By Gordon Y.K. Pang
A 10-day restraining order blocking work at the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium was imposed on the city by Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani today.
Work was scheduled to begin this week on Mayor Jeremy Harris’ $11.5 million plan to restore the 70-year-old structure.
City Council members are looking at a new compromise plan that might significantly reduce the scope of the natatorium project.
Attorney Jim Bickerton, representing the Kaimana Beach Coalition, argued that a special management area use permit issued by the Council requires the city to obtain all construction-related permits prior to start of work.
The city still needs a water certification from the state Health Department and a permit for underwater construction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two underwater groins.
Nakatani said Harris’ plan to proceed only with the land-based portion of the project “is unlawful in light of the fact that the SMA permit expressly provides that approval of all government agencies must be obtained prior to implementation.”
City attorney Tedson Koja countered that because the outstanding permits pertained to underwater construction, the city could proceed with construction of the facade and bleachers.
Bickerton said the temporary restraining order needs to be in place immediately because work on the project is imminent. Nakatani agreed with Bickerton on that point.
“Restored bleachers looking out into the open ocean for no apparent purpose conjures up a pretty odd and strange vision,” Nakatani said.
The restraining order against the city is good until July 10. On July 9, Nakatani will hear arguments on a preliminary injunction that would halt construction at least until the end of trial.
Nakatani said it is up to the Council to decide if partial construction complies with the permit, not Harris.
Bickerton echoed Nakatani’s comments. The TRO “puts the ball squarely in the City Council’s lap.”
Corporation Counsel David Arakawa, reacting to the decision, called it disappointing and noted that even opponents have no problem with construction of the arch, facade and public restrooms.
As for Nakatani’s opinion that the Council should look into the issue of partial construction, Arakawa said: “The Council has not revoked the permit so it stands. The Council, the majority of the Council is not objecting to restoration of the land-side park features.
At Honolulu Hale yesterday, the Council decided not to discuss a resolution seeking to revoke the special management area use permit for the natatorium.
City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura said there is no urgency since Harris has promised to put off work on the pool until the Health Department comes up with rules governing saltwater pools.
Yoshimura — long an opponent of full restoration — said late yesterday that he is “trying to find a way to stop the (natatorium) pool from happening.”
Yoshimura added: “We’re working on something. But will it happen? I hope so.”
To date, only three of Yoshimura’s nine Council colleagues — Steve Holmes, Kim and Mufi Hannemann — have opposed full restoration. But that might change.
Councilman Duke Bainum, a key supporter of full restoration, said he’s taking a second look. “It’s clear to me that there are a lot of people who think full restoration of the pool is a mistake,” he said.
“I’m re-evaluating my position in light of the fact that this thing is being drawn out in the court system.”
The longer the project is hung up in the courts, Bainum said, the more likely the project will go over budget.
And Bainum has long stated he won’t support additional funding for full restoration.
By Robbie Dingeman, ADVERTISER CITY HALL WRITER
Honolulu City Council member Donna Mercado Kim said more than 1,000 people signed a petition over the weekend urging the city to revoke or modify a permit for the controversial restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.
Kim and a handful of staff members collected signatures Saturday and Sunday at Ala Moana Shopping Center, Kapolei, Manoa Marketplace and 99 Ranch Market in Mapunapuna.
Kim said she was surprised by the number of people who were adamant in their opposition to restoring the saltwater pool and just as adamant that the city should simply save the memorial arch.
“The overwhelming majority want the arch restored and the overwhelming majority want a beach,” Kim said.
The waterfront swimming pool, built as a monument to World War I veterans, has been closed since 1979 because it is a safety hazard.
Kim is trying to get the permit issue on the Council agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, even though Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura has said he doesn’t want to take up the issue.
Yoshimura has said he remains opposed to the restoration of the Natatorium pool, but is awaiting a state judge’s decision on a temporary restraining order to block the project before he hears a resolution on the permit.
Kim said it’s irresponsible for the city to move forward with any part of the restoration not knowing the outcome.
City spokeswoman Carol Costa said the city will not begin work on the restoration until after the judge’s ruling, which is now expected tomorrow.
By Ken Kobayashi, ADVERTISER COURTS WRITER
A group opposing the proposed restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium returned to court yesterday to challenge Mayor Jeremy Harris’ decision this week to proceed with construction that doesn’t involve the facility’s saltwater pool.
The Kaimana Beach Coalition filed a new lawsuit citing Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani’s decision Monday that the pool is under the Department of Health’s jurisdiction and needs a permit.
