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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Rockfalls should open eyes

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

If you park your car underneath a coconut tree and a coconut falls and smashes your windshield, whose fault is it?

Too often, the first reaction is, "Well, who owns the tree?"

If the tree is on City and County or State property, there's no question. Time to call a lawyer. If the tree is on property owned by, say, a big corporation or a large charitable trust, same deal.

Too rarely does the thought cross our modern minds, "Eh, my fault for parking underneath the tree, yeah?"

Of course, there are other considerations.

It's one thing if there's a designated parking space marked off under the tree. It's another matter if you self-designated it a parking space for your Mazda.

But the bottom line is the same either way. If you looked up and spied the looming coconuts before you left your car in harm's way, the whole mess could have been prevented.

With regard to the recent spate of rock-falling and rock-threatening incidents on O'ahu, it's too late for such thinking. The situation is past the point of prevention and on to hazard mitigation, perhaps crisis management.

But how many other developments are planned and will be planned in the shadow of hillsides, up against a pali, in the back of a narrow valley or in some other place where large rocks fall?

Perhaps we didn't realize what a threat falling rocks could be. Maybe it wasn't even on the collective radar. Goodness knows we have other things to worry about. And it's not like rocks fall on houses every day. But they do fall. And though it may not happen every day, once is enough. Once is too much.

Now there's been a death and property damage. We should be fully conscious after those wake-up calls.

Castle & Cooke and Kamehameha Schools should be commended for taking responsibility and for taking action for the situation at the Lalea condominiums in Hawai'i Kai.

Castle & Cooke developed the property, Kamehameha Schools owns the ridge above. Together, the two entities have provided alternative lodging at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for the families living in the shadow of loose boulders. Castle & Cooke and Kamehameha Schools have also committed to finding a way to shore up the hillside. They've even kicked in a little something for meal allowances for the affected families.

Is this something government planning departments and lawmakers need to take into account when granting zoning and permits for residential projects? Absolutely. As for homebuyers and house renters, we need to consciously add to our list of possible perils (flood plain? storm surge? dry brushfire hazard?) the threat of falling rocks. Because the problem isn't that the rocks fall. Rocks are going to fall. The problem for us is where they land.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.