View Point

By A. John Titchen

Saturday, July 3, 1999

Public is ignored in
Natatorium controversy

THE state stopped paying for a helicopter traffic watch. This and other government extravagances paid for with state funds were eliminated or curtailed by former state Budget Director Earl Anzai.

The Bishop Estate investigation, under the direction of then-Attorney General Margery Bronster, resulted in a number of astounding revelations, despite continued interference and innuendo from special interests. However, the diligence of both Bronster and Anzai seemed to be the reason for a majority of state senators to refuse renewal of their contracts.

These lawmakers were elected by voters who probably thought that these officials would represent their interests and, thus, Hawaii's voters participated in government. But participatory government didn't happen in this case.

As a former member of the state legislative committee of the American Association of Retired Persons who has attended and sometimes testified at hearings at the state Capitol, I concluded many months ago that participatory government is almost non-existent.

Look at another example: What's happening with the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium.

In 1973, then-state Sen. Fred Rolfing blocked the demolition of the obsolete mistake located at the Diamond Head end of Kalakaua Avenue.

The state action resulted in the City and County of Honolulu being made responsible for the structure. The city promptly deemed it to be unsafe and closed it down, thus resulting in the waste of 110 meters of prime Waikiki Beach for 26 years, thus far.

Former state Sen. J. Ward Russell has provided current officials with plenty of statistics from the period when the Natatorium was first opened, and its gradual decline in popularity and non-patronage. Pages and pages of explanation detail the mistakes.

Yet, at one particularly important city hearing, Russell's advice was ignored. Instead, the words of the president of an organization called Friends of the Natatorium were heeded. The president, Nancy Bannick, said that the restoration would "keep the construction people busy."

After several public meetings, the volume of opinion clearly indicated that people wanted the beach -- as opposed to the Natatorium -- restored. Nevertheless, City Council members voted in favor of allocating $11.5 million to restore the Natatorium.

Not long after this proclamation, Mayor Jeremy Harris announced the removal of broken playground equipment from city parks because they needed repairs but government did not have the required funds.

Likewise, Harris balked at salary increases for trash collectors and also noted that the city could not pay the earned overtime of our police officers.

More than once at meetings and in written testimony, I have suggested that such an expensive item as the Natatorium restoration should be placed on the ballot. Yet that hasn't happened. Why not? Whose government is this anyway?

At one legislative hearing, Rep. Nestor Garcia told the Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs that "this administration is committed to saving the Natatorium."

As a veteran of World War II, I would suggest that the administration commit itself instead to more of us who are still alive, and stop depriving residents and tourists of the use of prime Waikiki shoreline.

I would not make this statement if, in the past 40 years, I had seen one person with head bowed toward the so-called pool of remembrance.

Like I said, participatory government in Hawaii seems non-existent.

A. John Titchen is a Honolulu photojournalist
and retired Star-Bulletin photographer.

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