The group also contends that the city must first obtain additional permits before beginning work on any phase of the $11 million project.
It asked for a court order halting any construction.
After the judge’s ruling, Harris announced that construction work on the facade, bleachers and restrooms would begin. He said he would wait for the Health Department’s new rules for saltwater pools before deciding if the swimming area would be restored.
But coalition attorney James Bickerton yesterday questioned why the city would want to proceed before obtaining the permits. “Why do we need bleachers if we don’t have a pool?” he said.
“We believe the bleachers are what Mayor Harris really wants because they will pave the way for the commercial use for the Natatorium, which is his long-term goal,” he said.
The construction was to begin this month.
Harris was not available for comment yesterday, but city Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said his office will oppose the coalition’s request.
Arakawa said the administration is “really puzzled” by the latest challenge because the coalition itself never opposed the restoration of the arch or restrooms, which would be open to the public in the surrounding areas, including Kaimana Beach.
“It’s pretty apparent they just don’t want the Natatorium restored,” he said.
Arakawa said he’s never heard the mayor say that his long-term goal is to commercialize the facility. “To me, it’s getting a little tiring that every time we make a reasonable move, they come up with a new motive,” he said.
The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans but shut down in 1979 for safety reasons. The city Council last year approved by a 6-3 vote a special management permit paving the way for the project.
The coalition has said it favors the restoration of the arch and bathrooms, but wants the bleachers and ocean wall eliminated to make way for a one-acre beach.
By Brandon Masuoka, ADVERTISER STAFF WRITER
Despite growing opposition to renovation of the Waikiki Natatorium, Mayor Jeremy Harris said yesterday that work on the facade, bleachers and restrooms would proceed, but he would await state Health Department rules for salt-water pools before deciding if the swimming area would be restored.
No part of the restoration will be done, however, if enough members of the Honolulu City Council agree to revoke a special shoreline management area permit for the project.
Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim has introduced a resolution directing the Department of Planning and Permitting to investigate and hold a hearing on revocation of the permit.
The permit was approved in a 6-3 vote, but Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who voted for it, now says he is opposed to the restoration. Only one more vote would have to be changed from “yes” to “no,” to revoke the permit.
Natatorium restoration hit a major snag this week when Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani declared the facility a swimming pool that must adhere to state pool regulations. Other concerns focused on the clarity of the water and bacteria levels in the pool.
Harris said yesterday the because there are now no salt-water pool regulations, he will wait to proceed with fixing the Natatorium pool until the state Department of Health devises rules.
Harris said it would be reasonable to require the water quality around the Natatorium to match water quality inside the pool.
“We can do that,” Harris said.
But if the regulations enforce “non-sensible” regulations, such as forcing water quality inside the pool to be twice as clean as the outside water, “then we won’t do the pool,” Harris said.
Harris said work on the other areas would start in two weeks and construction would take about four to six months.
The partial restoration is a “conservative and responsible approach” for the city to work only on the facade of the facility until the rules are in place, he said.
The Natatorium was closed in 1979. Harris called conditions there “a disgrace.”
There are signs to warn people to keep out and to watch for falling debris. A headless stone eagle, a victim of wear and tear, is perched on top the archway. A dangerous-looking hole on the ewa-side pool deck is fenced off.
By Ken Kobayashi, ADVERTISER STAFF WRITER
A state judge delivered a potentially crippling blow yesterday to the city’s plan to renovate the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium by declaring that the facility falls under regulations governing swimming pools and must obtain a state permit.
City and state lawyers had argued that the regulations covering freshwater pools were never intended to cover the Natatorium, which is designed to allow ocean water to flow through its pool.
But Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani ruled that the facility will be a public swimming pool and falls under the regulations governing pool health and safety.
“The Department of Health should and must be the designated watch guard over the health and safety of pools in this state for all of our protection,” the judge said.
The decision is the latest snarl in the long-standing controversy over whether the city should spend $10.8 million to renovate the shoreline facility. But it won’t be the final word.
Mayor Jeremy Harris and city lawyers said they would appeal the decision. They said construction will begin this month as scheduled on nonpool renovations, such as restoring bleachers and the memorial arch and installing restrooms.
Harris called the decision “ludicrous.” “It makes no sense,” he said. “We’ll have to chlorinate the whole ocean.”
But James Bickerton, lawyer for the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which filed the lawsuit challenging the renovations, said he would ask for a court order to halt renovation work.
He said the city obtained a shoreline permit that says the renovations comply with all state regulations. Until they get the pool permit, the city won’t be able to work on any part of the project, he said.
