Senate Bill 1034 sets aside at least 300 stalls.

Ala Wai Boat Harbor users and surfers scored a win on Thursday when a key Senate committee passed a measure that would permanently make at least 300 parking stalls in and around the harbor free of charge.

Senate Bill 1034 would set aside those stalls for people who want to access the ocean or perform Native Hawaiian cultural practices. Groups of ocean users worried that the state would one day try to charge for those stalls.

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“What we have is very hard to take away. On top of that, it’s a part of their lives,” Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who introduced SB 1034, said. “I am not a surfer, but I’m a fisher-person and I love swimming. And you can’t take away what you grew up with, particularly when it comes to recreation.”

State agencies have been eyeing parking spots at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, next to Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, as potential revenue generators ever since they reduced the number of free stalls there from 549 to 300 about 15 years ago.

Advocates for free parking at Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor celebrated their victory Thursday. (Margaret Cipriano/Civil Beat/2023)

“Part of the rationale for giving up the 249 parking spots was that the pay parking that was achieved … would pay for the free no cost parking,” said Kate Thompson, a long-time Ala Wai Harbor boater and member of, who attending a hearing Thursday in support of SB 1034

“We’re tired of having to protect the parking lot over and over,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to preserve a right.” 

The harbor lot is one of the only local surf spots in town that offers free parking, providing residents and visitors access to the beach and Waikiki’s beloved surf breaks.

The harbor “is one of the most heavily used public facilities in the state,” according to testimony from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Groups including Surfrider Foundation, Oahu Chapter and the Save the Surf Parking Coalition Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor have been lobbying to keep the stalls free of charge.

They’re concerned about financial impacts on the community, increased towing of vehicles, and a public safety concern of people instead using the free parking stalls at Magic Island and paddling across the Ala Wai channel to access the surf breaks as a way to save money.

The channel is “a big waterway and there’s motorized boats and tour boats and lots of action in that particular channel,” said Lisa Abbott, a nurse and long-time Ala Wai Harbor patron. “To cross that on a surfboard and just paddling across the current and everything would be dangerous.”

The state makes $130,000 a month from the parking revenues, and about 20% of that revenue goes to Secure P, which is the parking manager. Other monies cover the costs of shower water, electricity, and parking lot maintenance, according to revenue statements from DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation obtained by Thompson.

“We certainly make enough money,” Thompson said about the harbor. 

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The harbor is one of the few places in Waikiki that still has free parking. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

DLNR, in written testimony, opposed SB 1034. DLNR Chairwoman Dawn Chang wrote that the agency is in favor of ocean access, but it opposes this bill because setting a legally mandated number of free stalls would make it difficult to “respond to changes or other needs in a timely manner.” 

More parking revenue, Chang added, would help pay for repairs and maintenance costs, rather than those costs being paid by taxpayers and boaters.

The Ala Wai Harbor is “a special place, I think, because it’s accessible, because we can be there without having to be charged,” said Kelly Lucero, a regular patron of the site who spoke in support of SB 1034 at a hearing earlier this month. 

The harbor, Lucero said, is “the last sanctuary, the last spot, just to relax, spend time and enjoy life, if they charge us for that… it is insulting.” 

SB 1034 now faces a hearing, which has not been scheduled yet, in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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