Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Barflies pollute
the air in Makiki

They're tired of waking to the smell of urine in their yards, finding vomit in the streets and having to pick up beer bottles and other rubbish along the sidewalks fronting their homes.

They're tired of cars speeding through their neighborhoods, blocking their driveways or taking some of the precious few parking spaces on the streets.

They're tired of drunken strangers carrying on animated conversations or loud arguments at 1 or 2 in the morning, within earshot of their homes.

Some homeowners are simply tired. The late-night noise occasionally makes a peaceful night's sleep something of a wishful dream in this lower Makiki/Kakaako community where kamaaina families have lived for generations.

As strip clubs, bars and other liquor-serving establishments opened along the Sheridan Street corridor over the past couple decades, residents whose families have lived in the same modest homes for more than half a century have seen the ugliness of urban creep -- traffic, noise, crime, disturbances -- encroach on their quiet neighborhoods.

Bars and homes co-exist in several areas throughout the Ala Moana/Kakaako district, the Oahu capital for such establishments, but nowhere are they in such close proximity as along the Sheridan corridor.

Despite years of complaining to various authorities about the noise and crime, the problem is getting worse, some homeowners say.

"When the sun comes up, that's when the strongest smells come," said Roy Nakamura, 61, whose family has lived on Cedar Street since the 1930s. "And every other home is complaining of something missing or their car almost getting stolen. All we want is peace and quiet."

That's why Nakamura and others are stepping up their fight to keep any new liquor establishments from opening in the area. They'd also like to drive away those already there.

One of their next battles is expected to be over a liquor license application from Dong Baek Restaurant on Rycroft Street. A hearing before the Honolulu Liquor Commission is scheduled Feb. 14.

The commission previously denied a license for the restaurant, mainly because of opposition from neighbors. But the business is now under different ownership, and the new operator will not have a karaoke operation, which triggered many complaints about the restaurant in the past, according to attorney Mark Kawata, who represents the current operator.

Dong Baek's liquor service would only be incidental to the food service, and the restaurant will continue to close before or by midnight, even though the license would permit liquor service until 2 a.m., Kawata said.

"This is genuinely a restaurant, and only a restaurant," he said.

Some of the residents, however, are skeptical.

Bernice Kaili, 57, is one of them, her view colored by what she has seen from her Rycroft Street home in recent years.

Kaili one evening discovered a drunk asleep on her driveway under a bedsheet. Last year the windshield of her daughter's parked car was shattered in a drive-by shooting. And just last month Kaili was disturbed by the late-night sounds of a couple arguing in their car, which had stopped in front of Kaili's house. In the middle of the argument, the woman opened the passenger door, leaned from the car, removed her panties and urinated in the street.

In a previous incident, Kaili saw someone get so bloodied during a fight near her home that a large bucket of water was needed to wash the blood off the road.

"This is what happens to a neighborhood when there's unsavory characters" patronizing nearby businesses, said Kaili, whose family has lived on Rycroft Street for roughly 60 years. "The criminal element is moving where the liquor is."

Indeed, the area has seen its share of gambling and prostitution busts. Some residents say such busts aren't surprising given the proliferation of bars and nightclubs.

Police are responding to more incidents at nightclubs throughout the Ala Moana/ Kakaako district, suggesting that the situation isn't getting any better, said John Breinich, chairman of the district's Neighborhood Board.

A spokesman for the liquor commission, however, says there has been a large reduction over the years in the number of troublesome nightclubs in the Sheridan/Keeaumoku area.

When considering an application for a liquor license, the commission must abide by all applicable laws and regulations and not violate a property owner's legal rights, even if the commission's decisions are unpopular, said Wallace Weatherwax, administrator for the panel.

"I can't change the law or the Constitution," Weatherwax said. "But (the homeowners) don't see that."

What the homeowners mostly see is trouble. And until someone figures a way to separate the bars from the homes, the troubles likely will persist.

Says Nakamura: "Drunks are drunks. Beer joints are beer joints. We want them out of here."

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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