In 2017, residents of a Kalihi Valley enclave known as Wilson Tract agreed to form Oahu’s first, experimental restricted parking zone. Only cars with the proper city tags displayed could park on the public streets there overnight – a move those residents hoped would free up more spaces and discourage loitering outside their homes.

The pilot worked well, and it signaled that the city might soon launch similar restricted parking zones, or RPZs, across an island where keeping street parking available remains a hot-button issue for many residents.

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More than five years later, however, the Kalihi Valley RPZ remains just a pilot, with city officials struggling to make the zone permanent or set up others. It’s “limping along,” as one city leader put it, with reduced enforcement against the cars that lack the proper tags.

The Honolulu City Council has postponed measures that would make it Oahu’s first permanent RPZ. Meanwhile, the Kalihi residents who have benefited from the zone have yet to pay any fees to support it, although some say they would gladly do so to sustain the program if such a system were set up.

“We’re willing to pay. That’s how much we believe in this program,” said Lynette Kumalae, a longtime Kalihi Valley resident who lives on Aoao Street, which was added to the RPZ after its initial success. “I understand – public parking is public parking. But if you’re willing to pay for that privilege (of restricted parking) it would take care of that program.”

Wilson Street 1 hour parking sign.
A sign on Wilson Street alerts drivers to just one hour of parking overnight for cars without permits in the Kalihi Valley restricted parking zone. That zone has proven popular, but efforts to create similar zones in other areas have moved slowly. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The city’s transportation division says it would like to make the Kalihi pilot program permanent, plus eventually add as many as nine other RPZs in other neighborhoods where residents have expressed interest.

“It’s a long pilot and we’d like to make it institutionalized,” Department of Transportation Services Director Roger Morton said. “But we need the ordinance authority to do it.”

Specifically, the City Council needs to establish the user fees for the Kalihi RPZ, according to Morton and a chief planner at the department.

Some 430 properties currently encompass that zone, up from the initial 200 or so properties when the pilot started, according to Honolulu City Council member Carol Fukunaga.

DTS estimates it would cost about $200 per property to cover the city costs to run the zone. Recent legislation proposed setting the specific fee for the Kalihi zone at $100 a year, which Kumalae called “more than reasonable.” The city’s general fund would then likely cover the rest of the cost.

Part Of A Bigger Plan

Fukunaga partly blamed the RPZ hold-up on turnover within DTS as well as changes in committee leadership on the City Council during the past five years.

Key DTS staff members who were making progress toward the permanent Kalihi Valley RPZ retired and “the entire division sort of disappeared,” she said.

“By the time the new guys got here, they were more interested in analyzing (the zone) within the overall management plan, including commercial areas,” Fukunaga said, referring to the city’s new transportation demand management plan.

The Kalihi Valley RPZ, she said, “got sort of pushed to the side.”

Last month, Chris Clark, a chief planner for the city, briefed the council’s Committee on Transportation, Sustainability and Health on that wide-ranging plan, which is still in the works. It aims to make travel across the island more efficient and better managed, as well as to cut down on car miles traveled. The plan also includes eventually forming RPZs.

The Kalihi Valley pilot zone falls largely within Fukunaga’s district but also partly within council member Radiant Cordero’s district. Cordero’s also the transportation committee’s latest chair.

restricted parking zone
The restricted parking zone in Kalihi was expanded after its initial rollout in Wilson Tract. Two other nearby tracts have requested to join. 

Cordero asked during Clark’s briefing whether the city would have a “basic foundation” to create all RPZs instead of creating each one on a case-by-case basis, so that the zone rules wouldn’t be “all over the place.”

“I just want to make sure it’s structured in a way that it’s somewhat uniform, so that there’s an easier process” to form them, she said.

Clark said DTS had rules ready to go that would cover all the RPZs, based on what they learned from the Kalihi Valley pilot. The department just needs the council to act on the fees in order to proceed.

In order to create an RPZ, the first step is for community members to approach the city in strong support, Clark said. DTS has already started to model how such zones would work in the nine or 10 communities that have come forward, including parts of Kaimuki, Palolo Valley, Liliha, Mcully-Moiliili and Haiku.

“We know that there’s appetite in those neighborhoods,” Clark said.

He also told Cordero that making the pilot program permanent would lead to more consistent enforcement.

Cordero was unavailable on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the RPZ issue, according to a council representative.

Parking Restrictions, Or Neighborhood Watch?

One of the advocates who helped establish the parking pilot in Kalihi Valley was Max Sword, the former Honolulu Police Commission chair who was indicted earlier this year on federal conspiracy charges in relation to the city’s wide-ranging Kealoha corruption scandal.

City records show that Sword repeatedly testified in support of the Kalihi Valley restricted parking program. Fukunaga said that Sword’s mother-in-law lived in Wilson Tract, and that the challenges she faced there led him and his wife, Mona, to pursue the zone.

Honolulu City Council member Carol Fukunaga listens to testimony during floor session at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council member Carol Fukunaga said her office has recommended Kalihi Valley residents work more closely with HPD to reduce crime there, separate from the RPZ program. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

According to Kumalae, street parking is especially important in Kalihi Valley because the islands’ cost of living and scarcity of housing has led many of those decades-old family homes to be multigenerational.

“Your regular garage” is not going to fit all the neighborhood cars, Kumalae said. “People work hard and need a place to park when they get home.”

She said the RPZ also became a neighborhood watch program. Prior to the zone, the neighborhood saw frequent littering, loitering and abandoning of vehicles by people who didn’t live there, according to Kumalae and others.

Enforcing the RPZ dramatically reduced those separate problems, she said, making the program especially popular.

However, in recent years, with the program still stuck in its pilot phase, the police enforcement of the restricted parking there has been “flimsy,” Kumalae said.

The Honolulu Police Department did not respond to requests Tuesday for statistics on its enforcement of the pilot program.

Fukunaga said her office has encouraged Kalihi Valley residents in recent years to work more closely with HPD for better neighborhood watch, apart from the RPZ. Meanwhile, Kumalae said that residents are currently working to develop an official neighborhood watch that builds off the progress they saw with the RPZ.

It remains to be seen when the Kalihi Valley zone might become permanent and others would get established. The zones could be priced and regulated differently even if they share the same basic rules, Clark said.

Currently, some 20% of the cars on Oahu are parked on city streets, representing about 200,000 vehicles, according to Clark.

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