Saturday, June 23, 2012
Likely Origin of private ownership of Lanai
by Larry Geller
It seems that at least some readers outside of Hawaii may not understand why the sale of 98% of the island of Lanai by one owner to another is such a big deal.
Commenter E. Dunbar covered most of the territory—see comments below Isn’t there something basically wrong with one man owning an island in Hawaii? (6/22/2012). I also appreciated Anonymous suggesting the island might be referred to as Ellison Island. I like the questions that this designation would raise, not the implication that one man can own an island that is part of the Hawaiian chain.
Approximately 17,309 acres of Lanai are Crown Lands according to Kingdom surveys, raising the issue of how private ownership gained a foothold in Lanai.
It goes back to the days of California sugar king Claus Spreckels who built a sugar empire that also encompassed transportation, energy, real estate, newspapers, banks, and even breweries.
Spreckles controlled 40,000 acres on Lanai by 1882. From Teisch (references below):
In a corrupt deal, the legislature later granted Crown lands to Spreckels in fee, which allowed him to develop his plantation without having to worry about land titles or his lease.
As far as I can tell, this “corrupt deal” was the basis for the extensive private ownership of land on Lanai.
What wasn’t Crown Lands appears to have been ahupuaʻa. Private ownership of this land would appear to fly in the face of eventual settlement of sovereignty issues. This is a map from the period (1878)—click for a larger, downloadable image.
I haven’t traced land ownership from Spreckels to Murdock. Perhaps someone will be interested enough to fill in this history. But I think the “corrupt” Spreckels deal was the root of it all.
In order to grow sugar, Spreckels needed water. How he got it is explained in Chapter 5 of Teich around p. 138. The whole thing is somewhat sordid, but unfortunately, since it involved the cooperation of King Kalakaua, it could cloud the issue of private ownership. That is, if the King was complicit in these deals, what effect would that have on potential sovereignty claims over the private land? This is clearly a subject for historians and experts to tackle and I won’t attempt it.
- Teisch, Jessica B.: Engineering nature : water, development, and the global spread of American environmental expertise, University of North Carolina Press, 2011, p. 133 ff, Chapter 5 - Nothing but Commercial Feudalism—California’s Hawaiian Empire
- To learn even more, find this book in the Hawaii State Public Library:
- Adler, Jacob: Claus Spreckels, sugar king of Hawaii : interaction of an entrepreneur with an island community, University of Hawaii Press, 1969
Claus Spreckles never owned Lanai. Lanai was first sold in fee by the Hawaiian Kingdom to Gibson in 1860s-1870s who bought it in his own name with funds Mormons gave him to launch a colony. He kept it for himsef and was thrown out of the LDS church. Gibson later was Kalakaua's foreign minister and his excesses spurred imposition of the bayonet constitution. Lanai was easy to sell because Kamehameha I killed everybody on the island when he captured it.
What I was looking for was the Crown Lands angle. In conversations, several people have said that it's not right that Crown Lands are privately held. I'm not as sharp on Hawaiian history as many people, so I just wanted to check on that single point, that is, how it came to be.
Reading the chapter I referenced in Teisch is enlightening. I quoted only a tiny bit. To be honest, the rest of the chapter was far more interesting to me. Now, it's a single author's view of history. I found corroboration elsewhere for what I did check, but I'm not a historian.
Returning the time machine to the present, I think it's reasonable to review whether private ownership of Lanai is in the best interests of the people of Hawaii as a whole. Adjustments have been made--thinking, for example, of the restrictions placed on Bishop Estate with regard to leasehold property here on Oahu.
And finally, the sovereignty issue is not frozen in time a hundred years or more ago. It is 2012, and the people concerned are the present-day Native Hawaiians. However the land was taken away or sold, it is appropriate to review the rights of present-day citizens and current international concepts of human rights and decolonization. Island people don't do too well historically (think: Diego Garcia, Micronesia).
Even the proposal to install an expensive undersea cable and exploit Lanai's wind for the benefit of Oahu indicates a state interest--and residents' objections or support are given credence. They are not slaves on private property.
Excellent observations you are making to this deception. I say deception because the public was kept so much in the dark, for instance in todayʻs Garden Island News from the AP it appears that the deal still isnʻt inked as they would have us believe: "..As the sale gets closer to being a done deal, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa is pondering how Ellison might "completely alter the economic structure of the island."
And as to Arakawaʻs comment wondering whatʻs to be, all those details should have been clarified BEFORE the dirty deal.
What is disappointing about the questions coming from the Lanaʻi residents is that they are rendering themselves as helpless, vulnerable subjects to a new king.
And what they FAIL to mention is the fact that this Ellison needs to follow ALL HRS statutes, permits and laws regarding Hawaiiʻs lands. Permits run with the land. He cannot ʻclose off the islandʻ unless it is a state situation. In other words, he cannot be ʻkingʻ.
