September 2019: The Mayor Doubles Down, 28 are Arrested, and the City is Sued
In September, opposition to Mayor Caldwell’s plan continued to grow rapidly. The number of signatures on the online petition surged to over 33,000, and community members organized fundraising efforts to support their legal fund. On September 10, Kailua’s California Pizza Kitchen provided a major opportunity to raise funds to save Sherwood Forest.
On September 18, a Sherwood Forest “stakeholders” meeting at Waimanalo District Park convinced many that the Mayor and the City were ramping up their efforts to exclude and deceive the Waimanalo community. According to various accounts, the Mayor and his team called the meeting without inviting the public, and tried to hand-pick their own “stakeholders” exclusively from the small group who support the Mayor’s plan. The meeting was kept confidential, but a savvy defender of Sherwood Forest learned about it, and as a result 17 uninvited community members showed up. The Mayor’s staff tried to block their entry, saying the meeting was for private stakeholders only. The 17 residents told the staff that they had every right to be there and were stakeholders by definition—concerned community members who hold a stake in the fate of Sherwood Forest. While taking videos, they walked past the staff and into the meeting, essentially forcing the Mayor to allow them to attend.
The Mayor’s meeting didn’t proceed as he had intended. He had no choice but to listen while his uninvited opponents—and even a number of his hand-picked “stakeholders”—eloquently voiced the community’s objections to his scheme. The Mayor tried to appease them with a patronizing presentation about the small number of native trees that would be planted around his parking lot and sports field—as if that would somehow be enough to convince them to support his plan. He claimed to promote community “healing,” yet never addressed issues the community is most passionate about, including the National Register, archeological and cultural concerns, water use, the toxic herbicide, tree removal, and more. Instead, he used the meeting to announce, apparently with no regard for the objections raised by community members, that the work in Sherwood Forest would continue within a few days.
The Mayor’s failed effort to exclude the community from his “stakeholders” meeting raised new questions. What would have happened if the 17 residents had not crashed the meeting? By selectively inviting only a small number of Waimanalo residents who supported his plan, was he attempting yet again to create a misleading impression of community support—while also trying to establish “proof” that residents had not been excluded? Was he using the occasion to satisfy a government requirement for a stakeholders meeting in order to proceed with his agenda?
The exclusion of Waimanalo residents from decisions about Sherwood Forest had happened many times before: with the initial planning of the project years earlier, with the bulldozing starting in April, with the proposed City budget in June, and with the project’s faux “blessing” in August. Once again, with the “stakeholders” meeting, efforts had been made to keep the community in the dark. Up until September, Ikaika Anderson and others had vainly tried to make the case that residents had been included in the plan all along. But in September, to the best of our knowledge, City officials dropped any pretense to such claims and Anderson was conspicuously silent. Perhaps there was no longer any use in trying to convince residents that they had somehow been included. It had become completely transparent to almost everyone that this had never been the case.
On September 19, a timely and widely circulated Friends of Sherwood Forest (FSF) newsletter included a link to this website (SaveSherwoodForest.org). As a result, during the next few days our site traffic increased dramatically. We received thousands of page views, and the numbers have continued to rise ever since. We’re very grateful to FSF for demonstrating the support, unity, and inclusiveness that the Save Sherwood Forest movement is known for. In the same spirit, we continue to support FSF, SOS, and the many individuals independently furthering our shared goals. Our role is simply to assist anyone working to protect Sherwood Forest by chronicling events and bringing the truth to a wider audience.
On September 20, the City ordered the resumption of the work in Sherwood Forest, and residents knew the next phase included the use of a potentially hazardous chemical. Community members quickly organized a protest on September 23 at the Sherwood Forest entrance. Widely promoted on social media and by SOS and FSF, the event drew a large crowd, many wearing red to show solidarity, in anticipation of the arrival of the City’s heavy equipment. Protesters included not only the ever-reliable SOS but also new supporters from other communities—an important indication that the movement was continuing to grow beyond the Waimanalo community. The event was covered on KITV news and in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, making clear the community’s strong opposition to the Mayor’s plan.
The heavy equipment didn’t arrive on the 23rd as expected, prompting speculation that the City planned to “sneak” it past the community under cover of darkness. Many saw this as consistent with the pattern of deception the City had deployed since the project began. In a heroic effort, residents began keeping watch at the Sherwood entrance, staying in shifts around the clock in hopes of preempting the Mayor’s next move. Presumably he was waiting for residents to let down their guard, but for four days they showed no sign of giving up. As one resident put it, “Sherwood Forest is Oahu’s Mauna Kea. If they can ruin our last coastline forest, no other community will be safe.”
On the morning of September 26, the Mayor showed his true colors, ordering more than 100 police officers to clear the entrance and allow the City to roll in their heavy equipment, Tiananmen-style. The 28 residents who refused to back down to the machine of big government were arrested and carried away. The incident was well-covered by the media, and the next day’s Star-Advertiser cover juxtaposed two headlines that underscored how flagrantly the Mayor had overplayed his hand: “28 Arrested During Protest at Waimanalo Park,” and “Caldwell’s Approval Plunges.”
Within hours of the Mayor’s Tiananmen move, a lawsuit was filed against the City and County for its violations of federal and state law. On September 28, a press conference at the Sherwood Forest site brought out a large crowd of supporters and media. The lawsuit was formally announced, the plaintiffs addressed their concerns, and distinguished attorney Timothy Vandeveer outlined the scope of the suit. Archaeologist Patrick Kirch, esteemed expert on the history of Polynesian settlement, spoke about his personal knowledge of the Sherwood Forest area and its archaeological significance.
As the press conference wound down, Professor Kirch wandered a short distance from the crowd and serendipitously picked up a historical artifact lying on a mound of gravel the bulldozers had excavated. His impromptu discovery validated what the community had been saying all along—and officials had denied for months: the area had not been adequately examined for cultural artifacts. The incident was reported in the media, and the Mayor was forced to halt the work as the Office of Historic Preservation tried to determine what significance the artifact might have, and whether its discovery means other items could be in the area.
The Mayor tried to downplay the importance of the professor’s find, suggesting that the artifact might not have historical significance. But even if it were found to be insignificant, it begged the larger question: if it was worth investigating, why hadn’t it been found earlier? After repeatedly claiming there were no artifacts in the area, the City had to admit that they had missed at least one that needed to be investigated. And if a single archaeologist could so casually find such an artifact at a random location, what others might be found if the entire area could be examined properly?
September came to a close with the Mayor once again trying to make himself appear reasonable and willing to “compromise.” On September 30, Hawaii News Now reported him saying, “We’re willing to compromise… we’re just doing Phase 1, no more.” Many see this line of thinking, often repeated by the Mayor, as a deceptive tactic. As one resident says, “Imagine someone breaks into your home and tries to take over most of your space, and when you demand that they leave, they tell you they’re willing to ‘compromise’ and just take one room. It’s a manipulative trick, and if you agree to it, you’ve been completely conned.”
To Be Continued:
This brings our story up to date, but there’s more to come. Please check in with us again from time to time for the latest developments; this page will continue to be updated with important new events as they unfold. Thank you for staying informed, and for your interest in the fate of Sherwood Forest.