Natatorium Lawsuit

A Letter to the Editor by Rick Bernstein
Published in the Honolulu Weekly, June 9, 1999

The Kaimana Beach Coalition lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s opinion that the Natatorium swimming pool, by statutory definition, is not a swimming pool, is underway.

The AG’s opinion allowed the City & County of Honolulu (the developer) to skirt state Health Department health and safety rules and regulations, which would have required the city to obtain a state swimming pool permit and comply with swimming pool rules that protect swimmers against staphylococcus bacteria and assure proper water visibility so that people in trouble can be seen by lifeguards. Neither of these problems has been solved by the city to the satisfaction of the Health Department. For these reasons, it is the Health Department position, on the record, that it would not grant the city a permit to operate the Natatorium as it is presently designed. In the words of Health Director Bruce Anderson, the lack of a swimming pool permit would be a “deal stopper.”

With the AG’s last-minute opinion of Nov. 18, 1998, in place, the city no longer needed a Health Department swimming pool permit. This removed the last stumbling block for the City Council to grant a Special Management Area permit. Just 14 days later, the Council granted the permit, giving no time for the opposition to challenge the AG’s opinion and allowing the project to move forward to the bidding process.

On May 10, 1999, the $10,850,870 contract with the contractor. Healy Tibbits, was finalized. This is the same contract that came in at over $18 million during the bidding process and was then “value engineered” to the present amount. How they were able to cut over $7 million out of the project and maintain structural and architectural integrity is still a great mystery to Natatorium watchers.

Unless the Harris administration knows something about the legal process that the rest of us don’t, signing the contract before the lawsuit is settled is foolhardy. Should the case go in favor of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, Health Department health and safety rules for the swimming pool will be necessary to protect the Natatorium pool users. As there is no practical way to decontaminate the saltwater pool with its current design, the project will be halted until such time that it can be made safe and healthy for swimmers. An already executed contract would leave the city liable for damages to the contractor and waste more taxpayer money. One must ask why the city is knowingly entering into a binding contract with a lawsuit pending.

Perhaps the most startling development is the blitz of expensive television commercials paid for by the “Friends of the Natatorium” featuring 1948 Olympic swimming champion Bill Smith speaking in support of Natatorium restoration. Mr. Smith misstates one crucial point regarding costs to restore the beach as compared to restoring the Natatorium bleachers and the pool. He states that, according to engineers, the cost to do either would be the same.

In fact, a 1985 study commissioned by Mayor Eileen Anderson entitled “Waikiki 2000” by the CJS Architectural Group had the cost of beach restoration at approximately half of full restoration. According to Chris Smith of CJS Group, the present cost to restore the beach would be no more than $6 million. Bill Smith’s information comes from Leo Daly. the engineering company commissioned by the Friends of the Natatorium and paid by the state to create the present plans. It was always clear that the Friends favored full restoration and wanted nothing to do with a restored memorial arch and new beach. As a matter of fact, then chief City Planning Director Robin Foster called Daly’s beach restoration plans “more elaborate than necessary.”

The only conceivable reason for the Friends to be spending so much money on spin and misinformation at this point is to influence the judge in the pending lawsuit (Honolulu Diary, “It still ain’t over,” HW, 4/14). One truly hopes that these tactics will be seen through and that a fair and just decision be made by the judge to protect the health and safety of people of our community and visitors who will come to this tourist destination in the heart of Kapi’olani Park.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition still contends that a restored memorial arch, new restroom facilities and a new beach would show the proper respect to the honored veterans and would be a cost-effective and safe solution for this precious piece of real estate.

The case has been continued until June 18 at 9 a.m., when it will be heard by Judge Gail Nakatani.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

Editor’s note: During services held in front of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium over Memorial Day weekend, Mayor Jeremy Harris stated that full renovation of the Natatorium would begin soon, perhaps as early as this month, and would be completed by next year.