Kapolei: Second City or Ghost Town?

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DR. KIONI DUDLEY – Have you been to downtown Kapolei recently? Neither has anyone else. Recently, a friend said, “Oh, I was out in Kapolei the other day, and I was surprised at how it has grown up. You really have a bustling city out there.”

If only! Turns out, she had mistaken the strip malls along Farrington/Kamokila Boulevard for the urban center. She didn’t know where the city of Kapolei was. Nor do many others. Why? There’s not much there. The 50 blocks of the downtown business section sit all but empty. Only in the last few months have a couple of streets been opened that allow people to pass through it.


Kapolei has everything one could want for a second city. It has a deep draft harbor, a complete airfield, a City Hall, a Judiciary building, police and fire stations, a hospital (Hawaii Medical Center West, slated to reopen in another year) a new University, elementary, middle and high schools, a major heavy industry area, two oil refineries, an electric plant, a major resort, a marina, shores and beaches, fishing grounds, acres of some of the best farmland in the world. What it doesn’t have is a city.

It’s so non-Second-City that the Rail doesn’t even bother to go there. The rail stops (or starts, depending on how you look at it), in the empty fields three miles short of it. The first pylons were planted in the middle of a farm field, which will sprout houses if Hoopili is developed. (Appeals by the Friends of Makakilo and Sierra Club/ Sen. Clayton Hee are in court.)

If the business district of downtown Kapolei were developed, it could easily provide a hundred thousand jobs, solving much of our freeway problem and giving Leeward residents work near home. Each week, commuters could save time spent in traffic equal to an additional full workday. Quality of life, family time together, leisure, and health would all benefit greatly.

With such a reduction of cars on the freeway, there would be far less reason for elevated rapid transit.

There is no need to approve construction of more houses to support this city. We have a major population base in Leeward and Central Oahu already, and there are 50,805 more houses already zoned, fully entitled, and ready to build on the western side, even without Hoopili and Koa Ridge. Indeed, if Kapolei were built out, a green buffer of acres of rich farmland providing open space between the two cities might be seen as even more significant and necessary.

The Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) is at a juncture where it could contribute greatly to the development of downtown Kapolei. DHHL is currently drawing up plans for a mall the size of Pearlridge. Called Ka Makani Alii, it will have ten buildings; among them will be office towers and two business hotels–just the things that downtown Kapolei needs.

But DHHL isn’t planning this for Kapolei. They’re putting it two miles down the road, in an area surrounded by homestead housing, on property they own. That location has run into strong objection from the City and County, which argues that it doesn’t fit the area at all, and, if put there, will likely not succeed.

It only makes sense for DHHL to build on its own property. The whole purpose for the project is to generate rental profits to meet future DHHL needs.

Solution? Kapolei is the land-swap capitol of the world. Every time one turns around, the state, the city, Campbell Estate, or DHHL has pulled off another swap. Downtown Kapolei, owned by Campbell, needs buildings. DHHL will have ten of them, but needs to own the land under them. The two should swap lands, so that DHHL can build in the downtown area and anchor a thriving urban center in whatʻs now a no-man’s-land.

Kioni Dudley holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is a resident of Makakilo, which will be incorporated with Kapolei into the Second City.