Small Town to Bustling Attraction: Tourists and Traffic Trouble the Residents of Kailua

Redevelopment, social media and presidential publicity all lure more tourists than ever to this once mostly residential Windward O‘ahu town, pumping up retail business, traffic congestion and housing prices, leaving some residents feeling squeezed out of their hometown. So where to now?


Kailua Sunrise

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



Residents trickled steadily into chef Roy Yamaguchi’s new Goen Dining + Bar when the casual Kailua restaurant opened just before Thanksgiving. Some booked meals right away; others took their time, peering past the fresh vegetable planters while running to Longs Drugs and other nearby stores.



Photo: Leah Friel



Goen was one of the first businesses to emerge from behind the construction barriers surrounding the old Liberty House that once dominated the commercial center of Kailua. What for decades was a single department store has been carved into a complex with a mix of new retailers and restaurants. Landowner Alexander & Baldwin Inc. won praise for working with Architect AHL (formerly Architects Hawai‘i) to preserve the vintage structure, renovating it to highlight the original decorative brick, some original rock and wood panels, as well as the 1960 elevator. The new name is Lau Hala Shops, with initials to match Liberty House—the wrought-iron panels with the LH insignia that faced Kailua Road were saved and mounted in the lobby.


The juxtaposition of new and old is a recurring theme in this Windward O‘ahu town. Long defined by a crescent bay on one side and the chiseled green Ko‘olau Range on the other, balmy breezes and friendly residents, Kailua has witnessed two decades of seismic change. Demolition of old buildings to make way for new development was largely driven by the town’s big landowners, first Kāne‘ohe Ranch and the Castle Foundation, and for the past five years, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. The kama‘āina company now controls an estimated 75 percent of the commercial property in Kailua, most of it to the right of Kailua Road as you drive from urban Honolulu toward the sea.


“There really are two Kailuas: On the right you have the rich side, on the left you have for the locals.” — Donna Wong


A corresponding spike in tourism from visitors who want to stay where the locals live further cranked up the pace of change. Homes that sold for less than $500,000 in the year 2000 are now assessed at more than $1 million.


Frustration emerges on bumper stickers: “Keep it Kailua,” “Kailuafornia,” “Defend Kailua with Aloha,” “I Love Kailua … the way it used to be” and “I Love Kailua Before You Came.”


Donna Wong has served on the Kailua Neighborhood Board since 1980 and worries that residents are being pushed to the side by businesses that cater to tourists. “There really are two Kailuas: On the right you have the rich side, on the left you have for the locals,” she says.


SEE ALSO: Inside HONOLULU: Confessions of a Kailua Resident


A Farming Legacy

Ko‘olau Farmers

Lilly Watanabe, left, and her niece, Rochelle Uchibori, grew up in a farming family that helped found Ko‘olau Farmers. Photo: Leah Friel



Lilly Watanabe grew up in one of the Windward Side’s legacy farming families. Her father, Sekiji Uchibori, and her brother, Mitsuo Uchibori, supplied a lifeline of fresh food to the community, even during World War II when many businesses shut down, and Japanese-Americans faced additional hardships and scrutiny. The family had farms in Maunawili, Mōkapu—where Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i is now—and on what is now Kapa‘a Quarry Road.


They grew papaya, watermelon, cucumbers, eggplant and head cabbage. “They had a piggery,” she recalls, at a time when area farms were plentiful. Watanabe worked in banking, married, and her family bought an affordable home in Kailua Heights. Mitsuo, meanwhile, was one of the founding members of the Ko‘olau Farmers cooperative that evolved into the private garden center of today.


Some Kailua residents struggle with the changes. Best known as a Native Hawaiian entrepreneur dedicated to local arts and values, founder of Nā Mea Hawai‘i bookstore Maile Meyer proudly hails from Kailua. “It was a ‘country’ neighborhood through the ’90s, and had lots of Hawaiians and kama‘āina haole that lived, fished, surfed and made it easy for neighbors to know each other.”


But she and many of her Aluli/Meyer/Souza ‘ohana moved across the Pali over the past decade, alarmed by what they saw as “greed, ignorance, self-interest” that accompanied the big influx of tourists staying in monster houses and illegal vacation rentals.


Meyer felt a change in attitude—a lack of consideration for others—among some newer residents. She worries about “a belief system that says if you own a house in Kailua you can do what you want, disregarding what it takes to build the fabric of a community: time and relationships.”


