Thursday, July 12, 2001

Hanauma fees should be
used to maintain bay

The issue: A class-action lawsuit alleges
that the city is illegally assessing fees
for nonresidents who visit the
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

CHARGING fees to nonresidents for entering the beach at Hanauma Bay has been controversial since it was adopted more than four years ago. A class-action lawsuit now alleges discrimination against out-of-staters. Sloppy -- or greedy -- behavior by the City Council may give the suit some credence. The Council should revisit the issue to make sure that all expenditures from these revenues are spent on bay-related maintenance and improvements.

Honolulu lawyer James Bickerton, who filed the class-action suit, maintains that people should be allowed to walk along any beach in Hawaii without having to pay a fee. "We don't see that Hanauma Bay is any different," he said.

Well, it is. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is not just any beach, any more than Yellowstone National Park is just another forest. Fees are charged at other nature preserves around the country, including beach areas in Connecticut and Tampa Bay, Fla. More commonly, revenue comes from parking at remote preserves.

At Hanauma Bay, visitors are assessed $3 for entering the beach area, while residents are allowed onto the beach without charge. Both residents and nonresidents pay $1 for parking. City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa insists that the revenue is spent on protecting the bay's fragile ecosystem. He correctly points out that the 1997 ordinance providing for the fees was intended to counter "the degradation of the nature preserve."

Unfortunately, the ordinance does not specify that the revenues are to be spent on preserving the ecosystem, or even on bay-related projects. Arakawa pointed out in a prepared statement that part of the proceeds are being used "to upgrade and maintain the facilities and to provide for staffing of a marine education program." The city is building a $10.6 million educational facility, including staff office and a snack bar, on the cliff above the bay.

People attending an informational meeting at Hanauma Bay nearly two years ago were surprised to learn that $400,000 of the $2.1 million received from bay fees in the 1998-99 fiscal year were used to pay city debt service. Then-City Councilman Mufi Hannemann expressed surprise because, he said, the intent was to have all of the revenue to be used at Hanauma Bay. Councilman John Henry Felix said at the time that the Council should again take up the issue of the use of Hanauma Bay revenue. It never did.

Bickerton contends that the failure to do so makes the fees "unauthorized taxation" because they are not directed by law to be spent on providing a related service, and the state Legislature never gave its approval in the absence of such relationship. The City Council now must decide how to correct that flaw without admitting to liability alleged in the suit.

Charities taking federal
money can’t discriminate

The issue: The White House has declined
a request to exempt from local laws that bar
discrimination against homosexuals those
religious charities receiving federal money.

WHITE House officials were rattled by disclosure of an internal Salvation Army memo indicating that religious charities might be allowed to accept federal money despite their discriminatory hiring practices. After an awkward hesitation, the Bush administration denied the charity's request. Reaction to the incident should make clear to the president that Congress will approve his faith-based initiative only if recipient charities abide by local and state anti-discrimination laws.

The memo, written by a Salvation Army officer and obtained by the Washington Post, indicated a commitment by the White House to issue a regulation intended to override local laws prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals. It said one of the charity's conditions in supporting the legislation was assurance that local governments could not "impose the category of sexual orientation to the list of anti-discrimination protections." The memo added that "the White House has already said that they are committed to move on the Army's objectives" after the measure passes the House.

David A. Fuscus, a Salvation Army spokesman, said after the disclosure that the charity was not seeking permission to discriminate against hiring gays and lesbians to be among its 55,000 employees. He said his organization instead sought clarification that it would not be forced to ordain sexually active gay ministers or provide medical benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

The issue of discrimination on the basis not only of sexual orientation but of religion is perhaps the thorniest aspect of the faith-based initiative. Some churches already have affiliated but separate charitable organizations, such as Catholic Charities and the Lutheran Angel Network Charities, which have nondiscriminatory practices and have qualified for government assistance.

Other churches provide charitable assistance directly. They are allowed to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs but have not qualified for government assistance. The Salvation Army, which is the nation's largest charity, is among those churches.

Disclosure of the memo outraged some civil rights groups and congressmen who have supported President Bush's faith-based initiative with the understanding that it would be implemented in a nondiscriminatory fashion. Republican members of Congress only last month added language to provide that assurance.

The hostile reaction against what seemed like a plan to undermine congressional intentions has backfired against the notion of federal subsidies for churches that discriminate. The Bush administration's repudiation of the memo has placed it squarely against discriminatory practices that some religious organizations had hoped would be allowed.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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