undesirable developments in the community, “There are so many care homes, and clean and sober homes now. Waipahu is overcrowded with this kind of stuff.”
Change is literally coming down the tracks. A locomotive used to haul sugar from Waipahu to Honolulu Harbor for shipment overseas. In the next few years, a new train is expected to transport people to and from town. Aquino believes the rail provides some unique opportunities in the reinvention discussion, particularly in transit oriented development.
In March of this year the city came up with the Waipahu Town Action Plan. It is a set of strategies identified by the community for improving the area around the future Waipahu Transit Center rail station:
- Implement a Network of Connected Bicycle Facilities
- Upgrade Waipahu Transit Center
- Redesign Moloalo Street
- Upgrade Street Lighting
- Connect Hawai‘i Plantation Village to Waipahu Town Core
- Implement Placemaking Strategies
- Connect Waipahu District Park to Waipahu Town Core
- Develop a Master Plan for Hans L’Orange Park
- Address Areawide Flooding
- Establish Areawide Wayfinding
- Develop Pouhala Marsh Educational Signage
Herolaga is eager to see this wish list become a reality but is blunt when describing the current state of affairs, “We have the Pupu area. That place is run down. If landlords don’t want to improve their area, what are you going to do? For us, we are too old already. Not much more we can do. My dad did his time. I did my time. We need the younger generation to step up.”
Many people point to the edge of Waipahu for that youthful catalyst of change Waipahu High School.
WHS Sparks Hope
Former Principal, Keith Hayashi, took over WHS in 2009. He was named Hawaii High School Principal of the Year in 2014, and is now deputy superintendent
He implemented an early college program which allows high school students to earn college credit toward a future degree through various UH campuses.
This year the school boasted 22 valedictorians (students with a GPA above 4.0) and a senior class that pulled in $25 million on scholarships.
Abiva says students there now have a more global outlook on their future, “Before, no one wanted to go to Waipahu High School. Kids felt like that they were not going to amount to much. The principal was innovative. He took Waipahu to a new level. It’s exciting!”
Abiva says now is the time to capitalize on this renewed energy, ”We need to connect with the Plantation Village. How many communities have a museum? We also have the FilCom Center and Hongwanji (Buddhist temple). We could become the creative art center of Hawaii. Where are we willing to go?”
As the movement gains momentum, Aquino says the biggest challenge facing the redo of Waipahu is, “Collaboration. It could be stronger. We have a number of organizations doing great things. We just have to work together to get to where we want to go.”
Herolaga wants to see more done to address homelessness and derelict properties. She doesn’t sugar coat her feelings, “I am very frustrated. Waipahu needs a face lift. It’s my home. My generation grew up as sugar babies, not because we are sweet. I am hard core.”
Aquino and the Waipahu Community Association are focused on eradicating core troubles in the area, while also gathering the seeds for a new Garden of Eden.
GLENN WAKAI is a State Senator (Kalihi-Salt Lake-Foster Village) and former TV reporter.