Those with plots in community gardens won’t get a reprieve from Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s decision to close the sites along with other recreational facilities.
But it’s possible the garden members will get some relief, city officials said.
Since Caldwell announced Thursday that the 10 facilities were being locked down along with all city parks, beaches and other recreational facilities, the city has received lots of correspondence from community garden users.
“At this point the city is making no exceptions to the parks closure,” the Department of Parks and Recreation said Tuesday. City officials recognize that there are health benefits to gardening and that there is a desire for more food security and sustainability, but “the pandemic has taken priority over all park user needs and this has a lot to do with enforcement capability for (Honolulu police), as well as the (issue of) gathering which has been so much of the dialogue focus,” Parks and Recreation said.
“The goal of these park closures is to reduce the potential for additional community spread of COVID-19, minimize gatherings, and provide an effective environment for HPD enforcement to be conducted,” the department said. “Having select park amenities open makes it difficult for authorities to determine who should and should not be utilizing park facilities.”
But Caldwell spokesman Alexander Zannes said the city is looking into the possibility of taking steps to see if garden plots can get some care and maintenance, “and that may include utilizing park staff to help water the gardens.”
In late March, Caldwell reversed an initial decision to shut down the community gardens and, in recent days, advocates have questioned why such an exception is not being allowed this time.
“There was not a rise in cases after the exception, the rise came when everything else was opened up,” said Leonard Smothermon, president of the Hawaii Kai Community Garden. “Plants will die, plots will be overgrown with weeds and soil will suffer without attention. At the very least the gardens need water, especially at this time of year. Gardeners will need to repair the harm to their plots caused by inattention.
Told that the city may consider using park staff to help maintain the plots, Smothermon said “of course we would welcome efforts to help water and maintain the plots, whether it is city staff or volunteers from the garden.”
Parks officials noted that when Caldwell provided an exemption for community gardeners in March, there were 14 COVID-19 cases statewide, and the numbers are much greater now. “Public safety is our top priority,” the agency said.