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Column: Locals blocked from beaches while resort bubbles mulled

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  • Shiyana Thenabadu is a photographer, community volunteer and former educator.

    Shiyana Thenabadu is a photographer, community volunteer and former educator.

Recently, my family and I went to Ko Olina for a swim. Although beaches are presently closed, we are allowed to cross the beach to get to the water. When we arrived, we saw that the tiny lagoon parking lots as well as the natural cove lot were closed. The oversized parking lots for Paradise Cove and Lanikuhonua were also closed.

We parked at the Ko Olina shops — the only lot that looked open. When we got out of the car, we were accosted by a security guard who informed us that we can only park to shop. If we head to the beach, we will be towed. We learned that the beach parking has been closed for months. What this means is that shoreline access is effectively denied for everyone other than Ko Olina residents. Since the Ko Olina hotels are closed, the beaches are empty but locals are shut out. Forcing locals to take an Uber to go swimming or fishing is not right.

During shutdown No. 2, the parking lots at all beach parks were closed. Street parking in Lanikai was also taken away to make it extremely difficult for non-Lanikai residents to access the ocean for exercise. Oahu’s hiking trails and parks were also closed to prevent large gatherings.

Meanwhile, the Honolulu Police Department has received federal funds to pay 160 officers overtime to stop large gatherings. Yet, HPD officers seem to spend their time putting up tape to block park paths, sitting in their cars at beach parking lots, or giving out citations to lone joggers at beaches and parks.

Most of us don’t understand why beaches, parks and trails cannot remain open since we now have HPD officers dedicated to breaking up gatherings. Why can’t the police and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources patrol beaches and parks, and respond to complaints of large hiking meet-ups via the COVID-19 hotline that has been set up by the city? Stopping residents from walking on the beach, exercising or biking in parks or hiking during a very stressful time only builds resentment and frustration.

It’s also disheartening to hear government officials float ideas of geofencing and resort bubbles at a time when locals are restricted from enjoying our beaches, pools and parks. The Ko Olina hotels and Turtle Bay Resort are being considered as hotels for visitors to spend their 14-day quarantine on Oahu. Plans are also in the works for resorts on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island to opt-in to be a resort bubble. Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino repeatedly said that beaches fronting resort bubbles will not be privatized. It was a relief to hear this but the devil is in the details.

Does that mean quarantined tourists will not be allowed on the beach? Or, does it mean that resorts will place beach chairs 6 feet apart for guests and reserve a separate section of the beach for locals? Alternatively, will locals and guests use the beach at different times of the day? When hotels were open prior to COVID-19, several resorts fronting Waikiki Beach reserved wide swaths of beach with chairs and cabanas; commercial catamarans were also allowed to take up precious space on a beach that’s eroding by the day.

The questions posed are not an attempt to burst the resort bubble, but rather, to ask leaders to think through the details and to preserve what is most precious to kamaaina. Please open Hawaii’s great outdoors now and make sure that no resort or private entity ever makes it difficult for local families to access Hawaii’s beaches, parks and trails.

Shiyana Thenabadu is a photographer, community volunteer and former educator.

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