Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell today defended a plan to place a privately funded inclusive playground at Ala Moana Regional Park, saying “the idea the city is allowing rich people to take over park land to build a luxury playground is ludicrous.”
Pa‘ani Kakou, a nonprofit led by residents and developers of the upscale Park Lane condominium at Ala Moana Center across the street from the park, “is raising money from all kinds of people to build this inclusive playground as a gift to the city,” Caldwell said in a statement. “It will eventually be turned over to Parks and Recreation, and Pa‘ani Kakou should be thanked, not vilified.”
But Caldwell also held out some hope for those who oppose locating the one-acre playground elsewhere in Kakaako as requested in a resolution passed by the Honolulu City Council Wednesday.
“I’m open to compromise on other ideas as to where the playground can be located, but it has to make sense to the people funding it,” the mayor said.
Resolution 19-263, introduced by area Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, asks the Caldwell administration to “provide alternate sites for a playground serving the Kakaako area.” The resolution was adopted 7-0 with members Brandon Elefante, Joey Manahan, Ron Menor and Kymberly Pine voting “yes with reservations.” Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson and Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
All but two of about 25 people who provided oral testimony on the resolution Wednesday supported the resolution. They said the playground would take away much-needed and valuable open green space for a playground that would cater to the affluent living across the street. They also criticized Caldwell for being influenced by politically influential interests who have donated to his campaign coffers as well as Council members.
Pa‘ani Kakou executive director Tiffany Vara, said those involved with the project are volunteering their efforts and not receiving any personal or professional gain from it. Vara and Julie Dinius, a teacher and the mother of a child with disabilities, said the playground is critically needed and that it would not be viable on Kakaako park lands the city agreed to take over from the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the state agency tasked with overseeing land use development of the area.