All this is moot anyway because the sale of the island is an illegal act period.
This was arranged when abercrombie was still in D.C. Heʻd been setting up things like this for awhile. Remember when he stated to a few colleagues (the video was saved and replayed on Hoike TV) "Itʻs not about the culture, itʻs about land and cash, my friends.."
If any of these so-called lawmakers have an ounce of true grit or plain old ʻknowledgeʻ about the very laws they purport to uphold, they would start immediate revocation of this error in Hawaii history.
If the king gave it away or sold it back then, all future native Hawaiian rights disappeared at that point.
The "present-day citizens" or "current international concepts of human rights" can trump a legitimate, legal transfer of ownership of real property.
Residents of Ellison Island are not slaves, but they are tenants on land they do not own. Their rights extend ONLY to those spelled out in the landlord-tenant agreements embodied in the lease agreement.
Lord Ellison can do whatever he pleases, within state laws governing use of private property, and within tenant's rights as long as their leases exist.
Besides, Larry buys and holds...he doesn't sell and never "gives back".
Donʻt quite get what you mean with this: "If the king gave it away or sold it back then, all future native Hawaiian rights disappeared at that point." Thatʻs not what Public Law states and judging from history and accounts of the Aliʻi regard for the way the land had been divided, Iʻd say it is another re-write of how it went down.
Some of the current residents of Lanaʻi are also ʻland ownersʻ like Ellison, some are leasing (in accordance with state concepts) and some are kanaka maoli with full unrelinquished claim to the land as per Congress in Public Law 103-150...ESPECIALLY if they are on the Crown or former Government land.
This is a tentative status, providing the tenants are not kanaka maoli: "Residents of Ellison Island are not slaves, but they are tenants on land they do not own. Their rights extend ONLY to those spelled out in the landlord-tenant agreements embodied in the lease agreement."
But I am curious about this: "The "present-day citizens" or "current international concepts of human rights" can trump a legitimate, legal transfer of ownership of real property."
Perhaps Mr. Ellison, being such a good steward as touted, would be interested in doing something no Hawaiian land occupier has ever even had the seed of a thought to do: turn it all around for the kanaka maoli and provide legal defense money for the reinstatement of the Hawaiian Nation. No doubt that would be a legacy and a first of its kind. More astounding and news significance than a world cup.
But, personally, I donʻt see any any nonpareil human arising out of the concrete in todayʻs world of self-absorbed mindsets.
There was ONE Senator that acted like a lawmaker:
Letter from Tsutsui
Currently, the State invests a great deal of money and resources in the island, including maintaining a public school, public library, state hospital, airport, roads, harbors and various state department offices to provide necessary services to Lanai residents and visitors.
Maui County also provides a myriad of services and support for the island and its residents.
However, Lanai residents are unable to purchase and develop lands that have been and may continue to be held in ownership by a single private individual or entity. The continued private ownership of Lanai may prove detrimental to the people of Lanai and the State, as a private owner is not subject to public, community or government input in making decisions that can and will affect such parties.
State Claims Billionaire's Company Owes $333,824 In Back Taxes
BY JIM DOOLEY - "Larry Ellison’s Oracle Corp. owes the state of Hawaii $333,824 in back taxes, according to a lien filed against the company here last year.
The lien asserts that the California-based software and technology giant failed to pay $180,566 in state general excise taxes in 2003, $63,450 in 2004, and $89,824 in 2005.
The lien is filed against the company and not against chief executive Ellison, who is in the process of buying the island of Lanai in Maui County..."
"...the sale of the island is an illegal act period."
Care to site the federal or state statute that defines this?
Care to comment on how, then, Castle & Cook came to own it? Was that illegal too?
How about the assumed accuracy of the statement that the previous King of Hawaii legally and without coercion transferred the land (in what we would now call "fee simple") to a non-Hawaiian? Was that somehow illegal, or modern-day thinking (not law) now wants to see it as illegal?
How about the Robinson's island, then?
Give it up...you're position is a loser. Ellison bought fee-simple private property from a legal owner. That's it. Just because it's 98% of a major island in the state doesn't make it any more of an issue than buying such a parcel of land on the Big Island where there are over 4,000 square miles of land.
Hawaii's 1967 Leasehold Conversion Act allowed the state to force mandatory conversions of houses from leasehold to fee simple ownership. So yes, a legitimate ownership was modified by law.
The law was aimed particularly at the Bishop Estate. In 1979 Bishop Estate took the state to court. The 9th Circuit declared the law unconstitutional in 1983 but in 1984 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit in a unanimous decision. What was upheld, if I understand it correctly, is that the state may use eminent domain to change ownership of private property.
I'm not saying that anything like that could or would take place on Lanai. My impression is that our state government, at present, is very eager to welcome Mr. Ellison. At least, the few people I've spoken to, and some were indifferent.
