Special Report: Down & Dirty in Paradise (Part Two) - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Special Report: Down & Dirty in Paradise (Part Two)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

There's a war being waged to save Oahu's parks and public restrooms. Vandals, thieves and even some homeless have abused the facilities. And keeping them clean according to Gary Cabato, director of Honolulu County's Parks & Recreation Department, is a major undertaking.

A wave of renovations are taking place, and while much has been done, there's always more work to do.

"We did all three," said Cabato referencing the 3 comfort stations along Kapiolani Park near the Tennis Courts. "Taking out the fixtures, redoing the fixtures, redoing the painting. It really looks good."

Island wide renovations of Oahu parks are underway and bathrooms are key.

"I actually like the renovations now," said Leonard Zalopany who uses Kapiolani Park often.

"Usually you go to the bathroom and there's homeless and stuff always sleeping in there. Now it's lock the doors, keep 'em out," he added. "It's more clean, more better for us now, even for the kids."

"In October, the city launched a major renovation project of facilities island wide starting with comfort stations in Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach Park. Some have already been finished, but the ones in Waikiki near the concessions, called "Sessions," off busy Kalakaua Avenue, are getting fixed up starting mid to late December after the Honolulu Marathon. 

And visitors do take note of the facilities.

"There is variations," said Sherry Kobelak of Vancouver, Canada. "Some of them are well kept and some of them, you can tell where they're highly used, some of the building areas, aren't quite as kept up to par."

One question we heard from visitors - Where's the soap?

"This is a great tourist place, and people come. And soap is very important to them," said Brady Braziel of Minnesota."

Cabato said, "Well, we did that, pointing to a wall outside of the restroom at Sessions. "And as fast as we could put the soap containers up and the paper towels, they get ripped off, literally."

Thieves even steal copper from the toilets, said Cabato along with toilet paper and toilet paper dispensers. But he said new materials are helping.

A special lock on the toilet now helps thwart copper theft.

"The flush valve is more difficult to take out," said Cabato.

And now, Neighborhood Boards are fighting back with technology. Makakilo and Palailai community parks are the first to install security cameras.  Cabato said at about $200 for each system, more have been requested for four parks on the Leeward side, where park transformations are already visible.

I couldn't believe my eyes, when we went to Keaau Beach Park in Waianae. Once overrun with homeless campers, trash everywhere and broken facilities, there was open, and clean grassy space. The shower works well, even the faucet. And inside the restrooms even look good. You could still smell some urine in the air, but you can tell the floors had been washed down. The sink is not broken. And though one toilet in each of the women's restrooms wasn't working, There were no major stains in the toilets, you could see they'd been disinfected and the makeshift toilet paper holders made of plastic cutout jugs, were still in place. It was quite a difference from just 2 years ago.

The comfort station near Kewalo Basin was actually one of the best we'd seen. It had a gate to keep people from coming in overnight and thrashing it.  The stainless steel sink was clean and there was even a full soap dispenser ready for use. The walls are clean, and when we walked into the stalls, even though there's no doors, they're clean, and there was plenty of toilet paper. And they even have automatic sensors, so you don't even have to touch the handles to flush them.

But not all restrooms are created equal. Ulehawa Beach Park, Kahe Point and Waianae District Park are out of order -- slated for complete renovation and sewer work to bring them up to mandatory EPA standards. Cabato said the older facilities were operating on cess pool systems, and are now required to be hooked up to sewer systems.

Ulehawa's comfort station was vandalized and shut down two years ago. 

"Two chronics fighting one time," said Leeward resident Matthew Mauai-Silisaida are to blame for that. They "bust up the place fighting over drugs."

Residents complain of having just one graffitti port-a-potty with no T-P. They pointed out the women's side was still boarded up, but the men's side has been broken into, creating a drug haven.

Mauai-Silisaida said even the port-a-potty is, "Not safe for the kids." Drug users go in an use them. Even that one too," pointing to the men's side.

We wanted to see just how bad it was, so we walked in.  The smell was horrific. You could see where city workers had once boarded it up. And inside - trash everywhere, the walls were covered with graffiti. The 2 stalls, the toilets had been taken out and you could see from the mess of debris on the floor, what the community is concerned about...druggies and other people who can just come in and hang out in the most squalor you can imagine.

After informing Cabato, the mess has since been cleaned up and reboarded for safety. He says renovations for Kahe Point are slated for this week with work at Ulehawa and Waianae District Park set for next year.

And as for the crews...residents say they appreciate the hard work.

To scrub a bathroom sometime, it's ridiculous, and um, my hats off to them for doing that," said Zalopany. "Keeping it clean for us, that's what they do."

And workers, like Daniel Akana who takes care of the Makakilo District Park, say they do it with great pride.

"This is my home," said Akana with tears in his eyes. "I try to keep everything nice, for everybody to enjoy. God like us do what we can for the people. And I do the best I can."

"I just hope that type of spirit will permeate thru the users when they see something like this, they respect this.

And Cabato says he owes the thousands of volunteers and community groups who step up to help clean up the parks alongside their crews, a great deal of gratitude.

Without their help, Cabato said, they couldn't do it alone.

The most important thing YOU can do to help said Cabato, is to call police when you see a crime taking place in a park and if there are people inside the facility when the parks are closed overnight. If you don't call he said, no one will know.

If you'd like to help with the Adopt a Park program you can call 768-3007 or the Department of Parks & Recreation at 768-3003 or via email: parks@honolulu.gov.

Other information:
Department of Parks & Recreation
1000 Uluohia Street, Suite 309
Kapolei, Hawaii 96707 

http://www1.honolulu.gov/parks/  - Honolulu Department of Parks & Recreation

http://www1.honolulu.gov/parks/programs/hoapaka.pdf  - Donations to help parks

Adopt a Park (DPR) - 768-3007

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