New beach best idea for Natatorium future

The following is a letter to the editor published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, August 7, 2016.

In a debate last week, Honolulu mayoral candidates were asked what to do with the Natatorium.

Charles Djou said, “Renovate.”

The city’s estimated cost for a full renovation: $70 million, plus the high ongoing costs of complying with modern anti-MRSA health standards.

Peter Carlisle said keep whatever can be saved, an idea fraught with many problems identified by the blue ribbon Natatorium Task Force in 2009.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he would follow the Natatorium environmental impact statement process, which is testing the task force’s recommendation: create a new memorial beach where the Natatorium now stands. This would involve rebuilding the three memorial arches 50 feet inland, and recreating groins to protect Kaimana and the new beach.

We favor this sensible $17 million plan for its obvious cost-effectiveness, preservation of free, open public shoreline, elimination of maintenance expenses, and two new acres of stable beach.

Rick Bernstein
Jim Bickerton
Kaimana Beach Coalition

EIS Status Update April 2015

The following is a letter from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell regarding the status of the ongoing Natatorium Environmental Impact Statement.

Office of the Mayor
City and County of Honolulu

April 24, 2015

Mr. Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

Dear Rick:

EIS Status Letter 4-24-2015Thank you for your letter dated March 2, 2015, regarding your concerns on the Natatorium Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). With the tight financial constraints we are operating under, we have had to carefully review all of our projects in our current 2015 Capital Improvement Projects. The Natatorium project is no exception. We regret that it has resulted in a delay in moving forward to fund several studies necessary to complete the draft EIS.

We are glad to announce that we are now ready to move forward to release the additional funds necessary for the studies required to complete the draft EIS.

Let me assure you that as we move forward with the project, your Organization will be updated at each step of the process. Our consultant, WCP, Inc., is preparing an update to all of the stakeholders.

Should you have any questions, please contact Robert J. Kroning, P.E., Director of the Department of Design and Construction, at 768-8480.


Kirk Caldwell

“National Treasure?” Update

May 24, 2014

Want the quick summary? Read the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s May 24 editorial, “Don’t Abandon Existing Plan For Natatorium

On Tuesday evening, May 20, I received a phone call from Allison Schaefers, a writer for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. She informed me that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had just listed the Natatorium as a “National Treasure” and requested a comment from me as a spokesperson for the Kaimana Beach Coalition. The following is taken from the article which ran on Wednesday morning, with a front page photo of the Natatorium arch under the title of “National Treasure”:

“We have supported this change (for a beach) because the only alternative in redevelopment of the Natatorium would be a complete demolition of the structure. City engineers estimate that rebuilding it from the ground up would cost in excess of 70 million dollars, and it would necessitate commercialization of the structure to pay for the phenomenal amount of maintenance required to operate a salt water pool in the ocean, if they could even get a permit. The other alternative would be let the structure continue to cave into the ocean, which would be a risk to life and to the environment.”

Bernstein said the coalition wants to see the Abercrombie and Caldwell plan, based on the recommendation of the City-sponsored 2009 Waikiki Natatorium Task Force, move forward. “Making it a Memorial Beach rather than a Memorial swimming pool is the right thing to do for the people and for the ocean.”

On Thursday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser did a Big Q poll of readers asking if they preferred a restored Natatorium with a pool or a razed Natatorium with a new beach and the arches moved back. The response was amazing! 4,200 people voted and 90% favored the new beach plan.

John Pritchett's cartoon in MidWeek, June 3, 2014.

John Pritchett’s cartoon in MidWeek, June 3, 2014.

That afternoon, the two representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation were the guests on the Town Square radio show with Beth-Ann Kozlovich. The Washington DC based officers of the NTHP, a non-profit, non-governmental lobbying group, extolled the virtues of the Natatorium and described how it sat adjacent to “Waahkeekee”. I called in and asked if they took into consideration the feelings and wishes of the communities they were inserting themselves into. They affirmed that “yes they did”. I then asked if they had seen the results of the Big Q survey that was in the paper that very day and explained to them and the listening audience that the vote was 9 to 1 in opposition to their plan to rebuild the Natatorium. Flustered, they said, “well, it’s not a scientific poll so it doesn’t have much merit or bearing on the issue”. They continued to spin the story to make it sound as if the issue was still up in the air and no decisions had been made. Their interview was a demonstration of Washington D.C. public relations at its worst. Hawaii was treated to some world class spin doctors rarely seen in these parts.

