Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sheraton's Shoddy Shoreline Sham

Beach access advocate Mark Dougherty sent these photos of the walkway in front of the Sheraton Waikiki, which clearly shows how vegetation from the resort property makes it even more narrow than it already is. He says the Sheraton is basically ignoring their responsibility to maintain the walkway because they'd rather dissuade the general public from passing in front of their property than improve access. He's probably right.

Mark writes:
" Improved shoreline access across Hawaii received a boost in 2010 when Act 160 (HRS 115-5) was passed. Unfortunately the prescription for 6-feet wide 'beach transit corridors' is not applicable in some places. This coast fronting the Sheraton Waikiki -- one of the more prominent shorelines in Hawaii -- must make due with a 4-foot walkway. The walkway, an easement that dates back years before Sheraton was built in 1971, was considered for expansion during the Sheraton renovation, completed around 2011. But no action was taken. Hawaii's coastal planners apparently regard this access way as sufficient for all pedestrian traffic between main Waikiki Beach and Ft. DeRussy. With the constraining naupaka hedge and railing, the public has only 3 ½ feet to pass."
I asked him what he would like to see happen in regards to the situation. Here's his response:
 " Re your question, I would like to see walkway widened or naupaka removed. But I doubt the hotel will do that now. The time to do that was during the renovation, at coastal planners' prompting. (Several months ago I communicated with Bob Kelly, Sheraton GM. He said the walkway is just fine.) At this point, it would probably take a land acquisition. That would be a big deal. And the related issue is Gray's Beach restoration is still pending. There is a lot going on here....
   I am interested in a public airing of this issue. Attention is warranted by both media and community organizations. Here are my 3 key topics:
   1) The Sheraton walkway situation helps erode respect for the 6-feet-wide standard of HRS 115-5. If coastal planners deem a 3 ½ feet width is good enough for the busy Waikiki shore, that sends a poor message.
   2) There is highly credible information that not only that some hotels seek to limit pedestrian traffic along the Waikiki shore, but that top coastal planners are tacitly agreeing to go along with this scheme. This is bad policy and should be investigated. Of course planners will deny this, but a close look at at the Sheraton situation is warranted.
   3) A new law is needed to require upgrading of substandard easements fronting resort properties when those properties engage in major coastal renovations. HRS 115-5's 6-feet standard should be the new code, at least. Sheraton built a new pool within 10 feet of the water's edge. Apparently there is no policy basis to conduct such an easement review during major coastal modifications.
   What happened at the Sheraton is important; it provides the basis to debate new legislation that would prevent this situation from happening again.
Although Mark has tried contacting government officials and people in organizations such as Surfrider and KAHEA, so far no one seems to want to make waves over the issue. If you'd like to help Mark in this cause, please contact him via email at

Friday, October 3, 2014

Unintended Consequences: Homeless Find Loophole

Anyone who lives on Oahu knows we have a major problem with homelessness. You see it in Waikiki, Downtown, Chinatown, Kakaako -- but the homeless have also been pitching tents in beach parks all over the island. Since it's gotten to the point where tourists and residents alike are being impacted, the City of Honolulu has been trying to find ways to force them into shelters and get them off the sidewalks and out of the parks.

However, the homeless found a loophole in recent laws passed by the City: because of the split jurisdiction along the shoreline, they are now sleeping on the beach below the high water mark which comes under State rule! Of course, the State Dept. of Land and Natural Resources doesn't have the manpower or resources to deal with that issue too, so the City is trying to get State permission to take responsibility for the beach at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. Here's the link to that article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

But that's just one beach. Moreover, it's not the only problem we're experiencing that is related to split jurisdiction. Recently the local news media has also been reporting about the growing number of commercial ocean sports activities routinely being conducted on Honolulu beaches -- everything from the usual surfing and paddle boarding lessons to yoga classes. So if someone from the City wants to hassle them about things like permits, all they need to do is move down below the high water mark because the State DLNR won't send anyone to stop them.

Time and again, I've stated in this blog that we need a joint State-Counties Coastal Commission to set rules for all shoreline activities and have the authority to impose fines or take action against violators. Yet the Honolulu City Council and State Legislature continue to stick their heads in the sand and twiddle their thumbs.

BTW, a follower of this blog -- Mark Dougherty -- sent me the photos below showing how the Sheraton Waikiki has been derelict in maintaining vegetation along a walkway fronting the resort. I told Mark that there was a State Law passed, which is supposed to make property owners responsible for keeping plants from encroaching on any beach area below the high water mark because it would impede lateral beach access. The thing is you have to get DLNR to enforce the rule, and to date, I'm not sure they've been putting much effort into it.

