The protesters weren’t allowed to linger in front of the construction site.

Since loitering in city parks during the COVID-19 pandemic invites a criminal citation, those who objected to the excavator digging into the earth at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park on Monday could only walk by and offer their words: “Shame on you.”

Kalokahi Kauka holds his sign after a large truck with heavy machinery drove into the park area near Sherwood Forest. April 6, 2020.
Kalokahi Kauka was one of more than a dozen protesters who defied the city’s stay-at-home order to protest the arrival of heavy machinery at the park near Sherwood Forest. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

As thousands of Oahu residents shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, a construction crew started work on a controversial field project at Sherwood Forest. Although the project is no longer planned to be a $32 million master-planned ball field complex and 470-car parking lot, members of the Native Hawaiian community say it amounts to desecration of the aina, or land. The site, a national historic landmark, was a Hawaiian burial ground that historians believe may have been the first landing place in the Hawaiian Islands for Polynesian voyagers.

Mahealani Martin, an Oahu resident with strong ties to Waimanalo, said she cried on Sunday when she heard construction would begin. Early Monday, she arrived to protest wearing a “kiai” hat, gloves and a makeshift cloth face mask and holding a large Hawaiian flag.

“That’s our ancestors,” she said. “They keep destroying, or desecrating, our iwi kupuna. That’s not right.”

Opponents protested for six months straight last year, a demonstration that culminated in the arrest of 28 people who sought to block the arrival of construction equipment in September. Under pressure from the nonprofit Save Our Sherwoods and other activists, the mayor proposed what his administration considered a compromise: they would nullify the project’s master plan, stop the project after “Phase 1” and give the site a new name, Hunananiho Park, to highlight its association to Hawaiian history.

“It’s a grassy field surrounded by Native Hawaiian trees,” Caldwell said of the current plans, adding that there will be a parking lot with handicap spaces. He also said if the on-site archeologist discovers any iwi, the city will follow appropriate protocols.

Resolutions reflecting the mayor’s proposals are sitting on the desk of Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, who said on Monday that he has no plans to introduce them. He said he’s been in talks with community members about the project but has had to suspend meetings because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Because of the virus, Anderson said the city should cease construction work at Sherwood Forest, but Caldwell said work would continue.

“This is another way to put money in the pockets of our local contractors and employees,” Caldwell said. 

Save Our Sherwoods President Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo, who attended meetings late last year with Caldwell’s administration, said the mayor expressed “heartfelt understanding” of opponents’ concerns. Kamakea-Ohelo said he never agreed that any construction should happen, but he came to accept that “no is not an option for them,” and that to some degree, the project would go forward.

The Waimanalo Neighborhood Board never consented to the construction, according to Vice Chair Kukana Kama-Toth, who is also a member of Save Our Sherwoods.

“This project drove a wedge through this community,” Kamakea-Ohelo said.

A lawsuit filed by Save Our Sherwoods and four individuals against city agencies and the U.S. Department of the Interior is ongoing.

In a recorded video statement released Sunday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city’s current plan is the result of many community conversations.

Demonstrators walk in front of the entrance to Sherwood Forest, Waiamanalo. April 6, 2020.
Sherwood Forest demonstrators had to keep moving to avoid being cited for loitering in a park during the pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“While there’s been a lot of emotion around the project, I think it’s everyone’s hope at the end of the day when this field is completed, and when it’s planted and surrounded by Native Hawaiian trees, people can gather here as a place of healing, of remembering what’s so important about the aina and the people who have lived on it in the past, and those who will be celebrating life on it today and in the future,” he said.

Monday’s protest was attended by over a dozen people despite the state’s stay-at-home order. Franki Hernandez, an Aikahi area resident with family in Waimanalo, said it was inappropriate for the city to start construction during a global pandemic, inviting protest at a time when people should be sheltering in place.

“It doesn’t need to be done right now,” she said. “If you care about the aina, you’re going to show up.”

Police officers issued 28 warnings on Monday morning, according to the police department. Two people were cited for violating emergency laws after they ignored the officers’ warnings to leave, department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said. No one was arrested.

Waimanalo resident Louise Keawe said she’s been “holding space” in front of the park entrance continuously since late January. She said the protesters do not intend to interfere or have a confrontation with police but they want their position known.

“Today we stand with aloha,” she said.

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