Measure aims to tame tour bus throngs at Waimanalo beach
Tour operators who want to make “recreational stops” at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park will soon be able to do so, but only if they get monthly permits from the city.
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Tour operators who want to make “recreational stops” at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park will soon be able to do so, but only if they get monthly permits from the city, under a Honolulu City Council bill up for a final vote Wednesday.
It’s just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that has been raging at Honolulu Hale for a number of years involving commercial tour groups using city beaches and the complaints they generate from local beachgoers.
City ordinances say that in general, those wishing to conduct commercial activities must obtain permits from the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is supposed to come up with a plan for where permits should be issued based on compatibility with each specific beach park. But the department, through at least two different mayors, has yet to establish policies governing commercial activities islandwide.
Instead, the Council has imposed blanket bans on tour operators at several other Windward beaches while designating Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, known by many as Sherwood Forest, as the first city beach where a limited number of tour vehicles would be allowed on a paid basis.
On Wednesday the Council Budget Committee approved Bill 93 (2017), which establishes a $165 monthly fee for up to five companies to obtain permits to conduct “recreational stops” at Sherwood’s.
“Recreational stops” are defined in a separate ordinance as “the use of city beach parks by commercial tour companies for activities that may include, but are not limited to, sightseeing, spectating, picture taking, beachcombing, swimming, guide tours, and eating of prepared picnic lunches.”
The permits would be good only on weekdays, and tour vans and other vehicles would be limited to up to 15 passengers. Parks and Recreation needs to establish rules for the permits before tour companies would be able to apply for them.
No one testified at Wednesday’s meeting, and Council members had little to say about the actual fee itself.
Lots ‘simply too small’
The decision to allow a limited number of permits at Sherwood’s was made a year ago in Bill 8 (2015), which also banned commercial tour activities altogether at five neighboring facilities: Waimanalo Beach Park, Kaiona Beach Park, Kaupo Beach Park, Makapuu Beach Park and Bellows Field Beach Park.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who introduced the bill and represents the Windward region, said Waimanalo Bay Beach Park was the only one designated for commercial activity “because the parking lots in the other beach parks in Waimanalo are simply too small.”
Dozens of people testified on that bill as the Council deliberated. Those in favor of the bill consisted primarily of Waimanalo residents who argued that their neighborhood beaches are being overrun by tourist activities. But opponents, consisting largely of people in the tourism industry, said banning activities at certain beach parks would hurt smaller businesses.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell allowed that bill to become law without his signature. He questioned whether the Council was overstepping its authority and violating the separation of powers doctrine because “the power to decide whether to permit or not to permit an activity on any specific property is not legislative but executive in nature,” Caldwell wrote on Feb. 10.
What’s more, he said, the bill “creates further confusion by expanding the categories of activities that are not considered commercial activities by creating unnecessary special distinctions for Waimanalo Bay Beach Park and Waimanalo Beach Park.”
But at Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting on the rate bill, Council members threw criticism back at the administration and said they’ve been waiting for several years — through several administrations — for the parks department to come up with an islandwide policy on where commercial operators would be welcome without any fees, banned entirely or allowed with fees.
“It is not the preference of the Council to do these little piecemeal things, but we’re just kind of being forced to because some of our parks are just being overwhelmed,” Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said, noting that there are parks in her district in need of regulating commercial activities. “We really encourage you folks to kind of speed it up a little bit because we’re going to each have to respond to our constituents in doing things like this, and I don’t know how that’s going to affect your department.”
Councilman Ernie Martin earlier this month introduced Bill 2, curtailing tour activity at Sunset Beach Park, Haleiwa Alii Beach Park and “from Sunset Point to Kaiaka Point.” All are within Martin’s district.
Parks Deputy Director Jeanne Ishikawa said, “We are having, within our staff, internal discussions on that issue.” She said the department is aware of requests to curb commercial activities in other parts of the island. “We want to look at something that can work islandwide eventually.”
She acknowledged that the administration did not have a timeline for completing a comprehensive plan.
Anderson, who also spearheaded the 2012 efforts to ban commercial activity at Kailua and Kalama beach parks, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday that he too is frustrated with the delays in coming up with an islandwide plan.
Anderson said he was told by the administration of former Mayor Peter Carlisle in 2011 that an islandwide plan was being prepared. When that didn’t happen, he introduced the bill banning all commercial activity at Kailua and Kalama.
“After 2012 we waited three years until 2015 before introducing Bill 8, pertaining to beach parks in Waimanalo,” he said.