Gentrification coincided with being discovered as an off-the-beaten-track tourist destination, with local beaches named “best beach” in America by Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman in 1996 and 1998. Social media depicted walks on sandy beaches alongside a turquoise ocean and kayak trips to the Mokulua islets. Visitors followed. Rental cars filled the beach parking lots and tourists showed up to eat shave ice where President Barack Obama did with his family on two terms of annual vacations.


As the town’s popularity grew, housing prices shot up. Watanabe quietly expresses her concern about the next generation, as she watches them move away or into converted garages and second story add-ons to their parents’ homes, priced out of affordable starter homes by rising property values. “You can’t stop progress, whatever it is,” she says.


Since the 1500s, the land between Kailua Beach and Waimānalo Beach was known as Ka‘ōhao, meaning “tying together.” However, when Charles R. Frazier and the Trent Trust Co. bought and developed the area, it was renamed Lanikai to mean “heavenly sea.”


Tourist bus

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



Her niece, Rochelle Uchibori, nods in concern over tea at a neighborhood restaurant. Uchibori recognizes that tourism has benefits and drawbacks. “It’s been a godsend in the past, economically, for the community,” she says. “We’ve been able to overcome some pretty tough times: the Gulf War, the recession.” When Uchibori’s dad—who died at 96 in 2016—was in his 80s and 90s, he still got around Kailua on a mobility scooter, taking time to chat with many people he knew from farming and as a longtime newspaper distributor for The Honolulu Advertiser. “I didn’t like taking him grocery shopping because it took so long,” she recalls with a smile. With fewer familiar faces, she sees that friendly feeling fading in crowded Kailua, making her “more cautious” and less engaging.


State Sen. Laura Thielen, a Democrat and attorney, says Kailua is feeling the effects of a fundamental shift in tourism, where the 21st century resort is any neighborhood deemed desirable by visitors, a trend already felt in Hanalei on Kaua‘i and Hale‘iwa on the North Shore.


“It’s not just a Kailua problem. People need to learn from what’s happened in Kailua,” Sen. Thielen says. “We’ve got to figure out how to get a handle on it and manage communities for local residents.”


Sen. Thielen says it’s clear that the solution for the state’s economy isn’t chasing more visitors and turning communities into mini-resorts at all costs.


“We earn about $2 billion less from the 10 million tourists we have today than we earned back in 1989 from the 6.6 million tourists,” Sen. Thielen says.


Japanese visitors arrive on buses that pick them up after an overnight flight and drop them in Kailua to explore on foot or bicycle. In Japan, drivers stick to the left side of the road; tourists tend to wander into driveways or veer off course while checking their maps.


Sen. Thielen says businesses that serve local people are being replaced by boutiques and restaurants that cater to tourists.


Growing Pains

Kailua Shop

Deb Mascia at the newer, smaller Mu‘umu‘u Heaven. Photo: Leah Friel



Back in 2010, Deb Mascia was one of the small-business success stories of Kailua, with her shop popular with residents and visitors. A volunteer stint at a thrift shop started her reimagining vintage discards into contemporary styles. She opened Mu‘umu‘u Heaven boutique in the Davis Building on A&B property near the entrance to Kailua. Business boomed and her celebrity customers included the Obamas, actress Cameron Diaz and rocker Eddie Vedder. By 2015, Mascia had 33 employees, a 6,000-square-foot shop and a $6,000-a-month lease rent.


Then, she says A&B tripled the rent to $18,000, so she shut the shop and watched the space sit empty for two years. She did a pop-up, sold online, tried other businesses and focused on her family. In June, she returned to Kailua, opening a small shop on the other side of Kailua Road: “It’s nice to have diversity, but it’s not nice to be pushed out.”


Muumuu Heaven

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



Established in 1932, Kalapawai Market sits at the entrance to Kailua Beach Park, a landmark stop to grab something to eat and drink on the way to or from the beach, run for decades by Elsie and Richard Wong. When they retired in 1991, Don Dymond took it over, painting it the forest green for which it’s now known.


Dymond died in 2014. When Kāne‘ohe Ranch was launching its plans for a Kailua makeover, officials offered the family a prime spot for a new venture. “They wanted a small Kailua business to be the first thing that people saw when people drove into town,” says son Lindsey Dymond. “They had just redone the little strip center that has the barber shop, Fat Boy’s and Formaggio to match Kalapawai Market,” Dymond says. The Dymonds expanded the business twice, opening Kalapawai Café on that property in 2006, and two years ago, another in Kapolei, all painted in that now-familiar green.