“We’re really hoping the city will see the light and turn it into a beach.”
The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans, but was closed in 1979 for safety reasons. In a 6-3 vote, the City Council last year approved the plans to renovate it.
The Kaimana Beach Coalition believes the money can be better spent by restoring the memorial arch, but eliminating the bleachers and the makai wall. Bickerton said the plan would create another 100 yards of beach in Waikiki that would be worth about $50 million.
All sides agreed that the Natatorium wouldn’t be able to meet the requirements for a pool permit. Those include a limit to the level of staph bacteria and water clear enough so that an 8-inch black disc at the bottom of the pool is visible from the surface. The requirement for water clarity is so lifeguards could see a swimmer under the water.
But the city proceeded without a pool permit by relying on an opinion from the attorney general’s office last year that the Natatorium doesn’t fall under state pool regulations.
City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said the city will work with the Department of Health in developing new rules for a salt-water facility. He said he believes the city will be able to obtain a permit.
The renovations were scheduled to be completed within 16 months, city officials said. But it may take a year to come up with new rules for the city to obtain a permit.
Health Department director Bruce Anderson said he’ll appoint an advisory committee of water-quality experts to recommend rules governing salt-water facilities. The new rules would have to go through public hearings, and it could take six months to a year before they are adopted, he said.
Anderson had maintained that the Natatorium fell under the pool regulations, but deferred to the attorney general’s opinion.
“We’re pleased the judge has recognized the need to protect the health and safety of the public in this decision,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we don’t have rules in place today that govern the quality of water in a salt-water pool.”
Nancy Bannick, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, said she was disappointed by the judge’s ruling. The nonprofit Friends group was formed in 1986 to preserve and restore the Natatorium.
“I’m convinced that it’s going to be perfectly safe. People swam there for years even when it was in bad shape and didn’t have good water quality, and most people didn’t get hurt by it at all,” Bannick said.
Above: Construction is scheduled to start this month at the Natatorium, including restoration of the bleachers.
Below: The Natatorium was built in 1927 in honor of World War l veterans. It was closed in 1979 for safety reasons, and last year the City Council voted to reopen it.
Photos by JEFF WIDENER THE HONOLULU ADVERTISER
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Mayor Jeremy Harris is pressing ahead with an $11.5 million renovation of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium despite a blow dealt by a Circuit Court judge.
Judge Gail Nakatani’s decision yesterday defined the natatorium as a swimming pool. That could stop the facility’s opening by requiring the city to obtain a permit from the state Health Department.
Health Director Bruce Anderson questions whether the city can meet even a new set of rules his department must now create governing operation of saltwater pools.
Nakatani’s decision also has given opponents hope that the uncertainty will spill over to the City Council, where several members want to discuss the possibility of revoking a shoreline management permit for the project.
Construction fences will go up tomorrow around the natatorium, mayoral spokesman Jerry Silva said. Work on the facade could begin as early as next week.
The city still needs approval from the Health Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct underwater groins, stretching toward the ocean, designed to improve circulation of the water in the pool.
Those approvals aren’t considered major obstacles.
But the attorney for Kaimana Beach Coalition, which brought the lawsuit against the city, said the city should not begin the project until it receives all permits.
Jim Bickerton said his clients will likely take the city back to court when the city does begin construction because the shoreline management permit for the project requires all government permits must first be obtained.
“If they go ahead and start any kind of construction, we will block them,” Bickerton said.
Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim, who opposes full restoration, said “it’s irresponsible and highly arrogant of them to proceed, even with the facade portion.”
The Health Department will form an advisory committee to come up with recommendations for rules governing saltwater pools, Anderson said. He doesn’t expect the rules to be completed for “at least six months and more likely a year or more.”
There also aren’t other saltwater pools in the country that the city can look to for guidance on the rules, Anderson said. “We’re forging new ground here.”
The key change will involve bacterial levels. Rules for freshwater pools require chlorination, an impossibility in the open-ended natatorium.
His main concern continues to be turbidity, or clarity of water. Health inspectors will have to be able to see a round, black, 8-inch disc at the bottom of the 7-foot pool or the pool won’t open, he said.
City officials insist that they will be able to meet both acceptable bacterial levels and the clarity test with their new technology. “It would be foolhardy to get into this (construction) unless they have reasonable assurances (the concerns) can be addressed,” Anderson said.
“It’s ridiculous for them to go forward with construction when there are no rules that can be made applicable to this saltwater swimming pool that would make it safe,” said Rick Bernstein, spokesman for Kaimana Beach Coalition.
