It’s easy to understand why Liz Schwartz, owner of Kaimuki’s cozy Coffee Talk, and other Kaimuki merchants are angry after learning — with scant notice — that the city is closing a key municipal parking lot in Kaimuki for eight months to repave it.
“Parking is already an issue in Kaimuki. When they take away our parking lot for eight months, customers will stop coming,” says Schwartz.
Some readers may not care much about this issue because it is happening in Kaimuki, not their neighborhood, but a similar disruption could happen in other business districts when you have a city administration prone to act first and inform the people later.
Schwartz and about 20 other Kaimuki business owners met at Coffee Talk last week and again Monday night to figure out how to soften the economic impact from the parking lot repaving.
The city informed them about a month ago that the project will start Monday in Kaimuki Municipal Lot No. 2 — the big parking lot that is bounded by Koko Head, Waialae, Harding and 12th Avenues.
At the meetings, merchants and restaurant owners said they hope to convince the city to postpone the repaving project until January 2021 to give them time to educate their customers and see if the city can arrange temporary parking in nearby state parking lots.
“I think many people are still unaware that a long parking lot shutdown like this can put some of us out of business,” says Gayla Young, owner of the Pipeline Bakery and Creamery on Waialae Avenue.
Kaimuki is where Honolulu residents and tourists go for pastries and tasty meals in tiny mom and pop eateries, or to buy books in one of Hawaii’s last independently owned book stores and where bargain hunters comb the racks of the Goodwill store for inexpensive aloha shirts and pre-owned designer dresses.
There are nearly 200 small businesses and they are the heart and soul of the hilltop town overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
But the main problem with Kaimuki is that parking is horrible. Not enough stalls in the two city lots or on the streets, especially on weekends. Frustrated drivers sometimes decide to go home after they circle around on the tail of other cars, all unable to find parking spaces.
Schwartz is especially mad about what she says is the slapdash way the city informed her and other business owners about the parking lot shutdown.
Later that same day, she said, a person from the city’s Department of Design and Construction stopped by her coffee shop to drop off a flyer about the closure of the parking lot.
Gayla Young says she found the notice of the parking lot closure taped to the door of her Pipeline bakery when she arrived at work, with no further explanation or details. “I feel like I was blindsided. Like I didn’t have a voice at all,“ she said.
Schwartz is equally discouraged: “The city is not on our side. They do not care about us. If they did, they would have given us way more time and asked for our input on how to make the repaving project a smoother transition for us.”
The city says some stalls in the lot will remain open during the construction, depending on job site conditions, but it has no plans to open up any additional lots for visitors to Kaimuki to use during the project.
The Department of Design and Construction has hired Road Builders Corp. for the $2.1 million repaving job.
In an emailed response to Civil Beat, the city says Road Builders will carry out the work in three phases. In each of the phases, it says, some of the parking lot’s 106 stalls will be available to the public. In Phase One, an expected 72 stalls; in Phase Two, 79 stalls; and in Phase Three, 63 stalls. But the city also says that will depend on conditions at the job site.
Construction workers will be prohibited from parking in the stalls that are left open for the public, the city says.
But, the city says, workers are free to use stalls in the adjacent Kaimuki Municipal Parking Lot No. 1 and the contractor may get a permit from the city’s Department of Transportation Services to reserve metered parking stalls on the street for the workers.
This does not bode well for Kaimuki shoppers and restaurant goers and business employees already fighting for those parking stalls.
The city’s answer to why the project will take eight months? “The contract time is 270 calendar days duration. Eight months is roughly based on the Contractor’s schedule.” It offers no explanation of exactly why the work is going to take so long, only that the contractor says it will.
The city says the businesses were not informed about the project sooner because: “The exact project start date is fluid and based on permit approvals, contractor submittal processing, etc. However, we strived to provide a minimum of 30 days advance notice of start of construction.”
What is Fault Lines?
“Fault Lines” is a special project that throughout the coming year will explore discord in Hawaii and what we as a community can do to bridge some of the social and political gaps that are developing. Read more here.
“We are going to be consistently monitoring the impact on the businesses throughout the project and we would be willing to meet with the businesses before the project begins,” city spokesman Alexander Zannes said Saturday.
But after their meeting Monday, the merchants and restaurant owners said that is offer is coming too late and they will instead appeal to Honolulu City Council members for more time to adjust before the parking lot work begins.
This is not the first time the city has closed down Kaimuki Municipal Parking Lot No. 2. In 2018, the city shut down the lot for 30 days to patch holes in the aging asphalt driveway. The cost of that job was only for the asphalt because the city’s in-house paving crew did all the work.
Fred Martinez, the longtime owner of Jose’s Mexican Cafe and Cantina, says he took a 20% business loss during that parking lot shutdown. “But that was only for a month. This will be eight times longer. There is no reason it should take so long. It’s absurd.”
This new eight-month project entails digging up the entire parking lot to remove all the existing asphalt and sub-base to install a new sub-base and 3 inches of new asphalt pavement.
Workers will also remove all the shower trees in the lot and replace them with trees with less invasive roots as well as install new LED street lights and cover a section of the lot with permeable pavers to help prevent storm water pollutants from entering the municipal drainage system.
Eric Seitz, the business attorney for Pipeline Bakery, said he is astounded that the city has been moving ahead with the large project without first involving the nearby business owners in the planning. He says he’s considering filing a lawsuit for what he calls the city’s “disastrous action.”
“It is insane to do improvement work to the parking lot that kills off the businesses it is supposed to help before they have time to get the benefit of it,” Seitz says.
He says the city’s action could amount to an unconstitutional taking without just compensation to the people affected.
Bakery owner Young says the business owners are not trying to stop the construction; they just want more time to explore solutions like setting up car pooling groups and finding alternate parking places for their customers.
“Give us a chance to come up with solutions,” she says. “Right now we feel like we are working with straws.”
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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.