Unlicensed businesses, carelessly discarded trash and dangerous watercraft operations are adding to a “lawless mentality” on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach that residents have warned is in danger of being “destroyed by a growing horde of unlicensed vendors,” according to complaints filed last week with the government’s Ministry of Tourism.
“The very symbol of this beautiful island and the magnet that draws both Caymanians and multitudes of tourists is being destroyed before our very eyes,” read an eight-page letter sent to Tourism Ministry Councilor Joey Hew Friday by the Harbour Heights development’s strata management council and signed by council member Bob Loverd. Harbour Heights is a condominium complex just south of the main Public Beach area.
“The beach … does not seem to be regulated by law [and] government officials do not appear to have the authority to act,” the Harbour Heights letter read, adding that the revamped Public Beach area just south of the under-construction Kimpton hotel seems to have become a haven where “unlicensed vendors aggressively compete with each other to offer a carnival of competing services.”
Over the weekend, the management of the Avalon Condominiums supported the Harbour Heights organization’s comments.
“We too have observed the gradual, but steady increase in commercial activity at the Public Beach, and for the first time in my nearly 20 years of wintering here we have had vendors peddling their wares to people on our beach,” said Warren Nock, chairman of the condo management strata. “The beach experience here has been unique in the Caribbean. In addition to the wonderful natural elements, guests have felt welcomed, safe, and left in peace to rid themselves of the stresses and pressures of life at home.”
Complaints about unlicensed businesses of many kinds operating on the public beach area are nothing new. In January 2013, the Cayman Compass reported that government, following promises of a crackdown on vendors who did not maintain an updated trade and business license, had abandoned that effort.
A statement from the Department of Tourism at the time noted: “DOT welcomes vendors offering visitors and residents a taste of our heritage and culture in public spaces. However, it should never occur to the extent where our visitors and residents begin to feel harassed.”
There were political concerns at the time – just a few months before the May 2013 general election – that such an enforcement effort would have affected vendors at the George Town craft market and local roadside vendors as well, though the focus of the roundup was public beaches.
Michael Morgan, owner of V-Kool Water Sports, a business that offers visitors and residents rides on flotation devices, was particularly vocal about the proposed crackdown, stating there was “no teeth” in the law to address the public vendors operating in public places.
“There is nothing written in the law prohibiting us from doing business on the beach,” he said at the time. “I had a license, but now they are refusing to renew it. I have been under threat now for over a year but there is nothing in the law that says we should not be here. I haven’t stopped because I don’t agree with what they are trying to do without a written law in place to back up their actions.”
Mr. Morgan holds much the same view today. When interviewed Monday at the V-Kool tent, he said he believes all the Caymanian vendors have a right to be on Public Beach.
“Everybody down here, they’re just trying to make a living. They’re renting chairs and umbrellas just to make ends meet,” he said.
Daphne Bennett, 67, said she has gotten pushback from Seven Mile Beach residents, but believes she and other chair renters aren’t hurting anyone. Ms. Bennett said some of the beach chair renters have tried to get a trade and business license, but they’ve all been denied.
“It seems like they don’t want to [give out the licenses],” she said. “I know [the residents] don’t like it, but no one ever came out and said they don’t want us on the beach.”
In January, a revamped Trade and Business Licensing Law took effect. It set more stringent requirements around the payment of licensing fees and gave Department of Commerce and Investment inspectors the ability to enforce the law using the same powers given to a police constable in the exercise of their duties.
License renewals for businesses are required to be submitted at least 28 days before the expiry of the current license and there are substantial late fees for not filing.
Despite the new law coming into force, residents along Seven Mile Beach said Friday that they were “puzzled.”
“There does not appear to be evidence that it is being applied to unlicensed vendors on the public beach,” the Harbour Heights letter read, adding that one local business owner in the area, Handel Whittaker of Calico Jack’s, noted there were no fewer than 17 unlicensed operators at present. “Meanwhile, the unlicensed vendors on the Public Beach are using public land for their private profit.”
Mr. Hew, a George Town MLA, responded immediately to the Harbour Heights management letter, indicating a meeting of the government agencies responsible for the legal enforcement would be held this week to address the issues. He declined to comment until the matter is discussed further.
Multiple businesses that rent Jet Skis operate in front of the Public Beach area on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. According to the Harbour Heights strata management, some have insurance, some do not.
In the view of the management council, a number of the Jet Ski operators are unregulated “out of control” and “highly dangerous.”
“Both the staff of Jet Ski operators and renters continually drive at high speeds in the area in front of Harbour Heights,” the strata management letter read. “It is only a matter of time before some innocent swimmer is hurt – perhaps killed.”
Police Commissioner David Baines on Friday ordered his marine unit commander and West Bay Police Station Commander to conduct an enforcement action on the “Jet Ski issues described.”
“We have already had a Jet Ski fatality last year due to failures in this area by the users,” Mr. Baines said, asking officers to look into the possibility of seizing uninsured Jet Skis if that could legally be done.
Another unlicensed vendor business that has cropped up since 2013 on Public Beach involves large stacks of beach chairs that are rented to cruise ship tourists and other visitors on a daily basis.
During the morning on a busy cruise ship day, “those chairs are lined up side-by-side from Calico Jack’s [in the north] to Harbour Heights [in the south] forming a nearly impenetrable wall of aluminum and plastic,” according to the management council.
“There is not a single stretch of beachfront where a family can sit down without being caught in a tangle of chairs or accosted by vendors,” the resident council noted.
The management council also questioned whether any of the beach chair rental companies have employees, whether those employees are paid pensions or healthcare benefits in accordance with the law, or if they even maintain trade and business licenses.
In addition to the beach chairs, the management council claims illegally sold soft drink cans and wrappers from foodstuffs are littered about the chairs and not collected when the beach chairs are stacked back up at the end of the day.