By ROBBIE DINGEMAN WITH CARLYN TANI | PHOTOS BY ODEELO DAYONDON, LEAH FRIEL | Videos by Aaron K. Yoshino
Published: 2019.03.19 05:27 PM
Residents trickled steadily into chef Roy Yamaguchiâs new Goen Dining + Bar when the casual Kailua restaurant opened just before Thanksgiving. Some booked meals right away; others took their time, peering past the fresh vegetable planters while running to Longs Drugs and other nearby stores.
Goen was one of the first businesses to emerge from behind the construction barriers surrounding the old Liberty House that once dominated the commercial center of Kailua. What for decades was a single department store has been carved into a complex with a mix of new retailers and restaurants. Landowner Alexander & Baldwin Inc. won praise for working with Architect AHL (formerly Architects Hawaiâi) to preserve the vintage structure, renovating it to highlight the original decorative brick, some original rock and wood panels, as well as the 1960 elevator. The new name is Lau Hala Shops, with initials to match Liberty Houseâthe wrought-iron panels with the LH insignia that faced Kailua Road were saved and mounted in the lobby.
The juxtaposition of new and old is a recurring theme in this Windward Oâahu town. Long defined by a crescent bay on one side and the chiseled green Koâolau Range on the other, balmy breezes and friendly residents, Kailua has witnessed two decades of seismic change. Demolition of old buildings to make way for new development was largely driven by the townâs big landowners, first KÄneâohe Ranch and the Castle Foundation, and for the past five years, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. The kamaâÄina company now controls an estimated 75 percent of the commercial property in Kailua, most of it to the right of Kailua Road as you drive from urban Honolulu toward the sea.
âThere really are two Kailuas: On the right you have the rich side, on the left you have for the locals.âÂ â Donna Wong
A corresponding spike in tourism from visitors whoÂ want to stay where the locals live further cranked up the pace of change. Homes that sold forÂ less than $500,000 in the year 2000 are now assessed at more than $1 million.
Frustration emerges on bumper stickers: âKeep it Kailua,â âKailuafornia,â âDefend Kailua with Aloha,â âI Love Kailua âŠ the way it used to beâ and âI Love Kailua Before You Came.â
Donna Wong has served on the Kailua Neighborhood Board since 1980 and worries that residents are being pushed to the side by businesses that cater to tourists. âThere really are two Kailuas: On the right you have the rich side, on the left you have for the locals,â she says.
Lilly Watanabe grew up in one of the Windward Sideâs legacy farming families. Her father, Sekiji Uchibori, and her brother, Mitsuo Uchibori, supplied a lifeline of fresh food to the community, even during World War II when many businesses shut down, and Japanese-Americans faced additional hardships and scrutiny. The family had farms in Maunawili, MĆkapuâwhere Marine Corps Base Hawaiâi is nowâand on what is now Kapaâa Quarry Road.
They grew papaya, watermelon, cucumbers, eggplant and head cabbage. âThey had a piggery,â she recalls, at a time when area farms were plentiful. Watanabe worked in banking, married, and her family bought an affordable home in Kailua Heights. Mitsuo, meanwhile, was one of the founding members of the Koâolau Farmers cooperative that evolved into the private garden center of today.
Some Kailua residents struggle with the changes. Best known as a Native Hawaiian entrepreneur dedicated to local arts and values, founder of NÄ Mea Hawaiâi bookstore Maile Meyer proudly hails from Kailua. âIt was a âcountryâ neighborhood through the â90s, and had lots of Hawaiians and kamaâÄina haole that lived, fished, surfed and made it easy for neighbors to know each other.â
But she and many of her Aluli/Meyer/Souza âohana moved across the Pali over the past decade, alarmed by what they saw as âgreed, ignorance, self-interestâ that accompanied the big influx of tourists staying in monster houses and illegal vacation rentals.
Meyer felt a change in attitudeâa lack of consideration for othersâamong some newer residents. She worries about âa belief system that says if you own a house in Kailua you can do what you want, disregarding what it takes to build the fabric of a community: time and relationships.â
Gentrification coincided with being discovered as an off-the-beaten-track tourist destination, with local beaches named âbest beachâ in America by Stephen âDr. Beachâ Leatherman in 1996 and 1998. Social media depicted walks on sandy beaches alongside a turquoise ocean and kayak trips to the Mokulua islets. Visitors followed. Rental cars filled the beach parking lots and tourists showed up to eat shave ice where President Barack Obama did with his family on two terms of annual vacations.
As the townâs popularity grew, housing prices shot up. Watanabe quietly expresses her concern about the next generation, as she watches them move away or into converted garages and second story add-ons to their parentsâ homes, priced out of affordable starter homes by rising property values. âYou canât stop progress, whatever it is,â she says.
Since the 1500s, the land between Kailua Beach and WaimÄnalo Beach was known as KaâĆhao, meaning âtying together.â However, when Charles R. Frazier and the Trent Trust Co. bought and developed the area, it was renamed Lanikai to mean âheavenly sea.â
Her niece, Rochelle Uchibori, nods in concern over tea at a neighborhood restaurant. Uchibori recognizes that tourism has benefits and drawbacks. âItâs been a godsend in the past, economically, for the community,â she says. âWeâve been able to overcome some pretty tough times: the Gulf War, the recession.â When Uchiboriâs dadâwho died at 96 in 2016âwas in his 80s and 90s, he still got around Kailua on a mobility scooter, taking time to chat with many people he knew from farming and as a longtime newspaper distributor for The Honolulu Advertiser. âI didnât like taking him grocery shopping because it took so long,â she recalls with a smile. With fewer familiar faces, she sees that friendly feeling fading in crowded Kailua, making her âmore cautiousâ and less engaging.
State Sen. Laura Thielen, a Democrat and attorney, says Kailua is feeling the effects of a fundamental shift in tourism, where the 21st century resort is any neighborhood deemed desirable by visitors, a trend already felt in Hanalei on Kauaâi and Haleâiwa on the North Shore.
âItâs not just a Kailua problem. People need to learn from whatâs happened in Kailua,â Sen. Thielen says. âWeâve got to figure out how to get a handle on it and manage communities for local residents.â
Sen. Thielen says itâs clear that the solution for the stateâs economy isnât chasing more visitors and turning communities into mini-resorts at all costs.
âWe earn about $2 billion less from the 10 million tourists we have today than we earned back in 1989 from the 6.6 million tourists,â Sen. Thielen says.
Japanese visitors arrive on buses that pick them up after an overnight flight and drop them in Kailua to explore on foot or bicycle. In Japan, drivers stick to the left side of the road; tourists tend to wander into driveways or veer off course while checking their maps.
Sen. Thielen says businesses that serve local people are being replacedÂ by boutiques and restaurants thatÂ cater to tourists.
Back in 2010, Deb Mascia was one of the small-business success stories of Kailua, with her shop popular with residents and visitors. A volunteer stint at a thrift shop started her reimagining vintage discards into contemporary styles. She opened Muâumuâu Heaven boutique in the Davis Building on A&B property near the entrance to Kailua. Business boomed and her celebrity customers included the Obamas, actress Cameron Diaz and rocker Eddie Vedder. By 2015, Mascia had 33 employees, a 6,000-square-foot shop and a $6,000-a-month lease rent.
Then, she says A&B tripled the rent to $18,000, so she shut the shop and watched the space sit empty for two years. She did a pop-up, sold online, tried other businesses and focused on her family. In June, she returned to Kailua, opening a small shop on the other side of Kailua Road: âItâs nice to have diversity, but itâs not nice to be pushed out.â
Established in 1932, Kalapawai Market sits at the entrance to Kailua Beach Park, a landmark stop to grab something to eat and drink on the way to or from the beach, run for decades by Elsie and Richard Wong. When they retired in 1991, Don Dymond took it over, painting it the forest green for which itâs now known.
Dymond died in 2014. When KÄneâohe Ranch was launching its plans for a Kailua makeover, officials offered the family a prime spot for a new venture. âThey wanted a small Kailua business to be the first thing that people saw when people drove into town,â says son Lindsey Dymond. âThey had just redone the little strip center that has the barber shop, Fat Boyâs and Formaggio to match Kalapawai Market,â Dymond says. The Dymonds expanded the business twice, opening Kalapawai CafĂ© on that property in 2006, and two years ago, another in Kapolei, all painted in that now-familiar green.
âI have a fabulous relationship with A&B,â Dymond says. He appreciates the business from tourists, but theyâre not his primary focus: âAt the end of the day, you need to be there for the people in your neighborhood.â
While the community complains loudest about national chain stores that include Target and Whole Foods Market, which take up a very large and visible footprint, A&B says 90 percent of its commercial tenants are local: longtime businesses Island Snow, Book Ends independent bookstore and Kalapawai Market and CafĂ©, along with newcomers Lauren Roth Art Studio, the planned Mother Bake Shop and DâVine Wine Bar.
Renovations earned praise in the community, and calls for a much-needed facelift for some of the shabbier structures in town. Meanwhile, the housing crunch is squeezing out some longtime residents.
In 2013, a cluster of worn walk-up apartments were bulldozed to make way for D.R. Hortonâs Ka Malanai condos. With sale prices of $600,000 to $800,000, the new units are priced out of reach for working-class residents.
Consider Non DeMello, the baker who ran beloved Agnesâ Portuguese Bake Shop for decades. Several years ago he moved out of Kailua, then closed the 48-year-old bakery in January 2018. Kailua had become âtoo expensive.â The bakery, replaced by the North Shore-based Beet Box CafĂ©, was on the side of Kailua primarily controlled by smaller landowners. Some longtime residents still reminisce about the fried chicken and carhops at Andyâs Drive-In, now an auto parts supply store, or the pastries from Craigâs Bakery, now the Elks Lodge. Like DeMello, those businesses cited economic factors for their demise, or family members unwilling or unable to take over.
When Puna and Cricket Nam opened Cinnamonâs Restaurant 34 years ago, most of the people who worked there lived within walking distance. Now, most drive, some from as far away as Kapolei and Waiâanae. The Nams have lived in Kailua for 48 years. With chef-partner Carsie Green, they built their reputation on fast, friendly service; from-scratch hollandaise for eggs Benedict; and fluffy pancakes.
Puna says: âWe always emphasize to our staff you have to make the guests want to come back.â Cricket adds: âThe money will follow; donât be about the money.â
A graduate of Kamehameha Schools and former president of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce, Puna Nam manages an affable calm even on a chaotic day, philosophical that some changes to Kailua were inevitable with visitor numbers climbing. The only thing wife Cricket is likely to sugarcoat is something sheâs baking.
When A&B mailed out a resident survey to nearly 16,000 residents months ago, Cricket Nam was blunt: âThe bottom line of what I wrote to A&B is, all you care about, all KÄneâohe Ranch has ever cared about, was the money. You donât care about the people of Kailua. And that to me is the root of all the evil.â
Officials at Alexander & Baldwin recognize that theyâre battling a bad reputation. Spokesman Darren Pai points to the resident survey as one of the ways the stateâs fourth-largest private landowner is trying to respond to community concerns.
The survey showed concern about traffic, tourism and overcrowding as well as trust issues with A&B. âWeâve taken all that to heart and we are going to be doing a lot more to keep people informed about whatâs going on,â Pai says.
He says the company is thinking long-term and local, after divesting itself of Mainland interests and focusing its commercial assets on centers anchored by neighborhood grocery stores: MÄnoa Marketplace, Waiâanae Mall, Kunia Shopping Center, Pearl Highlands Center. The $373 million Kailua purchase in 2013 was part of that portfolio shift.
Another change came in the way the company managed its properties. In 2016, A&B stopped hiring an outside consultant to handle lease management and in 2017 put Sheila-Anne Ebert in charge of the Kailua properties.
Ebert grew up in Kailua and moved away for college and a stint in the Foreign Service before returning home. She works from an office in Kailua. âWe live and breathe this,â she says. Pali Lanes has been there her whole life. An earlier plan to level the aging bowling alley prompted big community blowback. Now, Pai says the company is looking at alternative plans, which could include bowling, and the community will be consulted before a final decision.
Pai says A&B recently committed $100,000 to help improve pedestrian safety on Kailua Road. Still, the landowner gets blamed for issues it inherited: âPeople think that we brought in Target or we did Whole Foods,â Ebert says, and created the tour bus stop near Lau Hala Shops. That all happened under the ranch, which defended the bus stop as better than having tourists dropped at the district park or in residential areas.
Because A&B converted to a real estate investment trust in 2018, it must convey at least 90 percent of its taxable income to shareholders without having to pay state taxes on that income. But the company is mindful of the communities it serves. âWeâve been around for 150 years because we think long term,â Pai says. âOur intention is not killing the goose that laid the golden egg.â
Steve Parker, 39, first openedÂ KailuaÂ General Store in 2013, the year A&B bought property that included hisÂ HÄmÄkuaÂ Drive store.
Parkerâs business benefits from visitors but he relies on residents. Local people stop by regularly for shave ice, 9674 T-shirts and an eclectic retail mix that includes wooden rubber-band guns, slippers, fishing supplies, CBD oil and locally made products.
Born and raised in Kailua, Parker says he primarily shops local and avoids Mainland chain stores. âThings change,â he says. â[If] you donât want it to change, donât support the new replacement.
âThese people that are complaining about these places, theyâre in Starbucks, theyâre in all these places that A&B is building,â Parker says, shaking his head as he fixes shave ice for some kids. âI donât go to Whole Foods, I shop at Times. Times has what I want.â
Last year, Parker moved the store to Kuâulei Road, the older section of town not owned by A&B, close to the library, schools, police and fire station as well as a mix of small businesses where residents run errands.
But Parker also thinks change can be good. âI just think everyone needs to put in their input,â he says. âI still get my enjoyment in Kailua. When it rains, go to the beach.â
Born and raised in Kailua, state Rep. Chris Lee, 38, a Democrat, has represented the area for a decade and witnessed the influx of stores catering to higher-spending tourists and increasing frustration from local residents. âItâs harder now to go down to the corner store and pick up a gallon of milk for a decent price than it was earlier on,â Lee says.
Residents find tourists at every turn, not just near the beach. Beyond the irritation of finding your driveway blocked, or the parking lot full when youâre trying to go to work, the store or swim, Lee says, residents watched helplessly as Airbnbs and vacation rentals changed the housing market, driving up rental prices, compounded by the influence of military families with housing allowances that allow them to outspend a lot of local residents.
State Rep. Cynthia Thielen has represented parts of Kailua in the House since 1990. A Republican who first moved to the Windward Side in 1967, sheâs known for speaking her mind and helping to fight for a slow-to-no-growth policy designation in government plans when others supported âa second WaikÄ«kÄ«.â
Rep. Thielen blames former landowner KÄneâohe Ranch for starting what she describes as âDisneyfication,â inventing a stylized vision of Kailua as a beach town centered on surf, sand and snacks and a laid-back lifestyle. âItâs not what Kailua used to be,â she adds. She agrees that out-of-state owners buying real estate in Kailua and renting out entire homes illegally have hurt the town, âcreating pukas in the neighborhood,â pulling houses out of reach for local residents and leaving them alternatively empty or overflowing with visitors.
Rep. Thielen points to a house at 424 N. KalÄheo Ave. as a flagrant example of the problem. A letter from the city Department of Planning and Permitting to neighbors says:
A January 2015 investigationÂ determined the property wasÂ violating the law by being used asÂ a bed-and-breakfast operation;
The city started citing theÂ owner in 2011;
Some violations were corrected but the civil fines accrued and totaled more than $1.5 million as of August 2018.
Rep. Thielen, an attorney and Sen. Laura Thielenâs mother, says the city must enforce the ordinance and collect fines to discourage the practice. She noted that tourists renting there told neighbors they were paying $1,500 a day, triple the $500 daily fine the city can impose.
âIf we could crack down and stop the whole-house rentals it could begin to turn the community back into a local residential community,â Rep. Thielen says. TheÂ Honolulu City Council is considering seven bills relating to vacation rentals.
City officials estimate KailuaÂ contains 29 legal bed-and-breakfastÂ operations and 29 legal temporary vacation rentals. But do an internet search for Kailua vacation rentals and 4,000 options pop up. (Islandwide, officials estimate that 10,000 illegal rentals are in operation.)
Kalapawaiâs Dymond is frustrated by other side effects of growth: problems associated with people who appear to be living on the streets or in the bushes. âA lot of them are violent or can be if you catch them at the wrong time of day or in the wrong mood,â he says. âYou can pretty much stop at any red light in Kailua and someone can step out in front of your car at any busy intersection.â Catherine Sato, president of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce, worries about theft, public drug use and individuals who confront people, and walk or ride bicycles into traffic, creating a danger for themselves and others. She knows the problem isnât unique to Kailua but is increasingly visible. âWhen youâre doing a crime and weâre seeing you doing drugs on the street and walking around with no clothes, that is not OK.â
Honolulu Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy, a longtime Kailua resident himself, says the overall Kailua crime rate has declined over the past 20 years. In the 1990s, police investigated hundreds of property crimes each month. âWeâd get 500 car break-ins and burglaries in a month,â he says. âIt was crazy.â
Over the past 10 years, McCarthy said, the number of burglaries, car break-ins and auto thefts in Kailua dropped to fewer than 300 cases in each category over a yearâs time. While thatâs good news, police grapple with other issues: a larger, more visible homeless population; cyber crime; and thieves that target vacation rentals.
This spring, the couple that runs the popular Over Easy breakfast spot plans to expand to a second Kailua restaurant that will serve modern American barbecue.
It will be open at night, in a bigger place with counter service and a full bar, according to Over Easy owners Nik and Jennifer Lobendahn. They are both excited about the new placeâwhich theyâre calling Easy âQue. After five months of negotiations, they signed a 15-year lease with A&B locking in their rent at the site of the former Cactus restaurant. âWeâre committed,â Nik says.
Nik and Jennifer first met working at Alan Wongâs restaurant, then moved to the Bay Area where Nik worked at Michelin-starred Ame and other restaurants. Nik, 40, grew up in Kailua. âI think itâs crazy how much itâs changed,â he says.
Rather than just complain, he sees this as an opportunity for local businesses to step up and for A&B to demonstrate a commitment to local businesses in Kailua rather than increasing lease rates. âWe really felt like this could start to turn the tide,â Nik says.
Kailua has seen a lot of open and closed signs in the past 18 months.
On the A&B side, Cactus abruptly closed in June, a few months after Bella Bistro, a small Italian restaurant on HÄmÄkua Drive, closed; and two restaurants with decades of experience across from Pali LanesâBuona Sera Italian restaurant, known for its wall of Chianti bottles, and Kailuaâs Ba-Le Sandwich Shopâclosed as lease rents climbed. A&Bâs Darren Pai says locally run Mother Bakery is expected to open where Buona Sera was. And artist Lauren Roth made the move to a retail shop/art studio a few doors down.
Cocoâs Trading Post opened a boutique in Kailua Shopping Center, where longtime boutique Mary Zâs once thrived. Himalayan Kitchen replaced India CafĂ©.
Across town, Agnesâ Portuguese Bake Shop closed after 48 years of making malassadas and baked goods. North Shore eatery Beet Box CafĂ© moved in. Änuenue Exquisite Tea was open less than two years and was replaced by Egghead CafĂ© Espresso Bar across from Cinnamonâs Restaurant. MamaâNita Scones opened in 2016 and closed in December. Other closings in the past year include: a fudge shop, a branch of The Curb coffee shop, a shave ice place on Kuâulei Road and another on Hekili Street.
âItâs so hardâyou want your own little paradise to stay the way youâve always had it,â Nik says. While some change is inevitable, Nik sees an opportunity for local businesses to show theyâre as good or better than any chain. âItâs on us local people to make sure that we do those things and provide for the community,â he adds.
Kailua businesses and residents recognize a need to better manage the upswing in popularity without sacrificing the character of the community.
Sato says the chamberâs 180 members, including attorneys, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organization leaders, appreciate the townâs slow-growth designation. Sheâs pleased to see a new dog park coming together off HÄmÄkua Drive. The space is a public-private partnership, with A&B donating 6.8 acres adjacent to conservation land. The state allocated $3.8 million to develop the state park, which will be transferred to the city to manage.
Chef Yamaguchiâwho runs 11 restaurants in Hawaiâi and is affiliated with another 15 nationwideâsays heâd been looking to open a restaurant in Kailua for years.Â He named his restaurant after the round five-yen coin, whose graphic elements represent agriculture, water and industry, to honor Kailuaâs agricultural history rather than the Japanese tourists who arrive by the busload at a stop nearby. âWe want to be good stewards,â Yamaguchi says. âIâm not here to take anybodyâs business. Weâre here to stay.â
The latest Maui Brewing Co. restaurant is next door at Lau Hala Shops. A large Ulta Beauty Supply replaced a Pier 1 Imports store that closed months before. Some residents remain skeptical that new businesses will be good for residents, fearing more boutiques selling beach totes to tourists. Ultaâs general manager, Shea Ledbetter, understands. The Kamehameha Schools graduate was born and raised in Kailua and helped open the new store with a blessing, untying a maile lei with a shout of âChee hoo!â
Inspired by witnessing a coupleâs tender farewell, Liliâuokalani wrote âAloha âOeâ in Maunawili in 1878.
Ledbetter went to the Mainland for college and stayed to work. She says two of the new chain stores in the middle of Kailua townâTarget and now Ultaâallowed her to move back home. âThereâs a mutual benefit that Iâm a local girl,â she says. When residents question how a store that carries 5,000 beauty products fits into a town with a population of 53,000, Ledbetter says the products are similar to the higher-end beauty items sold at Liberty House/Macyâs for more than 70 years. Ledbetter believes Ulta and other newcomers can work well alongside legacy businesses in Kailua.
âFor me, the quality and the charm of Kailua comes from the people,â she says. Ledbetter still takes her family to get their favorite shave ice after the beach and eat breakfast at Cinnamonâs. âItâs changing and itâs growing and thereâs life in it.â
Anthropologist Paul Brennan moved from Papua New Guinea to Maunawili in 1981 with his family to work at the East-West Center. He also worked at the Bishop Museum and got involved with the Kailua Historical Society, where he serves as president. As someone who studies cultural change for a living, Brennan, 80, figured he might leave for the Mainland once his four sons got older and struck out on their own. Instead, he became more rooted in the community. âThis is our home and weâre going to stay here,â Brennan says. âThere is this pull to me.â
Rep. Lee sees more people getting more involved because of recent changes. âWe donât resign ourselves but still try to protect what makes Kailua a special place where we choose to live. Thatâs why itâs important for people to get involved and stay involved about what kind of community they want this to be.â
A recent addition of a bike lane that runs along the curb drew some confusion and took away parking but made biking safer, Lee says. âIn eighth grade I was hit by a car while driving a bike in a crosswalk. Sadly, there are dozens of accidentsÂ just like that in the community each year.â
Lee is working on a project that envisions a park/gathering place built over the metered parking lot by Cinnamonâs Restaurant. Nam and other businesses so far like what they hear.
Thereâs more controversy over a Wendyâs fast-food restaurant planned where a gas station stood on a half-acre lot next to Koâolau Farmers garden center. Some like having another takeout option while others worry about the impact of noise and traffic on the PĆhÄkupu neighborhood a few blocks from Kailua High School.
Despite the frustrations, many people in Kailua are talking solutions. Meyer believes positive change is possible, citing work being done to produce food locally in Maunawili, environmental work supporting Kawainui and Kaâelepulu, and the cultural stewardship of UlupĆ Heiau.
âFor me,Â the quality and the charmÂ of Kailua comes fromÂ the people.âÂ â Shea Ledbetter
Rep. Cynthia Thielen suggests one way to give residents back some breathing room would be to stop the tour buses from coming on Sundays, in the same manner that Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays to give the resource time to recover. âGive us our Sundays back,â she suggests.
Ebert says sheâs not sure how such a proposal would work since A&B provides the bus stop but doesnât regulate the traffic. âI think weâre open-minded,â Ebert says. âI think itâs an opportunity to work to try to identify some solutions to managing tourism.â
Adds Pai:Â âItâs something thatâs going to take collaboration between community, businesses, government to solve.â
Longtime community advocate Donna Wong notes that Ebert regularly attends neighborhood board meetings. âThey have to start listening to the community. Theyâre either going to ruin it for any local resident,â Wong says, âor they can work with the community thatâs here and keep the special things that make Kailua a charming town rather than just another glitzy visitor destination.â
Sen. Thielen grew up in Kailua, raised two children and still spends time there with her extended family. Eight years ago, she moved to WaimÄnalo to run a small lemon farm. Still, sheâs heartened that many are so passionate about working to helpÂ Kailua thrive. âItâs such a wonderful community because itâs literally embraced by the mountains; they just wrap their arms around the community.â
Conversations about concerns and changes are not just occurring in kailua coffee shops and homes. social media has turned into a vibrant, virtual town square.Â On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Nextdoor, Kailuans are enthusiastically sharing photos, opinions and alerts with neighbors.
Just ask Evan Weber, co-founder of the Facebook community page Our Kailua, which rallied community opposition to Alexander & Baldwinâs planned demolition of historic Pali Lanes bowling alley. âSocial media was critical in helping the community get involved,â says the Kailua-born Weber, 26. âWhen we posted theÂ petition to save Pali Lanes, we got more than a thousand signatures in just a few days.â (It eventually numbered 10,000 signatures.) Our Kailua successfully lobbied to extend Pali Lanesâ lease to 2020, and helped secure the 1961 landmarkâs listing on the state Register of Historic Places. The group is now seeking a long-term solution. âWe want to ensure that everything we love about Kailua gets preserved for future generations,â Weber says.
Facebook pages My Kailua, I Love Kailua! and Kailua Calabash offer a wide-angle view of life in the neighborhood. Lost your dog? Want to share a photo of Lanikai, or warn about suspicious activity nearby? Youâll be in good company on My Kailua, founded by Danny Casler, a 1999 KalÄheo High School graduate and entrepreneur. My Kailua, which claims 56,700 followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, promotes a pro-preservation stance. Yet, some argue that its images of idyllic, uncrowded beaches and crystalline waves only feed tourism. Casler rebuffs the notion, pointing out that the majority of his followers live in Hawaiâi.
I Love Kailua! was launched by Daniela Stolfi-Tow and takes a sunny, business-friendly approach. Kailua Calabash, created by former local TV reporter Mary Zanakis, features short-form videos that celebrate Kailuaâs everyday heroes, merchants and history; a widely shared video retraces the history of Pali Highway, which paved the way for residential and commercial development on the Windward Side.
With Facebookâs recent privacy missteps, some are migrating to other social networks such as Nextdoor, which connects people by residential proximity. âI like Nextdoor because itâs really targeted to my neighborhood, so I can solicit responses from my neighbors,â says Lanikai resident Natalie Younoszai. When she was looking for a baby sitter for her three young children, she advertised on Nextdoor and ended up hiring someone who lived just five doors down from her. Until then, they had never met. Younoszai also finds the platform helpful in keeping her apprised of neighborhood developments. Like many parents who juggle work, school and after-school activities, she finds it hard to get to monthly neighborhood board meetings.
Casler echoes the challenges while ruefully noting that âa neighborhood board is only as good as the people who show up.â He champions tracking issues and developments on his mobile phone. When asked if social media is becoming the new neighborhood board, Casler chuckles. âBut,â he adds, âall the state senators and representatives follow our pageâtheyâd be crazy not to.â
âAhahui MÄlama I Ka LĆkahi, a nonprofit group committed to conservation of native ecosystems, leads workdays at area heiau and is clearing brush and planting native plants at the NÄ PĆhaku O Hauwahine state park.
Windward YMCA, which works to support neighboring UlupĆ Heiau (Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club is the primary steward), invites volunteers to help with upkeep of the heiau and adjoining loâi, as well as assists Kailua houseless care programs and other community activities.
Kailua Chamber of Commerce works with businesses and also puts together the Fourth of July Parade.
Kailua Historical Society offers programs and memberships as well as a link to other activities in the community.
New developments, projects and legislation are usually run past neighborhood boards for feedback. Find your community board (Kailua, Maunawili, etc.) at honolulu.gov/nco.html. You can attend monthly meetings, ask for agenda to be emailed to you and even volunteer to run for office.
Learn who your elected officials are and ask their staff to keep you informed of community activities/meetings/volunteer opportunities.