HANAMAULU — There was a time when Hanamaulu Beach Park was the crown jewel of Hanamaulu, a mostly residential community built to house sugar plantation workers from the Lihue Plantation decades ago.
Not anymore, according to some area residents. In response to rampant crime and vandalism, the county will close the park from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, starting Monday.
The Hanamaulu Community Association will meet tonight at King Kaumualii Elementary School from 6:30 to 9 p.m. to discuss the upcoming changes.
“In the last 20 to 25 years, that park has increasingly become unsafe,” said Eddie Sarita, president of the Hanamaulu Community Association.
County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said crime at the park has tripled in the last three years. In 2010, Kauai Police Department reported 54 crimes in the park. In 2011, there were 78 crimes reported. Last year, KPD reported 152 crimes. This year, there has been 82 crimes reported as of July 31, according to Tokioka.
Tokioka said crime at the park includes use and sales of illegal drugs, plus harassment and intimidation of park users, graffiti, vandalism and camping without a permit.
Two weeks ago, two men were arrested at the park for carrying guns and possessing drugs, according to County spokeswoman Sarah Blane.
“The mayor feels the problem is severe enough at the present time to close the park (at night) and work with KPD and park rangers to enforce the closure along with any illegal activity that might occur at any time of the day,” Tokioka said.
Even during the day, the place is “spooky,” according to Sarita.
“No one wants to go there alone. It’s unsafe,” he said.
Sarita, who has lived in Hanamaulu all his life, said Hanamaulu Beach Park used to be the best park in the Lihue district.
“It was the park that people wanted to go to,” he said.
State of the park
Hanamaulu Beach has been treated as a dumping site — cigarette butts, broken glass and plastic and paper trash were seen strewn around the pavilion and river areas during a recent visit.
Tokioka said the county Parks and Recreation Department staff cleans the park’s restrooms daily. Other maintenance, including landscape, is performed Monday through Friday. The trash on the parks grounds, she said, appears to be “byproduct of daily use.”
Sarita said it’s impossible to have family get-togethers at the park’s pavilion, like the ones he was used to while growing up on Kauai. The homeless, he said, have “occupied” the pavilion. They sleep on tables and benches all day, with their personal belongings scattered all over the place.
“It used to be so beautiful down there,” lifelong Hanamaulu resident Esther Riopta said of the beach park.
As a child, Riopta attended many family gatherings at Hanamaulu Beach Park. About 20 years ago, she said, the place started going downhill. Today, Riopta said she doesn’t see any family parties at the park anymore.
“We still cruise down there,” said Riopta, adding that the community wants the place clean and safe.
Sarita said the administration is going forward with the night closure because the community is asking for it.
In order to combat the park’s deterioration, the Hanamaulu community has organized park cleanups in 2008, 2010 and this year. The community has also tried to work with the administration to find solutions.
In 2008, the community worked with the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste to “take the park back,” Sarita said. One of the solutions was to hold a free bingo night monthly. But after six months, he said, the community association stopped holding the event because people were scared to be there at night.
That same year, county officials told the community they would apply for permits to demolish the old pavilion north of the park, according to Sarita.
“Apparently, they didn’t follow through,” he said.
In a community meeting last November, Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo asked what the community wanted to do with the old pavilion, Sarita said.
“Everybody wanted it removed,” he added.
Since then, the county has applied for another demolition permit, fenced off the pavilion and cut off its plumbing and electricity.
But it didn’t take long for people to cut holes in the wire fencing and reoccupy the place, Sarita said.
In the latest cleanup, June 15, he said, the community painted all the graffiti in the new pavilion and bathrooms. Two days later, everything was tagged with graffiti again.
Tokioka said park rangers or Kauai Police Department officers will be the ones closing the park’s gates at 10 p.m., and doing periodic checks during closure to make sure no one is using the park at night.
Trespassing would be a petty misdemeanor conviction, which could lead to 30 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, she said.
At this time, the administration does not have a timeline to reopen the park at night, according to Tokioka.
Sarita said KPD will do the best they can with the resources they have to enforce the night-time closure.
Putting community members on a neighborhood watch at the park is not a “wise idea,” Sarita said. But the community association is entertaining the idea of becoming a nonprofit organization, so they could apply for grants to hire professional security, he said.
Even though Sarita hopes the park will once again be safe and clean, he said he knows there is no magic solution for the homeless situation.
“I hope and wish this closure will be for a short term, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the park can be safe again,” he said.
Tokioka said closure will include the beach, but fishermen will be exempted.
Sarita said when he told the fishermen about the closure, they said, “It’s about time.”