On Saturday May 24 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser opened the editorial page with “Don’t Abandon Existing Plan For Natatorium”.

It seems that the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the Friends of the Natatorium have upped the game in their opposition to a new beach and called in the “big guns”. Unfortunately for them, the community did not take the bait and voted overwhelmingly (9 to 1) against them. They have made noises about bringing a lawsuit against the City and State to stop the planned Memorial Beach. Perhaps this spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment, along with the weight of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial, will dissuade them so that we can move forward and finally have peace in this long suffering war. Perhaps its name, The Waikiki War Memorial, is more perfect than we have ever realized. Since it was built, there has been nothing but war surrounding its presence. Enough is enough. It’s time for a peaceful solution, a Memorial Beach.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

The Abercrombie/Caldwell agreement

April 30, 2013

Great news! Governor Abercrombie and Mayor Caldwell have agreed to institute the 2009 Waikiki Natatorium Task Force recommendation to remove the bleachers and swimming pool and replace them with a Memorial Beach which will include new bathrooms and reconstructed arches. This plan will cost $18.4 million compared to $69 million for full demolition and reconstruction of the existing structure and swimming pool.

The announcement was made on April 30, 2013 at 11am in the area between the Natatorium and the Aquarium. The Governor, Mayor, State and City officials along with a cadre of people who support the creation of a Memorial Beach were in attendance. I received a call from the City in the late afternoon of April 29th and was invited to attend an announcement ceremony regarding the future of the Natatorium. Further, I was asked to invite key people who had been instrumental in the process of advocating for a beach. As I only had a few hours to invite people, I narrowed the list to those of you who have contributed time, energy, legal council, scientific, medical, oceanographic, technical, historical, and spiritual expertise. If you were not contacted it was not because we do not appreciate your contribution to the cause, I just ran out of time. Fortunately you can watch most of the event on the news section of this site.

In attendance was Mrs. Cecilia Blackfield, a founding member of the Scenic Hawaii Foundation. She was invited by the City and shared with the assembled group that she had contacted all living relatives of the fallen soldiers listed on the Natatorium memorial stone and asked if they would mind if the Natatorium bleachers and pool be removed and replaced with a Memorial Beach. She said that the majority agreed that it would be a good idea.

It is a great day when the Mayor and Governor can agree to bring about this result. Obviously we are delighted with their decision and will support them in moving forward with the implementation of the plan. We are encouraged that our efforts as a grassroots organization have borne fruit. It is an affirmation that citizen participation in the political process can make a difference. While not easy, it is possible. We will not celebrate until the final result is achieved and we can all join together to welcome the birth of a beautiful Memorial Beach.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

Letter to the Honolulu City Council October 2012

October 16, 2012

Dear Honolulu City Council Members,

News Flash: City Council to decide fate of Natatorium.

In 2009 Mayor Hannemann convened The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium Task Force to study the future of the Natatorium. I was one of seventeen “stakeholder” Task Force members that participated in the process. Ultimately the panel decided to create a Memorial Beach. A $1.3 million EIS was generated from that decision to study the feasibility of such a project.

While checking on the EIS progress with the DDC in August of this year I was told that it had been suspended by Mayor Carlisle at the request of Governor Abercrombie. It was explained that the Natatorium was being taken back from the City by the State on an executive order. Further, that the City was soon to be out of the picture and therefore there was no need for the EIS. I was told that the Governor was going to make it into a volleyball stadium and not a beach.

