WHEN I despaired about how scrawny Keehi Lagoon Park's trees are compared to the lush ones at Ala Moana Park, Don Griffin stuck a 1938 news clipping under my nose.
Keehi park needs
In 1938, City-County Supervisor Walter Macfarlane was so dismayed at the condition of Ala Moana Park that he proposed using half the land for 335 leasehold home lots, with the income used to make the remnant a better park.
Fortunately, save-the-whole-park forces prevailed. We now have a law forbidding the City Council to sell or otherwise dispose of property bordering on the ocean.
Griffin -- Donald E. Griffin, 81 -- was in Washington earlier this year to receive a Prime Time Award as Hawaii government's outstanding older worker. As chief of park planning for Honolulu he has a great rule: "Don't put down a picnic table unless it's under a tree."
He agrees Keehi Lagoon Park trees are far below the standard of Ala Moana due to inadequate maintenance funds. In mitigation, he further points out that Ala Moana is primarily a swimming-picnicking park whereas Keehi emphasizes baseball and canoeing. The former seaplane runways off Keehi make great canoe race courses.
I link the two parks because I remember politics past. Prior to 1958, Oahu was divided into only two legislative districts. The Fourth District lay east of Nuuanu Avenue, the Fifth to the west. Each elected six representatives to the territory's House of Representatives.
A lot of political oratory pictured the Fifth, which included Kalihi, as the district of the "have-nots" and its six representatives as its defenders. When government money was about to be spent to upgrade Ala Moana Park in the district of the "haves," Fifth District legislators demanded something for the "have-nots." The result was the creation of Keehi Lagoon Park off a stub of Honolulu Airport not essential to flight operations.
Legislative redistricting carved Oahu into so many sub-districts that the old head-on Fourth vs. Fifth confrontations seemed to disappear.
Keehi Lagoon Park ABSOLUTELY can have greenery as green as at Ala Moana Park. For proof just visit the 11-acre World War II Memorial Park adjoining Keehi. It is operated by the Disabled American Veterans of Hawaii. Flowers and trees thrive there. Maintenance is the difference.
DAV "boys," now mostly well over age 70, have given zillions of hours of volunteer labor. They built their own automatic watering system. A Weinberg Foundation $700,000 gift help-ed build a community hall. The rental fees help fund memorial park upkeep. The adjoining 72-acre city park has only a tiny maintenance staff and limited automatic watering.
Government financial stringency is behind the sub-standard greenery at Keehi.
Meanwhile, the former Fifth District has added Sand Island Beach Park, created by the state along Sand Island's ocean front. It is fine for surfing and fishing but, like Keehi, not good for swimming. Its recreation structures and shelters have been neglected and are run down. It may have even less greenery than Keehi.
The old Fourth District has a new state beach park, too, in the Kakaako Redevelopment Area between Kewalo Basin and Honolulu Harbor.
A miles-long oceanfront ribbon of green is developing, except it isn't all as green as we should want.
The park balance hints that a less obvious version of Fourth District vs. Fifth District rivalry still may be alive. If so, the single-district legislators who are heirs to the old Fifth District should join to fight for more greenery.
A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.