Residents near beaches and legal hiking trails will not be able to restrict parking in their neighborhoods.

Honolulu City Council members passed a long-discussed restricted parking zone bill on Wednesday.

The bill sets up a framework for establishing new restricted parking zones, which essentially limit street parking to residents only.

Daily guest passes can be retrieved from city offices, and specific hours or time limits can be determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Introduced in March by council members Radiant Cordero and Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Bill 20 has a long backstory. A pilot program was started in Kalihi in 2017, and for the past six years council members and residents have talked about enacting a more permanent legal framework.

“This is a complicated bill. And as both council members who have introduced this measure know, we’ve had a lot of hearings and a lot of robust discussion,” said council member Esther Kiaaina. 

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 during the bill’s eighth hearing back in September. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Wednesday marked the bill’s 10th hearing. In previous hearings, council members found themselves repeatedly questioning different city departments about the logistics of RPZs. 

One of those complications is financing. 

RPZ residents who want to park along the street will have to pay for annual permits, with each household being limited to four.

The initial base annual price for one permit is $125 but the second costs $250, the third costs $375 and the fourth costs $600. Single-day visitor permits cost $10 each.

But the program’s administrative costs – signage, printed decals, labor – outweigh its projected revenue, meaning that it will cost the city money to implement.

And while unpermitted parking in an RPZ would result in traffic fines, that money goes to the state of Hawaii rather than to the City and County of Honolulu.

Some testifiers balked at this, saying that the city shouldn’t spend money on something that potentially lowers public access for the benefit of only a small group.

“In practice, RPZs would be adopted by neighborhoods near trailheads and beaches as a mechanism for keeping the public out,” said Ewa Beach neighborhood board member Trey Gordner, who testified in opposition. 

In an attempt to balance public access concerns, the bill mandates that access to legal hiking and legal hunting areas be weighed when considering new RPZs, and it prohibits any RPZ from being within half a mile of the shoreline.

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 popular attractions around the island. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

This was a concession added to later drafts of the bill – to the consternation of some residents of these areas.

Thomas Cestare, representing Lanikai Association, testified in opposition. The neighborhoods abutting hiking trails and beaches are “some of the most adversely affected by traffic congestion, illegal parking and unsafe conditions,” he said in written testimony. This limitation prevents RPZs from being established in neighborhoods where they may have had the most resident demand.

Bill 20 solidifies the Kalihi pilot area into law and says that the DTS director can single-handedly establish or modify new RPZs, at the rate of one new RPZ each year. 

But that annual limit can be circumvented using two other lengthier methods.

The DTS director can initiate a new RPZ by submitting a recommendation to council members which council members can then approve, or, council members can establish a new RPZ themselves through ordinance.

DTS may not have the bandwidth to establish more than one RPZ per year in practice anyway, according to director Roger Morton during testimony at a previous hearing. 

It’s a point that council member Calvin Say seized on during Wednesday’s hearing: during a time with heavy vacancies in the city’s workforce, this RPZ program is one more thing to put under the responsibility of DTS and the Honolulu Police Department.

Cars parked along Lanikai's Mokulua Drive.
Cars park along Lanikai’s Mokulua Drive to reach its beach and its pillbox trail. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

“How much more would you like to add more responsibilities on a police force that has overextended itself by the requirement of the state and the county as far as enforcing our laws?” he said during the hearing.

But council member Andria Tupola argued that the cost is worth it.

“All of the city parking systems actually run in deficit with our budget, including the meters that we have along the streets and in some municipal parking lots,” Tupola said. “But the reason why they do this is to provide order and better quality of life, especially around areas where there is no parking available.” 

Council members Cordero, Dos Santos-Tam, Kiaaina, Tupola and Tulba voted yes on the bill, while Weyer with council chair Waters voted yes with reservations. Council members Calvin Say and Val Okimoto voted no.

If Bill 20 is signed by the mayor, Honolulu would join other cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Seattle that have some sort of RPZ system.

The mayor has until Oct. 18 to take action on the bill before it automatically goes into effect.

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