When Hawaiians lament the degeneration of Waikiki Beach into another Miami Beach, they are dead wrong. Compared to Miami, Waikiki is tasteful, pleasant, and beautiful. Its beach, however crowded, is at least open to nonpaying guests and not subject to near disappearance with each high tide. The constant mild climate avoids Miami Beach's oppressively hot summers and sometimes erratic winter weather. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere (which even draws secretive visits from Hawaiian oldtimers), there is little of the disgusting garishness of the Florida competitor. And the scenery, with the azure Pacific and those peaks of Diamond Head and the Koolau Range providing an ever-dramatic backdrop, is beyond compare in all the U.S.A.
Just east and south of Waikiki is the wonderful green tableland of Kapiolani Park, a favorite spot for swimming and watching the magnificent Hawaiian sunsets. Then comes the low-slung profile, a symbol of the Islands around the world: Diamond Head. Diamond Head's hopefully extinct crater is a constant reminder to arriving and departing air travelers, who can see right down into its bowl, of the geologic origin of the Islands. Its history is rich and colorful; at a temple by its base, for instance, Kamehameha the Great placed the heart of King Kalanikupule, whom he had defeated in battle, on the sacrificial altar as an offering to the god Kukailimoku. The illustrious profile came in mortal danger in 1967, when a group of developers proposed erecting high-rise apartment houses around its lower slopes. Forty-some citizen groups banded together in protest, led by the Outdoor Circle, a 54-year-old women's conservation organization whose long list of accomplishments included having purged Hawaii of all billboards. At a now historic meeting of the Honolulu City Council, crowded by 500 witnesses, 40 spoke for making the ground around Diamond Head into a park or retaining single-family residential use, only 13 for zoning that would permit the high rises. The council decided against the developers and for -- it would seem -- the people.
The key to the extraordinary power of a Honolulu mayor lies in the concept of "the city and county of Honolulu" and the modern charter it has operated under since 1959. Under law, the city and county are one and the same entity. The same mayor, city council, police, fire department, and all municipal departments function for the entire county -- which is defined as the entire island of Oahu, 608 square miles of territory, half again the size of Los Angeles. This is probably the purest form of metropolitan government in the United States, with business and industrial centers, plantations, farms, and suburbs all falling under the identically same administration. Eighty-two percent of all the people in the state are under this one municipal administration. Historically, it was not done by deliberate intent but because, under the old monarchy, there was a governor for each island. The "mayor" of today exercises authority over the same territory as the old governor. Not infrequently, the rural areas complain that the "city" has little interest in their problems, though in fact the mayor must frequently concern himself with roadways to little villages, country flood control, and sanitation systems, just as he does with port facilities and downtown renewal. His powers are enhanced by the exceptionally strong-mayor form of charter adopted for Honolulu in 1959 and the absence of devices like referendum or initiative to reduce the authority of elected officials.