The Honolulu City Council is considering two bills that want to limit commercial activities on beaches in Waimanalo and the North Shore. Both bills have caused affected industries such as weddings and surf schools to raise the question: who gets to benefit off of the constant influx of tourists to Oahu’s beaches?
Bill 34, introduced by councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi, would ban commercial activities, with the exception of professional filming, from Sunset Point to Kaiaka Point. Tsuneyoshi visited a beach in the area and counted 40 surf students in a small area, which she deemed a dangerous situation.
“There is a very serious issue going on with deciding how to address commercial activity on our North Shore beaches … or over-commercialization of our beaches,” she said.
Carol Philips, owner of North Shore Surf Girls Hawaii, which teaches surf lessons at Pua‘ena Point Beach Park — said her business would be affected if Tsuneyoshi’s measure were to pass.
“Most of the surf schools are owned and operated by residents who live out here on the North Shore,” she said. “If this bill is passed as written, it’ll shut down all the surf schools on the North Shore. That would be devastating.”
Pua‘ena Point Beach Park is one of only two spots on the North Shore where beginner surfers can go in the winter because most of the other surf breaks see massive waves through the season. Philips said surf schools on the North Shore self-regulate themselves and teach only at Pua‘ena, leaving the other beginner spot open, free of surf students.
Tsuneyoshi pointed out that the permits given to surf schools by the Department of Parks and Recreation allow only one permit per instructor, but in practice has been one permit per surf school. She wanted to see the permitting process clarified, and would be willing to put an end date on the commercial activity ban once the enforcement issues were solved.
“We know tourism is steady, especially now, and … it is very difficult to maintain control over the situation,” Tsuneyoshi said.
“This is just a way for us to make sure we return these public parks for its intended purpose, which is that for the general public.”
Philips questioned why North Shore residents shouldn’t be able to benefit off of tourism in the area, which won’t stop visitors from coming to the beaches because commercial activities have ceased.
“Do we, as residents who live here, get to just sit on the side of the road and watch all the tourists clog our roads up and not be able to make a living off of it?” she asked.
“It seems unfair. We’re going to be impacted. This bill does nothing to stop the number of cars on the road.”
Only four people submitted testimony in support of the bill, while about 40 pieces of testimony were in opposition.
Tsuneyoshi said she is willing to continue to work with the surf school industry to continue to craft the bill. It was passed out of committee to be heard by the full Council.
Similarly, Bill 38, introduced by Esther Kia‘aina, would ban commercial activity at Waimanalo beaches, with the exception of professional filming. Kia‘aina’s intention is to alleviate the amount of commercial activity on Waimanalo beaches to give local people more access to the public beaches.
However, Susan O’Donnell, who represents the Oahu Wedding Association, wanted to see the permitting process clarified and better enforced instead of banning commercial activity. Currently, she said, the permitting process is extremely complicated and difficult for wedding professionals to follow because there are different permits depending on what types of structures are needed, such as a tent or chairs. On top of that, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction from the high watermark line of the beach to the water, has a different set of permits that need to followed.
“We are all in support of enforcement,” O’Donnell said.
“We want to be part of that conversation. What we’re fearful of is a change in the permitting without our input, right? That it’s going to be one-sided to create a complete ban.”
Kia‘aina noted that Waimanalo beaches are on Hawaiian Homestead land and are being leased to the city, which makes the area even more important to protect.
“That matters because these are lands that could be used for homesteading purposes, for a program that we all know and has a need for homesteading opportunities, including Waimanalo,” she said.
“Taking everyone’s comments into account, that all has to be balanced with regard to who’s being impacted.”
If Bill 38 were to pass, Kia‘aina also would encourage the state to have Waimanalo beaches removed from the state’s Wiki permitting system.
Both measures would add the North Shore and Waimanalo to a commercial activities ban that already includes Kailua and Lanikai. When asked whether there was concern about an influx of commercial activities moving to the nonbanned beach parks, Kia‘aina encouraged other areas to take control of the situation as well.
“Let everybody get involved,” she said.
“You don’t stop another community from having relief because of your worries, then go and talk to your Council member, go and talk to the City Council chair, and say that you want it Oahu-wide.”
Kia‘aina’s bill was held back in committee to work on the language, especially for the commercial film exemptions. It is unclear whether those exemptions would cover wedding photography and videography, and to what extent. The topic will be discussed again in November.
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