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Bill aims to regulate commercial activity at Oahu public parks

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An effort to get away from allowing commercial activities at city and county parks around Oahu on a park-by-park basis has met resistance from the public as well as local officials.

Introduced by the city Department of Parks and Recreation, Bill 19 as initially drafted would create a new, two-step public process for any proposed new commercial activity operating in parks islandwide in the future. The commercial activity, according to the city, would have to demonstrate public support via community surveys or public meetings and adopt new administrative rules that include limitations on time, place and number.

Under the current law, specific types of commercial activities are allowed to operate within certain city parks, with the idea that these businesses provide additional recreational opportunities and amenities to the public. However, according to the city, commercial activities or businesses operating illegally in city parks continue to be an issue across the island.

Bill 19, the city says, would help regulate all commercial activities at all public parks, as well as require commercial permits and impose fines and citations for violators.

But many from rural and East Oahu fear the proposed ordinance might reverse or eliminate the authority of a law signed by Mayor Rick Blangiardi in April. Bill 38 was intended to outlaw wedding photography and eliminate stops for large bus tour companies — specifically at Windward and North Shore beach parks.

The dismay sparked by Bill 19 surfaced earlier this month at the Honolulu City Council meeting, where many like Waimanalo resident Mialisa Otis were disappointed to see the city introduce Bill 19 after fighting for years against unchecked commercialism at nearby beach parks.

“I oppose Bill 19 as it stands because it goes against what Waimanalo, Kailua, Koko­lolio and North Shore want,” Otis told Council members March 15. She said the city’s proposal threatens places like Hunananiho (formerly Waimanalo Bay Beach Park or Sherwoods), deemed by many to be a sacred historical site. “And we fought very hard to protect it with the help of our Council member Esther Kia‘aina,” added Otis. “It is a first landing, with bones and artifacts dating back to 800 A.D.”

Otis said the adoption of Bill 38 had stopped the masses of tour groups that threatened the site. “Before this you could see 13 limos in the park and revolving weddings and other moneymakers like commercial picnics, unsafe parties and tour buses,” Otis said.

Ingrid Peterson, a Kailua resident, said she and her husband both oppose Bill 19 unless it continues to exempt Waimanalo, Lanikai and Kailua beaches from commercial activities.

“These beaches are so very popular with tourists that Bill 19 would cause them to be overwhelmed with commercial over- tourism,” Peterson told Council members.

But others, like Susan O’Donnell of the Oahu Wedding Association, said she supports Bill 19’s intent to create standards for doing business at public beach parks.

“We support the unified set of rules and regulations for all beach parks that create a system that’s fair to everyone,” O’Donnell said. “We also support education and enforcement of these rules (and) restrictions to prevent overuse.”

She added, “Our hope for Bill 19 is to allow regulated access to all city and county beaches and parks, removing complete commercial activity bans currently in place.”

Noting its seeming disrespect to those living in rural beach communities like Waimanalo, tour operator Michael Waters also opposed the intent of Bill 19.

“The people who have the bones buried in the sands of the beaches we’re talking about should have the first say about how that beach runs,” Waters said.

State Sen. Kurt Fevella — a member of the Committee on Energy, Economics and Tourism — said he too opposes the proposed ordinance.

“Bill 19 has the potential of stepping backwards,” Fevella said, adding that the proposed measure was trying to fix something that is not broken. “I ask you, City Council, to oppose this bill and work with the state Senate to find more solutions.”

Likewise, Council members like Kia‘aina — who first introduced Bill 38 to stop commercial activities at Windward and North Shore beaches — said the difference between her bill and the new one was that the current law was stronger.

During Council questioning, city Parks and Recreation Director Laura Thielen said Bill 19, in its current state, was merely a starting point in dealing with commercial activities at public parks around the island.

“I think it’s worthwhile to continue the discussions,” Thielen said. “We fully expect to have amendments to the bill, (and) we will continue to listen to the testimony and work with Council members.”

Thielen said the city does not want to “rush” the process of regulating commercial uses at public parks, “but we need to start.”

The Council’s Committee on Parks and Community Services will continue to review the proposal.

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