(Star Advertiser) Caldwell officials and Council again clash on Ala Moana park plans

(Source: Star Advertiser)

Ala Moana Regional Park regulars and Honolulu City Council members Tuesday again clashed with officials from Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration over plans for a major makeover at “the People’s Park.”

The Council Parks, Community Services and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee voted to recommend approval of Resolution 19-160 calling on the administration to extend the environmental assessment process for the park’s master plan either by conducting a third draft environmental impact statement or starting the process all over.

The resolution was opposed by city department officials who said the final stages of a lengthy environmental review process is underway and that additional comment would not be fruitful.

“The EIS process is working,” said Robert Kroning, director of the city Department of Design and Construction. A second draft was done last year because of information that came to light during the first review period, he said, insisting that the city has reached out to the public more than it normally would.

“We’ve got tons of information, and I don’t think adding another round of comment period is going to add any more,” he said. “We’re comfortable with what we’ve got (and) being able to make decisions on whether we go forward or not with all … or none of the project.”

Kroning and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi got into a verbal tussle when Kobayashi said details of a contentious proposal for a playground weren’t released until late in the process.

Kroning responded that the EIS process is for analyzing larger issues. “A lot of the design pieces that come into play is something that happens later,” he said.

Kobayashi shot back, “But we want to know the environmental impact of a children’s park. That’s what people want to know.”

She accused the administration of repeatedly ignoring the will of the public. “You always say you’re listening, you’re hearing — but the public doesn’t feel that way, not only on this project, but many projects. … That’s why people demonstrate and protest,” Koba­yashi said.

Kroning said he disagreed strongly with that statement.

“We listen all the time and sometimes we don’t agree. … I think we have compromised,” he said.

Expanding the walkway on the makai side of the park was an early point of contention for park regulars, and was dropped from consideration.

Kroning told Kobayashi she was “spreading false information” by stating the plan did not include input from residents.

The New York-based design firm with a $1.2 million contract to come up with the master plan did not bother to interview park regulars, Kobayashi said. “I don’t make things up. I think you’re making information up about me.”

Kobayashi and Councilman Tommy Waters, who represent the Ala Moana-­Kakaako area, jointly introduced the resolution.

Waters said he supports leaving the park as undeveloped as possible and that it’s important to consider the long-term impacts sea rise will have on the park in the coming decades.

“We should really be reconfiguring the park to take into account sea level rise,” Waters said. “To me a playground is inconsequential, it’s insignificant to the fact that the whole darn thing might be underwater.”

Parks Committee Chairwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi said the public has legitimate concerns about the planned 1-acre playground, which is supposed to include splash pads and keiki-sized zip lines. But Parks Director Michele Nekota said zip lines and water features are common elsewhere.

More than a dozen people testified at the meeting, all of them in support of the resolution.

Several cited a 1998 Council resolution that said passive parks, including beach parks, should remain passive and are “not to accommodate active play and sports activities.”

The same resolution, however, also states that regional parks “can serve a variety of active and passive activities.”

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