Q: You were able to stop this development and the property evictions for
awhile, but at the end of the day the golf course developers from Japan, with
the help of their friends, the Lums, prevailed. What happened to the farmers?
Wong: They were evicted, and it wasn't an easy eviction.
Q: How so?
Wong: They were, well, sort of put on notice that any minute now
they're going to come in and they're just going to bulldoze down their
homes....[They] sort of had a 24-hour watch to...start up a phone tree to call
and say, okay, they're coming. And then one day they just did.
...[You] would have thought it was a war zone. There was marshals, there were
sheriffs, there were police. Helicopters. You know, there were elderly people,
working class people, kids...It was terrible. They just went in and packed up
all their belongings and moving trucks, held everybody else at bay, and then
went in and just bulldozed their houses.
Q: Were they armed?
Wong: Oh yeah, lots of guns.
Q: So you have this small armed posse coming in to forcefully remove people
from the places they've lived and made their living.
Wong: Yeah, for no reason. And it's a foreign entity that's been aided
by our local Hawaiian attorneys, consultants, politicians. These are
dispensable people. These are small people....They could go.
Q: So you have these middle men, these enablers, these fixers,....People
such as the Lums, who helped to grease the way, both politically and otherwise.
Are they ever held accountable?
Wong: ...We tried. We tried going after the mayor, we tried the
governor, we tried the DNLR,...and we were ignored. The powers to be to get
this golf course through were just way too much for just small people.
Q: And at the end of the day it came down to money.
Wong: Yeah. There was a lot of money to be made.
Q: Do you suppose the Lums knew about the evictions?
Wong: They weren't directly involved at that time, but they set
everything in motion by all the deals that they were making to grease all the
permits. So they were just as much involved as anybody else....
Q: Is this when the [Wongs'] bull was butchered?
Wong: That was before the eviction, but the Lums were definitely
...That was a definite indication: "You're out of here." ...Gene was on
the hike that day. I was hiking right behind him, so he had to be there. Shots
were fired, pantiolos were riding on this little trail. I said, "What are these
guys doing on this trail? We're hiking." "Oh, they're here to protect you from
Q: Did you recognize any of these pantiolos?
Q: I assume it's not the usual thing one runs into on a nature hike.
Wong: No, not at all. And to hear gun shots, no. But [afterwards], we
learned that's when they were stealing the [Wongs'] cattle and shot the bull.
Q: And did the people who had been on this property have any sort of
long-standing claim on the land?
Wong: ...They had leases, and they had either paper or verbal
agreements to stay on the land. They were also told by the golf course
developers, "If you agree with us, and if you support us on the golf course,
you can stay on the land."
Q: It turned out they may not have been completely sincere.
Wong: ...A couple of the farmers...raised pigs, [which is a lucrative
business]....So the golf course representatives went to these farmers and said,
"If you get rid of your pigs, we'll let you stay on the land." So, okay, they
got rid of their pigs, and got an eviction notice.
Q: Which was pretty much the story across the board. Those who agreed and
cooperated and tried to accommodate were, in fact, ultimately not satisfied.
The people who signed the petition ultimately felt double-crossed, didn't
Wong: Yeah, because it didn't matter what you did....You were going to
be out of there. They didn't want you there. As we learned later through
documents, this is where they had planned to put the condos. So of course these
people can't be there, because condos are going to overlook the golf course.
Q: It wasn't just foreigners coming in here and just taking people,
booting people off their land, was it? They were very much aided and abetted by
Wong: Oh yeah, absolutely. All the middle men, for whatever. It started
off with Gene as the first attorney. It started off with Nora, brokering the
land deal. And then started off as Gene appearing before the DNLR and then
working for the city council. Sure, and the end result was, "Get these people
off and build a golf course at all costs."
Q: When I say "locals," that is as distinct from "Hawaiians," right?
Wong: ...When Hawaiian is mentioned, it's in the context of the
nationality. So if you lived in California, you're Californian. If you've lived
in Hawaii you're not a Hawaiian, unless you are of Hawaiian blood. So if you
live here you could be a local.
