May 2019: The Movement Gathers More Momentum
By early May, the community had organized a large-scale letter-writing campaign to Mayor Caldwell, requesting that he halt the project immediately. He could have stopped the bulldozers at any time, but repeatedly refused. On May 3, he issued a press release stating that despite the large public outcry he was continuing to push the project because it would cost taxpayers “as much as $300,000” to cancel it. Many pointed out that his rationale was self-contradictory, since his plan was forcing taxpayers to pay a much higher amount ($32 million) for something they clearly didn’t want. In addition, the Mayor stated that he wouldn’t stop the project because “the contract… has already been awarded.” For many, this confirmed that he saw this beloved piece of land as an “award” for him to present to a private contractor.
Shortly before Mayor Caldwell issued his May 3 press release, Ikaika Anderson issued a letter to the Mayor purportedly requesting that the project be halted. As a Waimanalo resident, Anderson clearly felt pressure to conform to the overwhelming majority passionately opposing his pet project; at one Waimanalo Neighborhood Board meeting, he chose to be escorted by police bodyguards. But although Anderson’s letter appeared to request that the Mayor halt the project, some observed that it seemed carefully worded to avoid any commitment to stopping it permanently; it asked for a “pause” in the work, did not specify what that meant, and never explicitly stated clear opposition to the project going forward eventually. Considering Anderson’s previous strong and prolonged support for the project, some doubted the letter’s sincerity. And given the very brief time (by some accounts, only about 30 minutes) between his letter and the Mayor’s press release, some saw it as a well-orchestrated effort to create a false impression that Waimanalo residents were being heard, and that someone was on their side. Since then, Anderson has continued to be perceived by many as trying to straddle the fence and have it both ways—by appearing to be vaguely opposed to the project when addressing Waimanalo residents, yet not voicing any decisive and unequivocal opposition to the project as a whole.
In early May, additional concerns emerged about the way the plan had been initially pushed forward without reasonable checks and balances, and with obvious conflicts of interest. Back in 2012, the plan had been exempted from an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and had instead been subject only to an Environmental Assessment (EA), which is much less thorough than an EIS. This occurred because the agency that checked the EA to see if an EIS was needed just so happened to be the same agency that introduced the plan in the first place. Predictably, they decided that their own plan did not need an EIS.
On May 14, in the midst of the public uproar over the bulldozing in Sherwood Forest, Mayor Caldwell issued a statement falsely claiming that an EIS had in fact been done. When confronted with the untruthfulness of this statement and accused of deliberately feeding misinformation to the media, his office claimed that they had simply made a typing error. Many saw this as disturbingly disingenuous, because the Mayor’s statement had referred no less than nine times to the “EIS” that does not exist. No reasonable explanation was ever offered as to why their supposed error had been made so many times. This incident only deepened the distrust felt by many who already viewed the plan as designed to deceive the public from the start.
Late on the evening of May 22, the bulldozers at the Sherwood Forest site were set on fire, and the damage was estimated to be $250,000. An arson investigation was opened, though to date it appears there are no suspects. While none of us condones this action, it suggests that some people are willing to take desperate measures when elected officials like Mayor Caldwell and Ikaika Anderson fail to listen to the voice of their electorate.
Not long after the bulldozer fire, all the protest signs were removed from the Sherwood Forest fence, presumably on orders from the Mayor, and the work at the site began again. Several days later, the work was temporarily halted again, according to some accounts because the bulldozer operators received threats. Again, we don’t condone such actions, but it should be noted that the only times the work was halted during this period were against the Mayor’s wishes—not because he chose to do the right thing.
On May 23, an open letter to Mayor Caldwell addressed many important issues and pointed out that “this plan does not reflect today’s community needs and priorities.” The letter was signed by several environmental and community groups, including The Hawaii Audubon Society, Oahu Island Parks Conservancy, The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Na Kua aina o Waimanalo, and The Outdoor Circle. In late May, the key concerns were also brought up in a City Council meeting in Honolulu, packed with more than 100 people speaking out against the plan and holding signs in protest. At other meetings, hundreds more waited hours to present spoken testimony in strong opposition, and many others submitted written testimony.
During much of May, the demolition crew appeared to be making an effort to destroy the forest as quickly as possible. This was allegedly because their temporary permit prohibited cutting trees taller than 15 feet after June 1, the date designated as the beginning of the endangered hoary bat nesting season. According to protesters, on at least one occasion Ikaika Anderson openly admitted that the intent was to remove as many trees as possible prior to June 1; it seemed that the crew was essentially racing to destroy endangered species habitat in what appeared to be a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act. By some accounts, Anderson claimed to have a “waiver” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing for this, but to our knowledge he has never made this waiver available to the public.
The work crew also removed large quantities of sandy soil from the site, which were hauled away in dump trucks to an undisclosed location. Archeological records indicate that the soil of the Sherwood Forest area contains centuries-old cultural artifacts and human remains. The soil removal may have been done without proper oversight—a potentially egregious desecration of Native Hawaiian iwi kūpuna (burial sites)—and some community members demanded to know whether it also constituted illegal activity.
The Mayor repeatedly assured the public that the crew would complete only Phase One of the proposed Master Plan, and that he had halted all other phases of the work. However, alert members of the community discovered that the work being done was for more than Phase One. They obtained the City’s own map of the proposed Phase One work, and superimposed it over an aerial photograph of the actual work that had been done. This made it immediately clear that even while the Mayor was repeating his assurances about not going beyond Phase One, the work crew had been destroying trees well beyond the Phase One area. In addition, the crew had begun digging trenches to install water lines—according to some, not only without a permit but also for other phases of the project beyond Phase One. All of this further eroded the community’s trust and the Mayor’s credibility.
In order to submit online written testimony for a City Council hearing on May 29, community members were required to check one of two boxes. Their only choice was, in effect (to paraphrase the form they had to fill out): I am in favor of the improvements in Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, or I am opposed to the improvements in Waimanalo Bay Beach Park. Either way, they were required to refer to the changes as “improvements,” even when they were strongly opposed to the plan and considered it the antithesis of improvements. To some, this Orwellian language seemed emblematic of the many ways that the Mayor and the City had deprived community members of a fair say in the plan from the start.