Fitness and yoga classes, surf schools, Segway tours, and commercial wedding photographers vied Wednesday for sunset viewing space on Kapiolani Park’s ocean side.
“I love teaching here. You can’t beat this view,” said Allison Able, who teaches yoga for Sunset Beach Yoga Hawaii, one of the many for-profit businesses that regularly use the park as a rent-free commercial venue. “If we couldn’t use this space, our students would be missing out on a great opportunity to enjoy the park. We never get any complaints.”
Parkgoers weren’t complaining on Wednesday, but commercial activity growth in Kapiolani Park is one of the reasons the nonprofit watchdog Kapiolani Park Preservation Society (KPPS) is taking on the city again.
KPPS was created in the 1980s to oppose former Mayor Frank Fasi’s plan to put a Burger King at the Honolulu Zoo, which is within park boundaries. The society took that battle all the way to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which in 1988 affirmed KPPS’ position that the city had no right to lease trust lands.
The relationship between the society and the city has seldom been a walk in the park. Both sides come from somewhat undefined positions of power and hardly ever agree on how an 1896 charitable trust should be applied to the park, which sits on land formerly held by heirs of sugar magnate William Irwin, the Kapiolani Park Association and the Republic of Hawaii.
KPPS views itself as the “court-recognized overseer” of the trust. The city has operated Kapiolani Regional Park, which encompasses nearly 166 acres including the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Shell, since 1913. Members of the Honolulu City Council have served as court-appointed guardians of the trust since 1991, but the mayor’s office is responsible for day-to-day operations.
|THE BATTLE SIMMERS
>> 1986: The nonprofit Kapiolani Park Preservation Society is formed to prevent park land from being taken for a Burger King and a construction equipment yard.
>> 1988: Hawaii Supreme Court rules the city had no right to lease trust lands.
>> 1991: The city files a lawsuit seeking guidance on Kapiolani Park. Circuit Judge Philip Chun rules that the city must relocate its vehicle maintenance facility from Kapiolani Park. Chun says the Kodak Hula Show operating in the park must stop charging admission. He approves Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Shell as park tenants.
>> 1996: KPPS supports restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium for water activity only.
>> 1998: KPPS opposes the city’s decision to charge of admission at Honolulu Zoo.
>> 1999: KPPS objects to the city not consulting it before removing three older ironwood trees to make way for the park bandstand.
>> 1999: KPPS says Honolulu Zoo Art Fence and craft fairs are illegal commercial park activities.
>> 2007: KPPS presses the city for a ban on commercial activities in Kapiolani Park.
>> 2013: KPPS opposes the city’s plan to build an Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division substation next to the Waikiki Aquarium. During Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration, the city paid $91,191 to plan and design the lifeguard substation. The city spent another $11,732 under Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration to assess cultural impacts.
>> 2013: KPPS campaigns against a city plan to replace an existing one-story nursery building with a much larger two-story, 7,900-square-foot administration building on the mauka side of the park. The city had said that the development, which was part of its 2010 budget, would provide workstations for the Division of Urban Forestry as well as office and meeting space, classrooms, restrooms, showers and lockers for city workers. The city spent $250,000 on planning for the nursery project, which also include a 1,200-square-foot caretaker’s cottage, off-street parking for 18 vehicles, and a loading zone.
>> 2015: KPPS opposes bills allowing sponsorship and advertising at the Honolulu Zoo.
Over the years, there have been many conflicts between the society and the city about park use and maintenance, advertising and development. Since 2010, the city has budgeted more than $850,000 for the planning of Kapiolani Park projects, but trust disagreements have stymied plans.
KPPS President Alethea Rebman said the city should have asked the courts for guidance and informed KPPS, neighborhood boards, the state Historic Preservation Division and other parties before spending money on the construction of a new Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division substation in park space next to the Waikiki Aquarium. KPPS also opposed the city’s plan for a new nursery complex on the mauka side of the park that includes an administration building, caretaker’s cottage and parking.
The society isn’t keen on City Councilman Trevor Ozawa’s proposal to put a three-story parking garage at the Honolulu Zoo, either.
While these issues have lingered, the society’s latest beef is with the quality of the Trustees 9th Triennial Report, which Council members were required to complete this year as part of their trust obligations. The society also wants the Attorney General’s Office to consider reconstituting park trustees by replacing at least some of the City Council members who preside over the park.
Rebman sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones on Sept. 22 saying the Council is shirking its trustee duties, which might conflict with their political roles. The society is upset the city is allowing prohibited commercial activity in the park and Rebman said the Trustees 9th Triennial Report, which covers activities from May 2014 to May 2017, “displays no intent by the trustees or their counsel to protect the park or implement court orders.”
“The city paid a lot of taxpayer money to obtain a report with many findings. That report grows stale as the city fails to act,” Rebman said in the letter.“The big issues have not and have never been addressed. Instead, the trustees focus on voting constituents that are not related to protecting the trusts, undertaking projects like recently allocating $500,000 on a study for a three-story parking garage to serve nearby businesses and residents.”
Rebman said KPPS wants the city to implement suggestions in a previously conducted carrying-capacity report and to address lingering problems such as fixing buckling sidewalks and the spread of homeless camping and commercial activity, which interfere with the park being open to the public.
Ozawa, who represents Waikiki, said the Council has fulfilled its park responsibilities, including considering a zoo parking garage, which he opined would be an appropriate public benefit.
“At times, it may be difficult for council members to address fiscal needs of the Kapiolani Park while maintaining their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers. However, through the operating and capital improvement budget, the City Council has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the park and supported the financial requests of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the improvements and suggestions outlined in the carrying capacity report. The City Council authorized capital improvement monies for additional park groundskeeper positions for the department, sidewalk repairs, refurbish(ing) restrooms, and renovation of tennis and volleyball courts,” Ozawa said.
City Department of Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Nekota said her department and the city Department of Enterprise Services monitor commercial activity in the park and the Honolulu Police Department can cite violators if officers witness illegal activity.
But KPPS board member Donna Ching said the report that Ozawa and other Council members turned in was “so deficient” that the society is using it as an example of why park trustees should come from a broader cross section of the community. The society suggests trustees should instead include several attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office, several Honolulu City Council members, and one or two KPPS emeritus directors or other citizens who have worked to protect the park, Ching said.
“It’s a public charitable trust, it’s not a city park,” she said.
Jones was slated to meet with KPPS on Thursday, but asked for a continuance to research society claims.
The city has not taken a position on the society’s request to reconfigure trustees. However, city Corporation Counsel Donna Leong said such a change would have to take place at Probate Court, where Judge Philip Chun was serving in 1991 when he named the City Council as successor trustees of the Kapiolani Park Trust.
Ozawa said Chun knew about the many roles elected Council members must play and still “decided it was in the best interests of the trust” to name them as successor trustees.