Why some parks get priority while others look forgotten

Oneula Beach Park

You’ve heard talk of improvements coming to Ala Moana Beach Park. You may have noticed playgrounds or park restrooms spruced up in your neighborhood.

But Always Investigating is digging deeper into all island parks. We wanted to know what’s ahead, and how soon, for parks large and small, and found that while momentum is behind some fix-ups, others tend to get left behind.

With its white sandy beach and million-dollar view, Oneula Beach Park should be a gem of a property, but the county public park in Ewa Beach looks more like a forgotten backroad.

“This particular park has had a closed bathroom for many, many years, and it has been really frustrating to the residents,” said Honolulu City Councilmember Kymberly Pine, chairwoman of the parks committee. “We really need to start making basic necessities in our parks a top priority.”

Whether it’s at Oneula or at many of the other hundreds of county parks across Oahu, basic fixes at parks can stall for years or never seem to get off the ground. Money will be approved and rolled over time and again.

Always Investigating asked, how can action be taken more quickly on that?

“That’s all about staffing,” Pine said. “It’s being able to achieve these projects in a timely manner.”

It’s something the city administration and council are trying to tackle. The parks director recently told the council they have nearly 100 vacancies, mostly for basic maintenance.

Always Investigating wanted more answers about both the routine upkeep and the bigger projects on all parks islandwide. Which are ones getting what city-funded improvements and how soon?

Even that turned out not to be an easy answer, because Parks has to defer to a whole other department, Design and Construction, for timing of the big jobs.

We asked the director that department how he keeps parks a priority when there are so many competing departments as well looking for getting things done.

“I’m not sure we would just say parks is a priority,” Department of Design and Construction director Robert Kroning said. “We would go with administration’s vision, and the mayor’s priorities, parks being a priority right now keeps us focused on that.”

Always Investigating found 80 parks projects slated to start within the next two years, ranging in cost from the hundreds of thousands for a comfort station in Maili to more than $5 million to fix the sewers at Kualoa.

We asked the Parks department what they’d say to someone who sees their park low on that list, but the resident feels is a higher-priority project?

“We do take everything into consideration, and certainly we know there are strong feelings,” said Parks deputy director Jeanne Ishikawa. “We do look at safety. We look if public access is an issue. We look at federal mandates.”

Mandates like getting rid of the cesspool at Oneula Beach Park, which is on the list to finally start. But the neighborhood wishlist is more than just that.

“Areas where people can barbecue, I’d like to see the grass green here,” Pine said. “Haesko just donated the land that you see on the other side. I’d like to see picnic tables, very similar to Ala Moana Beach Park.”

Updates at Ala Moana Beach Park are getting the most attention recently, and its pricetag is expected to be high, but there’s no total estimate yet on the list.

“We are focusing on Ala Moana and Thomas Square,” Ishikawa said. “Those are key projects that we want to see improvements.”

Also, noticeable fixups are being made in playground and restrooms islandwide.

“We’re looking at new ways to procure, using things such as indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity,” Kroning explained. “You can group projects together, definitely save money that way.”

“We appreciate the community’s patience as we go forward,” Kroning added, “and know we are trying to get them done as fast as possible, to the highest quality.”

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