City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said that won’t be a problem. “The water quality inside the natatorium is supposed to be the same as the water quality outside the natatorium,” he said. “If they aren’t going to comply, they’d have to close down the whole beach at Waikiki.”
The city will appeal Nakatani’s decision. “The ruling is ludicrous,” Harris said. “We have always had the highest concern for public health and safety. The restored natatorium has been designed by experts to do that and will be operated in the same way.”
Arakawa said the city hired University of Hawaii professor Roger Fujioka to come up with recommended operating rules for the pool to help satisfy public concerns.
Question: When was the Natatorium first built and why?
Answer: It was open in 1927 as a memorial to Americans who fought and died in World War I. Swim meets and demonstrations were held.
Q: Why was it closed down?
A: It was shut down in 1979 following health concerns.
Q: What does Mayor Jeremy Harris’ plan entail?
A: Harris wants full restoration of the pool. He believes new technology will eliminate the water circulation problems of the past.
Q: What is the Kaimana Beach Coalition and why does it oppose full restoration?
A: The core members of the group are frequent visitors to Kaimana Beach, the area just Diamond Head of the Natatorium. They say the pool cannot be made safe and restoration is a waste of money. They also fear full restoration would harm Kaimana and that the city will put up a tourist show stadium.
Q: What is the alternative to spending $11.5 million for full restoration and why doesn’t the mayor like that plan?
A: Kaimana Beach Coalition wants the city to just keep the facade and tear down the rest of the site, then put in a sand beach with volleyball courts. It estimates the plan would cost $6 million. The administration says leaving just the facade would cost just as much as full restoration. It also points out that the Natatorium is on the state and federal registers of historic places.
Q: Which Council members voted to approve the project?
A: John Henry Felix and Duke Bainum were the earliest and most vocal supporters. Others voting for a shoreline management permit for the project were John DeSoto, Mufi Hannemann Rene Mansho and Andy Mirikitani. Hannemann says new information might change his mind.
Q: Which Council members oppose the project?
A: Steve Holmes, Donna Mercado Kim and Jon Yoshimura have consistently opposed the project.
Q: What was the lawsuit about?
A: The attorney general’s office issued an opinion that the Health Department had no jurisdiction because the Natatorium falls outside the definition of a swimming pool. Kaimana Beach Coalition challenged and won.
Q: What do Council members opposed to the project intend to do now?
A: Kim and Hannemann have persuaded Yoshimura, the Council chairman, to place on the June 30 Council agenda a resolution revoking the shoreline management permit granted last year.
By Gordon Y.K. Pang, Star-Bulletin
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Is it a pool or isn’t it?
The fate of the city’s $11.5 million restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium may rest on Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani’s response to the question.
Nakatani said she will rule Monday.
The city doesn’t want it declared a pool since health officials say it might be closed to swimming because it is doubtful it meets pool standards.
The Kaimana Beach Coalition doesn’t want the natatorium open, citing health questions, cost and possible ruin of neighboring Kaimana Beach.
James Bickerton, attorney for the coalition, argued yesterday that the facility is clearly a swimming pool.
“It has clearly defined boundaries,” he said, noting that the natatorium is separated from the ocean on three sides by a 10-foot thick wall.
Bickerton added that a saltwater pool at a Kona resort, fed by the open ocean, has followed state regulations since the 1970s.
Deputy City Corporation Counsel Tedson Koja argued that the natatorium is similar to other partially enclosed facilities such as Magic Island, the Wall in Waikiki and Ko Olina.
None of those fall under pool regulations, Koja said. Those rules, he said, “were never intended to apply to a swimming venue such as the Natatorium.”
Koja added, “The water quality inside of the Natatorium will be the same quality as the water outside.”
Bickerton countered that Koja’s comparisons were improper. “Nobody operates and maintains Magic Island; nobody goes in there to scrub the rocks.”
Nakatani questioned how Koja could make that comparison when the city intends to implement restrictions recommended by paid consultant Roger Fujioka.
Those recommendations, made public on Monday, included barring people under 4 and those with liver diseases, AIDS or skin infections from entering the pool.
But Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said after yesterday’s hearings that the city never intended to incorporate all of Fujioka’s recommendations — despite reports that led to cries of discrimination from the ACLU.
People with open sores and wounds likely won’t be allowed, Arakawa said, but other restrictions have not been finalized.
“We’re not going to discriminate against people,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Takeuchi said.
The city will sit down with the state Health Department and Fujioka to discuss which of the recommendations will be implemented, Takeuchi said.
