Sunday, October 14, 2001

Glenn and Liz Martinez stood beside an abandoned car on
Aakaina Street in Waimanalo yesterday. Both say they
confront people abandoning cars near their
property, no matter the hour.

Waimanalo fights
to reduce abandoned
car problem

Residents are fed up with
people using their community
as an auto dumping ground


By Lisa Asato

GLENN MARTINEZ of Waimanalo can't recall exactly what pushed him to the edge. It might have been the sounds of breaking glass and "big trucks and metal" at 1:30 in the morning.

Or it might have been that explosion of cars being torched down the street two years ago. The loud incident shook his church group having a Bible study class outside his home.

"It was like living in a Third World country," he said. "We haven't had any Bible study since. That was when the wife and I started getting really upset at this.

"Bush is against the terrorists; I'm against junk cars," said Martinez, who has lived on a back road of Waimanalo for five years with his wife, Liz, and their 11 dogs.


A community meeting on the abandoned car problem in Waimanalo:
>> When: 7 p.m. Oct. 24
>> Where: Waimanalo Public & School Library

Like the Martinez family, Waimanalo residents say their home has been the dumping ground for abandoned autos for years. And those cars, they say, are a magnet for trouble: stolen cars and people who strip the cars for parts.

Wilson Ho, Waimanalo Neighborhood Board chairman, said over the years dumping and torching cars in Waimanalo has made his town "the cesspool of automobiles."

Ho said the community tackled the blight before with neighborhood watch patrols, but now it's come back even bigger -- at least one commercial operator is apparently contributing to the mess.

State Rep. Joe Gomes (R, Waimanalo) said commercial dumping has "compounded the problem exponentially."

"You see pieces of buses, pieces of large trucks," he said, adding that semi-crushed cars are piled two, three and four high by the road side.

Gomes, who held a community meeting last week to address the issue, said state law may need to be reviewed. The law imposes a maximum $1,000 fine, and Gomes said people at the meeting discussed other penalties such as license suspension and heftier fines for renewing existing car registration.

Cecelia Chang, city deputy prosecuting attorney, said from what she hears there is an incentive for culprits to cheat so they can avoid paying an $80 fee to the city to junk a vehicle.

"It's cost-effective unless stiff fines are meted out to violators," she said. "There will always be an incentive to trash roads instead of doing the right thing."

That's why Glenn and Liz Martinez say they confront people near their property, no matter the hour. "I'll run out there in my night gown if somebody's junking their car," Liz Martinez said.

Like traffic citations, abandoned and derelict -- or inoperable -- car cases are handled by a judge who issues fines without a trial. That means the prosecutor's office doesn't get involved unless the accused wants to contest the citation, Chang explained.

Chang, who attended the community meeting, said it was an eye-opener. She added that community and media involvement helps inform the city prosecutor's office and judges, which may produce at least one desired result. "I wouldn't be surprised if that heightened awareness would result in stiffer fines," she said.

STIFFER FINES make sense to Stewart Wade, a Realtor who has seen the problem worsen during his 35 years of living in Waimanalo. Most recently he had two Jeeps, a 15-foot-long boat on a trailer, an engine block, axle, brake drums, and "a bunch of wire fences" dumped in front of his property.

While state law governs abandoned and derelict vehicles, the city has the responsibility of towing them away.

David Mau of the city Motor Vehicle and Licensing Division acknowledged that the city contractor is "experiencing a little backlog."

But, he added, the backlog will be eased starting tomorrow, thanks in part to the dengue fever outbreak.

City officials want to remove sites where mosquitoes can breed and have agreed to let another contractor help with car removal, said Mau, the assistant licensing administrator.

In a typical year, the city removes about 4,000 derelict cars and 2,000 abandoned cars, Mau said. In the year ending June 30, 2001, city contractors removed 1,965 derelict cars in Honolulu; 1,339 in Pearl City, Ewa and Waianae; 835 in Kailua, Kaneohe and Waimanalo; and 307 in Mililani, Wahiawa and the North Shore.

"Waimanalo is not the only eyesore, so to speak," Mau said. "It's all over the island."

E-mail to City Desk

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