Guam Community College may lose land earmarked for development if it is handed back to its original landowners.

Since the early 1990s Guam Community College has owned a 314-acre strip of land located on Route 15 commonly known as the back road to Andersen [Air Force Base]. Sen. Mark Forbes speaker of the 28th Guam Legislature said “Clearly based on the last 11 years they haven’t had any use for the property since they haven’t used it. Eddie L. G. Benavente executive director of the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission told the Journal “The property starts just before you make the dip towards Hawaiian Rock and ends bordering Hawaiian Rock. The property stretches through the jungle on the left side of the road and through portions of the land on the right side.”

The original landowners and their heirs want their land back and they will be getting help from Forbes. He said “The families are not contesting the deed. What the families are saying is that this is federal property that was returned to the government of Guam. Shouldn’t that property as many other properties in similar situations be turned over to the Ancestral Lands Commission and then returned to the original landowners since that’s what the law talks about? The government should do what local law speaks to which is do everything possible to revert the property back to the original landowner families.”

Forbes told the Journal “Over the course of the last decade apparently there have been families who have actually occupied portions of the property already. I don’t know if anyone has done so on a permanent basis but apparently they have erected temporary facilities.”

The commission was aware of what Forbes was going to do. “I first heard of the idea in one of our round-table meetings with the speaker. The gathering brought all the heirs of the original landowners of the parcel together. The families wanted the leaders to draft legislation to return the land back to them ” Benavente said.

Cathy C. Gogue assistant director of communication and promotions for GCC said “GCC is aware and sensitive to the original landowners’ desire to get the land back. We have been meeting with them to try and come up with an amicable solution but the discussions have stalled. It has been almost a year since the last meeting between GCC and the original landowners.”

GCC has also been in discussion with Forbes. Sept. 16 John C. Camacho vice president of administrative services for GCC and Herominiano dela Santos president of GCC met with Forbes in order to come up with a solution. Discussions are still ongoing.

In those discussions Forbes said he is a strong supporter of the community college expanding and suggested alternative areas where GCC can expand. He mentioned using government-owned property within the vicinity of GCC or one of the hotels that is unused.

“I want to give GCC alternatives to this property based on what kinds of tangible and achievable expansions GCC is interested in and intends to pursue. It is not up to me to decide what GCC wants to do in terms of expansion. And I will support GCC in terms of expanding their programs but it doesn’t appear that this property is necessary for that purpose since at least as best I can see they don’t have any immediate use for the property. This doesn’t have to be adversarial. I believe it can be very cooperative ” Forbes said.

The actual number of original landowners who have a claim to the land is unknown. Benavente said “We have lots of calls come in from heirs of original landowners. According to my staff we have no definite numbers as to how many come from the GCC parcel. We were deeded over 200 lots and because much of the (land) taking occurred in the mid-40s today’s heirs are usually third or fourth generation numbering in the thousands.”

The property was conveyed to GCC on Jun. 6 1990. Gogue told the Journal “Nothing has been done with the land because when it was conveyed to us it was conveyed with restrictions. Another contributing factor as to why nothing had been done with the land was the poor state that Guam’s economy was in.”

On Oct. 7 1998 the restrictions were lifted and GCC said it is coming up with a master plan concerning the property. The plan should be completed within the next six months. While nothing is finalized GCC is open to suggestions from different businesses and organizations. “GCC has had many proposals come in regarding the use of the property. One company from the Philippines proposed building a forensic lab and another group proposed building a cultural center. GCC is willing to work with businesses. If one business proposes building a golf course GCC will work out an agreement where it will lease the land out to the business and its students will be able to work at the golf course and learn a trade ” Gogue said.

She said GCC was Guam’s only vocational institution. “Not all of our students are from Guam. We have other students coming from other islands. Some of our students use GCC as a stepping-stone to attend the University of Guam or other universities. Other students learn a trade at GCC and either stay on Guam or return to their home island. If the property is returned to the original landowners and GCC is not compensated it will have a huge impact on GCC’s students. It will limit the number of opportunities and options that our students have and it will not only have an impact on Guam’s future workforce but also the future workforce of other islands.”

In January of 2003 the government of Guam continued giving land around the Harmon cliffline and Nimitz Hill back to the orginal landowners. “The government has continued to return land to thid day. 90% of the land along the Harmon cliffline and 95% of the land in Nimitz Hill has been returned ” Benavente said.

Forbes told the Journal “Over the years properties have been transferred back to the government of Guam through a variety of mechanisms. What is unique about this particular circumstance is that although it was returned for the purpose of the Guam Community College no reversionary clauses exist. So there is really no impediment to the government of Guam giving it back to the original landowners.”

Forbes said private ownership of property was preferable to government ownership of property.

“I don’t think the government is doing the economy any favors when it controls so much of the real estate. It is clear that private ownership of property usually results in the property being used whether it is housing agriculturally or commercially. Private property tends to be put to a use and that use tends to be something that is beneficial to the government. Whatever use they put it to it will be taxable. Any use of the property is bound to have some positive benefit. Currently the property is not being used in any way shape or form. It is not being used in any way that makes a direct or indirect contribution to the economy. From an economic perspective any use of the property will be preferable to its current non-use.” MBJ