Renée Boardman, a resident at Lani Huli Elderly Apartments for over three years, has parked her car at one of the metered parking stalls in the building for as long as she has been a resident.
With a diagnosis of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome — a condition that affects blood flow — Boardman, 66, qualifies for a disability placard, which allowed her to park at the meter for free. Because she often can’t stand or walk for more than 30 minutes at a time without getting lightheaded and faint, the parking arrangement has helped her manage her medical condition.
But Boardman and other residents of the four-story building found state-issued yellow flyers on their windshields earlier this month warning that their red (temporary) and blue (long-term) disability parking placards and license plates could no longer be used in the parking stalls. Instead, they would have to pay the meters.
The development has come as a shock to many of the roughly 100 tenants at the low-income, subsidized housing complex who say they were given little advance notice. The metered parking is only available for a short time, too, and is in effect 24 hours a day, although enforcement up to now has been fairly lax.
“It’s almost impossible for me to be running down to the meter every two and a half hours,” said Boardman, who would rather save her limited physical energy for going to the bank, the grocery store and doctor appointments. “It’s the most stressful thing to keep moving my car. This really makes things tough for me.”
It’s also not cheap. Boardman has to plug nine quarters into the meter every time she uses one — if she can find one. The Lani Huli parking is run by the City and County of Honolulu, and the bustling area is also home to the nearby Kailua Medical Building, a Walgreens, a Zippy’s, a McDonald’s, Hawaii National Bank, Baci Bistro, Assaggio Kailua, Uahi Grill Restaurant, another restaurant called Over Easy, a martial arts studio and several beauty salons.
The new rule stemmed from a change in a statute on handicap parking that largely lifted the parking meter fee exemption, although people with permits may still park in designated spaces. It was passed into law by the Hawaii Legislature in 2019 but did not go into effect until July 1 of this year. It affects the entire state.
The legislation was passed unanimously and was supported by the Honolulu Police Department and the Hawaii Disability and Communication Access Board, which asked for the change in the law. The board’s then-executive director Francine Wai testified that the bill would “help to ensure the appropriate issuance of permits, strengthen enforcement, reduce abuse, and provide clarity in the law.”
“The current parking meter fee exemption has become a free parking benefit for all permittees, but it was never intended as such,” Wai testified. “On the contrary, the exemption was intended for drivers who could not reach or operate parking meters because of a physical disability. The exemption was never intended to be a free parking benefit for all permittees.”
At least nine Lani Huli residents have been affected by the change, said Sasha Springer Asato, another resident who is leading a petition to urge government officials to intervene in the matter.
“This was quite a surprise to have it go into effect with only two weeks notification,” Asato stated in the petition, which was signed by more than 40 residents at Lani Huli. “How do we rectify the oversight which affects so many of our tenants?”
Asato said Tuesday that she had not heard back from petition recipients, including Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.
But some officials are aware of the problem, including the Disability and Communication Access Board, the statewide program on parking for people with disabilities.
The board’s executive director, Kirby Shaw, said his office has fielded several calls of concern. He said he did not know how many people have been impacted by the new law but noted that 102,000 people in the state have been issued disability permits.
Shaw explained that the Legislature started the parking program in 1984. Disability parking permits were to be limited to those with a mobility disability that prevents them from walking 200 feet under their own power without having to stop to rest.
“Over time, especially as the cost of on and off-street parking increased, the meter fee exemption became a financial incentive for people to abuse the system,” Shaw wrote in an email.
People “doctor shopped or exaggerated their disabilities to obtain certification,” or they borrowed or stole parking permits issued to others, or they parked their vehicles without payment of the fee beyond the two-and-a-half hours or the maximum amount of time the meter allows, whichever was longer.
The abuse of the system also contributed to a shortage of spaces for permittees who legitimately needed them, he said.
The parking fee exemption crafted in the 2019 legislation made Hawaii the fifth state to implement such a requirement. It applies only to those disabled persons with a placard who drive and are unable to reach or operate a parking meter due to a physical disability.
“The parking program was never intended to be a mechanism to provide financial assistance to persons with disabilities, and there are several reasons why it is a poor mechanism for doing so,” said Shaw. Only applicants with a doctor-certified mobility disability qualify for the permit.
Boardman and other Lani Huli tenants, however, believe their medical conditions justify their parking in the building. They say the new law has upended their lives.
Patricia Perry, 70, suffers from lymphedema, where excess fluid collects in tissue, causing swelling. She finds it very challenging to continually be feeding the parking meters.
“I use a walker and a cane,” said Perry. “I have a mobility issue. I don’t move too fast. The parking is causing me a hardship.”
A Lani Huli resident since December 2018, Perry has been on the waiting list for the 20 handicap stalls in the building. But the wait can take years and 19 people are ahead of her.
The yellow flyers from the disabilities board explain that residents do have the option of completing a PA-3 form online that may qualify them for a Disabled Paid Parking Exemption Permit — a green placard.
But Perry said her doctor told her she did not qualify. Boardman said that, while she is thinking of filling out the application, she worries she won’t qualify because she is physically able to reach the meters.
Another tenant impacted by the new law, Gayle Spotkaeff, was so frustrated with the permit requirements that she sold her car on Craigslist several days after it went into effect.
“I am on oxygen for a bad lung and I have to take my portable tank wherever I go,” said Spotkaeff, 72, who has lived at Lani Huli for more than two years. “When I got the notice I knew that I could not deal with it.”
Spotkaeff now pays $22 for a medical taxi whenever she has to do errands, sometimes several times a day.
“I am definitely stuck and I am getting more depressed by the day,” she said. “It is really affecting my mental health.”
State Rep. Patrick Branco, whose House District includes Kailua and Kaneohe Bay, said he hopes a solution can be crafted.
“I am still fact-finding, but Lani Huli is very near and dear to me,” he said. “My grandmother went there to play bingo and participate in other community activities before the pandemic. I understand that this is an abrupt change for our residents, so I am going to reach out to the Disability and Communications Access Board and see if we can find a resolution.”
One possibility is for the City and County of Honolulu to allow Lani Huli tenants to apply for a special permit parking pass to allow them to park in metered stalls.
And Shaw suggested the Legislature or the counties could provide financial assistance to low-income and disabled persons to offset their transportation and/or parking costs.
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