The City of Honolulu plans to close Thomas Square on Aug. 15 for six months and re-open it in February 2017 as something completely different, according to its master plan. Although city officials have unveiled grandiose plans concerning a drastic makeover, there are a number of troubling things they are trying to keep under cover:

  1. It will no longer be a public park. The master plan calls for Thomas Square to be transferred from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, where it is a public park, to its Department of Enterprise Services. What is it? The department runs the Blaisdell Center, the Waikiki Shell, the zoo and the public golf courses. By way of a memo dated April 28 from the city’s enterprise chief Guy Kaulukukui to the state’s head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the city asked the state to make changes to allow a change of purpose for Thomas Square to something that would accommodate “whatever purposes it needs as long as that purpose is a public purpose.”
  1. They could charge a fee like all other Enterprise Services venues, and that will stop some park users from continuing their use of the park. Why would they change it from a freely accessible public park? The mission of the city’s Enterprise Services is to be financially self-sustaining. None of the other facilities it operates is free to the public. All charge a fee. How will the costs for the modification and maintenance of Thomas Square be covered without commercialization and fees to the public?
  1. It will lead to vendors and privatization. Requiring Thomas Square to be self-sustaining opens the door to privatization and commercial vendors. Mayor Kirk Caldwell himself has spoken of putting in a coffee shop and bicycle rentals. And as we shall see below, creation of new rules is completely within the authority of the Department of Enterprise Services without any interference from citizens or their elected officials.
Honolulu’s Thomas Square is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wikimedia Commons
  1. They can ban coolers, food and beverages the way they now do for the Waikiki Shell in order to direct revenue to private concessions.
  1. New rules and policies will exclude some current park users. At the July 5 informational meeting Kaulukukui said, “Certainly our purpose is to continue all the permitted uses as well as many of the community uses that go on in there right now” [emphasis added]. Not all of the community uses but “many.” That means some of the community uses will be prohibited, and those will no doubt be the ones that do not generate revenue for the city, like family picnics and other public gatherings.
  1. No one wants the changes to begin with. There have been no groups of supporters for the Thomas Square Master Plan at any of the informational meetings. The public has not requested these changes and the changes are not needed to accommodate the public’s needs. At the informational meetings, many regular park users showed up to express concern. No one came to support the plan or claim that it was responsive to their needs or requests.
  1. There is no community oversight for the proposed changes. Other than informational hearings, there have been no “hearings” which require a decision-making body to take and record testimony and render a decision regarding the myriad changes the City proposes. There is no way for public comment to be documented, no public comment web page, no email address, no postal address for public comments to be made or viewed by the public. Discussions conducted at the Neighborhood Board level were completely ignored.
  1. New rules replacing Parks and Recreations ordinances may be created without public oversight. As control of Thomas Square moves from the Department of Parks and Recreation to the Department of Enterprise Services, parks ordinances may be replaced by rules created solely by Enterprise Services and not subject to any public or political authority, save the will of the mayor. These rule changes are subject to a process where they must hold an informational meeting, but decision making is completely up to the department. No elected official or entity has any authority other than the mayor, who is the originator of the plan to begin with.

With its Thomas Square Master Plan, the city takes Thomas Square from the public and hands it over to private commercial interests.

The park closure date, Aug. 15, is two days after the primary election, which may decide the next mayor of Honolulu. The handover to the Department of Enterprise Services is scheduled for February 2017, after the winning mayoral candidate takes office.

Tell Mayor Caldwell to keep Thomas Square a free public park! Thomas Square belongs to the community. It isn’t property the city can sell to the highest bidder.

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