Some Hawaii lawmakers are frustrated with abandoned cars that leak oil and antifreeze along roadsides and litter sidewalks with broken glass.

Sen. Maile Shimabukuro and Rep. Cedric Gates, both of Waianae, have introduced companion bills that would require counties to remove junk cars from public roadways within 10 days. Both are headed for floor votes next week. 

“Waianae is not a dumping ground,” wrote Deborah Ramirez, in testimony supporting House Bill 2442.

But counties, which do the grunt work of removing the cars, say they lack the resources to always act within that time frame.

In August, Rep. Andrea Tupola of Nanakuli organized the removal of 12 abandoned cars along Kaukamana Road near Maili Elementary School. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

“To my knowledge, all of the counties’ abandoned vehicles programs are understaffed and budgets are stretched to limits,” Tamara Farnsworth, the abandoned vehicle and metals administrator at the Maui County Department of Environmental Management, wrote in testimony.

One Kauai County employee was responsible for processing all 1,119 complaints the county received about abandoned and derelict vehicles last year, Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry wrote in testimony.

Twelve employees in the Honolulu Department of Customer Services were responsible for marking and removing 9,668 unwanted cars from public roadways in 2017, or about 26 per day, according to testimony from Sheri Kajiwara, the department’s director.

Kajiwara said the 10-day requirement won’t help the counties move cars off the road any faster than they already do.

The biggest issue on Oahu, she said, is a lack of space to put the cars.

Honolulu already requires its tow contractors to move abandoned cars off public roads in three days or face a fine. 

The city must move the cars out of contractors’ lots within 30 days and, as required by state law, offer them up for auction before dismantling and disposing of them. 

A recent debacle involving the city auctioning an enlisted service member’s car without the owner’s permission — barred under federal law — and then getting sued for it led to a backlog in cars that needed to be auctioned. 

A Honolulu employee marks an abandoned car in Waianae. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The city paid $1.16 million to settle in mid-February, but while the case was pending cars piled up in the contractors’ lots and the city stopped fining them for not moving cars in three days.

Amendments made to both measures remove the requirement to auction cars before disposing them.

Kajiwara said not having to auction the cars would help the city get rid of them faster but added that cars still need to be processed before they can be disposed of. That means draining fluids, stripping gas tanks and removing hoods and trunks.

Only four salvage yards on Oahu have permits from the state Department of Health to process cars. All their yards are full and no longer accept cars, Kajiwara wrote in testimony.

Albert’s Towing, the company contracted by the city to tow abandoned cars, just lost the lease on its salvage yard and is looking for a new one.

The state Department of Transportation is considering opening a 6-acre lot under the H-1 viaduct in Pearl City to store towed cars, according to DOT spokesperson Shelly Kunishige.

“The city already has the three-day requirement,” Kajiwara told Civil Beat. “It’s not working, but if the 10 days go into effect and I still have no place to put these cars I’m still going to be in the same position.”

If the House bill passes, counties will no longer be required to send letters alerting registered owners of their vehicle’s whereabouts. The Senate bill would only require counties to notify car owners if the car is reported stolen.

Kajiwara said she would prefer to only send notices out to the owners of cars that appear to have some value.

“There are some cars that have no value at all but I have to send out a notice and I have to hold it for a month or so,” she said.

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