August 2019: A Critical Month in the Ongoing Saga of The Mayor vs. The People

On August 7, a letter to the editor in MidWeek pointed out the various ways that the City had failed to include the people of Waimanalo in the Master Plan, and added that “no meeting was called to announce the groundbreaking three months ago.” The letter went on to say that “this community does not feel ‘blessed’ by the City’s project,” and concluded, “what is wrong with this entire situation (is) no communication, no consensus, no transparency.” For months, residents had asked countless times why there had never been the usual formal blessing for the project. To many, only one conclusion could be drawn: the City had intentionally skipped the ceremonial blessing back in April because it would have alerted the people of Waimanalo that the bulldozers were about to arrive.

 

On the morning of August 8, more than three months after the bulldozers began destroying the forest, the City unexpectedly held a bizarre “blessing” at the Sherwood site. A small group arrived for what was apparently a staged performance, complete with a representative of the Mayor wearing a lei. The Mayor clearly didn’t want to allow his “blessing” to attract a large throng of protesters, as it inevitably would have if he had been more forthcoming about it. At the same time, the Mayor’s representatives presumably needed to be able to claim ex post facto that Waimanalo residents had been invited. According to some accounts, shortly beforehand they notified only a few hand-picked members of the Waimanalo community who inexplicably chose not to inform any other community members. Nearly all of those most concerned about the fate of Sherwood Forest were unaware of the event until after the fact.

 

If the so-called “blessing” seemed part of a calculated strategy—a PR stunt designed to create a false impression of community support that doesn’t exist—Waimanalo residents felt they knew the modus operandi behind it all too well. Once again, they felt deceived and not sufficiently included, just as they had felt when the initially obscure Master Plan had later been followed by the unannounced arrival of the bulldozers. Once again, it seemed the City had found a way to be able to claim that they had given residents an adequate notice when in fact they had not. And once again, Waimanalo residents had apparently been excluded from a fair chance to weigh in on what happens in their own community. As one resident put it, “The City has resorted to using a mock blessing to wage its PR war against the people of Waimanalo. They’re trying to dupe the larger public and the media into believing that we’re in favor of something we absolutely don’t want.”

 

In August, residents began holding yard sales to raise funds to support opposition to the City’s plan, and SOS obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, making tax-deductible donations possible. Meanwhile, opponents of the City’s plan confirmed with the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C. that all of Sherwood Forest, along with parts of the adjacent Bellows area—a total area of approximately 1,200 acres—is currently on the National Register. Many believe the City’s plan may have violated the National Register’s regulations restricting development of designated areas. In addition, residents pointed out that the City had falsely claimed, in their Special Management Area permit, that the Sherwood Forest area is not currently on the National Register of Historic Places. (Note: The area is also currently on both the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the City and County Register of Historic Places.)

 

One document from the National Register designates the area’s historic function as “funerary,” in reference to the burial sites that have been found in the area. On August 11, a vigil was held to honor the 92 people (respectfully referred to as iwi kūpuna by many local residents) whose remains have either been found or are believed to have been interred in Sherwood Forest. The event drew a crowd of supporters deeply concerned that the City’s bulldozing may have desecrated some burial sites, and that continuation of the work could desecrate others. Protesters led by SOS placed 92 white crosses near the Sherwood entrance and stood in solidarity with the 92 iwi kūpuna. The event made a strong symbolic statement, and was featured in a cover story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

 

For months, residents had asked why their community had seemed to be systematically excluded from any real decision-making in the project ever since its inception: why had there been, and why was there still, so much secrecy and evasion? In August, an intriguing social media post, from an individual who appeared to have inside knowledge about the workings of City government, offered some potential clues. The post asserted that the project was never intended for the people of Waimanalo, or they would have been included in the planning process a decade earlier. It went on to explain that the Master Plan is intended to satisfy a federal requirement for green space (park land) for the populations of Honolulu and East Oahu so that developers can begin constructing more residential units in the Kailua, McCully, and University areas. According to the post, Kapiolani and Ala Moana beach parks weren’t sufficient to meet the federal requirement, so the City planned multiple fields in Waimanalo to allow the developers to continue.

 

During this period residents were disturbed to learn that the City’s next step would be to fill the bulldozed area with landfill and apply an herbicide to kill all plant life prior to paving. Community members raised concerns about the use of a potentially hazardous chemical in the area. One herbicide typically used in such projects is classified as “Hazardous” and “Very Toxic to Aquatic Organisms” by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, and is also classified as a Marine Pollutant. Residents wanted to know if any such chemical could be carried by runoff into Waimanalo Bay. Chemicals in this category can also pose serious health risks for humans, and may be poisonous through inhalation, skin exposure, or eye contact.

 

On August 12, the Mayor issued a press release claiming to “correct” three facts in a widely-circulated newsletter from Friends of Sherwood Forest. The newsletter had pointed out that 92 iwi kūpuna had been found or were believed to be buried in the area; that Sherwood Forest is currently in the National Register of Historic Places; and that the City had plans to use an herbicide. The Mayor’s press release not only failed to correct any of these points but also admitted that his plan does call for the use of a chemical herbicide. The newsletter had put the Mayor on the defensive, and confirmed that the community’s concerns were well-founded. Waimanalo residents began to demand that the Mayor disclose the name of the chemical that would be used in their neighborhood.

 

The Mayor’s press release also included a map that seemed to show archaeological excavation sites either within, or close to, the area of the Master Plan. To some, this appeared to contradict his claim that there are no burial sites in the area. In addition, the map seemed unconvincing because a record of excavations indicates only where remains may have been found, not where unfound remains may still lie. The map indicated that excavations have been done in only a tiny percent of Sherwood Forest’s hallowed ground.

 

The map released by the Mayor was shown on KHON news on August 12. The same report showed Ikaika Anderson still defending the way the Master Plan had originally been advanced. For months, the community had made clear the serious inadequacies in the way the Master Plan had initially been introduced, yet Anderson said that he still felt it “is a solid plan that was… adequately vetted in the community.” And he reiterated yet again that he wanted the Mayor to “pause” the project. Once again, residents were left to wonder what Anderson’s “pause” mantra means. To some, it suggests a temporary halt only, and leaves open the possibility of resuming the work at a later date. Why did Anderson still seem to be avoiding any clear, unambiguous statement of strong opposition to the plan?