Chad Blair: Oahu Lawmakers Swamped With Requests To Lower The Volume - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


I took a long weekend recently to a neighbor island, hoping in part to escape the cacophonous din that too often tarnishes Honolulu neighborhoods.

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I instead encountered testy TSA lines, impatient tourists waiting for rental cars and a woman in a Steelers jersey on a cramped shuttle who had an infinite amount of things to say about nothing important. Then a child in the seat behind me on my return trip blabbered so insistently that she was the only thing to be heard on the flight other than “Juice or water?”

I have a choice whether to travel or not, of course, or to bring along earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. But there are a lot of folks who can’t escape the noise in and around their very homes.

Consider the travails of Mark Travis, who recently moved with his wife from Los Angeles to Waikiki where they settled happily in the Governor Cleghorn apartments on Kaiulani Avenue.

“Beautiful neighborhood. A vibrant community. Close to the beaches, parks, zoo, restaurants and shopping. What more could we ask for?” he remarked.

As it turns out, plenty:

“But then we were struck with the noise pollution. Besides the awful sounds of motorcycles, mopeds, unmuffled cars and boom boxes, there is the night barrage of rowdy tourists gathering in the middle of the night at the bars and restaurants where they are serving alcohol until midnight. How are we supposed to enjoy our new home when the night air is pierced by yelling, out-of-control (mostly tourists I imagine) individuals who have no concern and no care that Waikiki is a village of residents?”

Travis’ concerns come from his testimony on Senate Bill 2382, which would prohibit the issuance of cabaret liquor licenses to businesses located within an apartment, mixed-use sub-precincts in tourist districts like Waikiki.

“Do we have representatives in our government who are going to protect our interests, maintain peace and quiet in this idyllic location?” he asks.

Waikiki Marina located at 1700 Ala Moana Boulevard.
Waikiki is home to lots of residents, many of whom are upset at noise levels in their neighborhoods. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

While many lawmakers are sympathetic to the complaints, getting bills passed to address the problem is difficult. The problem is that one person’s annoyance is often another’s livelihood — in this case, nightclub and bar owners who are only too happy to cater to residents and visitors who want to get hammered and loud until 4 a.m.

I wrote about the problem of noise pollution five years ago, noting that numerous studies have chronicled how millions of people are negatively impacted by noise nationwide resulting in stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption and lost productivity.

“Much like air pollution, noise pollution is far from being a mere nuisance,” the Financial Times recently reported. “In fact it is increasingly understood to have long-term effects on human health.”

Since I wrote my column, little seems to have changed in Honolulu when it comes to noise mitigation, yet residents like Travis and advocacy groups like A Quieter Oahu are continuing to fight for it — even as the odds appear formidable.

Consider the noise-control measures that are already dead at the Legislature this session: bills to restrict the use of leaf blowers, to increase fines for installing noisy mufflers, to require state and county agencies to replace backup beepers on vehicles with white-sound reversing alarms, to set noise levels and penalties on helicopters, to eradicate feral roosters and chickens on state lands, to ban the use and sale of excessively loud vehicles, to crack down on fireworks, to set maximum decibel limits for establishments that serve booze and punish those who do not comply, to regulate noise from ocean vessels, to set up a noise pollution task force within the Department of Health to investigate noise pollution, and to ban new sales of what are known as two-stroke engine tools and vehicles such as weed whackers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, motor scooters, mopeds and jet skis.

The cabaret liquor license bill still has a chance. Same goes for another feral fowl bill that asks two state agencies to come up with a pilot program to corral the feathery flocks, and a bill requiring the Department of Transportation to force tour aircraft operators to report details — date and time of takeoffs and landings, passenger counts and flight plans and detours — of their flights.

“They continually fly very low near my home,” Jill Paulin wrote in her testimony on the helicopter bill. “Not long ago, a couple of the tour riders put their hands out to wave at me while in my backyard. This has gone too far.”

