WAILUKU - Maui County Council members voted unanimously Friday to give final approval for a ban on alcohol at the South Maui Community Park in Kihei.
The action came with little comment from council members. But, during a Thursday meeting of the council's Economic Development, Agriculture and Recreation Committee, much discussion was generated for a separate measure to prohibit drinking alcohol at South Maui's Kalama and Cove parks.
In the end, the committee voted unanimously 7-0 to advance the alcohol ban for those parks to the full council for two votes before it goes to the desk of Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Council Member Don Couch, who holds the South Maui residency seat, said that the measure is an attempt to stop poor behavior involving drinking in parks that has been reported by parents, neighbors and youth leaders.
"As a person who has had to deal with this problem firsthand for years, I can say this was a great decision," said Barb Wallace, a Kalama Park tennis instructor, after the meeting.
Wallace said she's been accosted by several groups of apparently homeless alcoholics. About 40 others supported the ban in person at Thursday's meeting.
"Right now, we are in the reactionary role," said Maui Police Department Kihei Patrol District Cmdr Capt. Tivoli Faaumu, who added that a ban in nearby Charley Young Beach Park has been a success. "By enacting this law, we will be in the proactive role."
Opponents of the alcohol ban said the county is legislating morality and taking away the legal ability to drink in parks by those who do so without being a nuisance. They said they are responsible residents who enjoy a beer during a picnic or a glass of wine during sunset at the beach-side park. Others said the law would end old traditions of talking story over beers after adult softball games.
"This has been a hard one because even my wife said, 'Why are you making more laws to curtail our freedoms?' " Couch said.
Committee Chairman Mike White said drinking in a park is a "privilege, not a freedom." And this behavior is often in front of kids and negatively impacting them, he said.
For decades, Kalama has been considered the community's central park. It's a location for surfing lessons, swimming, a large playground, skateboard and inline skating, softball, Little League and soccer fields, and basketball and tennis courts.
"This park is meant to attract kids," Couch said.
Couch also said people can always get a permit to drink alcohol in the park for events, like weddings at the pavilions or for tournaments.
The problems go beyond drunkenness, bill supporters said, to include drugs, nudity, fighting and cursing. And without a way to arrest them, the troublemakers always come back after the police leave.
"To penalize the rest of the populace and visitors alike because of a few bad apples is in my opinion an overreach," testified Bill Baldwin. "Please do not let a few miscreants stop us from enjoying the sunset, fishing, BBQs responsibly with few beers or glasses of wine."
Baldwin added 250 signatures against the bill, which he said took him just 10 hours to get.
White and Couch didn't condone drinking alcohol despite the ban, but they implied that a responsible person who quietly has a beer or glass of wine probably would not get in any trouble.
Faaumu called the measure a great tool, and he added that police would crack down on drug problems at Kalama.
Council Member Gladys Baisa said it's time the county and community come up with a long-term plan to protect children in the area and stop sending out mixed messages about drinking.
"These are symptoms of other things," said Council Member Riki Hokama.
Hokama said these seemed like "draconian" measures. But these are different times, he said, where just ordering a loved one to stop bad behavior because it's tarnishing the family name doesn't seem to do much anymore.
"We need to get back to responsible behavior," Hokama said.
And if these troublemakers just move to another park, "we'll be there, too," said Irene Bowie, a nonprofit executive director who spoke as a resident.
Council Member Joe Pontanilla said the ordinance should go into effect as soon as the mayor signs it.
* Staff Writer Ilima Loomis contributed to this report. Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.