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Kailua Beach Park: The Anti-Waikiki


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The Windward Side has been mushrooming with tourism, but no one wanted it to turn into another Waikiki. Almost a year after Kailua residents took back their beach parks with a ban on commercial activity, liberating them from the fleets of kayaks, strings of Segways, even the bouncy houses dotting the shoreline–we take a look at how the ban has impacted the ever-more-crowded Windward community.

Kailua Beach Park: The world’s No. 1 beach in 1998, according to Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, something people in Kailua people boast about to this day. It’s the beach of choice for the commander in chief during his yearly visits home. The beach has become a must-visit destination for tourists, either for the duration of their trip (many of whom stay in illegal vacation rentals), or as just as a day trip to venture outside crowded Waikiki.

Accolades aside, it’s also the neighborhood beach for the approximately 38,600 residents who call Kailua home. And those who lived there long enough had witnessed their once sleepy, small town significantly transformed in the past decade—in ways not everyone liked. When tourists “discovered” Kailua, tour bus companies saw new business opportunities and bigger profits, and started regularly dropping off busloads of Japanese tourists in town, and at the beach park. Local businesses got in on the action, too, particularly water-sports rental companies. The beach, known for its fine, powdered-sugar sand and clear water, were soon more crowded than ever.

Kailuans deemed it a takeover of their town, their beach. Something had to give. Residents stormed Honolulu Hale, where the Honolulu City Council introduced bills, held hearings and heard emotional, passionate testimony. In the end, commercial activity—every form of it, from participating in a yoga class to renting a kayak—was banned from the beach park.

Fast forward 10 months, and it seems many people are satisfied, with the exception of the business owners who worked at the beach. The community got its way, and tourists, well, they’re vacationing in Hawaii. This is life on Kailua and Kalama beach parks, post-ban.


“It had gone beyond carrying capacity.”

City Councilmember Ikaika Anderson never intended to ban all commercial activities at both Kailua and Kalama beach parks. But, after two bills, numerous, often heated Council hearings and community forums, that’s exactly what he voted for.

“When I first introduced the bill, I had suggested that we allow for limited commercial activity use. The original bill would have set a cap on the number of commercial activity permits at Kailua Beach Park and Kalama Beach Park,” he says. But, the bill was amended after receiving harsh community feedback. “They didn’t even want regulation, they wanted it gone.”

The biggest problems? “The kayaks, of course,” says Anderson, “And the commercial bus tour operations, where you’d have sometimes five or six stage-coach tour buses parking at the Kailua Beach Park boat ramp parking lot.”

Yet, after months of deliberation, and overturning former Mayor Peter Carlisle’s veto—he feared it would open the door for other neighborhoods to make similar restrictions—the Council banned all commercial activity on Aug. 15. “I was fine with allowing the bouncy houses, I was fine with allowing the Segways, I was fine with allowing the commercial bicycles,” says Anderson. “But, in discussion with our attorneys, we were told that we really could not discriminate, if the ordinance was going to withstand any legal challenges.”

Anderson, who has represented the Windward Side for four years, says he’d be open to amending the ordinance. “This is an issue that can always be revisited,” he says. That’s something that may take a while, though, he says. “There may always be that underlying fear that if we allow [permits for commercial activity], we may go back to what we were trying to get away from.”

For now, Kailua’s beaches, “the jewels” to which both residents and tourists are attracted, are worth restricting, Anderson says. “The area, I believe, has already gone beyond our carrying capacity,” he says.

But he feels that a prohibition of commercial activity is helping to restore the balance. Now, when he goes to Kailua Beach Park, he may still get stuck in traffic, but at least once he hits the beach, there are fewer kayaks.

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Honolulu Magazine June 2018
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