“I have a fabulous relationship with A&B,” Dymond says. He appreciates the business from tourists, but they’re not his primary focus: “At the end of the day, you need to be there for the people in your neighborhood.”


While the community complains loudest about national chain stores that include Target and Whole Foods Market, which take up a very large and visible footprint, A&B says 90 percent of its commercial tenants are local: longtime businesses Island Snow, Book Ends independent bookstore and Kalapawai Market and Café, along with newcomers Lauren Roth Art Studio, the planned Mother Bake Shop and D’Vine Wine Bar.


Kalapawai Market

Photo: Leah Friel



Renovations earned praise in the community, and calls for a much-needed facelift for some of the shabbier structures in town. Meanwhile, the housing crunch is squeezing out some longtime residents.


In 2013, a cluster of worn walk-up apartments were bulldozed to make way for D.R. Horton’s Ka Malanai condos. With sale prices of $600,000 to $800,000, the new units are priced out of reach for working-class residents.


Consider Non DeMello, the baker who ran beloved Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop for decades. Several years ago he moved out of Kailua, then closed the 48-year-old bakery in January 2018. Kailua had become “too expensive.” The bakery, replaced by the North Shore-based Beet Box Café, was on the side of Kailua primarily controlled by smaller landowners. Some longtime residents still reminisce about the fried chicken and carhops at Andy’s Drive-In, now an auto parts supply store, or the pastries from Craig’s Bakery, now the Elks Lodge. Like DeMello, those businesses cited economic factors for their demise, or family members unwilling or unable to take over.


When Puna and Cricket Nam opened Cinnamon’s Restaurant 34 years ago, most of the people who worked there lived within walking distance. Now, most drive, some from as far away as Kapolei and Wai‘anae. The Nams have lived in Kailua for 48 years. With chef-partner Carsie Green, they built their reputation on fast, friendly service; from-scratch hollandaise for eggs Benedict; and fluffy pancakes.


Puna says: “We always emphasize to our staff you have to make the guests want to come back.” Cricket adds: “The money will follow; don’t be about the money.”



Cricket, left, and Puna Nam began Cinnamon’s Restaurant 34 years ago. Photo: Leah Friel



Survey Says

A graduate of Kamehameha Schools and former president of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce, Puna Nam manages an affable calm even on a chaotic day, philosophical that some changes to Kailua were inevitable with visitor numbers climbing. The only thing wife Cricket is likely to sugarcoat is something she’s baking.


When A&B mailed out a resident survey to nearly 16,000 residents months ago, Cricket Nam was blunt: “The bottom line of what I wrote to A&B is, all you care about, all Kāne‘ohe Ranch has ever cared about, was the money. You don’t care about the people of Kailua. And that to me is the root of all the evil.”


Officials at Alexander & Baldwin recognize that they’re battling a bad reputation. Spokesman Darren Pai points to the resident survey as one of the ways the state’s fourth-largest private landowner is trying to respond to community concerns.


The survey showed concern about traffic, tourism and overcrowding as well as trust issues with A&B. “We’ve taken all that to heart and we are going to be doing a lot more to keep people informed about what’s going on,” Pai says.


He says the company is thinking long-term and local, after divesting itself of Mainland interests and focusing its commercial assets on centers anchored by neighborhood grocery stores: Mānoa Marketplace, Wai‘anae Mall, Kunia Shopping Center, Pearl Highlands Center. The $373 million Kailua purchase in 2013 was part of that portfolio shift.


Pali Lanes

Photo: Leah Friel



Another change came in the way the company managed its properties. In 2016, A&B stopped hiring an outside consultant to handle lease management and in 2017 put Sheila-Anne Ebert in charge of the Kailua properties.


Ebert grew up in Kailua and moved away for college and a stint in the Foreign Service before returning home. She works from an office in Kailua. “We live and breathe this,” she says. Pali Lanes has been there her whole life. An earlier plan to level the aging bowling alley prompted big community blowback. Now, Pai says the company is looking at alternative plans, which could include bowling, and the community will be consulted before a final decision.


