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Honolulu considers allowing some commercial activities at parks, beaches with uniform rules

Laura Thielen.jpeg
Casey Harlow / HPR News
Honolulu Parks and Rec director Laura Thielen explains the concept and purpose of Bill 19 (23) on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. The measure would allow commercial activities to resume in parks where it's prohibited, with some regulations.

Honolulu's Bill 19 proposes creating a uniform set of rules for commercial activities at Oʻahu parks — allowing businesses to resume with some restrictions.

The measure would reverse the efforts from community members and previous city councils to prohibit tour companies from operating in North Shore and Windward Oʻahu beach parks.

"There had been some discussion between the Council and the Department of Parks and Recreation, over the years, about setting up restrictions on commercial uses in parks," said Laura Thielen, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

"When Mayor Blangiardi came into office, and some of the bills were coming up in front of council, he asked us to take a hard look at coming up with an island-wide approach towards commercial activities in parks," Thielen said.

Chapter 10 of the city's ordinance covers restrictions and regulations of municipal parks. Thielen said amendments made over the years have made the law confusing.

She said the new bill aims to clarify what is and isn't allowed at parks, as well as implement restrictions to prevent the overcrowding of parks — that was seen prior to 2020.

"We've taken an attempt in Bill 19 to come up with being able to keep the things that people support, but regulate the activities that are impacting residents," Thielen said. "And to leave parks primarily for recreational use during the most heavily congested times, which is the weekends and holidays."

Besides prohibiting commercial activities during weekends and holidays, the measure proposes the creation of a permit system for businesses to operate at parks.

According to the parks department, the permits will be selected through a lottery system and capped by individual parks.

There would also be restrictions on tour vehicle sizes, 12 to 25 people, as well as on the number of tour vehicles allowed at one time — and a daily cap on groups.

Thielen said companies will be categorized into two different groups — one for tour companies, and another for rentals and instruction. The fees from the permits will help to fund the enforcement of the proposed changes. Under the measure, violations will result in traffic citations that could escalate to a misdemeanor for repeat offenders.

Although Bill 19 was just introduced at Thursday's City Council meeting, it is already facing opposition.

"It goes against what Waimānalo, Kailua, Kokololio and North Shore want," said Waimānalo resident Mialisa Otis. "We created Bill 38 into Ordinance 22-3 to protect all of Waimānalo. Before this, you could see 13 limos in the park and revolving weddings."

She said the city isn't effectively enforcing its current law, including one passed in April 2022.

"There is still a lot of commercial activity going on," Otis said. "There's a lot of rogue weddings and photography. And one of the biggest problems that we can all agree is the lack of enforcement."

Thielen acknowledged Bill 19 is not perfect but vowed to work with the community to improve it.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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