Excerpted from Civil Beat
By Alia Wong
When it comes to the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, neither of Honolulu’s two mayoral candidates fully support the state’s plan to replace the dilapidated structure with a volleyball arena or concert venue.
Since 2009, at the recommendation of a 17-member city task force, the city had been working on a plan to demolish the memorial and create another beach.
But it turns out, according to a recently released chain of internal emails between city and state officials, that Gov. Neil Abercrombie has for months had other ideas for the site. He prefers to convert the long-unused swimming pool into a beach volleyball court and perhaps use the site as a place to hold outdoor performances.
A decades-old heated debate about what to do with the Natatorium — built as a memorial for World War 1 veterans — has left the site in disrepair.
The recent emails revealed not only the state’s plans for the site but also a concerted effort by city and state officials to keep the public from finding out what was up. Media reports on those efforts to hide the truth have pushed the issue even further into the limelight.
And so it was one of several questions posed to Kirk Caldwell and Ben Cayetano at a one-hour forum at the Harris United Methodist Church Monday.
Both were asked to explain what they think should be done with the Natatorium.
Rather than siding with the task force or the state, Cayetano proposed finding a compromise between the plans.
“There are good arguments on both sides of the issue,” he said, adding that his position centers on preserving Kaimana Beach as a gathering place for locals.
“The beach there is probably the last beach that we will have for our local residents in Waikiki. Once you take that away, you’re taking away something that can never be put back.”
“I think the governor’s right. I don’t blame him,” he said. “I think he wants to have concerts and volleyball … I don’t see why that can’t happen without building a stadium. That’s the kind of compromise I’m talking about.”
Cayetano said that he intends to talk with Abercrombie to understand why he wants a volleyball court.
Caldwell, on the other hand, said he supports the task force’s decision.
“The task force started, the EIS (environmental impact statement) is in progress, money is being spent,” he said.
The city until recently had been going forward with $1.3 million worth of studies, including the EIS.
He noted the Natatorium’s decrepit state and speculated that a thunderstorm or earthquake could easily tear the structure down.
“Enough talking — it’s time for action,” he said.
The task force plan entails demolishing the pool, moving the arches back, building groins — barriers built into the sea from the beach to prevent erosion — and ultimately creating an additional beach.
The governor’s idea would require the city to rebuild the walls — a project that would cost roughly $30 million, Caldwell said.
“Now, if I were mayor and Governor Abercrombie decided to rescind the executive order, I’d say be my guest — take it back and spend the money,” he said. “But my request would be to fix it, get it back up to where it was … I hope this isn’t another 40 years of political football. It’s just shameful — right in the heart of Waikiki, right at this base of Diamond Head, honoring those who gave their ultimate sacrifice in World War I. We dishonor them every day by talking and not acting.”
Both Cayetano and Caldwell condemned the stealthy decision-making revealed in the emails.
Cayetano said the media’s exposure of the emails would ensure similar procedures don’t happen in the future.
Caldwell criticized the officials for their “behind-the-scenes” approach.