Pai says A&B recently committed $100,000 to help improve pedestrian safety on Kailua Road. Still, the landowner gets blamed for issues it inherited: “People think that we brought in Target or we did Whole Foods,” Ebert says, and created the tour bus stop near Lau Hala Shops. That all happened under the ranch, which defended the bus stop as better than having tourists dropped at the district park or in residential areas.


Because A&B converted to a real estate investment trust in 2018, it must convey at least 90 percent of its taxable income to shareholders without having to pay state taxes on that income. But the company is mindful of the communities it serves. “We’ve been around for 150 years because we think long term,” Pai says. “Our intention is not killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”


General Store

Steve Parker runs Kailua General Store. Photo: Leah Friel



Steve Parker, 39, first opened Kailua General Store in 2013, the year A&B bought property that included his Hāmākua Drive store.


Parker’s business benefits from visitors but he relies on residents. Local people stop by regularly for shave ice, 9674 T-shirts and an eclectic retail mix that includes wooden rubber-band guns, slippers, fishing supplies, CBD oil and locally made products.


Born and raised in Kailua, Parker says he primarily shops local and avoids Mainland chain stores. “Things change,” he says. “[If] you don’t want it to change, don’t support the new replacement.


Kailua General Store

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



“These people that are complaining about these places, they’re in Starbucks, they’re in all these places that A&B is building,” Parker says, shaking his head as he fixes shave ice for some kids. “I don’t go to Whole Foods, I shop at Times. Times has what I want.”


Last year, Parker moved the store to Ku‘ulei Road, the older section of town not owned by A&B, close to the library, schools, police and fire station as well as a mix of small businesses where residents run errands.


But Parker also thinks change can be good. “I just think everyone needs to put in their input,” he says. “I still get my enjoyment in Kailua. When it rains, go to the beach.”


Hitting Home



A drone’s-eye view shows part of residential Kailua along Wana‘ao Road to the left and Mid-Pacific Country Club to the right. Photo: Leah Friel



Born and raised in Kailua, state Rep. Chris Lee, 38, a Democrat, has represented the area for a decade and witnessed the influx of stores catering to higher-spending tourists and increasing frustration from local residents. “It’s harder now to go down to the corner store and pick up a gallon of milk for a decent price than it was earlier on,” Lee says.


Residents find tourists at every turn, not just near the beach. Beyond the irritation of finding your driveway blocked, or the parking lot full when you’re trying to go to work, the store or swim, Lee says, residents watched helplessly as Airbnbs and vacation rentals changed the housing market, driving up rental prices, compounded by the influence of military families with housing allowances that allow them to outspend a lot of local residents.


State Rep. Cynthia Thielen has represented parts of Kailua in the House since 1990. A Republican who first moved to the Windward Side in 1967, she’s known for speaking her mind and helping to fight for a slow-to-no-growth policy designation in government plans when others supported “a second Waikīkī.”


Rep. Thielen blames former landowner Kāne‘ohe Ranch for starting what she describes as “Disneyfication,” inventing a stylized vision of Kailua as a beach town centered on surf, sand and snacks and a laid-back lifestyle. “It’s not what Kailua used to be,” she adds. She agrees that out-of-state owners buying real estate in Kailua and renting out entire homes illegally have hurt the town, “creating pukas in the neighborhood,” pulling houses out of reach for local residents and leaving them alternatively empty or overflowing with visitors.


Rep. Thielen points to a house at 424 N. Kalāheo Ave. as a flagrant example of the problem. A letter from the city Department of Planning and Permitting to neighbors says:

  • A January 2015 investigation determined the property was violating the law by being used as a bed-and-breakfast operation;
  • The city started citing the owner in 2011;
  • Some violations were corrected but the civil fines accrued and totaled more than $1.5 million as of August 2018.



Steady streams of tourists can be found at popular attractions and eateries such as Boots and Kimo’s. Photo: Leah Friel



Rep. Thielen, an attorney and Sen. Laura Thielen’s mother, says the city must enforce the ordinance and collect fines to discourage the practice. She noted that tourists renting there told neighbors they were paying $1,500 a day, triple the $500 daily fine the city can impose.


“If we could crack down and stop the whole-house rentals it could begin to turn the community back into a local residential community,” Rep. Thielen says. The Honolulu City Council is considering seven bills relating to vacation rentals.


City officials estimate Kailua contains 29 legal bed-and-breakfast operations and 29 legal temporary vacation rentals. But do an internet search for Kailua vacation rentals and 4,000 options pop up. (Islandwide, officials estimate that 10,000 illegal rentals are in operation.)



