Amid the tense, ongoing battle over who should run Koko Crater Stables, city officials have canceled their previous five-year award and look to seek more community input next year.
The Parks and Recreation Department aims to develop a master plan for the decades-old stables — Oahu’s last remaining municipal equestrian facility — as well as the neighboring Koko Crater Botanical Garden, according to city spokesman Andrew Pereira.
The city will seek the funds to start the master plan process and hire a consultant in the upcoming city budget cycle. In the meantime, it plans to grant the stables’ current operator, Horse Haven LLC, a one-year revocable permit through 2020, according to Pereira and parks department spokesman Nathan Serota.
Reached for comment earlier this month, Horse Haven’s co-owner Jane Mount said the city had yet to inform the company of the move. But she said the city’s pursuit of a master plan is “great news.”
“They absolutely should look into a master plan because nobody has cared for it at all since 1960,” she said.
Horse Haven’s long-term award was canceled on May 9, three weeks after a Civil Beat article detailed concerns over how the city handled its award and whether the company’s focus on competitive riding and training met the mission of the public facility.
A rival equestrian outfit, Aloha Riding Lessons, also vied for the award and submitted the more competitive bid. It was subsequently disqualified, however, for owing back taxes as the two businesses and their respective supporters in Oahu’s equestrian community feuded over which party was best suited to get the contract.
Officially, Purchasing Division officials pointed to faulty specifications, an incomplete list of buildings on site and the lack of a “clear description of the City’s vision and objectives for the property” as their reason for canceling the award, city records show.
In June, when Honolulu City Councilman Tommy Waters asked those officials to be more specific, Budget and Fiscal Services Director Nelson Koyanagi responded that “the reasons are as stated above.”
Aloha Riding Lessons and Horse Haven have each expressed frustration at the city’s decision to cancel the contract. Each one asserts it was entitled to the award. Both remain interested in running the stables long-term.
Contract Award Handled ‘Willy-Nilly’
In 1928, Bishop Estate, now known as Kamehameha Schools, deeded the property that includes Koko Crater Stables’ 10-acre site to the city for $1 on the condition it be limited to public park land and right-of-way use, according to city documents.
Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board member Elizabeth Reilly recently described them as “part of the fabric of East Honolulu.”
In October, the Council unanimously approved a resolution urging Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration to keep the stables in place, regardless of whoever ultimately runs them.
Waters introduced the measure after city purchasing officials canceled Horse Haven’s award, which looked to “provide horse training, riding lessons, horse boarding, and equestrian type educational seminars to the public.”
He said that administration officials were considering removing the stables altogether.
In recent months, the topic has come up frequently at monthly Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meetings.
During those discussions, both Waters and Reilly have raised concerns that the city’s Department of Enterprise Services, which oversees the Honolulu Zoo and the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, awards the stables’ concession contracts — not the Parks and Recreation Department.
“The mission of that entity is vastly different than city parks,” Reilly said this past summer.
Because it was a concession award, the city’s normal procurement process didn’t apply, Waters said. He added that he found that “disturbing.”
The award was handled “willy-nilly” by the city, leading both Horse Haven and Aloha Riding Lessons to feel they hadn’t been treated fairly, Waters said.
Waters’ immediate predecessor, interim Councilman Mike Formby, also expressed concerns over how the process was handled.
Public Asset, Not Private Business
Horse Haven has run Koko Crater Stables for the past three years via city-issued revocable permits, largely as a private boarding facility.
Its website touts the lesson program as “among the best in the state for competitive Hunter/Jumpers” — a competitive and advanced style of riding. That focus has some in the equestrian community concerned that the facility has grown too exclusive, despite its public mandate.
The stables are supposed to be a “public asset, not a private business,” Reilly said at a recent monthly neighborhood board meeting.
“You’re dealing with a community that’s used to having more access to that space as opposed to the perception that exists now,” Reilly added.
Horse Haven’s website adds, however: “We teach beginner riders through advanced, whether you wish to compete or not.” Currently 20 horses are boarded there, Mount said, and at least four can accommodate beginning riders.
Still, “there’s a waiting list,” she said. “There’s a lot of demand, and we’re trying to satisfy all the demand.”
“We patched it together in 2016, and we’ve continued to patch it together for the next three years,” Mount said recently.
The group had expected the city to contribute funding in the six-figures to help. That funding never came through.
Now, with the long-term contract canceled, “we’re on hold like everyone else,” Mount said.
The stables’ prior operator, veterinarian Emogene Yoshimura, has said she was forced to exit in 2015 when the city added contract language prohibiting caretakers from living on-site.
Horse Haven and Aloha Riding Lessons do agree on at least one thing: Caretakers should be allowed to live there for the good of the horses.
However, Horse Haven’s previous revocable permits and the now-canceled five-year contract contained language that forbade “lodging or sleeping purposes” on the premises.
Nonetheless, Mount and her husband, Jerry, insist the city gave them permission to let someone live there around the clock in order to look after the horses. They say they would not have taken on the stables’ renovation without such assurances.