Honolulu's Chinatown is an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and markets. But, when nature calls, you may be on your own.... there are no public restrooms.
"A public restroom is a basic necessity that any civilized city who’s inviting visitors (and) who's having a healthy commerce should have. It's very basic," says Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, which has been pushing for public facilities for years.
There are public bathrooms at Aala Park, but the park is outside the Chinatown boundary. With a large homeless population in the area, businesses like Jenny's Leis and Flowers must deal with the mess left behind, especially in the private parking lot out back.
"For us, it's only the smell and we have to watch where we walk,” said Francis Wong, the lei shop’s owner. “Sometimes you don't watch, you track it in here and then that's terrible."
Now, a City Council resolution (13-293) is urging the administration of Mayor Kirk Caldwell to identify potential sites for public restrooms. The resolution notes at least three studies and reports dating back to 2006 have documented the need for restrooms in the hustle and bustle of the Chinatown District. The resolution is scheduled to be heard Tuesday at 9 a.m. before the Public Safety and Economic Development Committee. It was introduced by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga early last month.
"The city has been deferring this necessity for too long, and we have become a laughing stock,” said Shubert-Kwock. “We sell our blue sky and our beautiful ocean, come, come, come and then you walk into Chinatown or Waikiki or anyplace, (and) you see filth."
In November 2011, the CBCA began a 90-day pilot project, setting up two public restrooms near the River of Life mission on Pauahi Street for use on weekends. During the three-month period, more than 1,000 people used the facilities at a cost of about $10,000 dollars. Shubert-Kwock says the city needs be more creative in finding ways to defray the cost of public restroom in Chinatown and how to keep them clean.
"I think if the city would just think a little bit outside of the box and hire a subcontractor and work with the community to say, 'OK, we want to make this a statement. We care about our community and we want hygiene,'" she says.
If the resolution is passed in committee and then the full Council, Caldwell's administration would have to provide recommended solutions for restrooms in Chinatown by Jan. 30.