Legislative battle brews over Kewalo
WHATEVER the proposal for change, there will be opposition.
In Waikiki, for instance, the issue is street performers. In the one portion of the state devoted to hawkers and hustlers, where the ambiance is trained parrots and T-shirt shops, city government wants to shoo away some of the local color.
Officials say street musicians and those who make a living by being purposefully odd are blocking the crowds hoping to score at Bernini or Gianni Versace.
But if you need a picture of yourself grinning uncomfortably with four parrots perched on your shoulder or if you want to gawk at a fellow who paints himself silver, why should you go somewhere else but Waikiki?
If part of the natural environment of Waikiki sidewalks are street buskers, then what about Kewalo Basin? Should this home to fishermen, body surfers and locals out for a walk also be the home to stalls selling refrigerator magnets and live pearls still in the shell?
Redoing Kewalo Basin with condos, restaurants and shops could be one of the big battles when the Legislature convenes in January.
The Hawaii Community Development Authority proposes allowing Alexander & Baldwin Properties to develop the 36.5-acre site into shops, restaurants, boardwalks and promenades. To pay for all this, HCDA calls for the state to allow A&B to sell condos on the property and pay the state about $50 million for the state land converted to private property. The extra profit would go to pay A&B to develop the rest of the area.
The idea makes much sense for planners who hail the somewhat repetitive idea of an "urban village." Parks without people living nearby are empty at night, shops without evening customers go broke and restaurants without crowds passing by will not survive, the planners say.
Gov. Linda Lingle has already put the administration in favor of the plan calling it "a terrific idea." But others are questioning the need for another synthetic gathering place.
Critics say Honolulu is already the most congested city in the nation, the most lacking in open space and the most traffic clogged. We might be able to peek at green mountains and blue oceans, but we already live like rats in our urban caves, the Kewalo Basin opponents say.
In written testimony last week before a state Senate panel exploring the plan, Jeremy Lam voiced the fear of many: "For what little say we residents have, many of us would like to see the land kept unused. ... Let us make one more gathering place for our people -- open grass, adequate parking, easy access to the beach and breathtaking visual planes."
Interestingly, Democrats are already starting to rev up a plan to emphasize "local values" in next year's campaigns. As legislators start to explore the issue next year, a cry to "Save Kewalo Basin" could be an issue to define at least one local value.
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com