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I feel sad whenever I hear about local residents being squeezed out of their community beach parks by tour buses rumbling in day after day to drop off hundreds of tourists on so-called “recreation stops.”
That’s what’s happening at many Oahu beaches, but it’s especially egregious at the small neighborhood beach parks dotting the Waimanalo coast.
Tourism to Waimanalo increased after the website Dr. Beach named Waimanalo Beach Park America’s best beach in 2015 and after a city ordinance banned commercialism in nearby Kailua and Kalama beach parks.
Now big tour buses, vans and limousines on most days hog the limited number of available parking spaces at some of the tinier Waimanalo beach parks.
Tourists seeking restroom relief overwhelm the already under-equipped bathrooms, using up all the toilet paper. Visitors crowd out local fishermen and beach-loving local families as dozens of tourists amble out to the water’s edge to take “selfies,” talk on their iPhones or sunbathe on the sand.
Waimanalo resident and sixth-generation Hawaiian Homesteader Kukana Kama-Toth says, “It’s hindering our community’s way of life. These beaches are beloved by our fishermen. They are where we fill our refrigerators, where we do our cultural practices. We want to keep our community a community. We don’t want to become another Kailua or Hawaii Kai.”
Kama-Toth, a mother of five and a recent college graduate with a degree in social work, became a community advocate after seeing a madhouse of five large coach buses, four vans and a couple of limousines dropping off crowds of tourists at the same time at tiny Kaiona Beach Park.
“They are raping our beaches,” she says.
Kailua community advocate Lisa Cates says, “It’s just progressively getting worse and worse and worse.”
Cates has worked for years to bring government attention to the increasing commercialism in Kailua and Waimanalo beach parks.
Kama-Toth says the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation has failed to cite violators, so she and other neighbors have taken it upon themselves to tell tour bus drivers that their unpermitted commercial activities are not allowed at the Waimanalo beaches.
The department has been promising for two years to come up with uniform rules to regulate commercial activity at all of Oahu’s 300 parks, but so far not a single rule has been revealed.
It’s enough to make you cry, and that’s exactly what happened at a City Council committee meeting Thursday when Councilwoman Kymberly Pine burst into tears as she apologized for previously stalling a bill for a year that would prohibit commercial activity at four Waimanalo beach parks.
The tearful Pine said, “You are being harmed and your community is being destroyed at a rapid pace and so in this last hour or so I have been convinced to support this measure.”
Pine said she had initially planned to vote no on Bill 8.
She grasped at her chest as she continued; “I apologize for being the person who held up the bill for a year. I am so sorry. I am starting to cry. We are going to help you.”
After the hearing, Pine said she was trying to hold herself together but began to cry when she saw Kama-Toth sob in relief to know the bill was finally getting serious attention from formerly hesitant council members.
At the end of the hearing, the Transportation and Planning Committee approved the amended bill to prohibit commercial activity at four Waimanalo beach parks.
The bill is headed to the full council for a final vote Jan. 25.
Transportation committee chairman Ikaika Anderson says, “ I understand the desire to make money. I get it. But the right to commercialize the beach parks by businesses must be superseded by the recreational rights of residents who pay taxes to maintain the parks.”
Bill 8 would outlaw all commercial activities including bus “recreation stops” at Waimanalo Beach Park, Kaiona Beach Park, Kaupo Beach Park — including the Makai Research Pier — and Makapuu Beach Park.
“When I read this bill, I am so sad,” Pine said. “The only way we can bring relief to the people of Waimanalo is to codify what is already in the law.”
The commercial activities outlawed in the bill are already prohibited in the four Waimanalo beach parks through an agreement the city made with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands 13 years ago.
DHHL owns Makapuu, Kaupo, Kaiona and Waimanalo beach parks.
DHHL signed an agreement in 2004 to allow the city to manage the parks, but in the lease DHHL stated that no commercial activities were to be allowed at the four parks except for commercial filming and community events run by non-profits, including country fairs, canoe regattas, cultural presentations and music festivals.
Even so, Windward district police Maj. Gordon Gomes says the police still can’t cite people who violate the prohibition against commercialism at the Waimanalo parks because the prohibitions are written only in permit rules and are not in an ordinance.
Gomes says they only way police enforce such rules is when permit prohibitions are codified into city laws, such as the current ordinances outlawing commercial activity at Kalama and Kailua beach parks.
“Police can only address what is in an ordinance,” Gomes says. “Permits are not enforceable by us.”
The bill Anderson’s committee approved Thursday does offer a few concessions to tour companies.
Permits would be allowed for up to five tour companies to unload tourists at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park. That’s the park formerly known as Sherwood Forest or Sherwood’s.
The companies given permits would be restricted to using 15 passenger vehicles and they could drop off tourists at the park only Monday through Friday from sunrise until sunset, but not on weekends or on state or federal holidays.
In the bill, tour companies would also be prohibited from engaging in commercial activities at any of the community rights-of-way into Waimanalo beaches.
Waimanalo resident Ted Ralston says tourist vans and big buses have been parking near his house on Laumilo Street to drop off paying clients to use neighborhood beach accesses.
Tour company representatives at the hearing said they would be unfairly hindered by the restrictions in the bill.
In written testimony, Glenn Kawamura of Polynesian Adventure Tours says his company tries to avoid dropping off passengers at Waimanalo beach parks.
But he says, “There are occasions when elderly visitors have an emergency and need to use a restroom. I don’t think it is pono to prevent access to a public restroom based on the vehicle the person is riding in.”
Anderson says, “I have no problem supporting Hawaii’s No. 1 industry, tourism, but we cannot support it at the expense of our residents. The beaches are overused now.”
It will take the burden off of Waimanalo residents who are now trying to enforce the prohibitions themselves. It will help police go after the violators.
Kama-Toth says, “It is one small battle but if we can have a victory, it will be uplifting to myself and to my community.”