Illegal homeless encampments, derelict and sinking boats, and piles of smelly trash were back at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor only weeks after the state finished a November enforcement sweep that netted 550 violations.
The state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement conducted the November sweep as a pilot program.
There are efforts to make DOCARE’s pilot a regular occurrence. The pilot took place during three weekends in November, with officers at the harbor on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and a few Monday nights.
State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako-McCully-Moiliili) said the action was so successful that she wants to find a way this legislative session, either through a bill or just by adding more resources to the budget, to make the pilot permanent.
Moriwaki prompted DOCARE, which is part of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, “to create a strategy to address many of the law enforcement and security concerns voiced to her by harbor community members,” said DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla.
Redulla said that in the last five months there were more than 47 complaints, separate from the enforcement efforts, about criminal activity and security concerns such as illegal parking, boating activities, small-boat harbor rule violations and penal code violations such as crimes against people.
“The saturation type of operation was determined to be the initial course of action to address illegal activities because it had been used in the past, and was a successful enforcement model,” Redulla said. “We would describe the operation as successful, meaning that there was a high law enforcement visibility and enforcement focus within Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor which resulted in many violations being addressed, and positive comments made by the harbor’s residents and users.”
Redulla said violations ranged from civil penalties such as monetary fines to petty misdemeanors or misdemeanor offenses, which carry both monetary fines and imprisonment as penalties. Violations carrying criminal penalties, such as misdemeanor offenses, are heard in Honolulu District Court, he said.
“We knew we had problems but not to that extent,” Moriwaki said. “I’ll be working with DOCARE to figure out what they need to maintain a more permanent presence, especially at night when crime is afoot. We need to get the harbor to the point where it’s clean and managed and secure. We don’t want boats having unexpected visitors or people feeling that they can’t walk about at night without worrying that they could be accosted.”
Microcosm of Hawaii
While Moriwaki was taken aback by DOCARE’s findings, Redulla said DOCARE was not surprised.
“Many DLNR managed facilities are microcosms of our society, particularly Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor because it is the biggest small-boat harbor in the state,” he said. “Many of the issues found in our communities, including illegal activities, occur there.”
Redulla said the routine patrol of Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor is a frequent occurrence; however, these patrols may be by a single officer or two per day.
“Plans to saturate the harbor by more officers require additional funding for overtime, if a more constant presence is necessary. More funding and bodies would be necessary to address issues at Ala Wai harbor as well as all of the areas that DLNR manages,” he said.
Patricia Kesling-Wood, who has lived at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor since 2009, said she hopes Moriwaki and DOCARE find a way to increase security at the harbor, but cautions that it shouldn’t come at the expense of maintenance.
“It’s like the broken- window theory. We have to maintain the harbor, or crime will escalate. It’s a proven fact that nicer places just have less crime and that places that are poorly maintained invite more criminal activity,” Kesling-Wood said as she patrolled the harbor with other members of a neighborhood watch this month.
Her husband, Gordon Wood, said the harbor’s challenges go back at least a decade and that the recent DOCARE pilot only confirms that pervasive problems with crime and lack of maintenance still exist at a time when the state has substantially increased mooring fees. While the increase varies, the couple’s mooring fees recently increased to $1,300 a month from $620.
The couple and other concerned boat dwellers would like to see some of the recent fee increases go to support harbor maintenance as well as added security.
In October some Waikiki residents, especially harbor dwellers, were rankled when DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation came up empty-handed after a committee reviewed proposals for redevelopment of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.
DOBOR began trying to redevelop Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor sites, including the current harbormaster’s office, the adjacent parking lot and the old fuel dock, more than a decade ago. Anxiety about the public recreational area’s future has been heightened since the state broadened the harbor’s redevelopment options through Act 197 and HRS 171-6(19), paving the way for a public-private partnership.
It didn’t help that its first attempt at a partnership failed after Honey Bee USA went bankrupt in 2016, leaving a wake of creditors, including the state, which is still owed $500,000. Further delays mean that the gateway to Waikiki will continue to be marred by a construction site, which was cleared to make way for the failed Honey Bee project. Boaters also will have to continue to make do without amenities like a fuel dock, boat repair facility, store and laundry, which were demolished to make way for Honey Bee’s plan.
Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chairman Bob Finley expressed frustration that Honey Bee ran out of money, because in his opinion the company’s final plan, which offered boating services along with a wedding chapel and retail and entertainment complex, was palatable to the neighborhood.
“If I was traveling on a sailing boat and pulled into the harbor, I’d say, ‘Oh my God, what is this place?’” Finley said. “There’s no fueling station, no place to get repair parts or fix my boat. If I wanted to get some beer to put on my boat, I’d have to walk across Ala Moana Boulevard.”
The empty lots and business closures have only added to the harbor’s security issues by creating pockets of inactivity, said Joanne Weldon, who has lived on a boat in the harbor for 18 years and is part of the neighborhood watch.
“When ‘Hawaii Five-0’ shoots here, you should see the security. I’d like to see that regularly,” Weldon said. “We also need after-hours numbers to call other than 911. Sometimes we have important maintenance issues, too.”
Waiting until the office opens during the weekdays has the potential to turn lesser maintenance issues into major capital improvement projects, Kesling-Wood said.
“There are still a lot of abandoned and derelict slips. If they repaired them and filled them, it would bring more revenue to make the harbor better,” she said.
The lack of a constant security presence also invites a criminal element and does little to reduce the neighborhood’s homeless population, Kesling-Wood said.
“The staff is very hardworking and does a good job, but they don’t have enough resources to address all the concerns. From Friday 4:30 p.m. to Monday at 7:45 a.m., it can be the Wild West: There’s generally no security,” she said.
Gordon Wood said the community’s neighborhood watch has brought improvement.
“Actually, it was worse 10 years ago when we started our neighborhood watch. We used to routinely find crimes like thievery, drug dealing, drug manufacturing and prostitution,” he said. “Now we tend to see more maintenance issues.”
Finley said that he’s glad that Moriwaki is looking into the state of the Ala Wai harbor, and hopes more lawmakers will take the unmet needs of harbor dwellers and users to heart.
“It’s a mess down there. The problems have developed over years and decades and will take some time to fix,” Finley said. “It’s really an insult to the boating community and to recreational users that this harbor at the gateway into Waikiki is in its current state.”