Mayor Peter Carlisle
Mayor Peter Carlisle

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Maunalua Bay, which fronts the Hawaii Kai community, on the pristine south east coast of Oahu, is a gathering place for stand up paddlers, canoe paddlers, kayakers, fisherman and families who want to enjoy the bay’s beauty.

The bay, which hosts a city canoe halau for Hui Nalu canoe club and other canoe clubs, has a rare commodity on the island – room for boaters to park or launch their boats or organize their canoes. Firefighters also perform drills here. And tourists often stop to snap photos of spectacular sunsets.

During the holiday season, more than 20,000 runners in the Honolulu Marathon pass by, and throughout the rest of the year, many people gather at the Bay for official water sport racing or holiday events.

But the only public bathroom within miles of the area has been closed since February 2011. For several months before that, the bathroom was partially broken. Now the bathroom sits boarded up, and park users must drive several minutes away to find relief or use a private restroom in a nearby mall.

City Spokesperson Louise Kim McCoy said Hawaii Kai restroom closed after the City was mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health to close down all large capacity cesspools. Because there is no City sewer system to connect to in the highly populated area, the City is pursuing connection to a private sewer system operated by Hawaii American Water. The connection is approximately 1,200 feet away across Kalanianaole Highway down Keahole Street, McCoy said.

“The project is going through the process to obtain approvals from the State, Hawaii American Waters, and Bishop Estate (Hawaii Kai Towne Center) as well as the regulatory requirements such as NPDES, SMA and Shoreline Setback,” McCoy said.

The City anticipates advertising for bids this summer with construction completion early 2013 at a cost of $350,000.

Hawaii Kai isn’t the only community lacking sufficient places for bodily relief.

Oahu’s leeward coast is notorious for its dilapidated public restrooms.

Whether it is a boarded up facility, no bathroom at all, or just no toilet paper and soap for park users, area residents are fed up.

City Council member Tom Berg, who oversee parks maintenance issues for the council, and represents the district, said many organized sports events have been canceled because there are no restrooms.

Games start, and suddenly in the middle of the game, coaches have to take a 20 minute break while the children get loaded up in vans and drive to the nearest park restroom.

Tom Berg - Photo: Emily Metcalf

Like Hawaii Kai, some bathrooms in Berg’s district have been closed for years.

Some of them include Oneula Beach Park, Kahe Point Beach Park, Ulehawa Beach Park, Waianae District Park and Iiahi Neighborhood Park. Other parks donated by area developers still don’t have public restroom facilities, he said.

It takes the city sometimes as long as 3 to 6 years and as much as $300,000 to design, plan and build a “cookie cutter” bathroom, he said.

Berg said private developers who donated the land have offered to build public restroom in a week for around $75,000 and get reimbursed by the city, but the city has refused to allow that.

“The city could just put in two stalls and a sink and get it done quickly, but instead the administration prefers to build a $300,000 golden toilet seat,” Berg said.

Berg said the city parks director promised he’d have the many boarded up bathrooms along the leeward coast fixed by 2013. Berg hopes the city can keep the construction schedule on track.

City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi said she has heard many horror stories from residents about their park facilities.

“The overall condition of the parks is very bad. Everyone is concerned,” Kobayashi said.

It isn’t just bathrooms that are out of order – whole park facilities have been made off limits because playground equipment is dilapidated and dangerous, she said.

“Parks in Manoa, Palolo and Waianae have been shut down because the playground equipment is too dangerous, so the children can no longer play there,” Kobayashi said.

She and other council members are upping the park repair budget by another $200,000 this year, over and above what the mayor requested, so some of these many out of order bathrooms and playgrounds can be repaired.

But as seemingly simple as that may seem, Kobayashi said the council is doing so without the blessing of Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, who wants to save city borrowed dollars for his planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project.

The city council and mayor are in a tug-o-war of sorts with the mayor wanting to use city CIP funds – as much as $1.9 billion – for the rail project, while key members of the city council maintain CIP funds should go to repair dilapidated parks, roads and sewers.

“We are increasing our CIP budget, even though it eats into rail bonding,” Kobayashi said.

She noted the city originally pledged to build the $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail without borrowing any funds. But now the city is planning to borrow as much as $1.9 billion in city CIP funds, and use as much as $450 million in commercial papers, and $244 million from the bus and handivan maintenance and repair fund to finance the 20-mile system.

Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi

The city also is exceeding its own 20 percent debt ceiling to fund the rail, Kobayashi said.

“That is why we have to go over the debt ceiling limit, because we are borrowing so much for rail,” Kobayashi said. She noted to keep the city’s borrowing limit from skyrocketing even further, the mayor is trying to keep the cost of other CIP projects down.

While the city is rushing to borrow these funds and build the costly and controversial rail project, the city is delaying much simpler and less costly repairs on roads, sewers, water mains and parks, Kobayashi said.

“Our roads are some of the worst in the nation. Our parks and restrooms are in really terrible condition. Some of these bathrooms have not been fixed in years. And our playgrounds are closed for months or longer. But the administration is rushing to build the rail as quickly as possible,” Kobayashi said.

The issue of the cost of the city’s dilapidated facilities, roads, sewers and water mains is a primary focus of the 2012 mayoral election.

Incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle and former City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell are putting their focus on completing the city’s $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project, while challenger former Gov. Ben Cayetano wants to end the rail project, and put city finances into infrastructure repairs.

Cayetano and his advisers estimate it will take about $12 billion to $15 billion to complete the city’s infrastructure repairs and they say the city cannot afford the rail.



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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by Reach her at