City creates dedicated position to handle vehicles abandoned by service members

Abandoned cars is a problem plaguing several neighborhoods on Oahu.

Now the city is hiring someone to deal with it.

The new position deals entirely with vehicles owned by military service members who’ve left them here and, in most cases, aren’t coming back for them.

Federal law prevents the city from getting rid of these vehicles because they don’t have the owners’ permission.

But because of that, tow yards are filled to the max, leaving some abandoned cars just sitting on the side of the road.

We reached out to the director of the city Department of Customer Services. Sheri Kajiwara tells us she has a staff of about 13 who handle abandoned vehicles, but she needed a person dedicated to finding vehicle owners in the military.

“So when this issue came up, I needed someone that would be able to put full time into this effort — keep track of the cars, know where they are located, try to find the owner on record,” said Kajiwara.

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the city needs a court order or signed waiver by the vehicle owner, but it’s been a challenge tracking down service members who are deployed or have left the islands.

The city has about 400 abandoned cars owned by military service members to get rid of, but can’t until they get permission from the court.

“We did put some vehicles temporarily on a lot in Ewa. I want to get those vehicles off those lots as soon as possible,” Kajiwara said. “We have about 200 on other lots and about 200 on tow contractor lots. I hope to get rid of this problem in a matter of months.”

A matter of months is how long the position will last. The person hired for the job started last week and for now will only work until June.

“We’ll assess the needs at that time and see if we have an idea of what we can do to better things. We might continue,” said Kajiwara.

We also learned the city is requiring military service members to add personal information like their social security number and Department of Defense identification number when they register their vehicles.

“One of the biggest problems we have is not being able to identify the servicemen according to the military records,” Kajiwara said. “We’ve revised the form to capture that data so we can then go to the military and get those stats on these people.”

Once the city is able to move these abandoned military vehicles out of tow yards, state Rep. Andria Tupola hopes it frees up efforts for other needs.

“We had an abundance of abandoned cars in our community. We addressed this situation by going out and helping those that may have been on private roads,” said Tupola. “The last time we counted, it was between 60 and 90. We hauled 20 last week.”

We learned the military is also doing its part in making sure vehicles are not left stranded after service members leave for deployment.

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