Business Interests

But an illustration of the kind of aggressive pushback that clammer-control bills can receive is seen with Senate Bill 2749, which would have forbidden commercial vehicles from making pickups and deliveries to establishments during certain times of the day and close to single-family residences.

Opponents included Matson Navigation, Retail Merchants of Hawaii and the Hawaii Restaurant Association, which persuasively warned lawmakers that late deliveries would lead to dissatisfied customers, rising costs and congested traffic that could cause accidents.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Noise problems are not confined to Oahu. Demonstrators on the Big Island, for example, have long resented helicopter tours. Alan McNarie/Civil Beat/2017

“This measure will make it so our bakeries can’t deliver fresh bread early in the morning, our restaurants can’t get fresh produce before they open, and prevent everyone from getting their morning newspapers,” testified Lauren Zirbel of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, who authored the cabaret bill and represents Kakaako and Waikiki, says her colleagues like Reps. Scott Saiki and Adrian Tam as well as Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters who also live in crowded urban districts, are sensitive to the noise complaints.

“We all live in the heady, dynamic area where noise can be exceptional,” she said. “We have to be thoughtful about each other and ‘live aloha’ in a way of understanding that it’s not just about having a pleasure ride but being aware of everyone else around you. We need to be good neighbors. If not, we are going to come up with laws.”

Calvin Say, a former state representative from suburban Palolo Valley, said he has seen the number of noise complaints increase fourfold since he was elected to the Honolulu City Council, where he represents Palolo as well as crowded Moiliili, McCully and portions of Ala Moana, Kakaako and Makiki.

Say is author of Bill 23, which comes in response to refuse collection trucks in Waikiki that can operate as early as 2:30 a.m. He says the issue is not just about residents being rudely awakened but also private contracts with the city and the need to deliver opala to the trash-burning H-POWER plant in Campbell Industrial Park — a long distance from Waikiki.

Noise complaints also are an inevitable if unfortunate burden of our times.

“In the old days it was less densely populated and you could accommodate those types of issues,” he said. “But because of higher densities and more people in urban Honolulu — all the condos and the apartment buildings — it’s made things much more difficult.”

Denise Boisvert and her husband Kim Jorgensen also live at the Governor Cleghorn. They support the City Council’s Bill 23 and Bill 43, a measure introduced by Waters that is aimed at shushing Waikiki street performers known to amplify their performance to attract passersby.

Boisvert told me that supporters of Bill 43 are not trying to revoke the rights of street performers to express themselves on public sidewalks or earn money doing so. But, she said, performers are not the only ones with rights, and Waikiki — in spite of its reputation as a tourism mecca and concrete jungle — is also home to many locals.

“Families, keiki, kupuna, all persons gathered at home in Waikiki’s residential neighborhood mauka of Kuhio are not passersby,” she said. “We’ve become a captive audience several streets away for hours in the evenings to sound levels that could fill Aloha Stadium.”


Read this next:

John Pritchett: Frequent Flyer


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

Come on people, waiks is as urban as it gets here in the islands. There is always something going on. Noise comes with the territory. You can't control everything. Deal or move.

kolohekids · 2 months ago

Even without the urban sprawl of Kaka'ako and Kapiolani, Honolulu has definitely gotten noisier through the years. The proliferation of modified mopeds, Harley's and car exhaust systems that have been encouraged by tuners and coveted by owners really only exist for one purpose, flaunting one's ability to wreak auditory havoc on others. Thus, it becomes a practical matter of enforcement and the will of the people and governing body to remedy. If police took the matter as seriously as they do ticketing and towing cars along the Ala Wai 3x/wk. it could possibly make a difference. I believe at one point the safety check process, which is fairly flawed to start with, was supposed to detect and not pass vehicles with modified exhaust systems. I don't believe there is such a limit on motorcycles? Since I doubt lawmakers have the will to make any changes, much like with fireworks, take hikes into the mountains, or paddle out into the ocean and enjoy the serenity nature has to offer devoid of mankind's pollution. It's quite a welcome contrast to what Honolulu has become.

wailani1961 · 2 months ago

How about electric vehicles?

aloha · 2 months ago

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