Local Connections: Tannya Joaquin and Hawaii Kai

Local Connections: Tannya Joaquin and Hawaii Kai
Rich Budnick
Rich Budnick
Henry Kaiser
Henry Kaiser
Alan Joaquin
Alan Joaquin
Glenn Nii
Glenn Nii

By Tannya Joaquin - bio | email

HAWAII KAI (HawaiiNewsNow) This growing community is home to 30,000 people, including me.

After 50 years of change the last of the old-time farmers are feeling the pinch.

A handful of pigs still call Hawaii Kai home. But, it wasn't that long ago when there were more pigs than people. More crops than condos.

"You may not know that Kalama valley was pig farms," said author Rich Budnick. "We've got houses there today. There are houses there today, but it was pig farms and in fact, that was the first place Hawaiians fought for land rights."

Budnick is author of "Hawaii's Forgotten History." He says the turning point came when developer Henry Kaiser started building.

"Hawaii Kai, which means seaward Hawaii, actually Kai is short for Kaiser," said Budnick. "Henry Kaiser being the founder of Hawaii Kai."

This is a look above Hawaii Kai today. You'll see all the development, but this all used to be considered unvaluable swamp land.

In the 60's, Kaiser began dredging Kuapa Fish Pond, and carving out a community around the marina and Maunalua Bay.

Today, they're a main attraction for residents, a favorite spot for families like mine.

The first families moved into the neighborhood in 1961.

We found that same house. Not much has changed. The only difference? The price. Asking price back then was around $30,000.

Today, you'd be lucky to get into this neighborhood for less than $2 million!

Kaiser also pioneered the country's first town homes. Terrace Lanais were sold for $19,000.

They're still there on Kawaiahae Street, but the area is filled in now with other marina-front properties, even a Costco.

Some say Hawaii Kai is too congested now, but it's nowhere near what Kaiser had in mind.

"Henry Kaiser wanted to promote Hawaii Kai with resorts, hotels and also a 50,000 seat baseball stadium," Budnick said.

Nonetheless, Hawaii Kai has undergone a huge shift from its rural roots.

In its hay day, 60 percent of Oahu's lettuce, pigs and flowers were grown here.

Farms were everywhere, including where Kaiser High is today.

My husband Alan, a '92 graduate witnessed new complexes sprout up across from campus.

"The developments that took place of all the bare land that sat there for all those years.All these homes and townhouses started popping up," Alan Joaquin said.

As developers built up and out, farmers got pushed farther and farther inland.

"We were pushed back into this valley here," said Kamilonui farmer Glenn Nii. "It was funny because everyday the road to get back into the valley would change because there's a house in our way. So okay, we have to go around the house to get back into the valley. Major change back here."

Many residents don't realize Hawaii Kai has 87 acres of farmland, right in their own backyard.

"(It's) the last stronghold for East Oahu," Nii said.

Last month, Kamilonui farmers organized this "Keep the Valley, Valley" day to let neighbors know they're here and want to stay.

"Keep the land ag is the main thing. We need sustainability in East Oahu," Nii said.

The Nii family has had nurseries since the 50's when the area was known as Koko Head.

But, the family tradition will likely end with his generation.

"My kids don't want to do it. They see the writing on the wall," Nii said.

All the leases are up for renegotiation next year, and end in 2025. The few farmers left fear rising real estate values will force them out and alter Hawaii Kai's landscape for good.