Health Director Bruce Anderson said his agency has no grounds to regulate the natatorium if Nakatani rules it is not a swimming pool.
For instance, he said, it would be impractical, if not impossible, for the city to apply chlorine to the salt water. If Nakatani rules that it is a pool, however, the department will come up with new requirements involving saltwater pools.
by Charles Memminger
LET’S stop this Natatorium foolishness before this albatross permanently affixes itself around our tax-paying necks.
A saltwater pool is a concept whose time has come and gone. Back in the days before environmental impact studies and when our basic understanding of bacteria and microbes was in its infancy, having a saltwater pool on the ocean’s edge was a grand idea.
Back then, people weren’t so hung up about germs and health hazards. In restaurants, dishes were washed by hand and not always thoroughly. Smoking was allowed everywhere, including on airplanes and in office buildings. There were no paper toilet seat covers or garbage disposals in kitchen sinks.
We’ve come a long way, baby. We’re not as paranoid about germs as Howard Hughes was, but we’re getting there. Did you ever think you’d see your neighborhood sandwich-maker wearing rubber surgical gloves? And let’s not even talk about sex. With AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases rampaging through the land, it behooves participants in the love game to shellac themselves with a construction-grade sealant before jumping in the sack.
Nevertheless, the city is pushing forward with its plan to rebuild the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, even though experts concede this relic of the past will be something akin to an enormous petri dish in which all manner of germs and diseases will percolate.
AND if you don’t believe that is true, just look at the proposed regulations regarding use of the pool: A huge number of people will be banned from using the pool, even though they pay the taxes being used to refurbish the facility.
Those banned include the old, the young, people with AIDS or liver disease or skin infections or staphylococci, which is a fancy word for the germs that cause pus. If this turkey is built, people will have to undergo full body searches before they will be allowed in the water. This will be the only swimming facility in the country with a doctor on staff to screen everyone coming through the memorial arches.
I’m not sure how the great minds behind this white elephant plan to identify AIDS sufferers who attempt to use the pool. Will everyone have to present a note from a doctor certifying they don’t have AIDS or HIV? I know a few lawyers in town who will have a ball with these regulations.
Last time I checked, I think people had a right to privacy about their personal medical history. And Attorney Lunsford Phillips in particular has developed a pretty healthy law practice suing people, businesses and the government over the accessibility rights of the disabled.
If the natatorium is ever rebuilt, it is going to be one high maintenance bugger, what with the water testers, lifeguards, scab screeners and health document processors.
I just don’t get it. Why do we need to go through all this humbug simply for a swimming pool? Hawaii’s World War I veterans would be suitably honored and remembered if the distinctive arch simply is restored. The money that will be poured down this rat hole (and, believe me, the $11 million is just a beginning) could be used to build parks that would be open to everyone.
It just makes no sense to build a salt-water swimming pool on the most famous beach in the world.
Besides, Honolulu already has a huge saltwater pool. It’s called Hanauma Bay.
Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards in 1994 and 1992, writes “Honolulu Lite” Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802 or send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Honolulu Lite online archive is at: http://archives.starbulletin.com/lite
by Charles Memminger
ISN’T it kind of silly to have a concrete swimming pool sitting in the ocean at the most famous beach in the world?
This is something like building an indoor ice skating rink on the frozen surface of the world’s most popular ice-skating pond. Or building an indoor manmade-snow skiing stadium on the snow-covered slopes of an Olympic ski village.
That’s the main reason I’m against restoring the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium to its original swimming pool splendor. The other reason is that it will cost too damn much during these tough economic times. But complaining about the dumb ways the government squanders our money while it also talks about raising taxes apparently is a waste of time.
Forget the natatorium. I want to see a moratorium. A moratorium on the spending of any public money on anything but essential services as long as the mayor, governor, City Council or State Legislature utters a word concerning raising taxes in any form.
That means we don’t build swimming pools, change the name of schools, university buildings, roads or counties; design new logos; name official state fish or other varmints; sponsor race cars; or study the feasibility of anything that will not result in the immediate infusion of cash into government coffers. Wait. Strike that last part. I don’t think we can afford to pay for anything that has the word “feasibility” attached to it.
If our fearless leaders are even considering raising taxes in any form, that means we don’t have enough money to conduct the basic business of government. We shouldn’t be considering adding bumper stickers, whistles, bells and other optional equipment to an economic machine struggling to plod forward.
BUT that’s not the main reason I’m against restoring the natatorium. I think it’s just a little kookie these days to have a swimming pool smack on a beach in Waikiki, especially when beach space is at a premium.
