CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Surfer Jay Rush took a break from protesting at the Capitol last March with members of Friends of Kewalo Basin, opponents of the now quashed Kakaako Makai project. The plan included selling a portion of the property for condominium units and using the funds to improve the remaining public land.
The winners and losers in Kakaako Makai fiasco
NOW THAT the Legislature has adjourned and the flame is flickering on the heated Kakaako Makai debate, let's take a look at the status of things.
The passage of House Bill 2555, which prohibits residential development in the area, was hailed as a "people's victory." Governor Lingle might or might not sign the bill into law. Alexander & Baldwin, in the meantime, decided to pull its project. And now there will be a citizens advisory committee attached to the Hawaii Community Development Authority.
Who are the winners and losers?
"Save Kakaako Makai": A big winner. This small group of veteran protesters waged one of the most energetic and effective campaigns in recent memory. With e-mails, T-shirts and rallies, they managed to convince the Legislature that they spoke for every person in the state. They've positioned themselves to be a deciding factor in any future land-use decision, whether you agree with them or not.
The surfers: Big winners. Wherever they are, surfers are notorious for guarding their territory, and the Kakaako group is no exception. The intimidating trash site, with its limited parking, suits them just fine, and now it looks like they're going to be able to keep it that way. The last thing they want is the expanded access that the A&B proposal promised.
HCDA: A big loser. Not only did it lose a highly desirable project that would have turned a wasteland into a wonderland of park space, with cultural and commercial activities (all paid for by private-sector monies), and two residential towers far from the shoreline, it took on the added burden of community advisers. I'm all for democracy and citizen input, but if you want to stop a public entity cold, assign it a bunch of activists with strongly held, conflicting opinions. HCDA's power to design the future of Kakaako Makai, and possibly the rest of Kakaako, is essentially dead.
We're already seeing the effects. What we now have is a weird and possibly dangerous mixture of a surfing spot, a medical school, a children's museum, an infectious disease laboratory and a homeless shelter. The area will continue to be used for its original purpose -- a dumping ground for things that don't fit, unwanted elsewhere.
Legislators: Losers. Kakaako Makai has been one of the most discussed issues of our time. Yet legislators did not call for a survey, and ignored the fact that on April 5 the Manoa Neighborhood Board, representing 30,000 Manoa residents, defeated a resolution (by a 7-2 vote) that was intended to stop the project. Instead, the lawmakers chose to listen to the cabal of clever, noisy opponents and quickly declared that "the people have spoken."
Indeed, they offered little or no comment on how they felt about the project, other than to say they favored "open space" -- whatever that means. And in their rush to judgment, they passed a flawed bill, which the governor will be forced to veto. HB 2555 bans ALL residential development in the district, prohibiting the other landowner, Kamehameha Schools, from using its property for even one-story rentals.
Hawaii as a business state: Big loser. A highly respected local company spent tons of money, followed the rules and then got shot down by our Legislature. Do you think that's going to help our "anti-business" image?
Environmentalists: Losers. Life of the Land came out against the project because it involved the sale of public land. They should have strongly supported the immediate clean-up of an area where our Department of Health found elevated levels of lead, arsenic and petroleum products in the vicinity of a children's attraction. And what's wrong with selling public land? Government should be given as much flexibility as possible in working for the public good. A&B wanted to hand us 50 million bucks for the purchase and clean-up of toxic land. I'd say that's a deal we shouldn't have refused. We could have used that money for improving schools, to choose but one example.
Affordable housing advocates: Losers. With the demise of A&B, there went the loss of 126 units of affordable housing that the developer would have been required to provide. And placing more housing in Kakaako would have relieved congestion in outlying regions.
The homeless: Winners. They found a home in a warehouse, not far from the med school. But I note that some have left the shelter for safer Sand Island. Even the desperate don't want to live in this spooky area.
The people of Hawaii: Big losers. Yes, gone are the two towers, but what will take their place? Certainly no company or organization will step forward to haul away the contaminated soil and make improvements now that A&B has bowed out. There's talk of a "people's park," but the odds of that happening are slim to none, because it would be:
» Too expensive for construction through public monies. The clean-up alone will cost us $10 million -- at today's prices. And there are many far more critical concerns, such as our struggling education system, that will compete for the same funds.
» Too costly to maintain, most likely requiring an admission fee, like at Diamond Head. Note the recent theft of $10,000 in brass flush valves (in addition to toilets and sinks) from public parks. We'll need 24-hour police protection just at each bathroom.
» Too filled with problems (crime, drugs, graffiti), especially since it looks like the area is destined to become a refuge for the homeless.
The protesters were well aware that people , especially Hawaii's people, are always adverse to change. So, it looks like Kakaako Makai will be kept in its present deplorable state.
Governor Lingle, commenting in January, observed: "If this project doesn't go through, I think it could be a quarter of a century before anything is done in the area." (Star-Bulletin, January 1, 2006).
Let's face it, folks.
We blew it.
About the author:
C. Richard Fassler served on the Manoa Neighborhood Board for 10 years. He is a longtime contributor to the Star-Bulletin opinion pages.