Thursday | November 23, 2017
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Step taken to ban alcohol at James Kealoha Beach Park

Responding to increased community complaints, the Hawaii County Council Committee on Public Works and Parks and Recreation voted Thursday to ban consumption of alcoholic beverages at James Kealoha Beach Park.

The matter next will be taken up by the council itself during a meeting later this month. If approved there, the ban will become part of county code.

James Kealoha Beach Park is one of 23 parks islandwide, including six in South Hilo, where alcohol consumption is allowed between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. without a permit.

District 3 Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy introduced the item after meeting with residents of Leleiwi and Keaukaha who were concerned about safety in the park.

“I believe over the years, there was a large level of tolerance, but that tolerance is really beginning to erode at this point,” she said.

Matt Lewis, community policing officer for the South Hilo District, said calls to the Hawaii Police Department were increasing and that “even lifeguards at neighboring beaches have said we need to make a change here.”

“Calls and complaints continue to grow, and alcohol is one of the main drivers,” he said. “From traffic accidents to fights, to major assaults with knives and bats. It’s not a one-time event, and most of the time the responsible parties are intoxicated.

“It’s not that I’m against drinking, but I think this park has a problem that we need to address. From what I see, it’s really dangerous there. I wouldn’t take a child there.”

“It’s quite evident that the increase in calls is taking a toll on our manpower,” said HPD Capt. Greg Esteban. “We have to allocate resources to this particular area to address crime and accidents both in and out of the ocean.”

Resident Mark Lau, who lives adjacent to the beach park, testified in favor of the amendment and thanked Lee Loy for proposing it.

Lau said he, too, drinks at the park, but was in support of the ban because things were “getting out of hand.” He has nearly been run over on multiple occasions, and said he carries a weapon at night while walking his dog because he does not feel safe.

“A lot of people tell me they don’t feel comfortable there,” he said.

“If we identify a certain park that has issues … we want to proactively address it before we have impaired drivers on the road,” Lewis said. That involves issuing citations or arresting people, he said, but “it has to be in clearly defined locations where we can enforce.”

Lee Loy’s initial proposal stemmed from the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, which has been working to identify public safety concerns.

“It is our hope that this can be a model on how we can address parks in an overall sense,” Lee Loy said.

That initiative would involve developing administrative rules for beach parks based on their specific uses and amenities.

“Ideally what we want to do in working with the parks department is develop a matrix of parks,” Lee Loy said. “If they are a beach park with no pavilion, they’re going to fall into a particular category, or if they’re a beach park with a pavilion geared toward youth, or more of a surfing park or fishing park.”

“I look at this as a beginning,” District 6 Councilwoman Maile David said. “I really appreciate everything the police force is doing, but we have a lot of work to do.”

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