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[Star Advertiser] Column: Find middle ground on controversial Windward side issues

By Shiyana Thenabadu

Published April 5, 2022

Since the last election, controversial issues on Oahu's Windward side have become a zero-sum game propelled by corporate interests, NIMBYs and political ambition. This is disappointing t0 residents who spent hours testifying at hearings only to be ignored because legislators had already made up their mind.

The Honolulu City Council recently voted to spend $1 million to destroy the Haiku Stairs because the residents who live near the stairs complained of noise, trash and parking issues. The Friends of Haiku Stairs came up with a managed access plan that addressed all those complaints but yet, the Council voted to destroy an 80- year-old gem and world­ class hike.

Don't Council members understand that removing the stairs can cause erosion and make it much more difficult for conservationists to access native plants on the ridge? Why didn't Council members give the managed access plan a try when so many more people testified to save the stairs, not once, but twice in a span of two years? Don't the voices of the majority of constituents matter anymore?

Wouldn't it be smarter to use the $1.3 million (yes, price tag has increased from $1 million) to upgrade the stairs, manage access to the hike with a designated parking area, trash cans and restrooms and charge hikers a hefty fee? The fee can be used to maintain the trail.

A bill banning all commercial activity except movie and TV productions at Waimanalo beaches was recently passed by the Council. This is a win for NIMBYs and the movie industry, many of whom are nonresidents. The losers are small local business owners, namely wedding industry professionals, and residents who dream of getting married on their favorite beach. Why did this have to be an all-out ban? Why not a ban on weekends when locals gather at beaches?

Offering a limited number of permits for small weddings on some weekdays would have been the right thing to do. Why can't the city allow a few tour buses to stop at beach parks on weekdays when parking lots are empty? Permit systems work well in other tourist- dependent towns.

Another controversial bill the Council is trying to pass is Bill 41, which would increase the minimum rental period from 30 days to 90 days in non-resort-zoned areas. Increasing the rental period to three months is foolish because it eliminates affordable, convenient and much-needed month-to-month accommodations. It is also very likely to be challenged in court and hurt taxpayers.

The prudent way forward is to kill Bill 41 and enforce the 30-day rental period. Then take a hard look at which rentals are the real problems in neighborhoods and introduce a bill to ban investor- owned whole house rentals.

The wheels are in motion for the Lanikai pillboxes (Kaiwa Ridge) trail to be closed for trail improvements, which will be followed by access restrictions. Maunawili Falls is closed for an indefinite period, and is awaiting a management plan and trail repair. Indefinite closure without clear communication on future trail access is not acceptable to residents who hike these trails regularly for exercise. Trail access is severely limited to both trails by the very limited street parking in these neighborhoods.

Akamai legislators who win second terms are those who work tirelessly to find commonsense, win-win solutions that keep Hawaii's most beautiful places easily accessible to all residents.

Full article here.

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