After months of fielding complaints from residents, the Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board wants to stop what it sees as overuse of the Waianae Coast by commercial tour groups that locals say clog the beaches and prevent easy public access.

In May, the board called for a ban on all commercial recreational activities from Kahe Beach to Kaena Point and now is is looking to convince the Honolulu City Council to enact legislation similar to the commercial activity ban in Kailua that it approved in 2012.

Board member Patty Kahanamoku-Teruya said she and other members have received emails and calls from residents who can’t find parking at city parks and, once they are on the beach, feel crowded by tourists who are kayaking and learning how to use stand-up paddleboards.

Zablan Beach Park.
Zablan Beach Park has been the scene of tension between residents and commercial tour operators. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Residents are also concerned about trash left behind by tour groups. Kahanamoku-Teruya said some residents already take the initiative to clean up trash in the area’s parks themselves.

Civil Beat reached out to tour companies that operate kayak rentals, stand-up paddleboard lessons, and snorkel tours on the Waianae Coast, but their representatives declined to comment. Officials with the Hawaii Tourism Authority also had no comment, saying they were unaware of a documented increase in commercial tours on the Leeward coast. 

Kahanamoku-Teruya has experienced the tension that can develop between commercial operators and residents.

In April, a tour company had hauled its kayaks into a long row on Zablan Beach, and some residents said it blocked beach access.

When Kahanamoku-Teruya got to the beach, members of state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro’s staff were already there, and a confrontation was brewing.

Kahanamoku-Teruya said she noticed that all of the company’s permits were expired. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation had already advised the board to call the police if a company was suspected of illegally operating a commercial business out of a city park.

“In Kailua, (commercial activity) was rampant, and it’s not quite at that level yet. But now as a community, we need to help fix this problem.” — Leeward coast Councilwoman Kymberly Pine

The police were called in this case and an incident report was filed. Kahanamoku-Teruya said the company has not been seen at Zablan Beach since.

Before the board supported the ban, it heard citizen concerns about tourists overrunning beaches and damaging reefs, especially at a popular spot called Mermaid Caves, where people bring ladders to descend into the caves.

“It’s really disrupting our community and lifestyle,” Kahanamoku-Teruya said. “These are residents who live out by the beach and have adopted the beach.”

Enforcing laws that govern how tour companies operate at beaches is difficult because the jurisdictions vary.

The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation grants commercial tour permits for snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, surfing and photography in city parks, said Nathan Serota, spokesman for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

The state’s Department of Natural Land and Resources grants commercial tour permits for groups operating in state ocean waters. If a commercial tour group wants to launch from a boat harbor, it needs an additional permit, said DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward.

DLNR Docare officers with other watercraft near Hokulea offshore Waikiki.
DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers with other watercraft near Waikiki. It is the enforcement arm of DLNR. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Currently, there are no limits on the number of commercial permits that can be approved for city parks except for special stipulations for Hanauma Bay, Serota said. There is a also complete ban on commercial tours at Kailua and Kalama Beach parks and for some beach parks in Waimanalo.

There are no limits on commercial permits for state ocean waters, Ward said.

Correction: An earlier version of this report said there are no limits on commercial permits for the Waianae Boat Harbor, but a rule actually limits the number to 15 permits in slips at the harbor.

Anyone can ask tour company representatives to see their permits if they are in a city park, Serota said, but companies are only required to show permits to water safety or a law enforcement officers. The Department of Parks and Recreation does not have an enforcement agency, so if the company does not have a permit or it is expired, police need to be called.

If the company moves from the beach to state waters, then it is in DLNR’s jurisdiction. The Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement is the enforcement arm for DLNR, and it patrols state waters and also responds to calls as well as tips that can be submitted through its new tip-reporting app

The city does not grant permits for parks in state conservation areas. And after a community-driven push in Kailua, the city no longer grants permits for commercial activity at Kailua and Kalama beach parks.

Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board member Karen Awana said the next step is to work with the City Council to push legislation similar to Kailua’s model.

City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents the Leeward coast, speculated that commercial tour operators have been using the area’s beaches because until recently residents didn’t complain when there were problems.

Honolulu City Council member Kymberly Pine. 22 feb 2017
Honolulu City Council members Ikaika Anderson, left, and Kymberly Pine, center. Anderson helped ban commercial activity in Kailua, part of his district. Pine represents the Leeward coast. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

These days, residents are complaining more to DLNR and the city, including her office, she said. While she is not currently working on council legislation regarding the issue, Pine said she is aware of the concerns. 

“In Kailua, (commercial activity) was rampant, and it’s not quite at that level yet,” Pine said. “But now as a community, we need to help fix this problem.”

Kailua had a limited permit structure that companies were abusing, said City Councilman Ikaika Anderson, whose district includes the east Oahu area. Some companies with permits offered services beyond what was allowed, and other companies operated at Kailua Beach Park without any permit. Rental company employees would set up kayaks on the beach and tell beachgoers to move out of their way. Parking lots were clogged with tour company vehicles.

“At that point, the community said, ‘No more, Ikaika. For real now.’”

In 2012, Anderson introduced Bill 11 to prohibit commercial activity at Kailua and Kalama beach parks. It was vetoed by then-mayor Peter Carlisle, but the veto was overturned by the council. Earlier this year, Anderson introduced legislation limiting activities in Waimanalo to prevent recreational stops by commercial tours at Waimanalo Beach Park, Kaiona Beach Park, Kaupo Beach Park, Makapuu Beach Park, and Bellows Field Beach Park. The bill is now law.

Kailua Beach Mokapu. 26 april 2016.
Kailua Beach is now clear of commercial activity. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Many smaller beach parks that are located in residential communities simply don’t have the space to accommodate a large (amount) of commercial activity,” Anderson said.

Awana has concerns about the short- and long-term impacts of commercial activity on beaches. An immediate concern is that it pushes residents out and worsens traffic congestion.

She is wondering about the future. Kailua had this problem, Nanakuli now has this problem, and she’s heard of similar issues on the North Shore.

In April, the North Shore Neighborhood Board held a special meeting to address the impact of tour buses stopping in Haleiwa and the surrounding areas. Board members asked City Councilman Ernest Martin to work with Anderson on regulations that would prevent tour buses from blocking public access to parks and roadways.

“Once you close one park, that activity moves to other parks,” Awana said. “What are the repercussions of this? Who’s to say that it might not spread?”

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