A Piece Of Advice For Kawamoto

Larry Price
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Wednesday - February 21, 2007
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Billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto missed a great opportunity to complete his threat to move a selected few homeless people into the Kahala community. It appears now that the eccentric billionaire will have to wait until March to complete his selection process.

It is a little odd that he has been able to dodge the normal watch dogs in the state and actually expand on his self-serving visions of how Hawaii should be. He did not accept an invitation to address the Kahala Neighborhood Board last month, and his office does not return phone calls to curious Hawaii residents.

In most circumstances this kind of behavior would not be condoned by government officials in another location. Can you imagine how irate people in Japan would be if an American billionaire invaded the Hakone or Ginza district, armed with a tourist visa and started buying up all the available luxury homes and then renting them out for a couple of hundred dollars to people accustomed to living below the poverty line - after tearing down walls and ripping up swimming pools so the maintenance cost wouldn’t be too high? And in the process, violating many of the country’s constitutional laws and ignoring the communities’ pleas for mediation.

Not only is there no outrage by local authorities, the normally very vocal American Civil Liberty Union and Outdoor Circle, most people are responding to this insulting behavior as if he was just acting like a spoiled brat and not worth confronting.

Genshiro Kawamoto has added another page to his curious behavior. He has publicly offered to donate 50 acres and $5 million to the state to build a new high school on Maui. This all started when the Department of Education notified the real estate tycoon that his property on Maui was being considered as a future site.

That’s when the offer turned ugly. Kawamoto now says he wants the state to “help” him get his property re-zoned from agriculture to residential so he can develop a long-planned residential subdivision on his 147-acre site. He also wants the state, as a part of his generosity, to connect the subdivision to water, sewer and electricity infrastructure that the state would install for the school.

Like a hungry praying mantis, Kawamoto has been waiting since 1989 to develop the site he bought for $19 million. In true Kawamoto style, he claimed he wants to develop affordable housing there. I think it is time for someone to inform Mr. Kawamoto that in the State of Hawaii developers cannot buy zoning permits. Simply put, they are not for sale. Where did he get the ideas that Kahala should be a good place for $200 rentals and that agricultural land could be re-zoned with a miserable public bribe.

I’m sure the late Maui Mayor Hannibal Tavares would have told Genshiro Kawamoto where he could put his offer. But it seems on the surface, at least, that our government officials are content to pander Kawamoto and other billionaires who want to buy Hawaii and turn it into their own monuments to greatness at the expense of our local dignity.

I would upgrade my opinion of Kawamoto if he were to give the Department of Education the deed for the 50 acres on Maui for a new school and if he threw in the $5 million. I’d then suggest they name the school after him. Furthermore, if he connected all the water, sewer and electricity to the school for the DOE, I’d consider naming the school’s cafeteria after his wife and install a first-class Tokyo-style sushi bar for the faculty lounge.

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