Jarrett Keohokalole

State Senator, District 24

Democratic

Many Haʻikū Valley residents are rightfully concerned about trespassing by hikers illegally accessing the Stairs. Trespassing is entirely a government-created problem caused by closing off access. When the Stairs were open to the public under the Coast Guard, trespassing was virtually nonexistent. Moreover, spending millions to remove the Stairs will not end trespassing. The City plans to leave behind the anchor pillars underneath the Stairs, providing a ready-made scaffolding that will encourage climbers to attach ropes and scramble to the summit. More effective solutions to trespassing merit exploration: As an interim measure, barriers could exploit natural chokepoints along the Stairs’ steep terrain. Combined with community-driven policing and smart technology, trespassing could be curtailed cheaply and effectively. The longer-term solution would be to reopen the Stairs, providing public access that alleviates the incentive to trespass and generates revenue to pay for ongoing security. What is your opinion of these cost-effective, public-private solutions to address trespassing?

When I first ran for the Senate, I committed to the community to remove the BWS as owner of the stairs and to seek an immediate resolution to this stalemate. Under the previous administration, I worked with the City to support a plan to reopen the stairs through a managed access model. That included multiple discussions and meetings with the Friends, members of the Haʻikū community, and staff and administrators from the City, including the Mayor and Deputy Managing Director. In 2020, the procurement process for a managed access pilot was initiated, but the City ultimately halted it and elected instead to pursue deconstruction.

Unfortunately, the City decided against managed access. I cannot support a continuation of the conflict this issue is causing between the neighborhood and hiking community.

The Ha‘ikū Stairs— aka “Stairway to Heaven”— originally built in the 1940s, is an iconic structure that has been used by visitors and residents as a safe way to ascend the Windward Ko‘olau peaks. The City intends to demolish this landmark soon. Stairs supporters and the majority of O‘ahu voters polled agree that the City should explore managed access alternatives before proceeding. What is your opinion?

As I previously stated, I promised to work toward a definite resolution of the stairs issue and not perpetuate the stalemate. This issue has been in a state of conflict without a resolution for over twenty years. Managed access, which I supported and worked on for four years, was explored and ultimately rejected by the City. I cannot support a continued stalemate between the neighboring community and hiking advocates.

The surrounding land abutting the Ha‘ikū Stairs is owned entirely by state entities, including the H-3 access road. This road had been used to access and maintain the Stairs, but it is currently closed. The BWS 2019 Environmental Impact Statement recommended using the H-3 access road to provide public access to the Stairs, which would bypass residential neighborhoods. Other community groups have also expressed an interest in using the H-3 access road. For example, the road was listed as a potential bike path on the City & County of Honolulu’s 2012 Bicycle Master Plan. What are your views on opening the road to public use?

Respectfully, there is no access point to the stairs that bypasses residential neighborhoods. Increased foot, vehicular, and commercial traffic through at least one side of Haʻikū valley is inevitable if the stairs are opened to resident and tourist use.

However, I am open to a discussion on the potential public use of the H-3 access road. That discussion must include a thoughtful dialogue about the attractive nature of that use to tourists. Our windward community is already feeling the pressure of over-tourism and we cannot allow it to expand to Haʻikū valley. Any use of the road would also need to account for Federal DOT requirements regarding maintenance and operation of H-3, which was a hurdle in the proposals for managed access of the stairs.