A memorial swimming pool in honor of World War I veterans was a good idea at the time — 70 years ago. Back then, it made sense to put a swimming pool by the ocean, a vast source of available water. Sticking a swimming pool on a relatively isolated stretch of Waikiki beach was brilliant. It was a cheap way to build an Olympic-style swimming pool that eventually would showcase Hawaii’s great swimming talents like Duke Kahanamoku.
But swimming pool technology has made great leaps forward. Honolulu is lousy with swimming pools now. It is cheaper and safer now to have swimming pools away from the ocean.
Keeping up a swimming pool inside an ocean environment would be an extravagance today. There’s more to maintaining a salt-water pool than simply letting the ocean wash in and out.
The current price for restoration being thrown around is $11.5 million. If you believe that would be the final cost you’re swimming in dreamland.
But forget the cost. The point of a memorial is to remember the dead and their contributions. Restoration of the graceful archway that was the entrance to the natatorium would serve that purpose. There is no inherent connection between Hawaii’s World War I veterans and a swimming pool. They were not known as the Fighting Porpoises or the Hawaii Synchronized Swimming Battalion.
The idea that our appreciation of veterans would somehow be lessened by a bunch of scantily clad babes in bikinis on the beach versus a bunch of scantily clad babes in a swimming pool on the beach is just silly.
Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards in 1994 and 1992, writes “Honolulu Lite” Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802 or send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Honolulu Lite online archive is at: http://starbulletin.com/lite
An essay by Rick Bernstein
Published in the Honolulu Weekly, August 20, 1997
The people of Honolulu may soon lose something very special – a rare recreational haven along the south shore for locals – to monied interests and the tourist industry.
Kaimana Beach, arguably the last local beach in Waikiki, will be severely affected by an $11.5 million plan to renovate the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. Mayor Jeremy Harris, in an attempt to generate revenue for city coffers, is creating a conundrum of historic proportions.
The city made a June announcement regarding the restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium: Plans call for turning this long-suffering monument into a commercial tourist destination with a swimming pool, 2,500 seat entertainment stadium, gift shop, snack shop and museum.
The restoration could dramatically limit accessibility to this area for local residents, who will have to compete for limited parking and space at this popular and much-used area.
Many have voiced concerns that the ambiance of this serene beach that Robert Louis Stevenson called Sans Souci, or “carefree,” will be destroyed by the incursion of commercial interests.
Others are concerned that the commercialization of the Waikiki War Memorial represents a perversion of its original conception, as a peaceful place to remember the Hawai’i veterans who sacrificed their lives in the First World War. The same applies to Kapi’olani Park, which was created for the peaceful enjoyment of the citizens of Honolulu.
Throughout the community, there is talk that the government is encroaching on public areas set aside for the citizens of O’ahu in service of the tourist industry. Given the state of Hawai’i’s economy, it is understandable that Mayor Harris is looking for an opportunity to generate revenue. The Natatorium is indeed an opportunity. But is this a wise move if it interferes with the enjoyment of thousands of people who depend on this special place for recreation?
The current debate over the Natatorium is just one more example of the way Honolulu officials are commercializing and urbanizing the island.
The troubled history of the Natatorium begins in 1921, when the city government appropriated $250,000 to “provide a memorial to the men and women of Hawai’i who served during the great war.” This memorial included a 100-meter swimming pool. A design competition was held and won by architect Louis P. Hobart. In 1927, the Natatorium was constructed and completed by a company owned by Mr. T.L. Cliff.
Two short years later there were problems. A Honolulu Star Bulletin article entitled “When will something be done?” described the deplorable condition of the Natatorium and grounds as maintained by the City and County of Honolulu. (Some things never change.)
The same year, Gov. Wallace R. Farrington passed responsibility for care and maintenance on to the Territory of Hawaii Department of Public Works and away from the jurisdiction of the City and County of Honolulu, the first of many shifts of responsibility for this well-intentioned but ill-conceived salt water swimming pool, which has been a bureaucratic hot potato ever since.
During this same year, the pool was dredged, due to design flaws, and the deep section was enlarged. It was during these times that Duke Kahanamoku, Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weismuller and many other famous swimmers competed in this 100-meter saltwater pool. Since then, competitive swimming has switched to fresh water pools, rendering salt water pools obsolete for competition.
In 1949, the Natatorium was refurbished for $81,000 – the last money ever spent by any agency on this constantly decaying structure. In the same year, care and maintenance was handed back to the City and County Department of Parks and Recreation. Throughout the 70 years of its existence, there have been many attempts to demolish the Natatorium and return the area to a beach.
