Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Tuesday that the city intends to hire 15 workers to improve maintenance at Ala Moana Beach Park and beef up security.
Four of the new employees will be park rangers specifically assigned to protect the park from vandalism and crime.
The mayor says the rangers will be in the park during the day and during the hours it is closed — 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Caldwell says the rangers will lack law enforcement powers but will be able to alert the police when there is trouble.
The mayor says it is especially important to have rangers on the premises after the park is closed to prevent destructive acts like the vandalism last month of the newly renovated park bathrooms.
Vandals ripped a toilet out of the ground in the handicapped women’s bathroom stall and smashed it to pieces. They also destroyed a toilet paper holder.
“We believe this happened in the dark after the park was closed,” said Caldwell.
The mayor says the city is also spending $86,000 to install LED lights in the park’s bathrooms and food concessions.
“I think it will be a game changer. We have found that when there’s more light, there are fewer destructive activities,” he says.
Waikiki resident Tamara Grigsby, who swims regularly in the park, worries that “LED lights will give the park a whole different look.”
But Julia Geiss, who comes to the park regularly from her downtown apartment, is grateful for improvements to park security.
“I think it is very cool. People don’t want any kind of crime at the beach,” she says.
Ken MacPherson, a retired Hawaii Pacific University employee, is skeptical.
“People who want to do bad things, will do bad things no matter how many LED lights you install,” he says.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Michele Nekota says the new hires will include a regional park manager as well as seven groundskeepers and a senior groundskeeper.
Currently the entire 119 acre-Ala Moana Beach Park is maintained by only 12 grounds workers who also are assigned to work in four other parks, including Thomas Square and Mother Waldron Park.
Caldwell spoke about the new hires at a Tuesday news conference he called to outline the progress the city has made in the last six months on its plan to improve Ala Moana Beach Park.
Right now 12 sections of the pathway around Magic Island are being dug up to be smoothed out, repaved and coated with a brick red plastic sealant.
The cost to renovate the current jogging pathway is $665,000. It is expected to be finished in May.
The red color of the jogging path will tie together with the red pathway around the rest of the park. Volunteers from the Bank of Hawaii painted the pathway on the outer edge of the park brick red earlier this year.
The mayor says after the bank workers’ volunteer project was finished, vandals covered the newly painted pathway with graffiti.Park maintenance workers had to leave their regular duties to paint out the graffiti.
Other projects underway include removing the rocks from the Ewa end of Ala Moana Beach. Later the beach will be covered with fresh sand.
The once dried out mauka side of the park known as the Great Lawn will be kept greener with a new centrally controlled irrigation system.With the new system, when a sprinkler breaks it can be shut down and quickly repaired.
By next summer, 20 monkey pod trees and 49 native Hawaiian trees will be installed along Ala Moana Boulevard.
“Residents will feel cooler as they drive down Ala Moana,” Caldwell says. “It will be greener.”
Chris Dacus, manager of the Ala Moana Park renovations, says members of the public will be invited to a meeting at McCoy Pavilion in March or April to once again express their ideas on what they wants to see in future park improvements. The last public meeting on the park renovations was last March.
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.