Enforcement begins Friday for Waikiki Beach’s latest early-morning closure, which went into effect earlier this month at Royal Hawaiian Beach to address a range of issues related to overnight campers.
The Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District Association on March 1 implemented a three-hour closure from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. daily for the iconic strip of sand that stretches from the Royal Hawaiian Groin to the start of Kuhio Beach Park behind the Moana Surfrider.
Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District Association, said Tuesday at the Waikiki Neighborhood Board meeting that we’ve been “issued warnings” for the past two weeks.
According to Egged, the permanent signage now indicates that the stretch of beach has closing times that coincide with the city’s nightly beach closures at adjacent Kuhio Beach Park and Fort DeRussy Beach. The public will still be able to cross the closed area to go to the sea or go through the beach; However, during the beach’s closing hours, people are not allowed to loiter, stand, sit, lie down, or store personal belongings.
Enforcement of the new hours is the responsibility of the Honolulu Police Department and the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement.
“We have been asked under what authority is this (permitted). Since this is private property with public access, we say public access is only closed for the hours of 2am to 5am,” Egged said. “Anyone who breaks this is guilty of trespassing and so it is the trespassing law that we will use to prosecute people who are on the beach during the time the beach is closed. We look forward to using this time to clean up the beach, which is difficult when people are camping there.”
Egged said those violating the closing times will receive a notification that they are trespassing, which will arrest them on their return. He said those who refuse to leave could face arrest.
He thanked the Waikiki Neighborhood Board for supporting the move, adding, “We’re getting a lot of concerned expressions about the increase in homelessness in Waikiki.”
“I think it’s time to try again, to incrementally try to provide services to as many homeless people as possible and get as many people who are in this homeless situation off the streets of Waikiki as possible,” Egged said . “A large number of the homeless have intellectual disabilities or substance abuse problems, so we need to work on those situations. Every homeless situation is a little different and therefore requires a lot of work.”
Waikiki stakeholders, including hotel management and beach concession operators, have said the lack of closing hours at Royal Hawaiian Beach when nearby city beaches were closed attracted overnight sleepers and created unsafe, unsanitary, and sometimes dangerous situations.
Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chairman Bob Finley told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday that this latest closure, aided by an amendment to the Waikiki Beach Management Plan, has broad community support. He said the board had lobbied multiple times for the Royal Hawaiian Beach to be closed and the process took about a year.
“It’s our early morning surfers and beach users who have raised the most complaints. They come up to us and say, ‘Hey, I have to be careful where I step on the beach,'” Finley said. “When they put up the tents and go through the rubbish and trash the place and use it for toilets, we try to get rid of that. We want to prevent it from becoming a huge mess so there are no needles, broken glass and feces for our residents and the people who pay big bucks for the hotels.”
He said there have also been discussions about taking the beach closures a step further by uniformly closing Waikiki’s beach parks at midnight instead of 2am. According to Finley, the general feeling is that setting consistent park closing times across Waikiki would make it easier for people to comply with rules.
Currently, the rules vary from Waikiki park to park. Closing times at city beach parks in Waikiki range from 2am to 5am at Kuhio and Duke Kahanamoku beach parks to midnight to 5am at Kapiolani Beach Park.
A scan of the online list of city park closures at bit.ly/ParkClosureHours shows that Waikiki’s beachfront parks appear to be the only ones on Oahu that stay open at least midnight. Typical closing times at other parks are from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m
“It’s taken a long time to finalize Royal Hawaiian Beach’s closing times, so I expect it will probably take another year for the rest of the closing times to be addressed,” Finley said. “We need to get everyone on board – the city, DLNR, the property owners, the beach concessionaires and the general public.”
The Royal Hawaiian Groin, a privately owned beach area with public access, doesn’t have to follow city hours; But Egged said the association would consider extending its new closure as the current dialogue gains momentum.
Nathan Serota, spokesman for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city has a process for changing beach park hours, and the request should come from the appropriate area’s neighborhood authority. Once this request has been confirmed and sent to the Department of Parks and Recreation, it requires approval from the Agency’s Director.
“We encourage the community to work through their respective neighborhood boards to reach consensus on what closing times they would like their parks to close. In this way there is a general consensus among the residents of the area and an opportunity for a public discussion on the subject,” he said. “Certainly uniformity on this popular stretch of beach would make it easier for the public to understand and for law enforcement to achieve compliance.”
Wookie Kim, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, called the tactic used to enforce beach closures “cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Our fundamental position is that using law enforcement, punishment and arrests to address homelessness is not the way forward,” Kim said. “Particularly with the current homelessness situation on Oahu, it is our position that prosecuting the homeless for sitting, lying, or sleeping in a public place, particularly here on a public beach, is cruel and unusual punishment.”
He noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that “when the number of available emergency shelters is greatly exceeded by the number of vulnerable homeless people in a city, enforcement of criminal statutes against the homeless is contrary to the Constitution — the Eighth — violates change prohibition cruel and unusual punishment.”
The 2022 Point-in-Time Census, an annual snapshot of the number of people affected by homelessness and living on the streets or in shelters, puts Oahu’s total vulnerable population at 2,355. By comparison, the Vacancy Grid, a recording tool that provides up-to-date information on beds and units available in shelters across the island, showed just 56 vacancies on Wednesday.
“It doesn’t add up,” Kim said. “This is something we have considered taking action on. This is an issue on which we are very concerned and I think it is important that the city finds various solutions to address the real crisis that we are having here in Hawaii and especially on Oahu related to homelessness.”
Kim noted that opening hours for beaches appears to be a “rather transparent attempt to target homeless people” and could lead to breaches of equal protection principles if “tourists or people who don’t look homeless are given a free pass.” “.
He added that the effort to come up with creative new housing solutions was commendable, but said: “It’s clear that all these efforts to crack down on certain geographic locations will only result in the homeless being at greater risk of never returning to the to get legs. ”
Shayna M., a homeless woman who declined to give her full name, is living proof that Kim’s concerns are valid. While working as a chef at an Oahu restaurant, she said raids have affected her ability to get a leg up since she became homeless in November for a variety of reasons, including the burden of funeral expenses following the death of her mother.
She said she fought after receiving a ticket for violating the property in storage ordinance and being threatened with the sit-and-lie law for sleeping in a park pavilion. The physical and psychological stress of her situation and the lack of sleep had an impact on her work, she explained.
“I’m losing concentration. It affects my performance here at work. I don’t really like telling them my personal stuff, what’s wrong with me, because I don’t need everyone to judge,” she said.
Shayna M. said the extension of beach closures will only make it worse for people trying to find shelter.
“They take our property, then we have to fight to get our property back,” she said. “You have to identify yourself to get your property back. If your ID is in your property that they took, they cannot return your property to you.”
She added that traveling to Halawa to pick up stored items by government deadlines is also a hassle.
“What if you don’t have a car or money to take the bus? They don’t have access to a lot of things,” she said. “If we start all over again, they’ll come back. They just sweep and take everyone’s property again.”