Fed up with what they view as mismanagement and corruption, some members of the Kailua Neighborhood Board want to see the windward side of Oahu secede from the City and County of Honolulu.
The new governmental unit they envision would stretch from Waimanalo to Kahaluu. It would have its own police force and fire department, accountable to the government of the new county, which they dubbed Koolaupoko County.
Matthew Darnell and Gary Weller, members of the board’s government and community services committee, said they are in the early stages of research and planning the effort.
Swimmers at Kailua Beach Park. The windward side of Oahu has a different culture than urban Honolulu, some community leaders say.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“It won’t happen overnight,” Darnell said. “It would take a tremendous amount of money. We need to take a first step and this is where it starts.”
The issue will be publicly discussed for the first time at the Kailua Neighborhood Board meeting at the Kailua Recreation Center on Thursday night, and again at a board subcommittee meeting June 19, also at the Rec Center.
Darnell said he will ask city and state elected officials at the meeting about whether they think such an effort is feasible and how best to approach it.
“Everything they do is about tourism, aiding Waikiki and that side of the island.” — Gary Weller, Kailua Neighborhood Board member
This would not be the first time that Kailua residents have considered turning to more direct self-government. In the 1970s, Rep. John Medeiros, who represented Kailua from Aikahi to Enchanted Lake, requested a study to consider the implications of splitting Oahu into two regions, noting that the windward side had a greater population than that of neighbor islands that had their own governments and that the culture was different on the other side of the Koolau mountain range from Honolulu, according to news reports in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser.
In the early 1990s, some members of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, restive over high taxes and development projects, considered the option of seceding from Honolulu. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, in December 1991, the board voted 12 to 4 to ask that a home-rule resolution be placed on the November ballot.
It would have also been necessary to amend the City Charter and would likely have required a change in state law, according to news accounts at the time.
In 1991, then-Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi said seceding from Honolulu would cost Kailua residents more money than they currently paid in taxes, a point that Kailua residents later disputed.
In both cases, the efforts stalled.
A spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he would oppose any effort made by the windward side to separate itself from Honolulu.
“The administration would not support creating an ‘us versus them’ situation with the creation of a separate county government,” Caldwell spokesman Andrew Pereira said in an emailed statement. “We all need to work together to make Oahu more sustainable and resilient, and the administration works extremely hard toward this goal each and every day.”
In separate interviews Wednesday, both Darnell and Weller spoke passionately about the ways they believe that the City and County of Honolulu is failing to take the needs and preferences of local residents into account by placing big-city concerns ahead of those in more rural areas.
Secession “is something a lot of people are talking about,” said Darnell, who chairs the subcommittee.
“People who live in Hawaii are sick and tired of the direction the government is taking us,” said Weller. “The time is ripe for us to separate.”
Darnell said he was motivated to investigate this option because of his belief that Honolulu is not taking sufficient action to solve some of the windward side’s biggest problems, including the spread of vacation rentals in previously middle-class neighborhoods and the city’s failure to enforce zoning laws; the proliferation of monster homes and the swelling numbers of tourists descending on communities ill-equipped to accommodate them.
Rail project cost overruns and the scandals within the Honolulu Police Department have also soured people’s perceptions, they said.
Heavy machinery was set on fire at the Waimanalo Bay Beach Park site of work that is strongly opposed by some community residents.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Darnell and Weller were particularly angry about Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s decision to continue with a controversial ball field project at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park despite widespread community opposition.
“The city is going ahead with this project even though the community is saying they don’t want it,” Darnell said.
Weller said the arrival of the bulldozers at the popular forested beach park “hit people in the face,” to the point that it was understandable to him that the heavy equipment at the site was set on fire.
Darnell said the city’s primary focus is on its heavily urban areas and that more rural areas get short shrift.
“Most people in Kailua don’t think the city has Kailua’s best interests at heart. Everything they do is about tourism, aiding Waikiki and that side of the island,” he said. “We can’t sit by idly and let this become another Waikiki.”
Darnell said that many towns in the United States are smaller than Kailua, which has 55,000 residents, and that many areas that start out as suburbs eventually carve out their own administrative unit separate from larger cities in the area.
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Kirstin Downey is a reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat. A former Washington Post reporter and author of several books, she splits her time between Hawaii and Washington, D.C. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org