"...the sale of the island is an illegal act period."
Care to site the federal or state statute that defines this?"
-I believe I did: Public 103-150.
"Care to comment on how, then, Castle & Cook came to own it? Was that illegal too?"
-Yes it was. And I guess you didnʻt read Larryʻs comment.
"How about the assumed accuracy of the statement that the previous King of Hawaii legally and without coercion transferred the land (in what we would now call "fee simple") to a non-Hawaiian? Was that somehow illegal, or modern-day thinking (not law) now wants to see it as illegal?"
-That was during the Great Mahele (which has several versions/rewrites, BTW) and it was during the Bayonet Constitution which by all common logic was absolutely...coercion.
-Robinsonʻs land is not for sale, never has been and never will be and is in an entirely different status.
"..Just because it's 98% of a major island in the state doesn't make it any more of an issue than buying such a parcel of land on the Big Island where there are over 4,000 square miles of land."
-Thatʻs wrong too. The fact that it was done in a back room deal without any assurances for public oversight that the island will not become a ʻprivate kingdomʻ (which is looking like a probability) discarding all laws of the state of Hawaii, makes it different and unsavory.
Unfortunately we have many legislators (maybe because of their backgrounds/or lack thereof) that weak knees around big money and will grovel until the cows come home. They deserve no respect as they are deficient human beings lacking character, strength and integrity.
I don't think Public 103-150 is going to fly here.
And "common logic" for the king's transfer being coerced...doubtful.
etc etc etc
Ellison could bury the state is so much high-powered legal talent and power/money politics that it would never matter.
Welcome to Ellison Island.
Deal with it.
Interesting since he canʻt even scrape together a few hundred thousand for back taxes.
hmmmmm. We definitely arenʻt being told a lot about somebody. COULD this be a fake presentation of a fake buyer with fake wealth? hmmmmmm. again.
Oh ʻheʻ says he good for it. But the legislators were woozy and forgot all about the due diligence.
hmmmm. Whatʻs the payment plan?
Me thinks a few fools at State gov. level got fooled big time. Can we say p a w n zzzzzzz.
LOL. ʻHigh poweredʻ legal ʻtalentʻ and ʻpowerʻ/ʻmoney politicsʻ...were those just barraging words or were they suppose to actually mean something here?
this is cool stuff..but rehashing in this forum is about confusion. I knew about the Mormon church and Gibson deals through Sol Kahoohalahala back in the late 70's , but couldn't remember the names and things. Waimanalo farm lots was also aquired by spreckles but no deed signature. I believe it was based on the overthrow, therefore I win and Cummings left!
Ellison's the real deal, being one of the richest men in the world. Payment plan? Cash, as was reported in some news source.
Being out-lawyered and out-powered by money/connections always means something, everywhere.
His desire to do a windfarm benefiting Oahu primarily...sweet deal for the state "desiders".
Ellison Island is a "go" and I think it's good.
UNKNOWN, you are right about the deed signatures and there is a problem nowadays about title searches. In the states they go back several hundred years sometimes, in Hawaii to about early 1900s.
In 1995, Perfect Title issued a statement that they can not do any title searches because the sovereignty is in a state of limbo.
How can the people of Hawaii allow their land to be plundered by a modern day Robber Baron colonial capitalist like Larry Ellison? He has no geneological roots on this island. How can the leaders of Hawaii be so weak? It's incredulous that there aren't riots in the streets over this issue?
Do the corporations have so much sway that the residents of Hawaii are themselves powerless to act in their own best interests? Ideally, the land should be seized or bought by the state, a series of national parks established, Lanai be declared a UNESCO heritage site and then divided and sold to several if not thousands of investors. That 1 individual can buy up most of the island in this day and age is absurd. Does it not count for anything that there were Native Hawaiians living there long before Ellison's predecessor, Cook Castle/Dole & the Mormon missionaries who claimed it as their very own?
C'mon, people of Hawaii, you should wake up. This is your land. It belongs to you. You should take a stand, block this sale and claim it for yourselves. It doesn't belong to Ellison or Murdock. It belongs to you.
... questionable venue of land transfer as covered the transfer of Lana'i to Spreckles questionable-people had no representation in the time of Hawai'i being grabbed up by forceful federal-backed privateers' ~ in our time ~ one man-the Governor allows' sale without consultation-annoucement to the legal concerned-interested parties ~ the native Hawaiian-residents of the state and the island ... block this sale-was it even posted in Public Announcements for required time toward impending consideration to sell ... block this sale ... another rip-off to the unaware islanders'-this time coersed by "conjured corporate legal spectre as the guardian" ... where are you who cry-chant for respite from takeovers' ~ put a halt to the on-going parade of on-going opportunists' entrenching dubious rights ... stop this!