Push For Alternatives Resurfaces In Ala Moana Playground Controversy

Nov 10, 2019

A Honolulu City Councilmember hopes Mayor Kirk Caldwell will seriously consider alternative locations for a controversial children’s playground, with Kaka’ako Waterfront Park that was recently transferred to the city being one option.

The council adopted a resolution last week urging the administration to look for other sites for the proposed playground at Ala Moana Regional Park.

The measure was in response to an outcry from community groups and residents who say they don’t oppose the playground but want to keep the park’s open spaces. Critics have also suggested the playground would serve the wealthy owners of units in Kaka’ako high-rises that have sprung up in recent years.

In a statement last week, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the idea of rich people taking over public land is "ludicrous."

"I’m open to compromise on other ideas as to where the playground can be located, but it has to make sense to the people funding it," the mayor stated.

He said the private group funding the playground, Pa’ani Kakou, should be thanked, not vilified.

Pa’ani Kakou is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has been leading the development of the privately funded playground. The nonprofit is headed by Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, among the owners of the Kobayashi Group, the real estate organization that co-developed the Park Lane luxury condominium project across from Ala Moana park.

“This isn’t a neighborhood park, this is a destination park for the whole island,” she told Civil Beat last year. A recent Civil Beat commentary by journalist Ian Lind detailed connections between Pa'ani Kakou, the Park Lane developers and campaign contributions to city politicians, including Caldwell.

Council member Ann Kobayashi, who introduced the resolution, told HPR she is disappointed by the mayor’s recent remarks.

“You know, let’s have an intelligent conversation about this. People have the right to voice their opinion. And people feel very strongly about protecting green open space that they’ve been using for generations," Kobayashi said.

"More and more people are living in apartments now, and they’re dependent on Ala Moana Park for their birthday parties and family gatherings. It’s very important to the local people.” 

Kobayashi said she hopes Caldwell will pay attention to what opponents are saying.

She repeated the idea she has raised before of relocating the playground to Kaka’ako Waterfront Park near the Children's Discovery Center.

The city recently signed an agreement with the state taking over the Kaka’ako park, which has been at the center of jurisdictional conflicts among government agencies.

City officials hope the 41-acre transfer will allow them to better maintain the park and address homeless encampments in the area.