April 2019: The Bulldozing of the Community
In April 2019, nearly everyone was taken by surprise when bulldozers began destroying the beautiful wooded area known as Sherwood Forest in Waimanalo. Sherwood Forest is a rare gem—one of Oahu’s last remaining coastal forests without a highway dividing it from the beach. With very little input from the community, the “Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Master Plan” had been pushed through by Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council member Ikaika Anderson. It had been quietly approved several years earlier by a small hand-picked, un-elected committee (most of whom have since withdrawn their support) before virtually disappearing from public awareness. The scheme was kept so well under the radar that even leading environmental and local community organizations—including the Sierra Club, Sea Life Park, Earth Justice, Envirowatch, Life of The Land, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, the Surfrider Foundation, and others—had heard nothing about it until the bulldozers began demolishing the forest. Only then did the vast majority of residents begin to uncover the alarming facts: not only had Mayor Caldwell and Ikaika Anderson planned to “develop” and drastically alter one of Oahu’s most beloved natural beach areas, but large areas of the forest were being levelled for a sports complex, four ball fields, 470 paved parking stalls, and more—all projected to cost taxpayers 32 million dollars.
As the destruction continued, a huge groundswell of grassroots opposition quickly took shape. Shared outrage brought together a wide diversity of people from all walks of life, and from all over Oahu and beyond. Within days, an online petition was started in opposition to the plan, and the number of signatures rapidly grew to the tens of thousands. A hand-signed petition was started as well, which has also generated an enormous number of signatures. In stark contrast, no one started a petition in favor of the plan, and not a single signature has been petitioned to support it. Fliers and newsletters from FSF (“Friends of Sherwood Forest”) were widely circulated, and people began gathering along the highway near the park entrance every afternoon, waving protest signs to drivers and leaving their signs on the park fence. Other protests have been held at the Mayor’s State of the City address, at Honolulu Hale, at the Ilikai Hotel, and at Iolani Palace.
Of all the colorful signs that protesters left on the Sherwood Forest fence, one seemed to sum up the community’s collective sentiment and galvanize support perhaps more than any other. Someone draped over the fence a large bedsheet painted in gigantic block letters with the words “WE DON’T WANT IT.” Hanging right beside the highway and in close proximity to the bulldozers, it made a powerful statement. With the Pali Highway closed for repairs and traffic vastly increased on the Kalanianaole highway, the banner was probably seen by well over 50,000 drivers during the weeks it remained in place.
The fast-growing Save Sherwood Forest movement was widely covered by the Honolulu Civil Beat and in TV news stories. During interviews, protesters expressed that they wanted to know why the Master Plan had been so well kept from the public, and why the community never had a fair chance to weigh in. The clear consensus was that there had never been an open, democratic process. People often asked why those pushing the plan had fulfilled only the minimum paperwork requirements, then failed to even mention it at neighborhood board meetings for so many years, leaving residents to feel completely blindsided when the bulldozers suddenly began destroying trees.
Neighborhood meetings were held in Waimanalo, with attendance in record numbers, to address many other critical concerns the plan hadn’t adequately addressed: Why wasn’t an adequate traffic assessment done to look at the impacts on current windward Oahu traffic? What about the disastrous impact on the populations of shearwaters, endangered hoary bats, indigenous plants, sandalwood, and other species of fauna and flora inhabiting the forest? How could there have been such a lack of archeological sensitivity in an area known to include cultural artifacts and iwi kūpuna (a Hawaiian phrase often translated as “skeletal remains”)? Why had the plan failed to sufficiently address the issues of water sources, water lines, and runoff into the bay? And since Waimanalo already has other ball fields in disrepair that the City has failed to maintain, how can the City be trusted to manage four new ones—and why not spend a small fraction of the $32 million to repair the existing fields instead?