McKelvey wants resorts cited for ‘reserved’ beach space

Unused cabanas, chairs and umbrellas are crowding out public access to residents

West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey is calling for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to halt violations by Kaanapali resorts and vendors staking out spaces on public beaches for chairs and umbrellas for customers.

In a letter to DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case on Wednesday, McKelvey said that he has become aware of reports of unused chairs, umbrellas and other seaside gear placed along much of the Kaanapali beach area to “reserve” space for customers.

“Our public beaches are legally protected and the public’s access should be unfettered,” he said in the letter. “Attempts of this nature to reserve beach space disallows the general public’s use and enjoyment of that space and is unacceptable.”

West Maui resident Kai Nishiki, who has been complaining about this practice and others that block beach access to local residents, said the rules are clear. While renting beach items is allowed, guests must be present at the time a chair is set on a beach; items rented must have a guest name and duration of rental attached; and chairs must be removed if left unattended for more than an hour.

She has personally observed numerous resorts and vendors “pre-setting chairs/umbrellas” from 8 a.m. when guest are not present, unmarked chairs and chairs that stay in place all day and sometimes overnight.

“Resorts are selling space on our public beaches and completely blocking the entire coast in front of their hotels with hundreds of cabanas/chairs/umbrellas daily,” she said Thursday.

A Hawaii News Now report Tuesday about the violations at Kaanapali caught the attention of McKelvey. What particularly bothered him was the DLNR saying in the report that it responds to complaints and periodically enforces the rules but does not have the manpower to provide daily enforcement.

Attempts to reach DLNR officials Thursday were unsuccessful.

“While we want to support our visitor industry, and related activities, the right of the public access use at all times is paramount,” McKelvey said in his letter to Case. “We have mechanisms in place to ensure fair and equal public access.

“Enforcement is the key missing component. As such, it is paramount that existing laws and regulations be vigorously enforced by your department.”

McKelvey explained Thursday that an Ocean Recreation Management Area for Kaanapali was set up with funding from permit fees to manage the area, including for enforcement of state laws and rules. He said that the DLNR is siphoning off funds and personnel from the management area for other needs.

The West Maui state representative, who grew up jumping off Black Rock in Kaanapali, agrees that there are shortages in enforcement officers islandwide and says he will do what he can to increase funding for conservation officers. However, the enforcement of the management area and the rest of the island needs to be dealt with separately, not by diverting resources.

In the letter, he pledged to work with the DLNR as a member of the House Water and Land Committee to secure more money “but in the meantime, it does not obviate the primary responsibility of your department to ensure that the laws to keep beach access open to all, regardless of rank and status, are fully enforced.”

McKelvey believes the problems at Kaanapali beaches could have been avoided with a “constantly engaged” third party administering rules fairly across the board and keeping open lines of communication. He pointed out that without proper enforcement by the state those vendors abiding by the rules may be forced to join the rule-breakers to stay in business and that many tourists, who come to Hawaii to experience the culture, don’t want to be caught up in a conflict over beach access.

Nishiki said that she has filed numerous complaints, and that for the most part, DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement has responded to complaints with inspections but no actions.

After sending in 10 complaints, Nishiki said she was told by a division official that there were only two officers on duty at a time and that investigations could take a while because the complaints were considered “low priority” compared to others.

Conservation officers did inspect the Kaanapali beach area Saturday, accompanied part of the time by Nishiki. The officers took measurements to determine if chairs were placed on private or public property along the certified shoreline and pictures of empty chairs and umbrellas at the Aston at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach and a few other properties including the Ka’anapali Alii, which Nishiki had filed a complaint about.

No citations were issued Saturday as the investigation continued, she said. McKelvey asked Case for a copy of the investigative findings.

The Whaler’s General Manager Mila Salvador said Thursday that the beach chair operations are subcontracted out.

“I’ll be working with the subcontractors,” she said. “We are aware of the rules.”

Attempts to reach officials with the Ka’anapali Alii on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Wayne Hedani, president of the Kaanapali Operations Association, which manages the resort, said that the covenant codes and restrictions for the Kaanapali Beach Resort require all properties to comply with laws, ordinances and codes.

“Any property that is violating state or county laws is subject to enforcement action by the appropriate agency,” he said. “We do not condone the violation of any regulations and welcome enforcement efforts.”

Photos of unoccupied beach chairs at the The Whaler and the Ka’anapali Alii are among those that appear on Nishiki’s Facebook page Access Denied, which she began Dec. 22. The goal of Access Denied is to educate, organize and effect positive change to enhance public access to the shoreline, she said.

There currently are 3,635 followers with 20 to 30 requests a day to join, she said. Her first post was shared almost 1,000 times in 48 hours.

One of the reasons for starting the page was her 12-year-old daughter being told by a property manager that she did not belong on the public beach across the street from their home.

“When she came home confused and scared to even go to the beach, that really inspired me to make sure our future generations, our keiki, never feel unwelcome on the beaches of our island home,” Nishiki said.

She said residents in West Maui are feeling “pushed out” by the burgeoning number of visitors and other effects, such as traffic.

“When we finally find parking, that we usually have to pay for, and lug all of our stuff to the beach, with our keiki, what do we find — the beach lined up with cabana and chairs leaving us frustrated and feeling unwelcome,” Nishiki said.

“We just want to be able to go to the beach and not have to jockey for a space amongst a long row of unsightly beach chairs and umbrellas,” she said. “Look at European beaches, filled to capacity with umbrellas and cabanas, what an eyesore — that is not what we want for Maui.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.