Shocked, I called the media to check out the details. When the media inquired, Mayor Carlisle’s staff worked hard to hide the fact that the EIS had been stopped. Ultimately it came to light. Mayor Carlisle claimed that he could not remember making the decision to cancel the EIS. (see video)

As a concerned citizens group, The Kaimana Beach Coalition filed a freedom of information act (FOIA) request for the email files of the Mayor and Governor regarding the Natatorium. See files in PDF at According to the emails there seems to have been a concerted effort on the part of private interests and the government to conceal the potential public/private development of this incredibly valuable oceanfront property. It appears that there are a few individuals and companies who will benefit financially at the expense of the entire community of park and beach users that frequent this busy and popular area.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition is made up of park and beach users whose concern is free and open access to the area and keeping it free from “for pay” or commercial interests. We have no profit motive or ax to grind and are all volunteers. We are dissimilar to other groups who have obvious conflicts of interest in their advocacy for restoration and commercialization of the site.

A little recent history on the subject:

The 2009 Natatorium Task Force was made up of a fair and balanced group of community members who represented varying interests and viewpoints.  The group included:

  • Rick Egged of the Waikiki Improvement Association,
  • Donna Ching of Friends of the Natatorium and Director of Business Development Leo S Daly Architects and Engineering, and proponent of restoration,
  • Kirsten Faulkner, Executive Director of Historic Hawaii Foundation and proponent of restoration,
  • Fred Ballard, Friends of the Natatorium and representative of a Veterans group and proponent of restoration,
  • Lt. Gen. Hank Stackpole USMC (ret),
  • Art Caleda, retired Fillipine military WW2,
  • Tim Guard, CEO, McCoy Hamilton, and Renny, Viet Nam vet,
  • Chip Fletcher, Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, School of Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa,
  • Jean Pierre Cercillieux, General Manager of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel,
  • Hanne Anderson, paddler and coach and proponent of restoration,
  • Brian Keaulana, Lifeguard,
  • Jimmy Shin (did not attend),
  • Ken Ito, Legislator,
  • Edgar Hamasu, Veteran, Korean War,
  • Dr. Andrew Rossiter, Director of the Waikiki Aquarium,
  • Collins Lam, Deputy Director of the Honolulu Department of Design and Construction,
  • Rick Bernstein, Kaimana Beach Coalition and proponent of a Memorial Beach.

We met over the course of five months and studied many aspects of the Natatorium and its future. City engineers, Army Corp of Engineers, historical experts, etc. presented us with information to help in the decision making process. The City provided historical data, DVD’s etc. We made a site visit to the inside of the crumbling structure. The meetings were open to the public and the media attended.  There was opportunity for the community to make comments.

City engineers explained that the Natatorium cannot be effectively “stabilized” and used as is. In order to have a Natatorium structure, it must be demolished and rebuilt from the foundation up because of its advanced age and the deterioration that comes from being a concrete and rebar structure sitting in the ocean. Salt water corrodes iron rebar and it has rusted beyond repair.

At the end of the 5 month process, three options were voted on.

  • Option 1.  Full restoration, Price $60 million.
  • Option 2.  An aquarium, Price $100 million,
  • Option 3.  A memorial beach, Price $15 million.

The final vote was 9 to 3 in favor of a Memorial Beach. The beach plan included engineered groins to maintain the sand on Kaimana Beach and the new beach, a screened volleyball court, new bathrooms, and repositioned arches mauka of their present location.

The EIS was generated from the task force decision. Its focus was to study the possibility of a new beach. The $1.3 million study was being conducted by Will Chee and Associates. It was 80% completed with $750,000 paid in when it was quietly suspended in May of this year at the request of Mayor Carlisle acting on behalf of Governor Abercrombie. You may view the documents on our website .

As was revealed on KITV news last evening, October 15th, the Governor and Mayor failed to understand that the mauka portion of the Natatorium is owned the Kapiolani Park Trust. You are the trustees of that trust. Did anyone check with you before they ordered the cancellation of the EIS?  The cancellation represents a potential waste of $750,000 of City taxpayer money.

Because the dealings regarding this issue were done behind closed doors, the public, media, and maybe you were shut out of the process. This is perhaps the first case where the PLDC process is at work. It seems that the public/private development plan was a stealth operation and represents the worst aspects of big money and government working together in secret.

