Guam: Thousands Of Chamorros Waiting Decades For Land Trust Leases

Applicant list more than 11,400 and less than half have been able to obtain a lease, agency has implemented master plan that maps out Land Trust land to help expedite the process

By Shawn Raymundo and Jerick Sablan 

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 02, 2017) – The U.S. Justice Department has raised concerns about whether the Guam government's Chamorro Land Trust program is an illegal race-based program that violates federal Fair Housing laws — an issue that likely will head to federal court after Guam officials said they will not negotiate.

But for thousands of native Chamorros who lined up in December 1995 to apply for residential and agricultural leases, the program, legal or not, simply hasn't worked. They're still waiting for leases, more than 20 years later.

Time has played a role in the government's inability to track some applicants down, nearly 22 years after they signed up. Cell phones were rare when the list was created, so applicants listed land lines as the way to contact them. Now, land lines are becoming more rare, making it difficult to contact applicants.

And for years, the program was flawed, with political influence used to bump some people to the head of the line in a process that's supposed to be first-come, first served.

Since opening Dec. 2, 1995, the list of applicants has grown to more than 11,400, yet less than half of those people have been able to obtain a lease while roughly 7,000 continue waiting to be contacted by the Land Trust Commission.

About 44 percent of those who applied in December 1995 have received residential leases, and about 39 percent of those who applied that month have received agricultural leases.

Of all the applicants who signed up for leases during the past two decades, nearly 3,000 applied for land during the first month the program opened, in December 1995.

Land Management Director Michael Borja said the commission is chipping away at the list, still working on those who signed up that December.

“We’re working on 1995, because that’s when a lot of people had signed up," Borja said.

The agency is going through the list in groups of 100, trying to contact as many applicants as it can, he said. Some applicants who could not be contacted may be skipped over for an applicant who could, he said.

Borja encourages applicants to update their information so Land Management can contact them when their lease is ready.

Anyone on the list who wants to update their information can call 649-5263 ext. 400 or they can go to the office on the 3rd floor of the ITC building in Tamuning, Monday through Friday.

Over the past few years, there's been some applicants who received their piece of land before thousands of others who have waited over the last 20-plus years.

According to the commission’s list of applicants, 15 people signed up for land between 2011 and 2013 already have received leases, ahead of thousands who applied in December 1995. The issue was brought before the Legislature in late 2015, when lawmakers called Borja down to explain the line jumping.

Borja said certain applicants have been able to jump ahead in line because they were “a beneficiary of someone who already had a lease.”

“Or the individual who had the application didn’t have the lease yet, but transferred their names to a relative,” he said.

In some cases, people on the list can’t be reached, according to Borja.

“If you look at the listing, sometimes we can’t get a hold of people,” he said.

Borja also stressed that the skipping happened before he took over as the head of Land Management in the summer of 2014 – following the death of Monte Mafnas, who previously held the position.

“When I went back and looked, I found hordes of them, hundreds of them (were skipped), back in the early onset of the program. And that’s not cool, and that’s what a lot of people were upset about,” he noted. “There was a big issue about it. And at the time the Legislature brought up the practice that had to be stopped.”

“There was some political influence being placed on the Land Trust, but I can tell you there’s no political influence on the Land Trust to accelerate anybody,” he added.

Borja said he can't comment on the actions of past administrations or directors, other than to state that his office is much more scrupulous when it comes to honoring the list of applicants.

"Before I sign any of these leases, I look through everything, I look for application date. If it’s still in Dec. 1995, I look for other things. Do they meet the application of native inhabitant? … My staff knows how I feel about this,” Borja said.

Borja cited a recent example of what may appear to be someone jumping the line. A mother who was high on the list in 1995 transferred the lease over to her son shortly before she died, he said, and her son had to apply for a Land Trust lease in order to have his mother's lease transferred to him. Although the son signed up in 2015, he was actually getting his mother's lease from 1995, he said.

There also are cases where people who signed up in 1995 switched places with someone who signed up in 1998, he said, so that also makes it look like they've jumped the line.

Some people may have been skipped because Land Management wasn't able to get a hold of them, but managed to contact the applicants after them. If an applicant sees this, they can come in and the agency will work with them to get a lease issued, Borja said.

Because the information on the list is decades old, the Land Trust sometimes isn't able to contact applicants because they don't have the same phone number or they've moved. The agency makes several attempts to try to contact applicants and is looking at possibly publishing a list of names in the newspaper to inform them as well, he said.

The agency has a master plan that maps out the lots on Land Trust land, which will help issue leases at a faster rate. Before, a lease couldn't be issued until a survey was conducted, but with the master plan they'll be able to give out the lease, Borja said.

The applicant will still need to get the property surveyed to hook up the utilities, he said.

Sen. Tom Ada, D-Tamuning, recently introduced a bill to appropriate money from a commercial lease on Land Trust land to be used for surveying property. Bill 47-34, would appropriate $1.75 million to survey Land Trust master plan subdivision lots and unregistered property.

Borja said this would help speed the process of getting people out on their lands.

Ada has also introduced Bill 52-34 and Bill 53-34, which would transfer government property to the Chamorro Land Trust, with priority for residential and agricultural use.

Bill 52 would transfer about two acres. Bill 53 would transfer about three acres.

The land is located across Upi Elementary School in Yigo. It has paved road access and utilities are readily available, Ada said. The land is basically ready to be leased as soon as it gets transferred to the Land Trust, he said.

Pacific Daily News
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