Hawaii Kai’s Controversial Lighting Project Detailed

Hawaii Kai Drive lights
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Hawaii Kai Drive lights

By Natalie Iwasa, guest contributor

Three streets in a row.


Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

One, two, three . . .

Which one will it be?

Can you guess which street(s) the city has plans to install a street lighting “improvement” project on?  Read on, and you may be surprised at the answer.

Last summer, Paul’s Electrical Contracting, LLC, started replacing the underground wiring system for city streetlights on Lunalilo Home Road from Kalanianaole Hwy. to just beyond Koamano Street in Hawaii Kai.  After residents noticed three times as many poles being put up, they began asking questions.  One year later, some questions remain unanswered, and the project remains unfinished.

Kawaihae Street lights

No one disagrees that our underground wiring systems need replacement.  At the heart of the issue, however, is the amount of light that the city is installing.  The city’s plans included installing three times as many poles with three times as much light.  Three times the amount of light was “required” to meet city standards, according to Gerald Hamada of the City Department of Design and Construction.

After concerns were raised by the community, however, the plans were revised to reduce the wattage to produce double the amount of light.  The new plans also meet city standards, again according to Mr. Hamada.  The neighborhood board and I have made several requests for the study that the city used to determine the amount of light needed for this residential street.  To date, that study has not been provided.

Some people wonder what the big deal is about.  They say the lighting looks even, and it helps improve safety.  My response to that is twofold.  First, we don’t need twice the amount of lighting on that road.  Hawaii Kai is a “bedroom” community, and as such, most of the crime occurs during the day.  In addition, when determining the amount of light to install, the standards, i.e., guidelines set by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, require a review of “pedestrian conflict.”  The city has not done a pedestrian study, and based on information provided by the Departments of Design and Construction and Transportation Services, has not considered the level of pedestrian usage on Lunalilo Home Road with respect to this project.

Kuliouou Road lights

Second, we simply cannot afford to install more than the required amount of lighting on all of our streets and highways.  The new lighting from Kalanianaole Hwy. to Kaumakani Street, a distance of approximately six-tenths of a mile, is about the same as that on Kalanianaole Hwy. from Lunalilo Home Road to just over the bridge before the Hawaii Kai storage building.

The state has wisely set guidelines on energy consumption and oil dependency as well as the formation of a Starlight Reserve.  Why is the city going beyond requirements and committing us to use double the amount of energy at a time when budgets are tight and the need to protect the night sky has been formally recognized?

It appears the city has learned little from its experience with the Hawaii Kai community.  In December, several months after Mayor Hannemann held a town hall meeting to address residents’ concerns about the Lunalilo Home Road lighting project, they began an approximately $1M street lighting improvement project on Chaminade Terrace in the St. Louis Heights neighborhood.  Residents were not informed about the project, and poles were placed in residents’ view planes.  Questions by residents in this neighborhood resulted in revised plans and additional costs to taxpayers of approximately $10,000 for each pole that was moved.

These two projects are just the beginning.  In the next six years, the city has plans for the following additional street lighting projects:

  • #2008038 Kamehameha Hwy. Street Lighting Improvements, $500,000;
  • #2010108 Kionaole Road Street Lighting Improvements, $90,000, (by request);
  • #1999309 Hawaii Kai Street Lighting Improvement, $4,000,000 (placed on hold by city administration);
  • #2011088 Kalaeloa Street Lighting Improvements, $4,570,000;
  • #2006030 Kinau Street Lighting Improvements, $4,560,000 (community request);
  • #2008039 Kuliouou Street Lighting Improvements, $700,000 (placed on hold by city administration and is actually on Kawaihae and neighboring cross streets);
  • #2007042 Mililani Replacement of Street Lighting System, Phase II, $555,000 to replace ~ 100 street light standards – corroded due to improper installation methods;
  • #2007040 Pearl City Area (Momilani) Street Lighting Improvements $3,080,000; and
  • #2007043 Street Light Meter Cabinets, Transformers and Street Lighting Improvements, ~$2M, at various locations.

At Wednesday’s Honolulu City Council meeting, councilmembers will vote on Bill 16 which includes construction funds for project #2008038, design funds for #2010108 and design and construction funds for project #2007043.  Former councilmember Charles Djou had introduced an amendment to the bill that would require the Department of Design and Construction to report to city council and affected communities on the process used to determine the amount of lighting required.  Given the history of the Lunalilo Home Road and St. Louis Heights street lighting projects as well as the poor planning and additional costs incurred to fix problems, it would be prudent of the council to amend Bill 16 to include the provisional language suggested by Councilmember Djou.  To not do so would be irresponsible and would defeat our system of checks and balances designed to keep favoritism, fraud and waste to a minimum.

Oh, and the answer to the question above is Hawaii Kai Drive and Kawaihae Street, not Kuliouou Road, the one that appears to need the work the most.

Natalie Iwasa is a CPA in Hawaii Kai and a member of Smart Business Hawaii