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Councilmember Fukunaga Owns Up to City Culpability in Chinatown

Noe Tanigawa

There has been a lot of action recently in Honolulu’s Downtown-Chinatown neighborhood. Honolulu Police Department street patrols are on duty, and parking lot improvements are underway. Last week, community outcry prompted the fire department to reconsider moving plans. Now the neighborhood is banding together for a clean-up this Saturday.

"We are a contributor to the biggest issues in and around Chinatown."

As Councilmember for Downtown/Chinatown since 2012, Carol Fukunaga knows what City administrations run into in Chinatown. She points to City-owned Pauahi Recreation Center, parks in the area, storefronts on River Street, and the City's parking lots at Harbor Village and Marin Tower.

"Many of the problem areas are in locations that the City is the main property owner in."

Fukunaga says Honolulu can jump-start a team effort to Weed out negative elements and Seed in constructive enterprises.

Take a listen below to Fukunaga's longer interview with HPR's Noe Tanigawa from The Aloha Friday Conversation on Aug. 27, 2021.

Honolulu City Councilmember Carol Fukunaga - Aug. 27, 2021
The Aloha Friday Conversation

"Part of what we did this year was we funded roughly $250,000 to assist the prosecutor's office restarting the 'seed' portion of the activities."

Fukunaga says crucial coordination is underway among prosecutors, courts, HPD and the Mayor's office to reduce crime and street disruptions. HPD's augmented street patrols are running, as volunteer staffing allows.

Two parking garages are being revamped now, including the lot at Chinatown Gateway Plaza, where the Satellite City Hall and Downtown Art Center are located.

"It would be mind boggling for people to see just how much of a difference that coalition of arts organizations and cultural groups has made in the area. I really see the Downtown Art Center as playing a significant role in encouraging people to come back to Chinatown."

A new hula exhibition is attracting visitors to the Downtown Art Center and First Friday was highly entertaining in the Arts District on Nu'uanu. Still, dodging drug deals and run-ins with the mentally ill, are common.

Noe Tanigawa
Gals on Hotel Street on a recent evening

"The good news is that there are roughly three structures that are coming up in 'Iwilei that the City administration and Council have funded over the last 5 years."

Fukunaga is referring to a complex of services around Punawai Rest Stop in 'Iwilei. Currently, homeless people can access showers, do laundry, have a locker, and more.

A much anticipated medical triage facility is planned, with rental studios above. Nearby, there is a large dining facility. Moving River of Life Mission's food operation from Chinatown to 'Iwilei has been under negotiation since the Caldwell Administration.

Conditions on the street continue to be difficult.

"People in the community are willing to pitch in and help when they see they are following on the heels of a coherent law enforcement effort. And it's safe for them to participate."

"Then everyone wants to jump in after a while. That's where you get the excitement and the energy."

This Saturday, the community is invited to pitch in on a Chinatown Cleanup. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is meeting at their headquarters on King at 8:30, and arts supporters are invited to the Downtown Art Center Saturday morning at 9.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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