By Rich Figel
Yesterday I was at Sea Life Park filming segments for the next Career Changers TV episode that will begin running in August. They had a "soft" opening of the new Hawaii Shark Tank exhibit, which isn't completely finished yet, and have been making other improvements that locals will appreciate -- including special deals like the $12 entry price with a Foodland Makai Card (or get four tickest for just $40).
Sea Life Park's marketing manager, Claudette Springer, told me business is booming this summer. Attendance is averaging around 700 people a day, and individual spending is up -- probably because many visitors are adding on things like the dolphin, seal and shark encounters, in which you get to have an up close and personal experience with these magnificent sea creatures. They generate additional revenue from hosting weddings and parties on the grounds. That makes perfect sense when you consider the beautiful surroundings and location.
Naturally, a lot of visitors continue their sightseeing tour by heading into Waimanalo or Kailua, where many of the Sea Life Park employees also live. Who wouldn't want to work close to home if you have that option? And yet, that is precisely the double-edged sword tourism represents. Sea Life Park isn't in a residential area, so it's an ideal fit for the Windward side. But there are many other kama'aina who would love to work in Kailua, instead of having to commute to Downtown or Waikiki every day. However, since many Windward working folks do have to make the daily trek over the Pali, the reality is most of the shops and restaurants here depend on tourists for business during week days.
So I have mixed feelings about the proposed ban that would prohibit all commercial activity on or near the beaches. As someone who has fought for public beach access, I'm the first to say something needs to be done to regulate and control the proliferation of stuff like kayak rentals. On the other hand, when friends and family from the Mainland come to visit, I also have taken them to Twogood Kayaks to rent a couple of tandems for a day. Bob Twogood has been a supporter of public beach access, and he's a friend of mine. About two, three years ago though, it started to become obvious that maybe there was too much of a good thing going on, between the various kayak/windsurfing rental businesses and guys walking around the parking lot hawking cheaper rental rates to anyone within earshot. Bob himself will tell you he agrees there needs to be limits placed on commercial activities.
The problem is a total ban may do more harm than good in the long run, and doesn't address the root cause of the biggest problem -- overcrowding. Somehow, lost in all the finger-pointing at the ocean activities businesses, is why that beach area is so packed. Take a walk toward the north end, and there is about two miles of nearly empty beach. The reason is limited public beach access, due to all the gates and "NO TRESPASSING" signs put up on both public and private roads along Kalaheo Avenue. Instead of walking to the beach nowadays, most Kailua residents get in a car and drive to the only two beach areas with public parking lots.
It's a shame that State and county government officials haven't done more to take a long view of community planning, including things like regulation of all shoreline activities and creating more public beach park areas. Think about it: what is our most important resource? It's our beaches and ocean that attract visitors, who help fuel our economy, whether it's Sea Life Park, hotels in Waikiki, or a mom and pop store in Kailua. Yet there is no single governmental agency that has the authority or foresight to come up with comprehensive shoreline management plans to ensure we don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
Instead, everything is done in piecemeal fashion, with the State DLNR and county councils wasting time rehashing the same old problems over and over, while our beaches erode and tempers simmer over access to what is left. There are no easy solutions, but creating a joint State-County Coastal Commission to implement long range policies and enforcement strategies might be a good start. Shutting down all the ocean activities and other businesses that operate around the beach will be a temporary solution at best that will put more people on the unemployment line. It could also hurt small businesses and shops throughout Kailua that have been benefiting from the influx of tourists, for better or worse.
I'm not optimistic about anything being done. As long as there is split jurisdiction between the State and the counties over the shoreline, neither will take complete responsibility for management of Hawaii's most valuable asset, and we will continue to see these beach battles throughout the islands.
The Sea Life Park episode won't premiere until Sat., Aug. 4 on OC16, which means you still have a week to catch the hypnotherapy and Business Law Corps segments on the current Career Changers TV show. For daily viewing times, please visit our website. You can also watch videos on our CCTV YouTube Channel. Have a great weekend -- and if comments are closed below, it's because I get tired of deleting all the spam-bot fake responses I have to manually remove. Sigh.