Q: So what were the Lums?
Wong: They were local.
Q: As opposed to Hawaiian.
Wong: Right. They were not Hawaiian blood....
Q: Was there any environmental issue at stake?
Wong: Oh, there's a lot of environmental issues at stake. This
watershed, 11.5 miles, is the main water source for Kawainui Marsh, which is
the largest freshwater marsh in this state. The golf course came in [and] they
were allowed to channelize the streams,... so it cut down on this water source
to this significant marsh. Bulldozing, of course, caused a lot of runoff, which
eventually ends up in this marsh, as do the pesticides and the herbicides and
the fertilizers and all the chemicals that are used on a golf course.
Q: And you have no state environmental protection agency?
Wong: Well, we do. We have those departments, and we have very good
environmental and land use laws, but just no one ever enforces them.
Especially if you want your project to go through, and you know who to see and
how to do it. The public is just impotent. They can't go anywhere or do
Q: You can always get things fixed.
Wong: Right....We have a state Water Commission, and the golf course
was fined the largest fine ever given anyone for a violation. So we've had very
small wins. It didn't solve anything. It just said that what they had built was
improper, and they didn't have a permit to do it.
Q: And how did the people who built this golf course fare?
Wong: Well, I don't know how they fared individually, but the golf
course went bankrupt....
Q: And what happened to the people who were moved off their land?
Wong: ...They had to go picket in front of the governor's house to get
their belongings out of storage....and then they just scattered. Some have gone
to the Philippines, some have moved to other islands, and they just haven't
done well. And they had a very close community. It was a rural community in an
Q: It just ceased to exist.
Wong: ...It was bulldozed out of existence.
Q: And the Lums?
Wong: Oh, they went on to what they consider was greener pastures when
they went to the Big Island with [another] golf course. But by then the
community and the public and the citizens were getting a little smarter, and so
we knew to look for foreign contributions. [The] community on the Big Island
started doing that and nabbed them right away for giving contributions...in
excess of what you can give [under state and federal campaign laws.]
Q: I get the impression that the favored procedure was to channel money
from foreign investors through people like the Lums, who would pass it on to
local politicians and facilitate whatever needed to be done.
Wong: Absolutely.[We wondered,] What's happening? So we said, "Well,
we'll look at contributions and see if they're over the $2000 limit." Well,
then we realized we're dealing with Japanese nationals. Well, let's look and
see, are they giving contributions? And if so, are they over the limit? Now we
weren't even thinking about on the federal level that it's illegal...I don't
even know how we discovered that. I never saw anything like it....
Q: It was money from the foreign nationals going to whom?
Wong: It went to the mayor, to the governor, to senators,
Q: They covered the board.
Wong: They covered them all, right.
Q: And it worked.
Wong: Yeah, it worked for a long time. Until finally, ...myself, Vicky
Creed and Tony Locricchio filed a complaint with the Federal Elections
Q: So I asked you how the people fared, and they didn't fare very well. I
asked you how the golf course fared, and it lost a lot of money. I asked you
how the Lums fared, and they ultimately left Hawaii.
Wong: ...I think it got really hot for them on the Big Island. They were
written up a lot with their soliciting campaign contributions for the mayor of
the Big Island, so I think it got really hot, and they either wanted to move on
or were forced to move on...
Moving to California for Asian-Americans was a good idea. Asians are "in" now.
They represent ...a growing population in other states, populations that
haven't been taxed, and so they can just move on to greener pastures. And the
Lums knew how to do it. This was their playground....
Q: That Gene and Nora Lum would come to develop a relationship and
ultimately a political union, with the head of the Democratic party, and move
to Washington, and run in those circles and meet the President of the United
States and attend his inaugural and so on. Does that come as a surprise?
Wong: No, it doesn't come as a surprise to me. Nora sought
opportunities, and she knew opportunities when she saw them. And this is the
era of the Asians....
Q: Sort of exploiting the moment.
Wong: Sure. Absolutely. It's there, it was ripe. Somebody had to take
it. They did!