Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Things were quiet yesterday at the Hanauma Bay Nature
Reserve because of the closure one day each week to
prevent damage to the reef.

Suit fights
Hanauma Bay $3
fee for nonresidents

The class-action suit says
the charge is an 'unauthorized
taxation' of visitors

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A lawsuit contends that it is illegal and discriminatory for the city to charge nonresidents $3 to enter Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

The right to walk along the beach has existed in Hawaii since ancient times, said attorney James Bickerton. "The city sets a dangerous precedent if it can just set up a turnstile and a cash register at a beach right-of-way," Bickerton said.

The entry fee amounts to "unauthorized taxation" because the city is not providing a service for it, Bickerton said. And any fees and taxes assessed by the counties must first gain approval from the state Legislature, he said.

There would be public outcry if the city erected barriers at other beaches and charged people to enter, he said. "We don't see that Hanauma Bay is any different," he said.

The class-action lawsuit seeks damages and a halt to the fee. California resident Carol Daly, the lead plaintiff, paid the fee when she visited the facility on Oct. 21, 2000.

The City Council approved the $3 fee for nonresidents in March 1997. Park officials estimated that the fee, and a new $1 parking charge would bring in $2.6 million annually. The lawsuit estimates more than $10 million has been collected to date.

City officials did not respond to requests for revenue and cost figures associated with the facility.

City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said in a release that the policy is motivated not by greed, but by the city's attempt to preserve the bay's fragile ecosystem.

"Faced with the degradation of the nature preserve, the city had to institute a nonresident admission fee program to upgrade and maintain the facilities and to provide for staffing of a marine education program," Arakawa said.

"Mr. Bickerton is attempting to undo 10 years of positive efforts to preserve and protect the nature preserve from the overuse that threatens its survival," Arakawa said.

Continued overuse of the bay and inaction by the city, Arakawa said, "would have meant destruction of the bay."

Arakawa said Mayor Jeremy Harris is opposed to charging admission fees to locals and that charging nonresidents only is legal.

"Giving preference to kamaaina is a long-standing practice in Hawaii," he said. "We believe charging nonresidents is legal and we will stick by it."

Bickerton noted that while the fee ostensibly was to be used to pay for maintenance of existing facilities, money from the Hanauma Bay fund is now going toward construction of a $10.6 million educational facility that includes staff office space and a snack bar.

"What many people don't realize is that once the new complex is built, the city plans to require everyone -- residents and visitors alike -- to take a course at the new learning center and get a special certificate before they can walk the beach," Bickerton said.

But Arakawa defended the requirement that all visitors watch a seven- to nine-minute educational video.

"The marine education program will sensitize visitors to the significance of the environment at Hanauma Bay," he said.

Dave Washino of the East Honolulu Community Coalition, which has fought the city's projects at Hanauma, hailed the lawsuit.

"Our fear is that this policy could lead to more and more beaches being converted from a public, free beaches to ones that are going to have charges to it," Washino said.

E-mail to City Desk

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