Last week, the mayor of Honolulu made an announcement that many locals have been waiting to hear for a long time: the last two parcels of the Ka Iwi Coast initially slated for development are officially saved with the granting of a conservation easement.

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been more than a year already since I was standing at Sandy’s, listening to the rhythmic chanting of “E Ala E” as a group of us welcomed the start of a new day for Ka Iwi.

The night before, on Aug. 20, 2015, a “Save Ka Iwi Mauka” fundraiser at the Olomana Golf Club attracted hundreds of guests for festivities culminating in a celebration at least four years in the making — decades if you think about where all these movements to protect the southeastern tip of Oahu started.

With signs waved, doors knocked on, and petitions signed, the Save Sandy Beach movement finally found success in 1988. By then, community organizers had already successfully opposed a 7,756-room resort at Awāwamalu, and by 1998, Queen’s Beach was rezoned after years of opposition to hotel developers.

Several stewards of these movements realized the potent community power they had tapped into, and so, knowing it would come in handy again, persevered to mentor succeeding generations in tackling similar cultural and environmental conservation projects.

Representatives from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Trust for Public Land, the Sierra Club and the Livable Hawaii Kai Hui tour Queen’s Rise, the easternmost of two Ka Iwi mauka parcels, in 2014.

Courtesy Greg Knudsen

Sure enough, in 2011, with the then-owners of Ka Iwi Mauka’s 182 acres in bankruptcy court, new owners and plans for development seemed imminent.

Well, I say that in hindsight, but back then — like so many young people — I honestly couldn’t have cared less about following the news, let alone local news.

Despite growing up in Maunalua (Hawaii Kai) for the first 18 years of my life, I’ve long taken that scenic shoreline for granted. Sure, I’d been to its beaches, taken some shaky photos of Rabbit Island as it came into view on that winding road, but those drives were always about the destination, not the ride.

That changed in 2015. Livable Hawaii Kai Hui — a community-oriented nonprofit focused on cultural and environmental conservation — had risen to the challenge of purchasing Ka Iwi Mauka to protect it in perpetuity.

Discussions with the city and state meant that $3.5 million had already been put forward, but a $500,000 grassroots fundraising goal necessitated the invaluable coalitions we built across zip codes, from our friends at The Trust for Public Land to our friends at Na Kuaāinao Waimānalo, and so many more in between.

Kendrick Chang, who had just graduated from Kaiser High School, reached out to me in his role as youth coordinator for the endeavor. I was so moved by his call that I immediately proceeded to draft a message asking dozens of my friends and former classmates to help spread the word about the fundraiser.

Sooner than expected, I started receiving all sorts of positive replies. From people I spoke with every day to some I hadn’t spoken with in years, almost everybody I messaged told me they’d help out.

I was mainly looking for them to do something as simple as tell their parents, but to my surprise, their support came in the form of social media networking, face-to-face interactions, their own donations — I even learned that a friend I first met in middle school had a grandma working to save Ka Iwi well before either of us were born.

Fast forward to the fundraiser at Olomana, and we find community members raising over $20,000 in one night, helping the campaign hit its fundraising target with just over a week left before the parcels went back up for sale.

I spent hours after the big announcement, singing “Hawaii Aloha,” counting money, and helping clean up the place.  I was on a leave of absence from my university at the time, figuring out my life, but at that moment I couldn’t believe just how lucky I was to be a part of this community project.  If it weren’t for Kendrick bringing me on board, I wouldn’t be working with the Hui today as a youth adviser.

I didn’t think much of it in 2015, but after waiting for the conservation easement over the entirety of an election year, I was fascinated by the diversity of people I realized had come together.

Liberals, moderates, conservatives, environmentalists, Hawaiian rights advocates, business owners, lawyers, students, activists, beach bums, and so many more worked side-by-side, all with the common goal of preserving the cherished Ka Iwi Mauka Lands for generations to come.

That’s my favorite part of continuing to work with Livable Hawaii Kai Hui. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Hui avoids political campaign interventions for or against elected officials, and that sure comes in handy when trying to talk about nonpartisan issues with hyper-partisan people.

This sense of cooperation makes me excited for the future. I’ve taken part in service projects around the island for years, but my community volunteerism specifically around Maunalua only began with Ka Iwi Mauka. It certainly isn’t ending there, though, and I hope the same goes for you reading this.

With Ka Iwi proudly preserved, the Hui and its partners can refocus some energy on stewarding such sites around Maunalua as Pahua heiau, Aloha ‘Āina ‘o Kamilo Nui nursery, Hāwea heiau complex and Keawāwa wetland.

The Hui also aims to support other community groups and nonprofits, strengthening a network of dedicated cultural and environmental conservationists, and working with them to increase public engagement with our mutual projects.

On the Hui’s Instagram, you’ll find several reposts from and appreciation messages dedicated to a community volunteer network you’ve likely heard of before: 808 Cleanups.

Though 808 Cleanups organizes and tracks volunteer efforts across the state, the work we are most proud of teaming up with them for are our weekly rounds to check for dangerous leftovers of pallet bonfires on Ka Iwi’s beaches.

A night of friends and fun by the fireside may seem like a good idea, but certainly not for those — including those very fire starters — who end up stepping on the literal pounds of nails left behind from those wooden pallets shaped for forklifts in the shipping and transportation industry.

Just days before the mayor’s announcement of Ka Iwi Mauka’s new conservation status, the Hui joined with researchers from the University of Hawaii Manoa, DLNR, Iolani School, 808 Cleanups, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program to bless new efforts to save the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, which has healthy populations along Ka Iwi.

We hope this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our restoration and maintenance of the coast. Its preservation may finally be funded, but the health of Ka Iwi will depend on the continued kōkua of all its patrons.

Next time you find yourself driving around the coast, taking in the beautiful, undeveloped view planes, please consider setting aside time to contact the Hui. Ask how you can help keep our community thriving for generations to come, and learn more on our website, www.hawaiikaihui.org. On behalf of the Hui and newly-saved Ka Iwi Mauka Lands, mahalo nui loa.

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