Honolulu furloughs may hit Hanauma Bay, park programs
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
City employee furloughs could mean big cuts in programs and hours at city parks, including Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, which would open later and close earlier under a draft proposal that's raising concern among those who frequent the popular attraction.
"To a large degree, it shuts out the residents," Friends of Hanauma Bay President Jennifer Barrett said of the draft proposal for furloughs at the bay.
"Most folks who use the bay are there early ... and gone before most visitors arrive. I think they (the city) didn't recognize the direct impact."
Furloughs for some 10,000 city workers will kick off in July, and could crimp summer recreation activities at parks islandwide as employees take 24 furlough days over the course of the fiscal year. The extent of the effects aren't yet known, as the city is still working to finalize its furlough schedule for city offices.
But documents obtained by The Advertiser earlier this month indicated most city offices, including satellite city halls, would observe furlough days on two Fridays a month, starting with July 2.
It appears that parks, playgrounds and botanical gardens also will follow that schedule — with the exception of Hanauma Bay.
In an e-mail sent to the Friends of Hanauma Bay and others, and obtained by The Advertiser, Hanauma Bay manager Alan Hong said city workers at the bay would be furloughed on different days so the attraction could remain open six days a week.
The preserve is closed Tuesdays.
With the reduced staff, the park would open two hours later — at 8 a.m. — and close early — at 4:30 p.m. In the summer, the park closes at 7 p.m., or 10 p.m. on two Saturdays a month for nighttime educational events.
"The city will initiate its furlough plan starting in July 2010. Parks and playground facilities will be closed two Fridays a month," Hong said in the e-mail. "Although Hanauma Bay has its own source of funding and is self-sufficient, the furloughs will apply to us as well. However, unlike the other park facilities, Hanauma Bay will continue to remain in daily operation. Individual workers will be furloughed on different days throughout the week in such a way that everyone is furloughed two days a month."
He emphasized in the e-mail that the bay's furlough plan is a proposal that has not yet been approved.
Hong declined comment for this story because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Yesterday, city parks and union officials would not go into details on furlough scheduling proposals, and stressed that the schedule is still being discussed.
"You can probably guess that we've been spending a lot of effort trying to figure it out; our main goal of having the least impact on our park users," said city Parks Director Les Chang, in an e-mail. "It's been very fluid and we are still working out the details."
He added it would be premature to comment on the plans until they're finalized.
The plan comes as the public already is dealing with furloughs that have cut state services and closed libraries and schools, and as officials increasingly eye cuts to parks and recreational programs to save money.
Earlier this month, Maui County announced it would close nine municipal swimming pool complexes on 13 holidays, starting with Memorial Day, and said other closures could be needed to meet a budget deficit.
The Maui County announcement came on the heels of fears that the Honolulu City Council would slash spending to city parks by as much as $21 million. Those drastic cuts didn't pan out.
Some residents worry the furloughs could do as much harm as direct spending cuts.
The city furlough days are designed to save an estimated $26 million, and the one-day-per-pay-period furloughs would amount to an 8 percent to 9 percent pay cut for workers.
The city expects to release its furlough plan as early as June 13.
In a flier, the Friends of Hanauma Bay said residents — not tourists — will be "the biggest losers" in the draft schedule for the preserve.
"If implemented in its current form, (the plan) would drastically curtail resident access to the nature preserve," the group said.
An average of 70,000 people visit Hanauma Bay each month, of which 90 percent are non-residents, the city Parks Department said.
Friends members say visitors flock to the bay in the late morning to midday, but residents come early in the morningbefore the crowdsor just before closing and so would be most affected by the furloughs. They also say the furlough schedule would eliminate a popular lecture series and other gatherings.
Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board member Elizabeth Reilly said she believes the proposed furlough plan for Hanauma Bay was meant to preserve the revenue stream from visitors, who pay to enter the park.
Reilly said that she would prefer Hanauma Bay follow a furlough Friday schedule instead. But that might cost the city more than it would save.
She added the draft furlough plan gives "residents very little access to Hanauma Bay."
Reilly also questioned why park users aren't being asked to voice their opinions on different furlough schedules for everything from parks and playgrounds to satellite city halls.
She said it isn't quite clear what a furlough day for a park would look like.
"Does that mean the bathroom is closed?" she asked, or could it mean no activities or no pool hours. "What is the definition of a furlough Friday for city parks?"
HANAUMA BAY FURLOUGHS PROPOSED
A proposed plan to furlough city workers includes Hanauma Bay, which instead of closing on two Fridays a month would shorten its hours but remain open six days a week. To accomplish that, individual workers would be furloughed on different days throughout the week.
Here are the current and proposed schedules:
Summer — 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Open until 10 p.m. second and fourth Saturday of each month
Winter — 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Open until 10 p.m. second Saturday of each month
Year-round — 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
(Parking booth will operate from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.)