By Nikki Schenfeld
Ko Olina Resort closed its public parking lots back in March when the area shut down due to the pandemic.
Ko Olina was the first resort area to announce that they would shut down for health and safety reasons from COVID-19.
The lagoons at Ko Olina are open, but the public parking areas remained closed.
“You have to try to be dropped off by somebody, or take an Uber, or a Lyft to be dropped off, and then you can walk over and go into the coves,” explained Makakilo resident John Shockley, who founded the group Free Access Coalition. “That is horrible for people who have handicaps, or elderly or have children.”
On Thursday, the Department of Planning and Permitting issued Ko Olina a violation order stating:
“The electronic arm gate systems associated with the four public areas (lagoons 1 through 4) have been closed and the parking areas are blocked by heavy duty plastic A-frame barricades denying the public access to the lagoons public parking areas, along with beach access denial to lagoons 1 through 4.
The Special Management Area Minor Permit requires that the electronic gates that control vehicular traffic at the public parking areas at Lagoons 1 through 4, subject to the condition that the aforementioned gates not be utilized to restrict public access to the lagoon public parking areas and lagoons 1 through 4.“
In the notice, DPP asked Ko Olina to provide public access to parking and all lagoons “immediately by removing the heavy-duty plastic A-frame barricades, and allow the electronic arm gate system to work as intended.”
DPP also said “the director may terminate all uses approved under this permit or halt operation until all conditions are met.”
The notice stated that if no action is taken, the DPP can impose civil fines and/or the matter may be referred to the prosecuting attorney and corporation counsel for appropriate action.
On Friday afternoon, Oct. 9, photos sent to KHON2 showed that Ko Olina did not remove their signs stating all parking lots were closed.
Ko Olina sent an e-mail to KHON2 stating that it will reopen the Ulua Lagoon 4 public parking lot on Saturday, Oct. 10, but they will not open parking for the other three lagoons.
Ko Olina privately maintains its property and lagoons. The resort said pre-COVID that the resort averaged more than 20,000 people per day.
On Friday, Ko Olina wrote a letter to Mayor Kirk Caldwell stating:
The Ko Olina Resort Operators Association is preparing to reopen and welcome visitors in a phased approach. At this time, we believe there is no way to safely mix local residents with visitors at crowded beaches without risking a viral outbreak. We apologize for this inconvenience but we want to keep everyone safe, especially our local kupuna and children.
When COVID-19 first appeared on O‘ahu we were the first resort to completely shut down our operations in an abundance of caution for our employees, residents and guests. Now, as we look to reopen, maintaining safety continues to be our top priority. There is no easy solution to this problem because we have never faced these circumstances before.
Ko Olina’s number one priority is safety. Logistically, it would be easier to open the lagoons and go about business as usual, but that is no longer realistic as we all adjust to living with COVID. We privately maintain our property and lagoons. We do not rely on the State or the City for maintenance funds. Our beaches, restrooms and shoreline are pristine – the reason for its popularity among kama’aina and visitors. Our standards have not changed, however, the means by which we maintain these standards have, due to COVID protocols. This is an unprecedented time and as a resort community we have never had to manage a health crisis like this before.
Pre-COVID, the Resort averaged more than 20,000 people per day including employees, kama’aina, resort residents and visitors. We have a responsibility to our employees, ‘ohana and our guests to do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus at Ko Olina. To safely open our lagoons and invite pre-tested visitors, we must create a well-crafted safety plan that aligns with State and County efforts. Since we shut down in March, we have struggled to stay afloat and furloughed hundreds of employees. We are anxious to get our employees back to work but we also must take all safety precautions.
We understand that some in the community are disappointed with our lagoon reopening plan. We truly apologize for the inconvenience. While limited lagoon access is inconvenient, to us, there are more pressing priorities. Many of our employees have been out of work for 7 months and nearly everyone in Hawai‘i now knows someone that has been impacted by COVID-19. Ko Olina feels a sense of responsibility to make our property as safe as possible so that we can get our ‘ohana, our employees, back to work. They need to financially support their families but also keep those that they live with at home safe. Our employees are kama‘aina too – they deserve to feel safe when they come to work every day.
Recently, the City launched a tiered system for O‘ahu’s reopening. We are currently still in Tier 1, which requires that all group gatherings be limited to 5 persons or less at beaches, parks, trails, campsites and in restaurants and recreational activities. We are required to wear masks at almost all times and most venues are limited to 50% or even 25% capacity. We are learning to live with these new restrictions because we want to stay safe. We are learning to live with COVID-19.
Ko Olina is complying with state and county health regulations and will reopen with a similarly tiered system to reduce capacity and maintain safety.
We believe the City should support our phased approach to reopen Ko Olina under a three-month rigid sequence. This sequence is similar to the City’s Tier system and in accordance with the well-thought out and phased reopening plan created by Governor Ige, Lt. Governor Green and state health officials.
Ko Olina Phased Reopening and Lagoon Safety Protocol Map:
November 1, 2020:
Ko Olina plans to re-open the 102 parking stalls at Lagoon 4 to the exclusive use of the general public. The Aulani planned reopening is tentatively set for November 1, 2020.
November 1, 2020 – February 1, 2021:
During this time, visiting guests and vacation club owners will not be allowed to use Lagoon 4 as it will be reserved exclusively for use by the general public. Similarly, access will be restricted to Lagoons 1, 2 and 3.
Lagoon 1 will be restricted to guests of Aulani visitors and vacation club owners. Lagoon 2 will be restricted to residents of Ko Olina Beach Villas. Lagoon 3 will be restricted to Marriott visitors and vacation club owners.
Ko Olina staff will carefully monitor the COVID climate from a State-wide and resort perspective during this time.
February 1, 2020:
Pending State and County regulations and the level of COVID spread, Ko Olina plans to re-open all lagoon parking lots and open pedestrian access to all lagoons.
We feel strongly that the City must give us the opportunity to implement this temporary, phased approach to maintain safety. We are willing to revisit this plan with you a few weeks after the trans-Pacific travel reopening on October 15, to gauge its success.
We take safety very seriously because it is crucial for all of Hawaii that we prevent an outbreak on our property. Ko Olina has also agreed to partner with the state to become a post-arrival surveillance testing site. We will be able to test employees, residents, and visitors at our on-site Medical Center.
Ko Olina is in a unique position to segment the transient population and isolate any viral spread. We want to be judged by our own metrics to see if we can safely reduce spread while we reintroduce tourists and bring our ‘ohana back to work.
Mahalo for your consideration.
Council woman Kymberly Pine said she was notified about Ko Olina’s decision via e-mail.
“That was very disappointing for all of us because I think it was something that the community should have been a part of, to talk about it, because we have some very conflicting opinions about the situation,” she said.
Pine, who is the council member for West Oahu, said many people who work at the resort are eager to get back to work, but they also want to keep their families safe.
“They want to keep their families separated from tourists, and then you have the purist who just believe that our state law gives access to everyone to the shoreline, and that includes Ko Olina,” she said.
KHON2 is waiting on a response from the city regarding Ko Olina’s proposal.
Ko Olina said they’ve agreed to partner with the state to become a post-arrival surveillance testing site which would offer an additional layer of protection to the community.
“They need to open all four of their lots,” Shockley said. “They need to open access to the beach. It’s not their decision as to what is healthy for the public. It’s the government’s decision.”