Lee Cataluna: Calmer voices seek middle ground on North Shore
Will this increasingly rare talk of compromise amount to a happy solution for the North Shore?
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This week, the Honolulu City Council Committee on Parks and Community Services heard testimony on Bill 2, which is shaped as an attempt to bring regulation to the many beach-based businesses that have taken root on Oahu’s North Shore.
The testimony was what one might expect: Residents said the beaches are over-commercialized; beach business owners talked about all the benefits they bring to Oahu, like jobs, tax revenue, and someone to look after hapless tourists who otherwise would be out in the water on their own.
Some pointed out that regulations already exist but are not enforced. Someone even went so far as to claim that current regulations are too much, saying, “This trend of regulating tourism businesses needs to not only be stopped, but actually reversed.”
But then something a little different happened; something a bit unusual in these polarized times. There were people who stepped away from their corners and moved a bit toward the middle.
Racquel Achiu, a North Shore resident who is a member of the neighborhood board, came to the podium and spoke in a quiet voice of a community weary but willing to work toward a better situation.
She advocated for, “… not so much of a ban, but a compromise. The reality is, yeah, tourism is our economic survival mode, and these tour buses take cars off the road … If we could somehow come up with a form of regulation, say … no commercial activity on weekends or holidays. Obviously a ban would be attractive to a lot of people in our community … but that’s just not the reality. Limit the amount of time they have on the weekdays. People in our community are tired of fighting for what they should have access to. They can’t get to and from work. They can’t get their kids to and from school and after-school activities. Getting to and from the store. It is the wild wild west out there. We need help.”
After Achiu, the owner of a tour operator seemed moved by what he had just heard.
“I’m probably not going to make a lot of friends here today,” he said. “A lot of these tour operators behind me are great people and the tour drivers are great people. But realistically, the history of hospitality in Hawaii is a pretty dark one, and if we don’t compromise with the community, we are continuing this history. So far, the only people that I’ve heard talk about compromise was the neighborhood board … But we have to be honest. The North Shore does need help. Do I think this bill is the right way to do it? No, not necessarily … I think we should pau Alii Beach, pau Laniakea, and stop running on Sundays and state holidays and I think that is a compromise for everybody that would show that the tourism industry is done taking from the community without giving anything back.”
Will this increasingly rare talk of compromise amount to a happy solution for the North Shore? Is this the mark of a new era of understanding and empathy that will help solve intractable community clashes? Maybe not, but it was a cool moment nevertheless and a hopeful sign in a time of conflicts that sometimes seem hopeless.
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.