As early as 1965, the City Council voted to demolish the Natatorium upon the recommendation of Mayor Neal S. Blaisdell.
In 1982, Mayor Eileen Anderson commissioned a study entitled “Waikiki 2000,” which recommended the demolition of the Natatorium, restoration of the Arch and reconstruction of the beach. The same year, House Concurrent Resolution 173 was passed, declaring essentially the same thing that “Waikiki 2000” recommended, but adding that there shall be no commercial activity whatsoever in the Natatorium.
In 1986, the Friends of the Natatorium came into prominence and began lobbying and garnering public support.
By 1990, the state and the city decided that a complete restoration should be pursued. This decision was based upon a detailed planning report outlining both a complete restoration of the bleachers and the pool, with an alternative of demolishing the bleachers and pool and restoring the beach. The report, prepared by Leo Daly, stated that the costs of both would be about the same – between $11 and $l2 million.
In 1993, Daly’s cost estimates for the beach restoration were called “more elaborate than necessary” by then-Chief City Planner Robin Foster. In fact, a study done in 1985 by CJS Group Architects found that the cost of restoring the beach would be about $4.6 million.
Yet, Daly’s plans and cost comparisons appear to have swayed government opinion on what course of action to follow. The push was on to restore the Natatorium.
Only a few members of the Friends of the Natatorium have rallied in the trenches for a complete restoration. The active members number a few dozen at most. The original members were a scrappy group of gung-ho patriots and restoration enthusiasts. They were savvy to the ways of government and developed and worked a plan. Their tenacity was exemplary, and for 11 years they endeavored to see their dream for a restored Natatorium become a reality.
Members of the new and beefed up board of directors, it should be noted, include notable real estate executives, developers, individuals well connected to government, hotel industry leaders and members of old Island families.
The original pure dream of a Natatorium for the remembrance of the veterans of the First World War, without commercialization, was somehow lost along the way. Were the Friends’ intentions compromised by those who could benefit from the organization’s plans and years of hard work?
Through the years, there have been many problems with the pool. In 1963, the Natatorium was closed due to poor water quality. Water quality is still a major concern of State Health Director Bruce Anderson. who wrote in a March 7 letter to Mayor Jeremy Harris, “The purpose of this letter is to inform you of some serious concerns we have about the health and safety of the pool and to strongly recommend that you look at possible alternatives.”
Anderson stated, “Turbidity in the old pool was always a problem. Young children were taught to swim at the beach nearby because it was too dangerous to swim in the pool. If anone got in trouble and went underwater, it would be difficult to find them before it was too late. This is the reason current rules require that an 8-inch black object on the bottom of any public pool be clearly visible from the surface: if you can’t see it, the pool is immediately closed.
Without filtration, there is little that can be done to reduce turbidity of the water entering the pool to make it safe to swim. This should be a significant liability concern.”
Turbidity in the waters of Waikiki today is worse than it was in the old days. One reason is that man-made sand was used to fill in Fort DeRussy Beach in the 1980s. The silt from that sand pollutes Waikiki to this day. The bottom of the ocean cannot be seen at Waikiki at high tide, or when the surf is up. The clarity of pool water is only as good as the water in the ocean surrounding it.
Anderson also stated, “There is little that can be done about the health risks from staphylococcus bacteria that we can expect wherever large numbers of people swim and circulation is restricted by walls. Boils and ear infections were often reported from swimming in the old pool, and they will be a problem in any salt water pool, because it is practically impossible to disinfect salt water.”
Not mentioned in this letter is a bacterial time bomb lurking just 25 yards from the ewa all of the Natatorium, where the primary water intake opening for the pool is found. This is the sewage-outfall pipe from a 85,000 gallon Monk Seal tank of the Waikiki Aquarium. While this water is processed and filtered before it is released into the ocean, instances of mechanical failure are possible, and one such failure took place in 1994.
If a spill occurs, will the Natatorium be closed? How will it be determined if bacterial waste has colonized the pool?
The ocean has sufficient tidal movement to scour reefs of bacterial build-up, while the walled pool may not. The Environmental Impact Statement for the Natatorium renovation states. “There could also be times when discharge from the Waikiki Aquarium or the neighboring storm drains results in degraded water quality along this coast.” The EIS does not mention any potential danger from the Monk Seal tank.
The renovation plans call for large openings to be cut out of the sea and Diamond Head walls of the Natatorium to increase water circulation. The water from this pool will dump into the Kaimana Beach, in the near shore area where children play in the calm and gentle waters. This water will be of poorer quality than that now encountered here, and the flow also has the potential to change and move the sand covering that portion of the beach.
