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Honolulu Lite

CHARLES MEMMINGER

Sunday, July 15, 2001


The beach is free,
but getting there
costs big bucks

LIFE'S A BEACH but there's a $3 entry fee.

Some entrepreneur should sell bumper stickers that say that to tourists entering Hanauma Bay. Sure, it's a little wordy. But it might bring a little humor to a not-so-funny situation. In the Land of Aloha, residents get to go to the beach for free, but visitors, who bring a lot of money into the state, are gouged three bucks to reach the sand and water.

Yes, it's only at Hanauma Bay for now. But if we can get away with charging tourists for access to one bay, what's to keep us from charging them to see all of Hawaii's other natural wonders? How about $5 to gaze off the Pali? The view of Molokai from the Blow Hole Lookout is dazzling, so we ought to be able to stick it to the hicks for at least 10 bucks for that. How many millions of dollars are we missing by letting tourists hang around on the top of Tantalus for free?

Proponents of the Hanauma Bay fee say Hanauma Bay is different. It's a protected marine reserve. It's a fragile reef environment and is being negatively affected by masses of tourists drenched in Coppertone stomping around on the delicate corals and scaring all the little fishies.

Please. The only thing special about Hanauma Bay is that there is only one way in and out. And that makes it easy to shake down people for money. There are reefs all over every island that are just as beautiful and have just as many little fishies as Hanauma Bay.

There's no reason why we couldn't designate Ala Moana Park the Ala Moana Delicate and Precious Protected Sea Shore Preserve and start charging the rubes to swim there.

Well, there is a reason. Apparently, free access to the beach in Hawaii is a fundamental right. And that means free for everyone, not just state residents. At least, that's what a California woman believes. She got ticked off having to pay $3 to get into Hanauma Bay and filed a class-action federal lawsuit to stop the shakedown.

I don't blame her. I visited her hometown of San Diego once. I walked out on a big, hairy pier to watch the surfers. For free. If I had been charged $3 to go on that pier while hordes of San Diego residents sashayed out there for free, I'd have a completely different impression of San Diego than I do now. I'd think it's a money-grubbing, geoist (like racist, but relating to geography) city that insults its visitors by treating them like second-class citizens. Or noncitizens, actually.

That's apparently the way the woman from San Diego felt after she had to cough up money at Hanauma Bay while residents went in for free.

I never understood why we would even consider forcing people to pay to go to the beach. We have a very liberal state Supreme Court that has stood up for public access to beaches and even private property for the purpose of traditional Hawaiian hunting and gathering.

Unfortunately, because Hawaii got greedy, now it will be up to a federal judge to determine if free access to the beach is a fundamental right. I suspect the judge will say that it's OK to charge for access to the beach and, by extension, to other natural wonders, as long as everyone gets charged. Then the flood gates will be open. Get ready to buy a ticket to watch the sun set off Waikiki.




Alo-Ha! Friday compiles odd bits of news from Hawaii
and the world to get your weekend off to an entertaining start.
Charles Memminger also writes Honolulu Lite Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays. Send ideas to him at the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210,
Honolulu 96813, phone 235-6490 or e-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com.



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