It is just short of a year since I joined to serve the Liliha, Alewa, and Lanakila communities on the Neighborhood Board. In that time I have seen many great things and met many great people. Over the past year, we passed resolutions to ban bump fire devices, we debated solutions for the leaking Red Hill Fuel Tanks, and we supported and in many cases solved community concerns regarding crime the area. There were also areas where we failed, however, and learned from our mistakes. The Board was unable to agree on whether a raise in GET for rail was beneficial for the community, we couldn’t agree on details regarding an affordable housing development planned by the State, and we couldn’t solve many other issues like monster homes.
Over the course of the last year I’ve learned a lot about the people in our government and the people we represent. This is one of the three biggest things I learned over the past year serving on the Neighborhood Board.
#1: Regulations in Hawaii only apply to the little guy.
One of the most notable moments of my tenure on the Neighborhood Board so far was that of Mr. and Mrs. Tamashiro and their sidewalk. In late 2017, they renovated their home in upper Liliha so that their son could move in with his family as they got older. With extra concrete, their contractor installed a sidewalk fronting their home that many neighbors used. It was the only home on the street with a sidewalk. A city inspector came by and issued a citation for the sidewalk, which was built without a permit. The cost to apply was $3000 and before doing so, they asked if such a variance would even be approved.
I contacted both the city councilmember and the city director for Planning and Permitting, both claimed that such a variance would most likely be denied. I asked why this homeowner was not allowed to build a sidewalk — this inquiry went unanswered till after the sidewalk was removed. Finally, after yet another inquiry, the Planning and Permitting director claimed the sidewalk was not allowed because the permit was not applied for. I am still waiting for an answer as to whether such a permit would even be awarded.
What makes this situation so egregious is that less than a mile away, there stands a 29-bedroom, 17-bathroom, so-called monster home that the city is aware of yet does nothing about. This building is owned by the same people who are constructing another 20-bedroom monstrosity in Kalihi. The 29-bedroom home is already in violation of city ordnance for converting storage space to bedrooms and could be in violation of laws governing storm drain run-off.
This situation raises a number of questions: Why are developers allowed to build 6-story apartments in areas zoned for single family homes yet the Tamashiros can’t build a sidewalk to improve the community? Why is the city not demanding these homes be torn down despite violating city ordnance? The answers are simple: Our regulations are made and enforced to keep everyday people — people like the Tamashiros — from improving their communities and their lives while allowing others who aren’t as invested in our communities to steamroll our neighbors.