Honolulu council shelves plan to rename park for Obama
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
There was little support at a City Council meeting yesterday for a plan to name what's popularly known as Magic Island after President Obama anytime soon, and the plan now appears to be in limbo.
The council's Public Safety and Services Committee yesterday deferred action on a bill that would have cleared the way for the city to rename 'Āina Moana Beach Park as President Barack Obama Beach Park at Magic Island.
"Why do we have to do this this year?" Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi asked several times.
Parks Director Les Chang and Deputy Planning and Permitting Director Bob Sumitomo said Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration views Obama's election as significant enough to warrant the honor.
"The significance is he is a local boy, one of 44 (presidents) in the history of the United States, born in Hawai'i," Chang said, noting that he also spent a majority of his formulative years in Honolulu.
Councilman Romy Cachola said Native Hawaiian organizations should be consulted about the cultural significance, if any, of 'Āina Moana, and whether there would be any objections to replacing it with a new name.
Kobayashi, who said she was an early supporter of Obama's campaign, said she's also not sure if Magic Island is the proper venue to name something after the president. She noted that there are several state lawmakers who were influential in preserving Magic Island as a park when others had proposed it for development.
Bill 79-09 would allow the city to name a city facility after a living U.S. president from Hawai'i. The bill is necessary because by law city facilities can only be named after people who are deceased.
Separate legislation, Resolution 09-351, actually would rename 'Āina Moana Beach Park after Obama but it can't be heard until the bill is passed.
Council members said they prefer to look at a bill that would allow city facilities to be named after all living people, not just Obama.
Councilman Rod Tam said the larger issue being discussed was whether park facilities should be named after anyone still alive.
"My recommendation is that we ... amend this bill ... that says a person needs to be deceased to leave it wide open to anyone who's alive or dead, quite frankly," Tam said.
He said he believes it's a bigger honor to name something after someone while that person is still alive.
There is precedent.
In 2006, the council temporarily changed the deceased-only criteria to allow city facilities to be named after living former mayors and council members. That allowed for the civic center and the Honolulu Municipal Building to be renamed the Frank F. Fasi Civic Center and Frank F. Fasi Municipal Building after the longtime mayor.
But council members Charles Djou, Romy Cachola and Todd Apo said there's a good reason why facilities are usually named only after deceased people.
Djou noted that Alaska named its international airport after former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens — just as he was seeking re-election and just before he was convicted on corruption charges.
"That's the caution that I think all of us need to be wary of," Djou said.
"There will come a time, and there should come a time when the City and County of Honolulu and the people of Hawai'i appropriately recognize the president" and Magic Island may even be that venue, he said.
Public Safety & Services Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said a new bill would have to be introduced to allow city facilities to be named after any living people because the purpose clause of the current bill states specifically that an exception be made only for a U.S. president from Hawai'i.
'JURY STILL OUT'
Public testimony was mixed on the Obama park.
"A certain group of people are falling over themselves trying to impress the president," said private citizen Ted Kanemori, noting that state lawmakers are looking at declaring Obama's birthday a state holiday and renaming a school after him.
"The jury is still out," he said.
Pearl City resident Chris Lum Lee said "it's no secret Mufi's running for governor this year," suggesting that Hannemann is trying to curry favor with the president.
"He wants to name it the Magic Barack Obama Memorial I-want-your-endorsement-so-I-can-become-governor-this-year Park," Lum Lee said.
But others said they support the proposal.
"I actually think that's done enough — the fact that he became a president and the fact he inspired so many people," said A.J. Halagao, who was a volunteer on Obama's local presidential campaign last year.
Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, said the state should use Obama's birth here as a marketing tool for tourists.
"That will only assist in that whole effort," Egged said. "People will want to go visit the President Barack Obama Park at Magic Island. I think that will be a big plus."
David Fry, another Obama supporter, said other places have already named facilities after the president, including a park in Columbia, Md.