The FOIA files show that the Governor has larger plans than a volleyball court. According to memos, he also plans a concert venue. The Natatorium bleachers hold 2,500 customers. A pool filled with sand will hold another 1,500 and a stage.

Granted, the Natatorium would make a very attractive sunset show venue for the visitor industry. Sunset shows have always been the hidden agenda of some proponents of Natatorium redevelopment. You need only look at the obvious private interests driving this idea to understand that their motives are to turn the Natatorium over to the tourist industry. Notice the lengths they go to in order to keep their plans secret.

Presently there are three entertainment venues within 500 yards of the Natatorium – the Bandstand, the Shell, and the Kodak Hula Show. These stadiums are all under used and available. There is also an opportunity to turn the Kodak Hula stadium into a 2,000 seat volleyball stadium for a price of $500,000, a fraction of the $60 million it would cost to demolish and rebuild the Natatorium.

Besides the huge number of people the Natatorium concert venue/volleyball stadium would bring to the area, large numbers of delivery trucks, busses, trolleys, taxis, and private cars would be necessary to feed, drink, and transport these people to this tourist destination. The parking in the area is already crowded. Our biggest concern is that an operation like this would cut off the public’s ability to access the last accessible beach on the South Shore. As mentioned, parking is already a problem in this popular local gathering place.

The ball is suddenly in the Honolulu City Council’s court. As trustees and stewards of Kaipiolani Park Trust, you are tasked with protecting the interests of the public and seeing to it that the community maintains the ability to access the park and beaches. You are also asked to protect the area from “for pay” and/or commercial ventures that would impede the community’s ability to access and enjoy Kapiolani Park and its adjoining beaches.

Please reinstate the EIS and consider the benefits of a respectful, inexpensive, beautiful, and low maintenance Memorial Beach. Please honor the task force decision and stop this precious area from becoming an extension of Waikiki business interests.

Thank you for your time and please visit

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

2004 end of year update

Dear Friends of Kaimana Beach,

As 2004 winds down, we are thankful for stoppage of the Natatorium restoration. With many people’s help, we were able to accomplish our task. It is truly a testament to the democratic process that the will of the people prevailed and that our collective voice was heard. Congratulations to all of us.

Thanks to our attorneys Jim Bickerton and Doug Codiga, we were able to hold things in check. Special thanks go to our soon to be Mayor, Mufi Hannemann who offered his full and much appreciated support in attaining the end result.

It is exciting to think about the prospect of a new Memorial Beach in the near future. Of course it will take a great deal of hard work and careful planning to create this vision. Your support in accomplishing this important project will be very important.

In the last update I mentioned a celebration on January 9. Given the enormity of the tsunami tragedy, we feel it would be more appropriate to put our energy into contributing to the well being of the millions of affected people. Rather than celebrating our good fortune, please send money or good thoughts to our fellow earth mates who are suffering right now. Theirs was a beach tragedy of unbelievable proportion.

While taking my Kaimana Beach ocean swim to the flag this morning, my mind reeled at the terror of what so many people must have experienced doing just what I was doing, taking a peaceful swim.

My New Year’s resolution – Be thankful for every breath and take nothing for granted. Life is a precious and ephemeral gift.

Happy New Year,

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

In last week’s poll, we ROCKED!

Dear Friends of Kaimana Beach,

You have not heard from me for a while because I did not know what to say. We have been playing a quiet game of chess with the Harris administration.

Work that has taken place at the Natatorium includes signs posted on the seawalls of the pool warning swimmers below to keep their distance, a wooden fence on the beach side has been constructed, blacked-out curtains have been strung up fronting the mauka seawall with a sliding chain link fence/gate in the driveway, and a chain link fence in the middle of the grassy area fronting the ewa side of the structure. The crowning pieces of work are two raised brass plaques mounted on the right pillar of the big Arch. One reads:

Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium Restoration
Mayor, Jeremy Harris
City Managing Director, Benjamin Lee, FAIA 
December 2000
Honolulu City Council
John Desoto
John Henry Felix
Donna Mercado Kim
Duke Bainum
Rene Mansho
Mufi Hannemann
Andy Mirikitani
Jon Yoshimura

The second plaque is a self-congratulatory message about the restoration project being an architectural award winner. We sincerely hope that this is Jeremy’s final statement and that the will of the people is respected and honored. In last week’s poll, we ROCKED! 67% to 33% in favor of a new beach over a restored swimming pool!!!

