Kailua residents raise legitimacy questions about beach park vendors

Kailua residents raise legitimacy questions about beach park vendors
Ghosh with permit in hand
Ghosh with permit in hand

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Vendors at Honolulu city and county parks are under scrutiny by residents who want to know if they are legitimate and how can they sell trinkets in a public place while others can't.

Hawaii News Now found a vendor at Kailua Beach Park Wednesday morning selling t-shirts, drinks, and potato chips near the parking lot. We asked him why he is allowed to be there.

"Give sometime not only this, but literature also…if people interested. Those not interested, I don't give it to," said Panchanan Ghosh, volunteer for Mahaprabhu Society.

Ghosh showed us his permit for the month saying Mahaprabhu Society is a non-profit organization tied to the Hare Krishnas.  Mahaprabhu Society is registered with the city as a non-profit to sell what's called "message-bearing-merchandise" as a non-commercial activity.

They are called "First Amendment vendors."

However, some Kailua residents say they are exploiting the city's permitting system and misleading the public.

"We're all concerned that is an abuse of the law, that the vendor who's here really is taking that religious exemption and abusing it," said Kailua resident Claudia Webster.

Webster said it raised red flags for her when she saw that the for-sale items have nothing to do with religion.

Some City and state leaders say their permits should be revoked.

"I don't agree with these folks being there and being issued a permit under the guise of religious protection. They're not selling anything, clearly selling anything that bears any type of religious message," said Councilmember Ikaika Anderson.

The story may sound familiar. A few years ago, a group at Diamond Head was handing out "I Climbed Diamond Head" certificates in exchange for a "donation." But the group didn't register their non-profit with the state, causing the Attorney General's Office to issue a cease-and-desist order back in 2011.

One of the guys tied to that non-profit is the same guy listed as the main point of contact for at least one of the vendors in Kailua and listed as a volunteer for at least one other.

"We have to ask ourselves in Hawaii, is that really the face we want to put forward or do we rethink this entire system to begin with to ensure that we have public beaches that everyone can enjoy without being pressured to buy into a particular or product or religious affiliations," said State Representative Chris Lee.

Councilmember Anderson said the city's administration is concerned about revoking the permits because they could face a lawsuit. Anderson said he believes it's worth fighting the issue in court if need be.

Copyright 2015 HawaiiNewsNow. All rights reserved.