Molokai – long been consistent on its vision

By DeGray Vanderbilt

An Advertiser editorial ("Molokai residents must be vested in island future," March 28) suggested that our Molokai community needs to determine what it wants in the wake of the Molokai Ranch shutdown.

Molokai knows what it wants, and has known for a long while.

I've lived on Molokai 30 years. During that time Molokai has been consistent on the vision it sees for future generations.

This vision has been promoted in a wide range of state and county planning documents since 1980. It's a vision based on long-term sustainability and living within one's means.

Unfortunately, over the years, off-island corporate entities have not taken Molokai's vision seriously and have underestimated the depth of our community's commitment to perpetuate its unique lifestyle.

A recent example is the controversial La`au Point project, which Molokai Ranch and its billion-dollar Malaysian-based owner GuocoLeisure tried to force on our community despite overwhelming community opposition.

This project would have been the largest coastal subdivision ever developed in the state, running along 5.5 miles of undeveloped, pristine coastline. Ranch executives boasted the project would be marketed to "pentamillionaires" seeking a second or third home.

In addition to La`au, Molokai Ranch wanted to keep its existing entitlements at the Kaluakoi Resort for six hotels, three condominium projects, 21 acres of undeveloped commercial lands, and planned areas for hundreds of additional luxury houses.

But Molokai refused to buy into La`au Point. The community remained true to its vision and refused to sell out for the "carrot" that promised a loosely defined quick fix.

As a result, Molokai's sustainable vision still remains active with dedicated community support, as residents watch the unrelenting exploitation throughout the state of working families, the environment and the aloha spirit by those who already have enough.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Hawai'i was filled with sustainable communities. No one had much money, but most led a rich lifestyle. Back then, a family could afford a decent house and lot even though wages were low. Things were in balance.

But no more.

Anger and resentment continue to swell today as our state tumbles out of balance, as it moves more and more toward a two-class society.

But Molokai's tight community has refused to go down that road. On Molokai, things have remained relatively in balance compared with the rest of the state.

Molokai is the last island still under control of the "local" population. This is why Molokai remains the "Friendly Island." It is this control factor that keeps people smiling, and allows residents to continue believing things will be done right on Molokai so that our island's unique local lifestyle is sustained for future generations to enjoy.

In recent weeks community groups, including a dedicated coalition of young adults 25 to 35 years old, have been working overtime in an effort to buy the entire 60,000-acre Molokai Ranch property.

Within 10 days of Molokai Ranch's March 24 shutdown notice, the community published a document entitled "Molokai, future of a Hawaiian island." The report reveals the community's unwavering vision for the future.

This document is key to our community's quest to purchase the Ranch.

The price?

GuocoLeisure (formerly BIL International Limited) has been trying to unload its Molokai property for more than a decade without success.

The company's estimated book value for its remaining Molokai property is between $200 million and $250 million.

GuocoLeisure has not disclosed whether it will sell its property as a package to the highest bidder or sell off its land parcels piecemeal.

Significant uncertainties associated with the Ranch's water resources will certainly affect anticipated land-sale revenues.

Those buying any Ranch land will be purchasing it "as is." "Buyer beware" takes on special meaning for anyone looking to pick up a "sweet deal," especially if that deal is at our community's expense.

The community is working hard toward its purchase goal, and has a pledge for $50 million from UPC Wind. Since the Ranch shutdown, calls have come in from several major potential donors.

Some say the community has only a short window of opportunity to act on buying the Ranch. Hopefully, GuocoLeisure will expand that window of opportunity and agree to work with the community for a reasonable time to implement a win-win situation for Molokai, and for GuocoLeisure's shareholders.

I believe that if GuocoLeisure is willing to enter into a negotiated sale with the community, the $50 million already pledged will be matched by other $50 million dollar pledges and GuocoLeisure will end up walking away with a transaction that is best for the company's shareholders and its corporate image worldwide.

DeGray Vanderbilt recently stepped down as chairman of the Molokai Planning Commission and was a member of the committee that developed the master land-use plan for Molokai Ranch. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.


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