Special Report: Down & Dirty in Paradise

Special Report: Down & Dirty in Paradise
Published: Nov. 20, 2012 at 8:43 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2012 at 10:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Honolulu, often times visitors get their first impression of the islands by visiting a very large and popular beach park. However, if you live here, you know there's so much more to it.

There are 288 parks just on Oahu alone. It takes a staff of about 400 people to clean, repair, and maintain those parks, sometimes it's just one person to handle 15 acres, according to City & County Parks & Recreation Director, Gary Cabato. A job that can seem insurmountable at times.

But that's no excuse for disrepair said Cabato.

We tagged along with him during one of his daily park inspections -- and discovered he's literally, a hands on guy.

When he saw a line of weeds growing at Pearl City District Park, he started to take matters into his own hands.

"If you just find the base, it'll all come out," he commented as he pulled the weeds out in big chunks.

After 20 years in the department, Cabato is now in the Director's chair.  He said his department has experienced a $30 million budget cut over the past decade and has fewer workers. But despite those cuts, Cabato said he's managed to save taxpayers thousands of dollars with some common sense and a desire to make things better. For instance, having crews perform certain maintenance jobs and repairs that would otherwise be contracted out and cost taxpayers more.

Cabato prides himself on knowing all the workers in the department by face and name. He said it's important for him to communicate closely with maintenance crews to make sure they see more than just the big items like graffiti and trash, but work to address the details, like fixing a twisted lock on a gate, or weed eating around a tree.

"The next time you see Reggie," he said to one worker. "That water bowl needs to be replaced. And he needs to adjust the spray on that water bowl."

Cabato also wants crews to know exactly how things should look. Everyone is trained with a visual book of standards that he created. He flipped thru the book of Polaroid pictures he's taken over the years of various park facilities to show the best to the worst, and everything in between.

"It goes from grass, to toilets to water fountains, to benches, to basketball courts, you name it," said Cabato.

And every day, even weekends, Cabato is out checking the parks.

"I pointed this out to the supervisor, 2 weeks ago," Cabato said when he saw flooded waters near a water faucet at Blaisdell Park in Pearl City. "And I'm rather disappointed why it ain't fixed yet. Might be beyond his scope. But the maximum effective range of an excuse is 0 meters."

And if something's not working, Cabato said he expects his supervisors and crews to tell his why?

The priority -- safety and cleanliness according to Cabato.

He and park crews battle aging facilities with rust and cracks on tennis courts,

graffiti and vandalism on walls and in park restrooms.

Thieves even steal copper from critical park light fixtures and toilets.

"One day, I had copper taken from 57 toilets, in one day!" he exclaimed.

And when that happens toilets are out of service, and if they hit the light fixtures, there's no night play for the kids and adults on the fields and courts.

And fixing those structures isn't cheap. Cabato added that even though renovation projects are underway, like the roughly $1 million project in Waikiki and Ala Moana, they never go as fast as he'd like. For example, the pool at the Pearl City District Park which has been closed for nearly a year...until the contractor is done renovating the washrooms.

And Cabato takes his commitment to the taxpayers, very seriously.

"When I go thru every facility, I turn on every faucet and flush every toilet. Two things - to see if there's any leaks and to see if it's working," he said.

Keeping the bathrooms clean is the toughest job of all. Cabato said vandals, careless users and even some homeless are to blame for mess. So, with money tight, Cabato improvises where he can -- instead of replacing expense toilet paper holders, they designed a crude contraption for some facilities that seems to work.

Inside a stall, Cabato pointed to the wall, "All these holes indicate where we did a toilet paper dispenser. And they tore it off the wall."

He then showed us a empty cutout plastic jug with small sheets of toilet paper inside that was hanging on the wall. "This is what our cleaning stuff comes out of, so we keep the bottles and we slit this lid in here and that's where we put the toilet paper and it never runs away," he smiled.

And it's a constant battle with some homeless he said.

At Blaisdell Park, he showed me a loose faucet that spun around on the sink.

"They're using this for showers," he said. "Because the jam knot is loose, they can disconnect from the bottom (of the sink) and hook up the hose to it. And turn the valve back on and then they have a shower facility. That's why this is loose."

City crews say it was just a week ago that they came in the women's bathroom at Blaisdell Park and washed the graffiti off the walls. But some paint was still stuck in the grooves of the tiles and that means workers will come back with wire brushes and scrub it all out. Maybe it'll take another week, said crews, until someone comes back to ruin it again.

"It's frustrating," said Cabato, but the crews don't give up.

"As soon as we see graffiti, we cover it up," said Cabato. "It wears down the vandals," who are looking to enjoy their work. And because filth, encourages more filth, Cabato said they move quickly to get rid of it. They try to use matching paint when they can, but it's not always possible.

Mildred Rodrigues of Nanakuli like what she sees at Nanakuli Beach Park.

"It's fairly clean. They do a really good job with getting rid of the vandalism, yeah, they're very on it and they keep it clean."

But Rodrigues complained of still broken toilets at Keaau Beach Park and several out of order facilities on the Leeward side.

Tonight, at ten...

The good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to park restrooms. I'll show you some of the renovations underway and how communities are joining in the fight to take back their parks.

Other Links:

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

Adopt a Park (DPR) - 768-3007

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