NAWILIWILI — In a meeting filled with strong opinions, the County Council on Wednesday approved by a 5-2 vote the opening of Lydgate Beach Park campgrounds to the public.
The campsites will open 60 days after Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. signs the bill into law.
The long road to approve the bill has been a bumpy and controversial one. It took more than six year for the council to approve a bill that will open the first county park in which residents will be charged a camping fee. Staffing, safety, enforcement, readiness and other issues were passionately debated among council members.
“I think we are just setting ourselves up for failure,” said Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i, adding that he supports camping, but only when it’s done in the “right way.”
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said Lydgate Beach Park is a precious resource.
“I think that by adding camping in a methodical way we are going to increase the value of the park to the people,” she said.
Arguing that the administration is not ready and the campgrounds are not safe, Councilman Mel Rapozo opposed the bill, saying he didn’t understand the rush to approve it, especially considering that the bill had been “hanging in the weeds” for more than five years.
The bill was first introduced in 2005. On June 29, when the bill was amended to include fees, it was the first time it had been heard since 2009.
“A lot of questions remain that are not answered,” Rapozo said. “You’d think we would be heading for a deferral.”
At the end of the day, the council approved the bill, but not before a threat from Chair Jay Furfaro to send it back to the Parks and Recreation Committee, chaired by Councilman Tim Bynum. The bill passed out of committee on Aug. 24 after a 3-0 vote — committee members Rapozo and Kuali‘i were absent on official council business.
“If you’re not ready to work this out of committee, I’ll be glad to send it back to committee,” said Furfaro, also expressing “disappointment” with the staff for not being fully prepared for the meeting. The administration had sent answers from two sets of questions committee members had asked in the last few weeks, but those answers weren’t ready to be distributed among all council members at Wednesday meeting, causing a delay in the procedures.
Best possible bill
Kuali‘i and Councilman Dickie Chang introduced two amendments, but only one made it to the final bill.
Chang’s amendment — rejected after a 3-4 vote — requested that groups renting the pavilion bring one portable toilet for every 50 campers. Some council members didn’t support the amendment based on financial burden to local groups and a potential redundancy of additional amenities.
Kuali‘i’s amendment passed unanimously. It exempted fishermen from obtaining a permit to park in non-designated areas within the campground boundaries. But when the final vote on the main motion was called, he and Rapozo voted against it.
Rapozo said that in past years, he couldn’t understand why Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura would vote for an amendment, but reject the main motion. Her reasoning, he later found out, was because even though she didn’t support the bill, she wanted it to be the best possible bill it could be. And that was how Rapozo explained his action Wednesday. Only he and Kuali‘i voted against the bill in the main motion.
The administration plans to initially open 16 of the 31 campsites, including the ones compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I believe we have a sound plan by opening up not all of the campgrounds to see impacts and make adjustments and make corrections,” Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said. The administration will have an informal standard for the campgrounds; but “as a department,” what he wants is a formal standard.
Mel Rapozo said the delineation of the meets and bounds of the campground need to be defined as “more than a dotted line” on a map, but Bynum said the County Attorney had provided an opinion that the map provided by the administration was sufficient to meet legal needs.
“If you’re opposed to camping at Lydgate Park, don’t vote for this bill,” Bynum said. “But don’t, in my opinion, try to micromanage and microfine every little nuance.”
Mel Rapozo said all county parks have meets and bounds, and Lydgate campground is unique because it designates an area within the park.
“Please, Mr. Bynum, do not say I’m nitpicking,” he said. “This is not your typical situation. This is unique. We are identifying a section within the park.”
Kuali‘i said he “totally” takes offense when Bynum says other council members have been too meticulous.
“My style of serving the people is paying attention to the details,” he said. “To criticize that is wrong and is not in the interest of how we work together and how we serve the people.”
County Attorney Al Castillo said there needs to be sufficient notice of the campgrounds boundaries so those without permits can be fined. The fine for sleeping in a car at a county park without a camping permit is up to $200 for first violation and could go higher for subsequent violations within a year.
Bynum listed a series of county parks and asked why the council has to go to “extreme length” on this particular park.
“Do we need this level of detail in order to effectively enforce the camping ordinance?” he asked Castillo.
Castillo said it was outside of his realm, because Bynum is the legislator. He denied he said the council does not need to clearly define boundaries. “I said we need to clearly notify people as to where the boundaries are.”
The answer did not satisfy Bynum.
“So will we need to do similar things to other parks I mentioned?” he said.
Castillo answered that he wanted to be consistent with just working with Lydgate at this time, which was relevant to the meeting’s agenda.
The administration answered a series of questions regarding how safety will be handled at the campgrounds.
County park rangers receive training in dealing with difficult situations, including “verbal judo,” Lenny Rapozo said. The rangers carry no gun or pepper spray.
The scheduling of the rangers brought some concerns among some council members.
Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura — echoing Chang — said she had concerns that for a few hours in the middle of the day, between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., there are three rangers working at the same time. But between 10 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. there are no rangers on duty.
“Something needs to happen here,” she said. “We need to be proactive and make sure there is a manager, there is a park ranger available to do the enforcement.”
Lenny Rapozo said if the rangers feel a person will not cooperate, they are trained to call the police and wait until the officer arrives to approach the area where there is a problem.
Rangers can issue citations for camping without a permit or other violations of park regulations, he said. Park caretakers do not issue tickets; they may approach a person and advise about regulations, but they do not enforce the law. In most cases, they call park rangers to assist with enforcement.
The administration will have 60 days to work out kinks in the park’s rules, but Carvalho has to sign the bill into law first. If he chooses to do nothing, the bill becomes law after 10 business days. Carvalho could also veto it, but it’s unlikely. He has yet to veto a bill and, if he does, the bill goes back to council where it will need a supermajority of five votes to overrule a veto
Residents will be charged a $5 daily fee for each campsite, not per person. Visitor will pay $25 for the same permit. The pavilion — which can hold up to 150 people — can be rented by residents for $75 per day and by visitors for $150 per day.
Go to www.kauai.gov for more information.