Update: Mayor Blangiardi sided with the city council’s resolution Tuesday, citing concerns for public safety and the area’s ecosystem.
“We recognize the interest the stairs have to certain community groups, however issues such as trespassing, personal injuries, invasive species and overall safety of the public cannot be ignored,” Blangiardi said in a statement. His administration intends to “move forward with the necessary plans.”
The original story, with details on the stairway’s significance, reasons for its removal, and opposition to the plan, follows:
One of the most famous attractions on Oahu is on the verge of being permanently removed.
The famed Haiku Stairs, known by many as the Stairway to Heaven, have been targeted for elimination by the Honolulu City Council. A resolution passed last week urges the city administration and Mayor Rick Blangiardi to use nearly $1 million set aside in the budget for their removal.
“Due to rampant illegal trespassing, Haiku Stairs is a significant liability and expense for the city, and impacts the quality of life for nearby residents,” said City Councilmember Ester Kiaaina, according to Hawaii News Now.
The stairway, originally built in the 1940s, has no public access, and anyone caught on the stairs is subject to trespassing charges and a $1,000 fine. Nonetheless, it is a popular tourist area and photo location for visitors who manage their way onto the nearly 4,000-step platform.
The steps work their way up Oahu’s Ko’olau mountain range to what had been a naval radio station used to transmit signals to ships operating in the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, the steps have been owned by the Navy, Coast Guard, the Honolulu Board of Water, and the city of Honolulu.
In 2003, the city developed plans to reopen the stairs to the public and spent nearly $1 million to have them repaired. But with no public access to them, those plans were abandoned, and now they are on the verge of removal.
“The city has already spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer dollars to remodel the stairs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in security costs,” Councilman Brandon Elefante said. “Nearly two decades have passed and the various city agencies have not done much since then.”
Despite the liability concerns, not everyone is on board with the plan to remove the stairs, which climb nearly 2,500 feet from base to peak.
“To lose the stairs would be a catastrophe,” Vernon Ansdell of Friends of Haiku Stairs told KITV. “This is a priceless Windward treasure, and they must not be destroyed. This would be a huge loss to Oahu, the state of Oahu, and in particular to the residents on the Windward side.”
The windward side of a Hawaiian island is the north- or east-facing portion, often greener and more tropical.
Ansdell’s group recently held a rally to save the stairs, urging city leaders to develop a managed access plan instead.
But many of the neighbors are in favor of their removal, telling Hawaii News Now that during a recent stakeout nearly 200 people were counted on the stairs in one 9-hour day.
The city council, in voting unanimously to recommend removal, said social media has played a role in acting now.
“With the advent of social media, instructions to illegally access Haiku Stairs are readily available, and prolific sharing of panoramic snapshots encourages people around the world to risk the climb,” a staff report says. “There is an ongoing need to stop trespassing and reduce disruptions in the adjacent residential neighborhoods.”