in court, but the city has sole possession and control of the property," city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke wrote in an email Tuesday to KITV4.

The city also produced a letter signed by James in August 2008 showing she agreed to sell the parcel, but James says she had a change of heart and the letter is not a legally binding document. James accuses Mayor Kirk Caldwell of using strong-arm tactics against her.

"Mayor Kirk Caldwell has turned out to be a very ruthless bully, and that is very disappointing for someone in such high office," she said.

James' sister, Chai Yoshimura, sold an adjacent parcel to the city in April, 2010 for $521,000. Broder Van Dyke says the court is holding the same amount for James until the eminent domain dispute is settled. The city says it needs both lots equaling more than 40,000 square feet to relocate the Hauula Fire Station, which is dilapidated and rests in a flood zone.

"We're talking about building a modern fire station that serves the community with the standard of service that is needed (and) that they deserve," said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig.

Seelig says a 20,000-square-foot parcel would be insufficient to meet fire department standards for a new fire house. Nevertheless, James has her supporters. In 2010, longtime Hauula resident Marvin Iseke gathered 387 signatures urging the city not to relocate the fire station.

"Why do they have to come here and take this place?" said Iseke. "They had other sites to look at, but they never take it." 

Hauula residents are also upset at the abrupt loss of a popular Reynolds recycling center. James had been leasing to Reynolds for $500 a month, but the city told the company it had to move and erected a no trespassing sign.

"There's lines that go around the bend every day," Shirley Ann Lessary said of the recycling center. "I live right across the street and I see this."

Seelig says the new Hauula Fire Station is still in the planning phase and construction cannot begin until all land issues are resolved.

"The city is interpreting the law the way they want it, and they're abusing the system because they can," said James.

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