The measure has stumbled over concerns about public access and traffic.

The Honolulu City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday to defer a decision on whether to expand restricted parking zones that began as a pilot program in Kalihi to other neighborhoods on Oahu.

“I was expecting to come here today – before I was aware of the two floor drafts – to vote on the measure,” council member Esther Kiaaina said during the council’s monthly meeting. 

What emerged instead was a long discussion on the complexities of parking management. 

Department of transportation director J. Roger Morton discusses restricted parking zones with the Honolulu City Council Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Department of Transportation Services director Roger Morton discusses how to implement restricted parking zones with the Honolulu City Council. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

How would the city pay for its enforcement? Who would decide whether a section of neighborhood would become an RPZ? And to what extent could this be viewed as impeding public access?

“This is hard stuff, and complicated stuff,” said Kiaaina.

Bill 20 would set up a structure through which residents and the Department of Transportation Services would be able to establish restricted parking zones in residential neighborhoods. Under the measure, residents who pay an annual fee for each car they register would receive hang tags allowing them to park along the street.

Other topics on the agenda included the second reading of a bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and different ways to fill the high number of vacancies in city departments.

But those discussions paled in scope compared to the one regarding restricted parking zones, which was the last item on the meeting agenda.

A pilot program established a restricted parking zone in Kalihi in 2017, and residents have widely considered it a success.

But efforts to expand the idea have faltered. Former council member Carol Fukunaga introduced a bill in 2021 to make RPZs permanent, but the bill lapsed after two years without passage. Council members Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and Radiant Cordero introduced Bill 20 in March. 

Cars are tightly packed along street parking leading up to a neighborhood hiking trail
Hikers’ cars lined the street for about half a mile on Labor Day morning at Kuliouou Ridge Trailhead, a familiar scene around the island that might make this area a prime contender for a restricted parking zone. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

“Countrywide, there are RPZs that become a tool almost the same as zoning,” Roger Morton, Department of Transportation Services director, said Wednesday, adding that he supports the concept.

Like in other cities, Honolulu visitors and residents are lured to certain attractions. These attractions – or “traffic generators” – vary. In other cities, they might be shopping destinations or historical sites. In Honolulu, they’re often pristine beaches or lush trailheads, and the closest parking is often in quiet suburban neighborhoods.

In Lanikai, where the beach looks like a postcard, some residents have been fighting outside parking for years. Here, Labor Day weekend was celebrated with DTS-implemented parking restrictions along the narrow road shoulders. 

Heading into Wednesday’s meeting, the prevailing bill draft would prohibit restricted parking zones within a half mile of shoreline. It would give the DTS director the power to establish new RPZs, with certain factors to consider like resident input and whether a traffic generator exists in the area. The director also had the power to dissolve the zones.

But City Council Chair Tommy Waters introduced two new drafts on Wednesday, adding a requirement that the DTS director consider to what extent a proposed RPZ would infringe on public access near “hiking, fishing, and hunting areas.”

The new drafts also would expand the definition of “resident” to anybody living within the same council district as an RPZ, vastly raising the number of people who would be eligible for a parking permit.

“I really support managed access to all of our natural resources,” Waters said in an interview after the meeting.

But he sees the RPZ issue as different from somewhere like Diamond Head, which has a designated parking lot that is separate from public roads and makes enforcement easier.

The Honolulu City Councilman Calvin Say of District 5 shares his displeasure with restricted parking zones Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Council member Calvin Say, the state’s former House Speaker, was adamant that the bill somehow specify that any enforcement revenues from RPZ fines stay with the city rather than go into state funds. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

At 3:40 p.m., Waters noted an impending deadline for the discussion: a youth baseball team was scheduled to visit the council very soon. Time was running out to either pass the bill for the mayor’s signature, reject it entirely or send it back to committee.

“Do we have the time and effort to really come up with something that we can all agree upon?” asked council member Calvin Say, questioning whether it would be worth sending the bill back to committee. 

Being sent back means the bill would likely next be up for a full council vote in October.

“By that point, we will have had 10 hearings on this,” Dos Santos-Tam said. “Which is the most, I think, of any bill that we’ve discussed this year, and frankly any bill in quite some time.” 

The youth baseball team arrived just before 4 and Kiaaina turned to explain the topic of discussion to the players.

“This is really what democracy is all about,” she said to them.

Shortly after, Kiaaina, Say, Waters, Val Okimoto and Matt Weyer voted to send the bill back to committee, with council members Andria Tupola, Augie Tulba, Dos Santos-Tam and Cordero opposed.

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