My Turn: County keeps ignoring Laaloa’s history

Your recent story about Laaloa Beach Park was short on facts and in classic fashion the County of Hawaii points the blame on the community for its absolute neglect at Laaloa Beach Park.

First, the county of Hawaii taxpayers paid for a community-based preservation plan which was delivered to them in 1997. The plan was a requirement by DLNR which set out detailed methods to protect the registered historic properties, including the religious temple and the human burial therein. The county agreed and was required to complete all of the protective measures before it started constructing the parking lot.

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Second, when Harry Kim was elected mayor we had hope something proactive would finally be done. We met with him in 2004 and after his own investigation, he verified that the county had completely neglected to install any of the required protective measures, as well as did not have the required burial treatment plan, even though the parking lot was built and open. Mr. Kim promised he would make it “right.” As you can tell, it is still not right.

Third, I personally was in attendance at that Nov. 1, meeting at Laaloa. A minion from the Parks Department was not taking or answering questions or taking any input. It was clear the county was going to do whatever it wanted, the community be damned. They refused to say if or when they would ever execute the 1997 preservation plan or the 2005 burial treatment plan.

On Nov. 14, I filed a lawsuit against the County of Hawaii for violations of the historic preservation laws of the state of Hawaii. Once the county responded and opened Pandora’s box as their defense is that because DLNR is not enforcing the law, they are not going to comply with it.

As it turns out, that defense opened a volley of research. The short story is in 2003 and 2005, the Legislature added extremely harsh penalties, including HRS 11.5, that when “any person who violates this chapter, or any rule adopted pursuant to this chapter, shall be fined not less than $500 nor more than $10,000 for each separate violation. Each day of each violation constitutes a separate violation.” And HRS §6E-71; penalty. (c) “Each day of a continued violation of this section shall constitute a distinct and separate offense.” an “offense” is classified as a “misdemeanor,” which is punishable up to a year in jail.

As it turns out, the State of Hawaii has perhaps the harshest historic preservation laws on the planet, yet the County of Hawaii continues to refuse to comply with those laws!

Many folks in Kona are not aware of the real history at Laaloa Beach Park, such as the county originally planned on building an 80-stall parking lot. As a direct result of our advocacy in the 1997 plan, parking was reduced to 27-stalls. With the 2005 burial treatment planning process the county was required to remove the entire southern end of the parking lot — yet it is still there.

Many kamaaina and visitors still wonder why the parking lot is closed. In March of 2017 during a meeting with Harry Kim, we demanded it be closed because the 2005 burial treatment plan documented the parking lot was encroaching well within the protective buffers for the human burial and religious temple, and at that meeting Harry Kim still had no plans to execute the preservation plans.

The short history is the county purchased Laaloa for $1.6 million. There were two parcels. They paid $200,000 for the parcel where the parking lot is, and $1.4 million for the area that can never be developed? The appraisal for the county indicated there were no historic sites, yet the area was placed on the State of Hawaii Registry of Historic Places in 1973? Strangely enough, the person who prepared the appraisal eventually became the head of the DLNR. The parking lot cost at least $200,000 to build. I have been told by parks and rec officials it may cost at least $500,000 to fix it.

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Since 1995, the most respected Hawaiian organizations and kupuna stepped forward and offered to malama the area, created a long-term, community-based stewardship system, at no cost to the taxpayers of the county of Hawaii, yet look at it now! Please visit our Facebook page for more information: Laaloa Beach Park Kona – Magic Sands.

Ron Cawthon is a resident of Kealakekua.