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 savekaimanabeach.org. 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 savekaimanabaeach.org .

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 savekaimanabeach.org.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition