“Media and the Neo-Colonization of Kailua Town” by Henry Park

Posted: January 5, 2014 in Vol. 4: Fall Essays 2013

boardKailua is a sleepy bedroom community located on the Windward coast of the island of Oahu. It offers you a contradiction to the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki. The main parts of Kailua consist of a few blocks of trendy little boutiques, popular restaurants, and local hangouts. This is my hometown. Large mainland chain stores and restaurants are now poised to replace all that is familiar to me. In recent years, Kailua has been transformed from “my town” into a barely recognizable tourist attraction destination. Our beautiful white sand beaches have become congested with tourists, primarily Japanese, and on rentals of kayaks, canoes and windsurfing equipment. Spots that were once havens where locals would gather for family outings, or just sit to contemplate life, are now just another place that the tourists have taken over. Kailua town and beach was once “our” little secret haven. It felt like a place that we could call “locals only”. However, the mass media coverage of Kailua challenges the existence of our sleepy bedroom community. Newspaper coverage, brochures, coupons and word of mouth advertising has attracted the Japanese tourist and others to not only visit by day, but to rent the mostly illegal and a few legal Bedroom and Breakfast inns that are growing close to the beach lots. Ironically, these illegal inns are being supported by one of our City Councilmen, who is supposed to uphold the law, because he says that the illegal income illegal is good for the economy of Kailua. Therefore, Capitalism is showing its ugly face through the neo-colonization of Kailua.

During the mid-19th century, most of the land in the area known as Kailua belonged to Kalama, Queen Consort of Kamehameha III and later Queen Dowager of the Kingdom of Hawaii. She and Judge Charles Coffin Harris began a sugar plantation, but she died in 1870 and the plantation failed in 1871. By the late 19th – early 20th century Harold Kainalu Long Castle, a descendant of prominent businessmen and missionaries in Oahu was accumulating much of the east side of the island (Nellist). Kaneohe Ranch, the name of Castle’s land management company, with its centrally located office was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It sits on the makai or oceanside corner of the intersection of Pali Highway and Kamehameha Highway, and it stretches from He`eia pier up to the present Windward Community College and on to Mount Olomana.

Many of the original missionaries who had come to Hawaii to save the souls of the heathen natives ascended to prominent business positions. Haroldʻs father, James Bicknell Castle, rose to serve as a director of his fatherʻs company and as a partner of Alexander & Baldwin, another “Big Five” company and ironically the same company that has just purchased a large portion of Kailua town. This purchase is the thesis for my essay, The Neo-colonization of Kailua town.

The newspaper media coverage of anything to do with Kaneohe Ranch was not very admirable at that time because most of the working class families owned only small lots of land, if they owned any at all. Kailua was mostly wetlands and the majority of the Windward population resided in Kaneohe. Kaneohe Ranch changed much of the face of Kailua by the mid 20th century while at the same time changing the way that the media, and therefore the working class, looked at this evolution. While developer Joe Pao and Bishop Estate were transforming their portion of Kailua by filling in the wetlands, so too was Kaneohe Ranch doing the same. Kaneohe Ranch, originally a religious settlement, saw fit to donate a one-mile stretch of property, along Pali Highway that runs into Kailua town, to churches of various denominations. Our three public high schools that are located in Kailua and Kaneohe sit on property that was donated by Kaneohe Ranch to the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii for the purpose of furthering education of our Windward residents. Prior to the opening of Castle B. High School Kaneohe residents, such as my mother, had to travel to Honolulu to attend either Farrington or McKinley High School. Hawaii Loa College, a private, four-year, Liberal Arts College in Kaneohe, has since been taken over and was renamed Hawaii Pacific University in 1963. It was the Christian College of the Pacific run by a consortium of four Protestant church denominations and built on land owned by Harold K.L. Castle. But Kaneohe Ranch was not done with its image makeover. In the mid 1950ʻs, the Windward Community Association had begun a campaign for a hospital to be established somewhere in Kaneohe or Kailua because the nearest hospital was Queens hospital in Honolulu. So on January 16, 1963, Castle Memorial Hospital opened its doors on ten acres of land located on Pali Highway that was donated also by Harold K.L. Castle. This venture is directed by the 7th Day Adventist Church. In the 1960ʻs, Kaneohe Ranch was doing a lot to give back to a working class community that had enabled them to become very prosperous landowners, but the ultimate action of providing truly affordable housing for the average family is what truly curried the working classes favor. They accomplished this by filling in previously unusable wetland and introducing a seldom used reduced cost ownership possibility known as “leasehold ownership” (Cain).