To soften the appearance of commercialization, plans call for children’s swimming lessons, and training lifeguards, police and fire departments in the pool. Is there something wrong with the public fresh-water pools in this town?
In these difficult economic times, there is not a lot of spare cash lying around. The question is this: Why should taxpayers pony up $11.5 million for a swimming pool that could be dangerous, when we’ll be charged again to use it, and the city gets none of the investment back? The conundrum is this: Any programs that draw people here to provide revenues will have a negative impact on other beachgoers and park users.
The City Council approved $11.5 million for the restoration of the pool and the structure, with the provision that the Friends of the Natatorium raise additional construction costs from the private sector. If the project is half-completed and in need of another cash infusion, and the Friends fail to raise the money in the private sector, it’s still possible that boosters could return to the city for more money. The City Council would be over a barrel to grant the request.
Liability and insurance are going to be huge hurdles to overcome. There is no way that water quality or clarity can be guaranteed. Insurance underwriters are going to look at this pool and see that it is an accident waiting to happen. Who will be the deep pocket for the swimming pool: the Friends, the city, the state, or all of them?
Upon completion of the restoration, plans call for the Friends to assume responsibility for the Natatorium operation and to handle some of the light maintenance. The Friends will keep all revenue from such operations as a gift shop, snack shop and museum, and activities such as weddings, private parties and evening shows. Current plans call for an admission charge for pool users.
The expense of compensating administrators of the Friends should also be considered. According to its articles of incorporation, the Friends of the Natatorium is set up as a taxexempt, 501(c)3, non-profit corporation. According to the organization’s by-laws, directors can be paid “reasonable fees for special services rendered.” A few fair questions come to mind: Will this be another political plum for members of the Old Boys Club? A golden parachute for retiring politicians?
Another development that concerns us greatly: Mayor Harris stated that he would like to see sunset shows at the pool, which will seat 2,500 people. Now here is where the future of the Natatorium could take another turn that could make quite a difference to the citizens of Honolulu.
What could be more perfect for a visitor than to watch a Hawaiian show at sunset, sipping cocktails at the ocean’s edge? Evening shows, aimed at the tourist market, would be a huge money maker for the Friends. How much would they charge for that?
There are a number of sincere directors of the Friends who claim they know nothing of Mayor Harris’s support for entertainment events at the Natatorium. It seems that there is poor communication between the city and the Friends.
With the restoration of the Natatorium come plans for bringing as many tourists to the area as possible. This will cause more parking and traffic problems and these problems loom large for local patrons of the area.
As park and beach users know, parking in this section of Kapi’olani Park is already at a premium. The EIS for the restoration project states that according to the City and County Department Of Land Utilization, there should be 244 parking places for the restored Natatorium. It goes on to say that there are only 39 parking spaces available – and some of those will be taken by restoration.
“The existing parking stalls cannot accommodate the parking requirements for the Natatorium,” the EIS concludes. It’s expected that the city will waive the parking requirements for the project. Where, then, is the public going to park?
Kaimana Beach is adjacent to the Natatorium. For many residents of the area, this beach and park area serves as a back yard. People swim, exercise, sunbathe, play with their children, picnic, socialize and commune with the fabulous sunsets. The best channel for ocean swimming is located here, and gentle near-shore waters allow safe swimming for keikis. How many kids have learned to swim here? How many birthday parties have taken place? Currently this area is used by locals and visitors alike. A harmonious balance exists in the relaxed beach/park scene.
According to the Friends’ business plan, once the Natatorium is restored, it will be advertised and promoted by the tourist industry. Thousands of people will walk, drive, and be bused to the area daily. The ambiance of this special place will be lost forever.
What is the solution for this precious piece of real estate? How can we honor the Veterans who gave their lives and still serve the needs of the living who use this vital area?
Restoring the Memorial Arch to honor the dead is imperative. Relatively inexpensive plans exist to make this a larger beach with access for the disabled. The plans include leaving the ewa and Diamond Head walls of the existing structure as groins to protect the sand on Kaimana Beach. There would be bathrooms and shower facilities.
The people of Honolulu deserve a special place, free of commercialization and hype. An oasis of peace and tranquility now exists at Kaimana Beach. Do we really want to jeopardize this special place for yet another tourist destination?
Mayor Harris has the power to stop this project by holding back the funds. The Friends of the Natatorium can choose not to go along with extravagant development plans. You too have a choice: Please voice your concerns.