What’s with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and booze at the beach — specifically, his administration’s current proposal to allow alcohol to be served at private parties at Queen’s Beach in Kapiolani Park?

The last time the mayor got dreamy-eyed about booze in the parks was last March when he discussed the possibility of opening up Ala Moana Beach Park to alcohol sales.

Caldwell said then, “For me, I would love to go somewhere where I can sit by the water and have a reasonably priced meal and have a beer.”

Person jumps off ‘the wall’ at the Kapahulu Groin. Waikiki Beach. 9 jan 2016. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The proposal would establish a permit process for private groups wanting to serve alcohol at gatherings at Queen’s Beach. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That idea was quickly torpedoed after a large number of critics weighed in, saying commercial alcohol sales would change the character of a park beloved for family picnics.

The Caldwell administration’s current proposal is to allow private groups with the proper permits to serve (not sell) alcohol at private gatherings at Queen’s Beach. The proposal would allow up to four private alcohol-serving events at Queen’s Beach each year.

This proposal should be torpedoed, too. It is just plain nutty.

City Parks officials say it is not their idea to allow booze at events in the park but rather that they agreed to write the rule change proposal when they received requests from event organizers eager for cocktail events at Queen’s Beach.

It doesn’t matter whose idea it was. It’s still nutty.

Mayor Caldwell could have saved himself a lot of embarrassment if he had just told the NFL executives when he met with them last year, “I love the Pro Bowl. It is a wonderful event for our community, but private cocktail parties are not allowed in our parks, not for you, not for anyone. Period!”

Specifically,  event organizers for the National Football League made a request for an alcohol-serving tent at Queen’s Beach. The NFL wants to have an exclusive tented party with alcoholic drinks to honor its Pro Bowl sponsors and their guests. The league wants the party to be part of the free Mini Stadium event it will host for the public at Queen’s Beach from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., Jan. 29-30.

The Mini Stadium event is expected to draw 10,000 people a day before the Pro Bowl game at Aloha Stadium on Jan. 31.

The NFL is offering the Mini Stadium event this year instead of the usual block party along Kalakaua Avenue it hosts for the public before the Pro Bowl.

The NFL is used to getting what it wants. You have to wonder if the mayor didn’t feel squeezed to consider the rule change to allow alcohol at private parties in the park to please the NFL, which in the past has talked about moving the Pro Bowl out of Hawaii.

Beach volleyball groups have also expressed an interest in a rule change to allow them to serve alcohol at their parties at Queen’s Beach.

It doesn’t make sense to allow alcohol to be served to a privileged few at exclusive parties when the law prohibits the rest of Oahu’s residents from drinking in the parks and at beaches. The idea is also politically disastrous.

The proposal requires that the parties be contained in cordoned off areas the public would be prohibited from entering. Alcohol would be available only to invited guests, not to the public.

That makes an elitist statement that although it is illegal for regular people to drink in the parks, if you are powerful enough to get one of the permits for an exclusive party, you and your rich friends can drink your heads off while turning up your noses up at the poor slobs lingering outside of the ropes.

“It doesn’t smell right, “ says political analyst and Civil Beat columnist Neal Milner.

Sign stating ‘no loud music and no alcoholic beverages, animals, ball playing’ along Kalakaua Avenue just after Kapahulu Avenue. 9 jan 2016. photograph Cory Lum/CIvil Beat
“No alcoholic beverages” is among the prohibitions spelled out on a sign in Kapiolani Park. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“This is pure special interest, “ says Alethea Rebman of the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society.”

Rebman was speaking at a Parks Department hearing Friday on the proposed rule change.

Rebman says, “Someone came to the city, asked for it (the rule change) and then the city spent public money promulgating rules, is holding a hearing and they are not here to hear the comments. And it was brought forward because people asked for private beach parties with alcohol for their VIPs.”

There is nothing wrong with cocktails. I love a gin gimlet as much as the next person, but I hate the idea of any section of our public parks being closed off to the public.

“This would be taking beach days away from families and everyone else in order to benefit partygoers,” says Rebman.

An attorney, Rebman also worries that the proposal will set a precedent. “It should not be allowed.”

The plan was for the NFL to serve its VIP guests wine and beer as well as one specialty cocktail in a 2,400-square-foot tent at the same time and in the same area as the two-day Mini Stadium event.

Under the proposal, the parks director could allow exemptions in the future for private cocktail parties at other parks and beaches.

“Let’s have our parks be free. Free of alcohol and free of drugs. We already know that alcohol is not good for the public. Why is it good for people with money to buy into an area?” asked John Schockley of the Free Access Coalition, a group dedicated to keeping public places opened to the public.

The National Football League is perfectly within its rights to ask for the rule change, but Mayor Caldwell could have saved himself a lot of embarrassment if he had just told the NFL executives when he met with them last year, “I love the Pro Bowl. It is a wonderful event for our community, but private cocktail parties are not allowed in our parks, not for you, not for anyone. Period!”

My Punahou School classmate, Tek Yoon, who was at the hearing, asked, “Don’t you have the spine to say no when someone asks you to break the law?”

Queen’s Beach is also known as Queen’s Surf. The area under consideration for private alcohol serving parties stretches from the Kapahulu Groin all the way in the Diamond Head direction to the no-alcohol city concession known as the Barefoot Beach Café.

Ed Nishioka spoke in favor of allowing part of the park to be roped off for the NFL’s VIP guests.

‘This is not a rich people’s event in the park, “ said Nishioka, pointing out that the private tent serving alcohol to invited guests would be part of a much larger event that is open to the public.

Nishioka told reporters the plan was for the NFL to serve its VIP guests wine and beer as well as one specialty cocktail in a 2,400-square-foot tent at the same time and in the same area as the two-day Mini Stadium event.

“To put things in perspective, the rules change would allow for a secured hospitality area that would have hundreds of people in it, versus tens of thousands of residents and visitors that come to enjoy the Pro Bowl experience,” said Nishioka.

Nishioka is an owner of DNA Communications, a marketing company that’s helping the NFL launch the Mini Stadium event.

Nishioka said, “Without sponsors, events that our residents enjoy today would not happen.”

Rick Schneider, the CEO of Events International, said the NLF wants the VIP  tent to show appreciation to its Pro Bowl sponsors in an area where they can relax with drinks  “away from the stage, away from the main part of the event.”

Another supporter of the booze-serving events, Waikiki resident Dave Moskowitz. said, “It’s time we stop trying to hurt business.”

Interestingly, the city would not make any money off of the cocktail parties in the park. An event organizer would have to pay only a refundable security deposit, and show proof of a $5 million insurance policy. No other fee would be paid to the city for the permit.

Written testimony on the proposal must be submitted to the city by Friday. So far, the Parks Department has ignored my repeated requests to find out when it will decide on whether to allow alcohol to a privileged few in the park.

I like the bluntness of my classmate Tek Yoon, who says to the mayor and the Parks Department, “This is crazy. You have to keep the parks free for the maka’ainana  (the commoners).”

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