The city finally has come up with proposed new rules to crack down on the illegal vending that’s gone on at Oahu beach parks for decades.

Under the guise of exercising their First Amendment rights, the vendors are selling beach merchandise and food and cold drinks in public parks.

If you go to Hanauma Bay or Waimea Bay and Ehukai Beach Park on the North Shore, you will see the vendors standing under umbrellas, which shade their tables piled high with T-shirts , hats, sarongs, sodas and Pringles for sale.

Honolulu already has rules on the book to prohibit this kind of peddling but the city’s enforcement of its own regulations has been lax to non-existent.

City parks Director Michele Nekota says it has been difficult to crack down on the offenders because the existing rules are vague.

The parks department doesn’t have its own enforcement arm and police have been reluctant to cite offenders.

The city is scheduled to present the proposed new rules at a public hearing at the Mission Memorial Building at 2 p.m., Feb. 22.

Some vendors compete directly with concessionaires who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sell food and drink, among other items at Hanauma Bay. Courtesy: Lisa Bishop

The new rules allow nonprofits holding permits only to solicit donations or sell printed materials such as books, pamphlets, handbills, cards, circulars, pictures, magazines and leaflets promoting their particular ideological message or religious perspective.

Under the proposed new rules, it will be illegal to sell other merchandise such as T-shirts, hats, footwear and all articles of clothing as well as sun glasses, coffee mugs, souvenirs and food and drinks.

Kailua state Rep. Cynthia Thielen calls the proposed rules “a disaster.”

Thielen says the new rules open up opportunities for the current vendors to keep selling merchandise because they state that “the solicitation of funds or donations or sale or distribution of expressive materials is permitted in city parks.”

“They are very clever people,” Thielen says. “They have been making big bucks for years. The language that still allows selling is a huge loophole they will exploit to sell other items.”

Thielen has been urging the city for more than a year to take action after receiving complaints from her Kailua constituents.

I first described the problem of the unregulated selling in a column last year: “Denby Fawcett: Lax Enforcement Allows Illegal Peddling At Beach Parks.”

The illegal vending began sometime after 1996 when the city created rules to allow carefully regulated free speech activities in certain parks. The intention was to clear vendors off the sidewalks of the Waikiki tourist district where their sidewalk T-shirt stands had proliferated.

Biplab Biswas was selling shirts with vague messages not related to his charity at Ehukai Beach Park last year. Denby Fawcett

Vendors with permits were allowed to distribute in selected parks so-called “message bearing merchandise” to freely express their views.

But a small group of individuals found ways to grab most of the First Amendment permits available each month and use them to set up tables in the parks to sell T-shirts, rubber slippers, beach hats and food and drinks — items that could be easily found in any store and had nothing to do with the goals of their so-called nonprofits.

Most of some 15 permits have been held for years by three individuals: Dipak Sarkar, Hema Sarkar or Narayani Sarkar, all of whom are related by current or past marriages and all of whom are associated with Krishna groups. Many of their permits list the same address: 67-446 Puuiki St. in Waialua.

Critics estimate that the Sarkars and their associates have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from their sales.

I called Dipak Sarkar on his cell phone and emailed him a link to the proposed new rules. So far, he has not returned my calls to tell me what he thinks about the proposed changes, which if enacted and enforced might put him out of business.

Currently, the First Amendment permit holders also are allowed to set up tables at five other beach parks, including Sandy Beach, Kailua Beach Park and Haleiwa Alii, Pupukea and Sunset Beach parks on the North Shore.

“It is basically just a scam,” says Lisa Cates. Cates is a longtime advocate of keeping Oahu’s public parks commerce free.

She objects to the proposed rules because she thinks they don’t go far enough. Cates says the nonprofits should be allowed to distribute leaflets for free, but they should be banned from selling anything in the parks.

“Any proposed rules for First Amendment vendors should only allow them to share their messages on pamphlets or leaflets, similar to what Jehovah Witnesses are currently doing in the parks,” Cates says. “They do not sell anything.”

Cates, like Thielen, thinks the vendors will still find ways to keep selling items.

“The Parks Department needs to verify if the new rules would allow vendors to print calendars and post cards for sale, which would circumvent the intent of the new rules,” she says.

Kailua state Rep. Cynthia Thielen calls the proposed rules “a disaster.”

Under the proposed new rules, permit violators could have their permits yanked and their merchandise seized.

Friends of Hanauma Bay President Lisa Bishop says, “The key will be enforcement. The city has not demonstrated the political will to enforce the current rules and regulations for years, so we will continue to push for a ban on selling anything to make enforcement easier and eliminate any financial incentive to skirt the new rules. “

Police currently are the enforcers of park rule violations but the Friends of Hanauma Bay would like that changed to make the parks director or a designated representative in charge of enforcement.

Nekota declined to comment on the criticism of the proposed regulations.

In an emailed statement she said, “The Department of Parks and Recreation is looking forward to fielding suggestions and concerns dealing with the proposed rule changes during our scheduled public hearing.”

Her office stresses that the new regulations will halt sales of all merchandise except for sales and donations collected for written material.

Read the proposed new rules online at the Parks and Recreation Department’s website. 

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