Bill would keep park in parks department
Some City Council members are trying to block transferring oversight of Thomas Square to the Department of Enterprise Services from the Department of Parks and Recreation.
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Some City Council members are trying to block transferring oversight of Thomas Square to the Department of Enterprise Services from the Department of Parks and Recreation amid concerns the move could commercialize the historic site.
A bill before the Council, introduced by Council members Ann Kobayashi, Ernie Martin and Carol Fukunaga, would prohibit the Enterprise Services Department from overseeing parks and recreational facilities. The measure would exempt the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Shell and city golf courses, which in addition to Blaisdell Center are all managed by the department. Bill 23 passed second reading at a Wednesday meeting.
Kobayashi, who represents the area, said several residents fear they will lose valuable green space and that Thomas Square will become a hub for commercial events. She said the Council could fund additional staffing for the Parks and Recreation Department to address maintenance at Thomas Square, adding that the park is already well utilized.
“It is a great bill that would ensure that Thomas Square remains a park,” Kobayashi said. “I don’t understand the reasoning. The residents around there appreciate having that green space, and we should keep it that way.”
But Guy Kaulukukui, Enterprise Services director, told the Council that the bill infringes on separation of powers and that the transfer falls within the responsibilities of the executive branch.
In response, the city Department of Corporation Counsel said it would look into the separation-of-power issue and determine whether the transfer to Enterprise Services would warrant a change in the public infrastructure map, which would require Council approval. The Corporation Counsel said it would report its findings within the next two weeks.
Kaulukukui said his department has the resources to better maintain and manage the 6.5-acre site around the clock. The Department of Parks and Recreation currently has one dedicated staff member and a roving crew at Thomas Square.
He said his staff has the expertise to coordinate and add more cultural and ethnic programs, which would not replace those already held at the park.
Kaulukukui said the Department of Parks and Recreation currently allows commercial activities at the city’s parks and that his department would like to add similar activities at Thomas Square. Events would be free to the public, but vendors would be charged a “nominal” fee, he said.
“We’re saying we can do better and it deserves better,” Kaulukukui said. “We really would like to establish Thomas Square as the go-to place to have your cultural and ethnic events.”
In December the city closed Thomas Square for what was described as a maintenance project at a cost of $1.18 million, which includes the removal of the mock orange hedge, grading, a new irrigation system, pruning of several large Indian banyans, removal of sick or unhealthy trees and replacement of existing Bermuda grass.
Residents and Council members have been raising objections to long-term redevelopment plans for the park. The Enterprise Services Department also plans to build a 468-square-foot concession stand.
The department is requesting $159,000 in next fiscal year’s budget for two additional staff positions for the Waikiki Shell and Thomas Square, and $65,000 for a lawn mower at the park. The cost of increased maintenance at the park is estimated at about $145,200, according to the city.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Councilman Trevor Ozawa questioned why better maintenance could not be addressed by an interdepartmental agreement between the parks department and the Department of Enterprise Services.
Kaulukukui said it would be less confusing for one department to manage Thomas Square, adding that residents would know which agency to call to report problems.
But John Steelquist, Makiki/Lower Punchbowl/Tantalus Neighborhood Board chairman, said the park needs better maintenance, nothing else.
“We need a park. We don’t need another tourist attraction,” Steelquist said. “We just don’t want to lose our green space. We want it to be available for people to use.”