It appears that they may have gotten the message, as there has not been any activity for the last two working days. No one is talking, so we can only surmise what is going on. As there are only ten working days left before Mufi is our new mayor, we do not expect to see any more work done. If Harris is responsible, he will cancel the contract and not leave a mess for the next administration.

As a wonderful holiday surprise, we learned yesterday that a graduate ocean engineering class at UH did a semester project studying the feasibility of turning the Natatorium swimming pool and bleachers into a new beach. According to my source, the results are very favorable. If we can get permission, the report will post it on the web site in the near future.

Wishing you all a happy holiday season and best wishes for a happy and productive new year.


Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

P.S. Just saw another poll in the, to rate the performance of Jeremy Harris. This is your chance… ho ho ho.

Construction expected to resume

Dear Friends of Kaimana Beach,

This update is to let you know that we expect the Harris administration to begin work tomorrow, Tuesday, December 7.

Our legal efforts have postponed this project several times in the past few months and we are hoping that the Harris Administration will bow to the wishes of Mayor elect Hannemann who declared in a press conference last week that Mayor Harris should stop this project right now. He said that if Harris does not stop, his first act as Mayor will be to cancel the contract for the restoration of the Natatorium.

This statement by Mufi signals VICTORY to our efforts. We are gratified that Mufi is true to his word and that we can count on him to end this Harris charade.

In the meantime, unless there is a change in the intent of the Harris agenda, you can expect to see workmen putting up fences, cutting down three coconut trees, moving a hau tree, bringing in heavy equipment and generally messing with the surrounding area. Upsetting as it will be to some of us, we must remember and take solace in the fact that all of this wasteful craziness will be stopped in less than a month, and that nothing substantial can be done in that small window of time.

Our attorneys are aware of the construction schedule and we have been assured that the moment construction activity begins in the ocean, they will make every effort to stop it. Without getting too legally technical, we are on the case and will be keeping our powder dry until it is absolutely necessary to move. It is our sincere hope that reason will prevail and legal action will not be necessary.

As we have already won this battle and declared VICTORY, we do not feel the need to launch a huge protest against what will be happening over the next few weeks. Instead, we are planning a celebration on Sunday, January 9, at 3 PM at Kaimana Beach to mark the occasion of the cancellation of the contract by then, Mayor Hannemann. Save that happy day.

The drama we are witnessing should be considered pure theatre by Jeremy Harris as he desperately clings to a failed dream on his exit from the stage of public life. He cuts a tragic figure. Shakespeare talked about “sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing” and that is what we have here. We are witnessing the drama of political suicide as Jeremy goes down with the ship.

One of the bummers about this feeble display of stubbornness is that the fence being constructed around the Natatorium will cut off about twenty five parking spaces that are sorely needed by beach users, especially during the holidays, as our families come home to visit and spend time at the beach.

Letters to the editor and calls to Mayor Harris are appropriate.

The situation is so dynamic right now that it can change on a dime. We will keep you informed as things happen. Stay tuned and keep the faith.


Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

Construction delayed slightly

Dear Friends of Kaimana Beach,

The Harris Administration announced to our attorneys that Healey Tibbits Construction has once again delayed starting the project. Instead of starting construction on November 29th, the project will not begin until at least December 6th.

Of course, we are encouraged by these delays. The closer to January 2, 2005 we get, the better. On that date, the administration changes and Mufi Hannemann takes office. He has promised to stop this project and create a new beach where the Natatorium now stands.

In the meantime, we continue on with our lawsuits to assure that this project never gets off the ground.

This thanksgiving period has given us the chance to assess our blessings. For many of us, the simple pleasure of swimming in the friendly waters of Kaimana Beach and lounging on the warm sand are among the great pleasures of our lives.

Let us hope that this situation resolves itself quickly and that we can move forward with a new vision.


Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition