A Hawaiian Paradise Park road construction project has stirred protests from residents concerned that it will disturb a Native Hawaiian cultural site.
Last Tuesday, construction workers arrived at a stretch of 17th Avenue — also called Lokelani Avenue — between Makuu and Paradise drives. Their intention was to build a 300-foot stretch of road that would connect both sides of the thoroughfare, which currently does not extend all the way between Makuu and Paradise.
The next day, about 10 residents gathered along Makuu Drive to stage a protest in opposition to the project.
“Nobody wants this,” said resident Crystal Schiszler. “I’ve talked with all the property owners around the road, and none of them want it.”
Schiszler, whose father owns a lot immediately next to the proposed construction site, said the roadwork was aborted prematurely when an excavator broke down.
A survey of the area found “potentially significant” archaeological remains within the area in 1985, when HPP was considering building a park at the site.
Those remains included “stacked stone walls, walled enclosures, low terraces and platforms, modified bedrock outcrops, stone mounds and piles and cleared areas,” that were most likely used for traditional Hawaiian agriculture, according to a letter by the consulting archaeologist at the time.
However, a 2020 archaeological field inspection conducted in advance of the current road project identified no archaeological features within the site.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works said the project adheres to all state and county codes, and has been under the guidance of the State Historical Preservation Division. The project only clears about 12,000 square feet of land, and does not require any DPW permits.
But even if the project passed legal muster, HPP residents have not had the chance to weigh in, Schiszler said.
The HPP Owners Association conducted no general membership meetings between June 2019 and last fall, and the association’s board of directors meetings, which are supposed to be open to the public, are being held behind closed doors and security guards. A Tribune-Herald reporter last week was turned away from a board of directors meeting by a security guard.
“They’re using our road fees to build new roads instead of fixing the roads we already have,” said resident and former board member Leslie Blyth.
Schiszler estimated the 17th Avenue project will cost HPP residents about $75,000, but doesn’t appear to serve much practical benefit. Improving 17th Avenue to allow through traffic will shave mere minutes off the travel time of a handful of nearby residents who, Schiszler reiterated, don’t particularly want the road to be built.
According to several 2020 reports by HPPOA general manager Don Morris, two owners of undeveloped lots on 17th Avenue raised complaints when they learned they could not access their properties. The reports claim the road once did fully extend between Makuu and Paradise, but became overgrown at some point.
The reports also reiterate that, based on the archaeological field inspection, no historic properties fall within the project area, nor will the project damage any historic properties.
Schiszler and other residents at Wednesday’s protests said the road project is typical of the board’s dysfunctional behavior during the past several years.
Former board member Mayelin Stillwell said all but three board members resigned en masse in 2019, leaving only herself, Blyth and current board president Larry Kawaauhau. She and Blyth were subsequently forced out, leaving Kawaauhau to directly appoint new board members himself.
Since then, the board allegedly has been in chaos. With no general membership meetings and board meetings inaccessible — Schiszler said the board refuses to use platforms such as Zoom to host meetings — there has been no oversight of the board’s decisions, many of which violate the subdivision’s bylaws, Blyth said.
In particular, Blyth said, the board did not appoint a nominating committee for this year’s board elections, leaving several prospective nominees off this year’s ballots. Many of the board members running for re-election this year are consequently running unopposed.
“The board picked their own candidates, but they’re not supposed to have anything to do with the election,” Blyth said.
The board also was the subject of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed earlier this month by Aura Richardson, a former bookkeeper of the owners association. In the suit, Richardson alleges frequent and repeated inappropriate behavior by Morris, including verbal abuse and harassment, drug use at the office, improperly placing liens on homeowners’ properties, use of racial slurs and not reprimanding an employee who brandished a firearm at the office.
Although Richardson asked to meet Kawaauhau to discuss those violations in January, the lawsuit alleges no such meeting was held, and board members refused to meet with her without Morris present. Richardson was fired days later.
Neither Kawaauhau nor Morris responded to requests for comment.
Other investigations of the board have come to nothing, Blyth said. The general membership voted in 2017 for a forensic analysis of the board’s finances, which has gone nowhere.
Requests to the state to appoint a trustee to oversee the board’s actions and prevent wrongdoing also have fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s all an accumulation of problems from creating the subdivision in the ’60s,” Blyth said. “It’s unique to Puna, too. They don’t have this on Oahu.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.