Residents of lava-ravaged Leilani Estates drop lawsuit against Hawaii County

Residents of lava-ravaged Leilani Estates drop lawsuit against Hawaii County

PUNA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Leilani Estates residents are giving up on a lawsuit they filed against Hawaii County that would have returned a security checkpoint to the neighborhood devastated by lava.

The cost of maintaining that 24-hour security was $100,000 every month and federal money for the measure ran out at the end of October.

Some Leilani Estates residents have been against keeping the checkpoint and now even the group who filed the lawsuit to bring it back believes there is a better way to deal with squatters and other unwanted visitors.

Attorney Mike Garbarino, who pulled the lawsuit he filed on behalf of the Leilani Estates Community Association, said residents are working with police and the county council on another solution.

Some of his neighbors have been critical of that strategy from the beginning.

“It just was blocking one of the entrances — the main entrance. There was a secondary entrance. People were able to walk in, bike in, anybody was able to get into Leilani Estates,” said Paddy Daly, who lives in Upper Leilani Estates.

Since the eruption, Daly claims he's had solar panels, a jigsaw, an expensive bike, and a generator stolen from his property. Daly feels filing suit against the county may have created even more problems.

"Officers here are professionals, however they are people and they are dealing with a community that seems ungrateful to them and I think that lawsuit has created that feeling in all of us," added Daly.

Garbarino says that was never the intent.

The residents he represents just wanted a seat at the decision-making table. Now, they’re taking the squatters head-on.

"Under Hawaii law, a verbal agreement can create a lease and many squatters know this. So, a police officer confronts them about being in the home and they say 'oh I have permission of the owner' and the police then cannot do anything," said Garbarino.

That’s where Garbarino can still help — by filing a no-occupancy letter from the owner or bank proving that no one should be in an abandoned home. It’s a new strategy that at least appears to be working.

"Civil enforcement, criminal enforcement and neighborhood watch and the combination is working, there have been ten arrests since Christmas," added Garbarino.

The Leilani Estates Community Association is still considering making the subdivision a gated neighborhood with privately funded security. That’s being voted on this month and a request could go before the county early next year.

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