June and July 2019: The Movement Continues to Grow, Despite Major Challenges
In early June, Waimanalo residents learned that the City Council had put forward its proposed budget (“The Executive Capital Budget and Program for The Fiscal Year July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020”), which included expenditures for Waimanalo. For several weeks prior, opponents of the Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Master Plan had sent the City one message perhaps more loudly and clearly than any other: people in Waimanalo and surrounding areas were alarmed that they had not been given a fair chance to weigh in on the plan. This message had been sent in countless written and spoken testimonies at hearings, in numerous comments made to the media by spokespeople at public events, and on hundreds of highly visible signs and banners at daily protest rallies. People were demanding to simply be included in the decision-making process when it comes to what happens in their own backyards. Yet even in the midst of their passionate appeals for more inclusion, the City presented a budget that had been formulated with almost no input from residents and apparently little regard for what they actually want. The City simply announced what they had decided, without adequate prior public discussion—much as many Waimanalo residents felt the City had done when the Master Plan was initially set in motion.
Thus, only a few weeks before the budget would begin to take effect, residents learned that a total of $2,550,000 had been budgeted for five projects that would directly or indirectly affect the Waimanalo community and issues relating to their concerns about Sherwood Forest. Some of the projects seemed especially outrageous—e.g., $250,000 had been earmarked for a “skate park” in Waimanalo District Park, which caught just about everyone by surprise, and which no one seemed to want. Despite the short notice, residents testified in objection to the budget at the City Council hearing on June 5. By this point, however, some began to feel it was futile to voice their opinions. The City had yet again demonstrated that they have their own agenda for Waimanalo and are not responding to the concerns of its residents.
On June 10, the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board meeting was again packed with a large crowd firmly opposed to the City’s Master Plan. The Board overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Ikaika Anderson, and the City Council to immediately stop the destruction in Sherwood Forest until the Waimanalo community determines its needs and priorities. In a show of solidarity, the Kailua Neighborhood Board voted to support Waimanalo’s position. The resolution was delivered to the Mayor on June 14, but the work continued as if it didn’t exist. It became clear to everyone that the Mayor had decided to ignore it completely.
For weeks, the Mayor had largely refrained from direct communication with those who opposed his plan. He had an opportunity to discuss the issue face-to-face with opponents at an event at Iolani Palace on June 30, but according to various accounts he went out of his way to avoid them by sneaking into the building through a back door.
The deep distrust sown by Mayor Caldwell and Ikaika Anderson has caused many to become disillusioned about their ability to serve the public, and has led to a petition to impeach Mayor Caldwell. As one Waimanalo resident expressed, “At times it seems a bit like how it must have felt to live in the Soviet Union at the height of communist totalitarianism. If those in power announce they have a Master Plan to build a power plant in your back yard, it’s going to happen no matter what you say or do. You have no voice, because democracy is nonexistent.” The mistrust generated by Caldwell and Anderson has also led to widespread speculation that their entire Master Plan is merely a deceptive façade masking hidden agendas. Many believe they serve the needs of developers and the tourism industry, and some insist that the long-range goal is to turn Sherwood Forest and Waimanalo Beach into a “Second Waikiki.”
In July, these tourism-development concerns were reinforced when approximately 1,900 Waimanalo residents received an online questionnaire from a Waikiki Beach Management Coordinator asking allegedly leading questions about how much tourism or development they would like to see in Waimanalo. Some residents noted, for example, an emphasis on questions about the extent to which tourism has created good-paying jobs or improved the standard of living—and a de-emphasis on questions about whether they want to see any increase in tourism at all. The survey was conducted in such a way that the questions are not publicly available; in addition, it was funded by the City, and UH’s School of Travel Industry Management played a major part in the effort. Some found the questionnaire’s accompanying cover letter somewhat ominous when it intoned, “the results will be used to better manage tourism in Waimanalo.” Perhaps most tellingly of all, surveys were not only sent to residents but also to an undisclosed number of tourists—yet another indication, to many, that the City is intent on serving the needs of the tourism industry at the expense of local residents.
The Mayor’s actions have spurred a growing interest among citizens of windward Oahu in seceding from Honolulu. Honolulu Civil Beat has reported at length on this issue: “Fed up with what they view as mismanagement and corruption, some members of the Kailua Neighborhood Board want to see the windward side of Oahu secede from the City and County of Honolulu. The new governmental unit they envision would stretch from Waimanalo to Kahaluu… Matthew Darnell and Gary Weller, members of the board’s government and community services committee, said they… were particularly angry about Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s decision to continue with a controversial ball field project at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park despite widespread community opposition. ‘The City is going ahead with this project even though the community is saying they don’t want it,’ Darnell said. Weller said the arrival of the bulldozers at the popular forested beach park ‘hit people in the face,’ to the point that it was understandable to him that the heavy equipment at the site was set on fire.”