Despite occasional crime, Tantalus safe to residents
|||A phone call, then death|
Living on Tantalus offers residents rural isolation just minutes from the city's urban attractions. The seclusion also is the neighborhood's biggest drawback, however.
While an estimated 900 full-time Tantalus residents enjoy a rainforest lifestyle on the slopes of a 2,000-foot mountain often sheathed in cooling clouds, they also have to put up with a darker side — landslides, a lack of city services, break-ins and, sometimes, violent crime.
Despite a crime spree Thursday night that left three people dead and three more terrorized in a home invasion, residents yesterday said they still consider the area safe to live in and visit. But they are asking for more police patrols and city attention.
"It's fair to call it an unusual place," said Rep. Brian Schatz, whose district includes the Round Top-Tantalus area where the shootings occurred. "It's a conservation district in the middle of the city. People have to live off catchment water and worry about landslides, but they wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
Police said they didn't have specific crime figures for the Round Top lookout or Tantalus areas, which are part of a police district that includes the high-rises of Makiki, downtown Honolulu and Chinatown. The area is more known for complaints about speeding cars, loud parties or car break-ins than for violent crimes, said police Capt. Frank Fujii.
Over the past two decades, however, the area has seen a number of high-profile crimes, especially at night. They include several shootings, robberies and break-ins at the scenic lookout where Thursday night's killings occurred. In the 1990s, the city banned parking at the lookout after 10 p.m. to reduce crime.
"The problem is that it's so large. The police can't cover all the ground," Schatz said. Committing to a patrol of the entire mountain area takes at least 40 minutes of an officer's time, Fujii added.
The close-knit community got its start in the 1890s when some of Hawai'i's best-known families — the Dillinghams, Castles, Bishops, Isenbergs and Wilders — began building small second homes on the mountain as summer getaways. Today, the area, also known by its Hawaiian name of Pu'u 'Ohi'a, is noted for its gracious homes set in a cool, wet (160 inches of rain a year) climate that creates a botanical paradise within easy driving distance of the hard-scrabble city. The area's median annual household income is more than $100,000.
Sue Hillman, who has lived in a Round Top home about 2 miles below the shooting site for the past 40 years, said yesterday she never felt threatened or unsafe at the lookout.
"Whenever we have guests, we take them up there to see the lights of the city," Hillman said. "I wouldn't walk up there at night, but I never felt concerned when we drove."
Ivan Chen, who lives on a 40,000-square-foot lot below the lookout with his own sweeping views from Diamond Head to 'Ewa, also said he felt safe. After Thursday's shooting, however, he and his girlfriend, Patsy Wu, left the lights on all night and constantly monitored TV news reports about police activity in the area.
Earlier this year, the city closed access to the mountain from the Round Top side as it prepared to fix road problems caused by landslides during last spring's heavy rain. That closure has changed the feel of the area, Hillman said.
"Before, you used to see five or six tour buses going up to the lookout each night. Now that they can't get up there, it feels much more isolated than before. With not as many people passing by, there's more potential for trouble," she said.
Despite the road closure and shootings, the lookout and nearby Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State park yesterday attracted visitors eager to take in the spectacular views. The area of the shooting still had blood stains and a stemmed yellow rose in the pavement.
Kevin Mashima, one of four caretakers at the state park, was shook up by the shootings. One of the caretakers locks the front gate at 7:45 p.m. every day, which on Thursday would have been just after the shootings were reported.
"When I heard the news, I was hoping that it wasn't one of ours," he said. "It's most scary for us caretakers. We don't know if our boys will be in danger, too."