Months of uncertainty was replaced by spontaneous joy Tuesday in District Court as three families facing eviction from Kahuku Village were granted a stay by Judge Gerald Kibe.
"I don't know where we would go, so I'm very elated today what happened in court," said Stella Mulivai, whose family has been in Kahuku Village for the past two generations.
"I was scared,” added fellow villager Suzette Graycochea. “I have seven boys and me and my husband, and we only know Kahuku."
In 2006, Florida-based Continental Pacific LLC purchased Kahuku Village from Campbell Estate, and with it, came a promise to try and accommodate families who lived on 71 rural lots. In November 2012, the company offered villagers the opportunity to purchase 10,000 to 15,000 square foot lots, fee simple, for $150,000.
"Each of these people was offered their home for $150,000, (and) they chose on the advice of their attorney to turn that down,” said Lex Smith, a Honolulu attorney representing Continental Pacific. “Their houses are now all listed on the market from the range of $400,000."
Smith said 13 families agreed to Continental Pacific’s offer and have completed the purchase of their homes. However, some of those who declined the company’s offer say the $150,000 price tag was actually hundreds of thousands of dollars more because of necessary infrastructure improvements. They also claim Continental Pacific was less than transparent, an allegation the company strongly denies.
"They're telling us to sign documents that we can't even read,” said Noelani Taipin, who was also facing eviction along with her husband Kenneth. “I mean nobody in their right mind would sign a document without reading it."
Continental Pacific was able to secure writs of possession against the three families after they failed to pay rent of $650 per month to a court-controlled trust fund. However the families’ attorney said payments were blocked because a court ordered stay was in effect until Sept. 1.
“The stay was not retroactive when it was lifted, so the first rent would have been due Sept. 1,” Anthony Locricchio explained in court. “All of the rents for Sept. 1 and now October, November and December of 2013 have been paid.”
With the threat of immediate eviction behind them, families who are fighting to remain in Kahuku Village will now have their day in court. Locricchio said 15 cases will go to trial in the coming weeks and months.
"We'll have a chance now to argue all of the reasons that these evictions should not be allowed," said Locricchio. “We’ve had up to 90 hearings so far with one attorney, and they’ve spent an extraordinary amount of money to get rid of these plantation workers.”
Nevertheless, Smith counters Continental Pacific has lived up to the company’s promises to accommodate longtime Kahuku Village residents by offering lots no smaller than 6,500 square feet for what many in Hawaii would consider a sweetheart deal.
“Continental Pacific has performed on its promise to sell for $150,000 and those who took it I think are glad they did rather than being in this process here in court now,” he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Judge Gerald Kibe had issued a temporary restraining order.