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Dispatch Editor Reveals Letter to Senator Inouye

With tensions rising between developers and the Molokai community, Dispatch owner and editor in chief, Todd Yamashita, wrote Senator Daniel Inouye in November 2006 asking the leader to aid in the search for development alternatives.

Senator Inouye replied to the editor’s letter in February largely arguing support for the Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) 200 lot millionaires’ estates at La`au Point in West Molokai. The letter has remained a private issue until recently when Molokai Island Times editor, Brennan Purtzer, reported that copies of the correspondence were “circulating around town.”

The following is a revealing questions-and-answer session with Yamashita regarding the letters as well as his personal views on the La`au Point controversy.

Adam Bencze: Why did you write Senator Inouye?

Todd Yamashita: Bill Kapuni had told me that he had a chance meeting the senator in the Honolulu airport and that Inouye was non-committal about the Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) Master Plan. I was intrigued. It motivated me to write the Senator myself.

AB: What did you write the Senator?

TY: I told him that “Molokai’s history has always been tied to agriculture and the strong presence of Hawaiian culture,” and that we needed to honor and support those traditions. I told him that I thought that MPL’s plan did honor these values in most ways except for the La`au development. I said “the answers rest in the hands of leaders and involved community members who can work toward acceptable alternatives in an environment of trust.”

AB: You also made comments about John Sabas who is MPL Community Affairs Manager. What was that all about?

TY: The fact is that John Sabas withdrew all of the Ranch’s advertising from the paper, and threatened to sue the Molokai Dispatch because he said we were printing false information.  I told John that I would happily retract any inaccuracies – all he had to do was tell me what was incorrect.  To this day, I have not received a single letter from John pointing out what we got wrong.  It was also reported by several sources that Sabas went on a mission to convince people, including the local Democratic Convention, not to advertise with the paper.  I mentioned him in my letter to the Senator because I wanted him to know that there was some dirty politics taking place.

AB: Besides that, what was the Senator’s take on MPL’s Master Plan?

TY: He said he had the chance to meet with MPL CEO, Peter Nicholas early on and that he was impressed that Peter was willing to come to the table. Peter told him that he wanted to “do right by the island.” Inouye told Peter that if that was the case that Peter would have to “give a lot to get a little.” He went on to describe how Peter partnered with the community and came up with the Master Plan. To be honest, much of the letter read like those MPL press releases where the Ranch self congratulates themselves over and over.

AB: How did you take the response?

TY: Honestly, I was deflated. I was pretty disappointed because up till then, I thought that even though the Ranch was putting a massive spin on things, I felt like Inouye would be able to see through the smoke screen. But I’m hoping this to change. Since the last Enterprise Community vote it has been undeniably clear that the majority of the Molokai community does not support the development at Laau Point, and yet the Ranch continues to charge ahead using the community’s name in support of their development. 

AB: Why didn’t you print the letters until now?

TY: Like I said I was bummed out. The last thing I wanted was to print the letter because I didn’t want the community to feel as let down as I did. What’s funny is that someone gave Brennan Purtzer the letter and asked him to print it in the Molokai Times – Senator Inouye copied his response to only two other people: Peter Nicholas and William Akutagawa, so I’m wondering how other people got my letter?  There seems to be a lot of this kind of thing going around….  

At this point, I can say that my heart and soul were put into that letter and that though it was meant to be a private matter, I feel I can stand behind it 100%. If people want other people to read it, that’s a good thing. People already know where they stand on La`au Point, and, if anything, I think the letters will further strengthen their resolve.  So, here it is:

