Lee Cataluna: Does Oahu need a “Neighborhood Reduction Office”?
If something disruptive happens right outside your house, right in front of the place where you raise your family and rest your head at night, you want that problem to be fixed right away.
You want the kid with the loud stereo to turn them off or drive away. You want the leaf blowers to hurry up and be done on Saturday morning. You want the neighbor to take their pent-up, barking dog for a walk.
When the activity causing the disruption sustains the impunity of the Hawaiian tourism industry, or if it somehow represents ideals like individual freedom, adventure, or a love of the outdoors, complaints from neighbors who just want some rest are sometimes counterattacked .
This is a new Hawaii where the desire for a peaceful home is viewed as selfish and unrealistic.
This is also the same old Hawaii where a letter to a government agency goes unanswered for months and where it can take superhuman efforts and a monstrous number of phone calls to get the authorities to acknowledge a problem in the first place.
While talking to some of the neighbors who live near Koko Head District Park about the early morning parking problems on their street, one of the neighbors mentioned an idea he had been thinking about. “There is no Office of Neighborhood Visitor Mitigation,” said Ray Tsuchiyama. “Think about it. The city and the county take care of the neighborhoods. That is what the city stands for.”
Now there is an idea.
What if there was a dedicated city department devoted to finding workable solutions to the conflict between residents just trying to enjoy their Hawaiian homes and visitors just trying to enjoy their Hawaiian vacation?
Oahu communities have neighborhood boards that meet once a month to discuss concerns like street parking, break-ins, new developments, and rainwater runoff. Parishioners are elected to the board by their neighbors.
Representatives of local and state authorities, elected officials and stakeholders meet in sometimes marathon-like board meetings that test the strength of civic engagement. Then the board of directors may pass the matter on to the responsible office, which often gets more attention than if a neighbor writes a letter alone.
It’s a noble exercise of grassroots democracy, but it can also be an endurance test for anyone trying to make positive change in their community.
An Office of Neighborhood Visitor Mitigation wouldn’t replace the neighborhood councils, but could instead be an ally, a one-stop ombudsman who could actually change policies and make sure the laws in force are enforced. Right now, money doesn’t stop anywhere, despite pausing on many desks.
The problem that tourism is expanding far beyond the holiday districts into the city districts is a global phenomenon. On an island, however, it takes on special dimensions where free space is limited and designated tourist areas are overcrowded.
Places that were previously hidden are now being run over by cars, trampled underfoot, and devastated almost every day. We used to worry about too many bodies in Hanauma Bay. Hanauma’s problems are everywhere now.
One recently Hawaii Tourism Authority survey on community input in a Destination Management Plan for Oahu asked respondents whether identifying, evaluating and prioritizing key hot spots on the island that need better management would help create âa mutually satisfactory resident and visitor experience to support and to maintain or increase the economic benefit â. 80 percent of those questioned agreed. Big. So will there be a manager of the management plan?
The truth is that when a neighborhood becomes a visitor destination, often there is no management, no single regulatory agency, no rule on the books, no funding to enforce to things like parking problems near hiking trails, party houses up the street doing illicit video crews doing skateboard stunts on mountain roads and all the other wild things that happen.
The situation must get so out of control that Neighbors get angry. The angry neighbors get pushback. What is needed is a troubleshooter – not just an office, but a person with special skills that include diplomacy and the ability to get things done.
Of course, this setup only works in a scenario where politics aren’t screwing up the work and the government isn’t affected by big money and social media campaigns. What we have now is this unchecked spread causing various specific problems in many different neighborhoods, various one-off solutions and attempts at containment, and no coordinated response.
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