What is the meaning of “hegemony”? According to cultural theorist Dominic Strinati, it refers to “dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the ʻspontaneous consentʻ of subordinate groups, including the working class, through the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups” (Stinati). However, Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci suggests that the working class, or subordinate groups if you will, accept or consent to the ideas, values, leadership, and ideologies of the dominant group not because they are necessarily physically or mentally induced to do so, but because they have their own personal reasons. Simply stated, there is something in it for them (Sim). They would benefit from a much needed hospital on the Windward coast. In addition, establishing truly affordable single-family housing through leasehold ownership was the icing on the cake that swayed any naysayers.

Most cities and locations look forward to having tourists visit and help out the economy, but not Kailua’s residents. The tourists are taking over and we want them to stop coming to visit. I have witnessed tour buses unloading hundreds of Japanese tourist every morning in the parking lot located in the rear of Macys. The subsequent influx of these tourists every morning makes patronizing certain local eateries impossible for locals. I live three blocks away from what was once a local favorite, Boots and Kimoʻs, and I have never eaten there because of hour long waits that persist daily. Cinnamons, located on the opposite side of Kailua from where the tourists get off their bus, is another local favorite that now requires at least an hours wait due to the large amount of tourists that frequent daily.

Kailua is also known for its white sand beaches and laid back atmosphere. It used to be a favorite beach for most of the Windward coast locals to bring their families and lounge on spacious beaches. Now thousands of people from all around the world travel here every year. The media makes sure to give special coverage every year to President Barack Obama and his family vacationing in Kailua. This adds to the congestion of our sleepy neighborhood community because there always seems to be a large amount of visitors cruising around our town trying to get a glimpse of the President. Then we are also faced with the favorable exposure that Kailua receives on Hawaii Five-o that draws thousands more tourists to our already crowded town and beaches. We, the residents of Kailua, want the tourism to stop. The reason is that many of the people who travel to Kailua want to spend their vacation visiting the same spots as we locals. Many of the tourists prefer to rent rooms in bed and breakfasts instead of staying in hotels or beach houses. This means they become neighbors to the locals, and the locals are not too fond of this idea. Many of the tourists bring alcohol, drugs and violence into otherwise peaceful neighborhoods.

The residents of Kailua seem to be split on their feelings about tourism. Many are unhappy about the rising amount of visitors, others say that the increase in tourism has helped to bring money to the area and vacation rental owners, in particular, seem pleased with the increase. Of course, the few who are pleased with the large increase in tourism are the shop owners, sea sport equipment renters and the owners of the illegal bed and breakfast. Even though Kailua is located just twelve miles from Honolulu and getting to the beach from Kailua can range from a couple to a few minutes, Kailua residents are sometimes known to exaggerate the commute and expense of this hip side of the island to visitors in order to keep Kailua local. Kailua needs to find the right balance of tourism that will allow tourists to explore and enjoy the area without changing it or causing trouble for the locals.

Recently, I was greeted by a startling front-page news story in the daily Star Advertiser. Alexander and Baldwin Inc. is buying nearly all the Oahu real estate owned by Kaneohe Ranch Co. and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation – roughly 650 acres – in a $373 million deal. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of the year and will provide $260 million to Kaneohe Ranch and $113 million to the charitable foundation. A few questions immediately flooded my mind. What future awaits the sleepy Windward bedroom community that I call home? Why now? Had not Kaneohe Ranch recently declined an unsolicited offer to buy all of its real estate holdings on Oahu? How am I going to be affected by this latest event?

With this acquisition, Alexander and Baldwin will be acquiring 70 percent of the commercial-zoned land and 90 percent of the retail property in Kailua. As the dominant landlord for Kailua businesses, Alexander and Baldwin will be in the position to benefit from rising rents and redevelopment is an area becoming more of a regional destination and tourist magnet. Although Alexander and Baldwin say that they are planning to meet with the community members to find out what we need, many of us clearly recall similar meetings in the not too distant past. This stated approach mirrors a similar one taken by Kaneohe Ranch in a major redevelopment effort for parts of downtown Kailua that included establishing a Whole Foods Market that opened last year and a Target store that is slated to open next year. Many Kailua residents welcomed the addition of these national retail chain stores. At least it was palatable because Kaneohe Ranch had historical ties to Kailua as a family business that had turned uninhabitable wetlands into an affordable residential community.

Since Alexander and Baldwinʻs acquisition, Kailua is at a crossroads. Will it be another heartless big tourist town like Waikiki? Or can it somehow preserve its unique character as the small beach town that we call home? The AP reports that Kailuaʻs popularity as a tourist attraction has residents taking a stand against tourism. They want the Tourist Visitors Bureau to stop promoting Kailua as an alternative stop to Waikiki. Kailuaʻs infrastructure is not setup to handle the suffocating increase in traffic. Kailua is no longer the sleepy rural country town that once invited Sunday drives. On any given day hundreds of tourists patrol the streets and beaches of Kailua. They ride around on rental bicycles, disrupting pedestrian as well as local vehicular traffic. Harley Davidson motorcycles and Mustang convertibles further congest our already overly used roads. Kailua has become the new Waikiki or Kaikiki. We can’t limit the number of people coming into Kailua, but we should be able to manage to mitigate the impact it has on the neighborhood.

Balance should be the goal these days in response to the tourism and development boom as both visitors and Oahu residents flock to idyllic Kailua. The problem is that different people have different visions of what this balance looks like. Stores, tour operators and rental businesses are flourishing and hiring more local people, but many long-time residents see their laid-back lifestyle disappearing, with some saying tensions are close to a “boiling point.” On a busy weekend, it can take an hour or more to drive the two miles out of Lanikai. Therefore, residents try not to leave their homes on weekends because of the crowds and traffic. It’s almost like being under “house arrest.”

There are many underlying themes behind the competing interests that plague Kailua: jobs, revenue and profit versus Oceanside lifestyles and traditions; newcomers versus oldtimers; traditional stores versus unconventional entrepreneurs plying their wares from front yards or the beach; beautification and development versus preservation and Kailua for Kailuans. Gramsci would say that the working class is developing its own hegemony by gathering support of other groups or neighborhoods and letting them know that what is happening to Kailua town could happen to their town. These counter-hegemonic or competing force groups did not start off as radical or extremist groups. They are merely encouraging people to share their view against hegemony through the use of persuasion whilst raising awareness. The counter-hegemonic group is trying to gain the support of the local residents to somehow change the direction of Alexander and Baldwinʻs plan for developing Kailua to maximize their investment.

I have been to three of these counter-hegemonic (neighborhood board) meetings in Kailua, and while the City Council representatives were always in full agreement with the residents present they’ve always voted in favor of the dominant cultural hegemonic groups. Therefore, Hawaii remains in the corrupt state of “manapua” government. In the old days of colonial Hawaii, if you wanted government approval for development you went to the officials office with attribute of manapua. Currently, manapua has been replaced with cold cash. So, sadly “my town’ continues to be transformed by this process into a barely recognizable tourist attraction destination.

Works Cited

Cain, Cristy L. “Transfer of Kaneohe Ranch.” Pacific Business News. 2009: n. page. Print.

Gomes, Andrew. “A&B buys swath of Kailua town.” Honolulu Star Advertiser [Honolulu] 13 11 2013, A1 &A7. Print.

Nellist, George F. The Story of Hawaii and its Builders. Rowley, Massachusetts: Rumford Press, 1890. pp.448-449. Print.

Sim, Stuart. Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide. Australia: Allen & Unwin Pty. Ltd., 2009. Pg. 36-7. Print.

Strinati, Dominic. An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. Chicago: Routledge, 2004. Pg. 286. Print.


Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

  1. Hello says:

    Kailua is lost as long as the community is divided and cannot come together. I have been watching this play out now for a while. Most of these folks that talk about balance have no interest in actually doing what it takes to make that happen. It is their way or no way. I am continually frustrated watching the constant complaining and attacks. And a bunch of folks on social media calling those holding the cards assholes and criminals is not helping. In fact, if anything, this just makes it easier for them to do whatever they want because they don’t feel bad and may even do things in spite. Now we have the MyKailua page. They have magnified this issue by taking it online and made things 100x worse attacking everyone and everything. They attack those of us who try and work with “the man” calling us sell outs. They have no idea what we know and why we do this. It is because we tried it the other way and already saw how that got is NOWHERE. It took years to gain the trust and ear of those in control. But now we are back to where we started. Things are just being done quietly. We don’t hear about changes until it is too late. Now everyone is being excluded. And unless these groups realize this approach is not helping, we are screwed. If all of those who are fighting to find balance really mean it, they need to put their egos aside and bring all the groups together in a round table session and agree to work together on common goals. None of the groups work together on or off line. I guarantee if that were to happen and folks came together on just a few issues, we would start seeing positive changes.

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