Wednesday, June 23, 1999

Waikiki Natatorium
must be fully restored

Bullet The issue: A Circuit judge has ruled that the renovated salt-water Waikiki Natatorium would require a permit from the state Health Department as a swimming pool.
Bullet Our view: The ruling ignores that the department's regulations were intended for freshwater pools and should be overturned.

A Circuit Court ruling that the renovated Waikiki Natatorium would require a permit from the state Health Department as a swimming pool seems based on semantics rather than reality.

Yes, the Natatorium is a swimming pool -- now badly deteriorated -- but not the kind to which the Health Department's requirements were intended to apply -- fresh-water, fully enclosed pools.

The Natatorium pool is salt water and has been redesigned so that the pool would be flushed frequently to keep water quality the same as the ocean outside its walls.

Despite the arguments of both state and city attorneys that the pool would be a swimming area no different from other seaside swimming spots, Judge Gail Nakatani ruled that the pool would need a Health Department permit.

City attorneys said the judge's ruling disregarded the legislative history and intent of the rules as well as state Health Director Bruce Anderson's admission that the rules were never intended to apply to salt water.

The permit question has become key to the efforts of the users of Kaimana Beach, adjacent to the Natatorium, to block restoration. Their real concern is not water quality in the pool but their misinformed notion that the restoration would somehow interfere with their use of Kaimana Beach.

Mayor Harris, who is a marine biologist and as such probably more knowledgeable on this issue than the judge, called the ruling ludicrous, saying it meant the city would "have to chlorinate the whole ocean." He declared the city would appeal. If it does, we hope it prevails.

This is a setback for the city's restoration plans, but it is only one round of an ongoing struggle over the full restoration of the Natatorium -- the only kind that makes sense.

Even if the judge's ruling stands, it is possible that full restoration can proceed. The Health Department has said in the past it would not issue a permit because the Natatorium's water would be too murky for lifeguards to see swimmers in distress. But a city attorney said the city would work with the department to develop new rules appropriate for a salt-water facility.

Underlying this battle is the scandalous neglect of the Natatorium, built in 1927 as a World War I memorial but allowed to deteriorate so badly that it had to be closed in 1979 as a health and safety hazard.

This historic and once-beautiful monument should be fully restored as a memorial to Hawaii's World War I veterans and to eliminate an eyesore on the Waikiki shoreline.

To demolish the pool, preserving only the arch, as some propose, would be to destroy the memorial. The Natatorium without the pool would be a travesty of historical preservation.

The contention that the pool with its improved flushing design would not be safe or healthy is mistaken. It could become a popular swimming facility again, but first the attempt to confuse it with a fresh-water pool for ulterior motives has to be defeated.


the disabled

Bullet The issue: The Supreme Court upheld employer restrictions against job applicants with physical deficiencies that can be corrected.
Bullet Our view: The federal disabilities law protects people who cannot overcome their handicaps with eyeglasses or medication.

THE 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against the physically and mentally handicapped. However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Congress did not intend legal protection to extend to people who wear eyeglasses or take medication that effectively eliminates their handicaps.

Court rulings bar two nearsighted pilots, a truck driver nearly blind in one eye and a mechanic taking medication for high blood pressure from greatly expanding the law's scope.

It may be argued that remedial measures should qualify those people for the jobs they seek, but that was not provided by the law. It defines disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities." Poor eyesight that can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses and high blood pressure that can be controlled with medication do not qualify under that definition.

Twin sisters who wear contact lenses to correct their 20/200-400 eyesight are pilots for regional commuter airlines who were seeking advancement to United Airlines, which requires its pilots to have uncorrected vision of at least 20/100 in each eye.

They were unable to show -- as the law requires -- that their eyesight had kept them from performing a broad range of jobs in various classes. In fact, they perform a job in the same class as the one they sought.

"Had Congress intended to include all persons with corrected physical limitations among those covered by the act, it undoubtedly would have cited a much higher number of disabled persons in (its) findings," noted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "That it did not is evidence that the ADA's coverage is restricted to only those whose impairments are not mitigated by corrective measures."

The high court did not address the question of whether the advent of laser eye surgery will qualify pilots whose need for eyeglasses had prevented their advancement. The disabilities law probably would not apply in that case either.

However, airlines at some point should consider scrapping what seems to be an arbitrary standard for eyesight.

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