Aloha Senator Inouye,I hope that you will have a chance to read this personally. I am asking you not to support the development of La`au Point, and instead, aid our community to search for alternatives. I am the grandson of Henry Yamashita who was the first Japanese American to operate and manage a power plant in the US. That power plant was Molokai Electric on the island where I continue to live out the fourth generation of the Yamashita/Molokai tradition. As the new owner of Molokai’s longest running newspaper, the Molokai Dispatch, I have become acutely aware of the divisive nature that Molokai Ranch’s Master Land Use Plan has created.  Our own random phone and internet polling shows that nearly 70% of Molokai people do not support the plan with regards to developing La`au Point. Because the issue is clearly dividing our community, the Molokai Dispatch has taken the official standpoint of endorsing alternatives. Throughout my business’s support for alternatives, ranch community affairs manager, John Sabas, has successfully stripped our publication of ranch advertising and has even gone as far as denying us advertising for the local Democratic convention.  However, my problem lies not with the politics of the issue. I am writing you because of my love for this place. Molokai's unique and special character has helped make me who I am and I am forever grateful for this. Molokai’s history has always been tied to agriculture and the strong presence of Hawaiian culture. We need to honor these traditions by continuing our support for them. The ranch’s Master Land Use Plan honors this concept in most ways except for the inclusion of developing La`au Point. The answers to Molokai’s problems do not lie within the development of 200 millionaire lots. The answers rest in the hands of leaders and involved community members who can work toward acceptable alternatives in an environment of trust. It has been going through the grapevine that you do not support he development of La`au. I urge you to connect with our community to let us know that you will not stand for a development that will change the face of Molokai forever. You have done so much for our island year after year. We have in the past and will in the future look to you for leadership. The pages of my newspaper are open to you at anytime.  Sincerely, Todd Yamashita  Molokai Dispatch – Owner(808) 552-2781editor@themolokaidispatch.com

Dear Mr. Yamashita:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding Molokai Ranch’s Master Land Use Plan. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me.
If I recall correctly, about ten years ago, I addressed a luncheon gathering at the Kaluakoi Hotel on the topic of economic development. I discussed the numerous federal initiatives, from fishpond restoration to agricultural development on homestead lands, that I had the privilege of sup porting at the time. I also raised the reality of Molokai Ranch, namely that it was the largest private landowner and one of the largest employers on the island. I encouraged the parties to find common ground in ways that would bind, rather than divide, the island and its families. It is interesting as well as a bit sad to note how much things have both changed and stayed the same over the past decade.
In August of 2003, 1 had the opportunity to meet Peter Nicholas. He attended an ohana picnic in the early evening and a community information meeting the following day. I respected him for accepting my invitation to “enter the lion’s den.” During the community meeting, Mr. Nicholas apologized for the errors of his predecessors and committed himself to do right by the island. I remember telling him that lie would need to “give a lot to hopefully get a little.” By the following year, Peter Nicholas had already initiated a process of partnering with the community. I attended a general membership meeting of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce on August 31, 2004 when Mr. Nicholas presented some preliminary plans for Molokai Ranch lands that he had been discussing with the Molokai Enterprise Community, a federally sponsored community organization.
As you know, there literally have been 100+ meetings since then, which culminated in the Molokai Ranch’s Master Land Use Plan which calls for the creation of a land trust and the donation of over 51,000 acres in a combination of fee simple lands and
conservation/agricultural easements. Much of these lands are sacred cultural sites and endangered ecosystems. The plan assures that the homesteaders’ preference rights to water will always be honored. Protection of cultural sites and a program to continue subsistence activities are major components of the plan. In return, the Ranch is seeking approval to develop 200 two-acre lots within the proximity of Laau Point. Renovating and reopening Kaluakoi Hotel is also a part of the plan, and is contingent on the approval of the Laau Point project.
When one compares the key components of the Master Land Use Plan to other proposed developments throughout the State, the “give-backs” are substantial, and I would venture to say will set a high standard and new precedent in the push and pull of
developer/landowner interests versus community interests. Neither side can expect to get everything for nothing.
As I understand it, the Ranch has undertaken the preparation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement to accompany its Master Land Use Plan. This is the beginning of a lengthy process whereby input would be received, modifications proposed or additions made. The public and the press have an opportunity to comment throughout this process. I would not like to see this project killed on the hope that there will be a better offer down the road because by the same token, an offer to preserve 51,000 acres may never come again.
As a newspaper owner, you have the power of the press with a duty to report the news accurately, and to provide editorial comment, to allow your readers to make up their own minds on a particular issue. If a person or business believes that that power is being abused, their recourse is to cancel their subscription or in the case of a newspaper, cancel their advertising buy. It happens to the Honolulu Advertiser, the Washington Times, or in this case, the Molokai Dispatch. No business is obligated to advertise in a newspaper it does not believe is treating it fairly. Such business decisions are made every day.
I apologize for the length of my letter, but I felt I needed to provide you with some background for the position I am taking. I regret that we are not in agreement, however, I have trust in the ongoing public processes and in our democracy to ultimately result in decisions that preserves what is most special and culturally sacred, while allowing for a sustainable economic infusion for Molokai.
(signed) Daniel K. Inouye
cc: Mr. Peter Nicholas, Molokai Ranch
Mr. William Akutagawa, Jr., Molokai Field Representative


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