Photo: Leah Friel



Kalapawai’s Dymond is frustrated by other side effects of growth: problems associated with people who appear to be living on the streets or in the bushes. “A lot of them are violent or can be if you catch them at the wrong time of day or in the wrong mood,” he says. “You can pretty much stop at any red light in Kailua and someone can step out in front of your car at any busy intersection.” Catherine Sato, president of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce, worries about theft, public drug use and individuals who confront people, and walk or ride bicycles into traffic, creating a danger for themselves and others. She knows the problem isn’t unique to Kailua but is increasingly visible. “When you’re doing a crime and we’re seeing you doing drugs on the street and walking around with no clothes, that is not OK.”


Honolulu Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy, a longtime Kailua resident himself, says the overall Kailua crime rate has declined over the past 20 years. In the 1990s, police investigated hundreds of property crimes each month. “We’d get 500 car break-ins and burglaries in a month,” he says. “It was crazy.”


Over the past 10 years, McCarthy said, the number of burglaries, car break-ins and auto thefts in Kailua dropped to fewer than 300 cases in each category over a year’s time. While that’s good news, police grapple with other issues: a larger, more visible homeless population; cyber crime; and thieves that target vacation rentals.


Open and Closed

In the past 18 months, more than 20 businesses opened or closed in Kailua. One that’s on the way will bring a fresh take on barbecue to the Windward Side.


Over Easy

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



This spring, the couple that runs the popular Over Easy breakfast spot plans to expand to a second Kailua restaurant that will serve modern American barbecue.


It will be open at night, in a bigger place with counter service and a full bar, according to Over Easy owners Nik and Jennifer Lobendahn. They are both excited about the new place—which they’re calling Easy ’Que. After five months of negotiations, they signed a 15-year lease with A&B locking in their rent at the site of the former Cactus restaurant. “We’re committed,” Nik says.


Nik and Jennifer first met working at Alan Wong’s restaurant, then moved to the Bay Area where Nik worked at Michelin-starred Ame and other restaurants. Nik, 40, grew up in Kailua. “I think it’s crazy how much it’s changed,” he says.


Rather than just complain, he sees this as an opportunity for local businesses to step up and for A&B to demonstrate a commitment to local businesses in Kailua rather than increasing lease rates. “We really felt like this could start to turn the tide,” Nik says.


Street Scene

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



Kailua has seen a lot of open and closed signs in the past 18 months.

  • On the A&B side, Cactus abruptly closed in June, a few months after Bella Bistro, a small Italian restaurant on Hāmākua Drive, closed; and two restaurants with decades of experience across from Pali Lanes—Buona Sera Italian restaurant, known for its wall of Chianti bottles, and Kailua’s Ba-Le Sandwich Shop—closed as lease rents climbed. A&B’s Darren Pai says locally run Mother Bakery is expected to open where Buona Sera was. And artist Lauren Roth made the move to a retail shop/art studio a few doors down.
  • Coco’s Trading Post opened a boutique in Kailua Shopping Center, where longtime boutique Mary Z’s once thrived. Himalayan Kitchen replaced India Café.
  • Across town, Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop closed after 48 years of making malassadas and baked goods. North Shore eatery Beet Box Café moved in. Ānuenue Exquisite Tea was open less than two years and was replaced by Egghead Café Espresso Bar across from Cinnamon’s Restaurant. Mama’Nita Scones opened in 2016 and closed in December. Other closings in the past year include: a fudge shop, a branch of The Curb coffee shop, a shave ice place on Ku‘ulei Road and another on Hekili Street.


“It’s so hard—you want your own little paradise to stay the way you’ve always had it,” Nik says. While some change is inevitable, Nik sees an opportunity for local businesses to show they’re as good or better than any chain. “It’s on us local people to make sure that we do those things and provide for the community,” he adds.


Facing Future


A sunrise shot shows the popularity of the Ka‘iwa Ridge hike, more commonly known as the Lanikai pillboxes. Photo: Odeelo Dayondon



Kailua businesses and residents recognize a need to better manage the upswing in popularity without sacrificing the character of the community.


Sato says the chamber’s 180 members, including attorneys, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organization leaders, appreciate the town’s slow-growth designation. She’s pleased to see a new dog park coming together off Hāmākua Drive. The space is a public-private partnership, with A&B donating 6.8 acres adjacent to conservation land. The state allocated $3.8 million to develop the state park, which will be transferred to the city to manage.


Chef Yamaguchi—who runs 11 restaurants in Hawai‘i and is affiliated with another 15 nationwide—says he’d been looking to open a restaurant in Kailua for years.  He named his restaurant after the round five-yen coin, whose graphic elements represent agriculture, water and industry, to honor Kailua’s agricultural history rather than the Japanese tourists who arrive by the busload at a stop nearby. “We want to be good stewards,” Yamaguchi says. “I’m not here to take anybody’s business. We’re here to stay.”


The latest Maui Brewing Co. restaurant is next door at Lau Hala Shops. A large Ulta Beauty Supply replaced a Pier 1 Imports store that closed months before. Some residents remain skeptical that new businesses will be good for residents, fearing more boutiques selling beach totes to tourists. Ulta’s general manager, Shea Ledbetter, understands. The Kamehameha Schools graduate was born and raised in Kailua and helped open the new store with a blessing, untying a maile lei with a shout of “Chee hoo!”


Inspired by witnessing a couple’s tender farewell, Lili‘uokalani wrote “Aloha ‘Oe” in Maunawili in 1878.


Ledbetter went to the Mainland for college and stayed to work. She says two of the new chain stores in the middle of Kailua town—Target and now Ulta—allowed her to move back home. “There’s a mutual benefit that I’m a local girl,” she says. When residents question how a store that carries 5,000 beauty products fits into a town with a population of 53,000, Ledbetter says the products are similar to the higher-end beauty items sold at Liberty House/Macy’s for more than 70 years. Ledbetter believes Ulta and other newcomers can work well alongside legacy businesses in Kailua.


“For me, the quality and the charm of Kailua comes from the people,” she says. Ledbetter still takes her family to get their favorite shave ice after the beach and eat breakfast at Cinnamon’s. “It’s changing and it’s growing and there’s life in it.”


Anthropologist Paul Brennan moved from Papua New Guinea to Maunawili in 1981 with his family to work at the East-West Center. He also worked at the Bishop Museum and got involved with the Kailua Historical Society, where he serves as president. As someone who studies cultural change for a living, Brennan, 80, figured he might leave for the Mainland once his four sons got older and struck out on their own. Instead, he became more rooted in the community. “This is our home and we’re going to stay here,” Brennan says. “There is this pull to me.”


Rep. Lee sees more people getting more involved because of recent changes. “We don’t resign ourselves but still try to protect what makes Kailua a special place where we choose to live. That’s why it’s important for people to get involved and stay involved about what kind of community they want this to be.”


A recent addition of a bike lane that runs along the curb drew some confusion and took away parking but made biking safer, Lee says. “In eighth grade I was hit by a car while driving a bike in a crosswalk. Sadly, there are dozens of accidents just like that in the community each year.”


Lee is working on a project that envisions a park/gathering place built over the metered parking lot by Cinnamon’s Restaurant. Nam and other businesses so far like what they hear.


There’s more controversy over a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant planned where a gas station stood on a half-acre lot next to Ko‘olau Farmers garden center. Some like having another takeout option while others worry about the impact of noise and traffic on the Pōhākupu neighborhood a few blocks from Kailua High School.


Despite the frustrations, many people in Kailua are talking solutions. Meyer believes positive change is possible, citing work being done to produce food locally in Maunawili, environmental work supporting Kawainui and Ka‘elepulu, and the cultural stewardship of Ulupō Heiau.


“For me, the quality and the charm of Kailua comes from the people.” — Shea Ledbetter


Rep. Cynthia Thielen suggests one way to give residents back some breathing room would be to stop the tour buses from coming on Sundays, in the same manner that Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays to give the resource time to recover. “Give us our Sundays back,” she suggests.


Ebert says she’s not sure how such a proposal would work since A&B provides the bus stop but doesn’t regulate the traffic. “I think we’re open-minded,” Ebert says. “I think it’s an opportunity to work to try to identify some solutions to managing tourism.”



Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



Adds Pai: “It’s something that’s going to take collaboration between community, businesses, government to solve.”


Longtime community advocate Donna Wong notes that Ebert regularly attends neighborhood board meetings. “They have to start listening to the community. They’re either going to ruin it for any local resident,” Wong says, “or they can work with the community that’s here and keep the special things that make Kailua a charming town rather than just another glitzy visitor destination.”


Sen. Thielen grew up in Kailua, raised two children and still spends time there with her extended family. Eight years ago, she moved to Waimānalo to run a small lemon farm. Still, she’s heartened that many are so passionate about working to help Kailua thrive. “It’s such a wonderful community because it’s literally embraced by the mountains; they just wrap their arms around the community.”


Social Media Meetups Grow

On Facebook, share news or find photos on My Kailua, Our Kailua, I Love Kailua! or get email notifications about what’s happening via Nextdoor.

By Carlyn Tani



Photo: Leah Friel



Conversations about concerns and changes are not just occurring in kailua coffee shops and homes. social media has turned into a vibrant, virtual town square. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Nextdoor, Kailuans are enthusiastically sharing photos, opinions and alerts with neighbors.


Just ask Evan Weber, co-founder of the Facebook community page Our Kailua, which rallied community opposition to Alexander & Baldwin’s planned demolition of historic Pali Lanes bowling alley. “Social media was critical in helping the community get involved,” says the Kailua-born Weber, 26. “When we posted the petition to save Pali Lanes, we got more than a thousand signatures in just a few days.” (It eventually numbered 10,000 signatures.) Our Kailua successfully lobbied to extend Pali Lanes’ lease to 2020, and helped secure the 1961 landmark’s listing on the state Register of Historic Places. The group is now seeking a long-term solution. “We want to ensure that everything we love about Kailua gets preserved for future generations,” Weber says.


Facebook pages My Kailua, I Love Kailua! and Kailua Calabash offer a wide-angle view of life in the neighborhood. Lost your dog? Want to share a photo of Lanikai, or warn about suspicious activity nearby? You’ll be in good company on My Kailua, founded by Danny Casler, a 1999 Kalāheo High School graduate and entrepreneur. My Kailua, which claims 56,700 followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, promotes a pro-preservation stance. Yet, some argue that its images of idyllic, uncrowded beaches and crystalline waves only feed tourism. Casler rebuffs the notion, pointing out that the majority of his followers live in Hawai‘i.


I Love Kailua! was launched by Daniela Stolfi-Tow and takes a sunny, business-friendly approach. Kailua Calabash, created by former local TV reporter Mary Zanakis, features short-form videos that celebrate Kailua’s everyday heroes, merchants and history; a widely shared video retraces the history of Pali Highway, which paved the way for residential and commercial development on the Windward Side.


With Facebook’s recent privacy missteps, some are migrating to other social networks such as Nextdoor, which connects people by residential proximity. “I like Nextdoor because it’s really targeted to my neighborhood, so I can solicit responses from my neighbors,” says Lanikai resident Natalie Younoszai. When she was looking for a baby sitter for her three young children, she advertised on Nextdoor and ended up hiring someone who lived just five doors down from her. Until then, they had never met. Younoszai also finds the platform helpful in keeping her apprised of neighborhood developments. Like many parents who juggle work, school and after-school activities, she finds it hard to get to monthly neighborhood board meetings.


Casler echoes the challenges while ruefully noting that “a neighborhood board is only as good as the people who show up.” He champions tracking issues and developments on his mobile phone. When asked if social media is becoming the new neighborhood board, Casler chuckles. “But,” he adds, “all the state senators and representatives follow our page—they’d be crazy not to.”



Video: Aaron K. Yoshino



Want to Get Involved?



‘Ahahui Mālama I Ka Lōkahi, a nonprofit group committed to conservation of native ecosystems, leads workdays at area heiau and is clearing brush and planting native plants at the Nā Pōhaku O Hauwahine state park.


Windward YMCA, which works to support neighboring Ulupō Heiau (Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club is the primary steward), invites volunteers to help with upkeep of the heiau and adjoining lo‘i, as well as assists Kailua houseless care programs and other community activities.


Kailua Chamber of Commerce works with businesses and also puts together the Fourth of July Parade.



Kailua Historical Society offers programs and memberships as well as a link to other activities in the community.



New developments, projects and legislation are usually run past neighborhood boards for feedback. Find your community board (Kailua, Maunawili, etc.) at You can attend monthly meetings, ask for agenda to be emailed to you and even volunteer to run for office.


Learn who your elected officials are and ask their staff to keep you informed of community activities/meetings/volunteer opportunities.