Mark says he'll look into it himself, but has already heard from people who say the Sheraton really isn't that interested in improving the walkway's accessibility because they don't want to encourage more foot traffic by non-guests through that area. Wouldn't surprise me in the least if that was true.

Stay tuned, more to follow when I have time to post an update!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Latest Studies: More Bad News...

It's been a long time since my last post. So what's new? Nothing as far as action by the Hawaii State Legislature or Honolulu City Council in regards to protecting public beach access, or protecting what's left of our shorelines.

Yet each week/month/year that goes by, we continue to see more evidence of climate change that is causing sea levels to rise and leading to accelerated beach erosion. On today's Civil Beat website, there was this piece (click here for link to their page):

Inch by Sandy Inch, Hawaii’s Loss of Beaches Worries Tourism Industry

Recent reports cite concerns that elevated ocean levels, drought and hotter Hawaiian nights will hurt tourism and ultimately the state's economy.

·By Breana Milldrum
The look of paradise is changing: Rising seas mowing over reefs that were once able to slow and break the swells are starting to swallow Hawaii’s iconic white beaches. The state has approximately 750 miles of coastline, according to a climate change report released recently by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Center for Sustainable Coastal Tourism. But 13 miles of beaches have disappeared within the past century.

That has scientists — and the Hawaii Tourism Authority — worried. In a two-part report published in 2013 and 2014, researchers outlined impacts related to sea level rise, drought, and elevated temperatures in Hawaii.

“The first report was more of an academic, theoretical approach on how to deal with the problem,” co-author and NOAA Sea Grant Coastal Programs coordinator Dolan Eversole said. The second, released just a few weeks ago, attempts to illustrate how the effects of climate change will look on the ground, Eversole said.

Waikiki is particularly vulnerable. A 2008 economic impact report surmised that $2 billion in total visitor expenditures annually would be lost if its beaches were to disappear... And Waikiki isn’t the only beach that’s going to get smaller: Others expected to experience significant erosion within a century include: Mau’umae and Hapuna on the Big Island; Makena State Park and Ho’okipa on Maui; Hulopo’e on Lanai; Pu’ko’o and Halawa on Molokai; Waimanalo,  Ala Moana on Oahu; and Ke’e beach and Poipu Beach Park on Kauai... According to the report, approximately 90 experts in the field of sea level rise found that it will occur to the tune of 1-3 feet around Hawaii within 85 years.

Tourism isn’t the only industry that will be affected by climate change. The Sea Grant reports say that increases in the ocean’s temperature could affect the feeding habits and migration patterns of big-eye tuna, with catches expected to decrease by as much as 27 percent by 2100.

Dr. Chip Fletcher of the University of Hawaii at Manoa estimates that ocean levels will rise by a little less than an inch a year in Hawaii. While that may seem minor at first, over time the impacts on Hawaii’s environment and, by extension, the tourism industry, could be great.

Higher ocean levels could create more storm surges which could threaten water lines, roads and a majority of the state’s hotels, which are situated along the coast. Linda Cox, a co-author of the report, said that damages from rising sea levels would be the most economically harmful. “My idea is that the coastline infrastructure will be the biggest challenge due to the expense associated with moving or altering it,” said Cox, researcher with College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH.
The effects of rising ocean levels can already be seen on Oahu, said Cox.

“We already have major issues in coastal areas — look at Hanalei  and the North Shore of Oahu. When major storm events occur, these communities struggle to keep roads open, necessities in stock and people aware of the action to take,” Cox said...

The article concludes with "What's Being Done," which I can summarize for you in two words: MORE STUDIES. In other words, no action will be taken until there's a major catastrophe. Sigh.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Some Good News Finally

As reported by Joan Conrow on the HuffPost Hawaii site, the Hawaii Supreme Court "has ruled the state must consider historical evidence when determining the shoreline... The opinion also reiterates the high court's 2006 ruling that vegetation may not be planted to manipulate the shoreline, which becomes the starting line for a building setback."

In effect, the court is saying oceanfront home owners can't try to grab more beach land by planting stuff like naupaka on the edge of their property, which can grow out quickly and extend the de facto boundaries by quite a bit -- like these Kailua Beach properties...

Yep, it's like a sea of green in front of those homes! The court also said historical evidence of the "highest wash" must be considered in determining where the shoreline is. That's significant because the State was using a "single-year snapshot" method, which could be taken at a time when waves were low... and that would allow people to build closer to the ocean, even if history has shown those idiots were putting their property and themselves at risk.

You can read Joan's entire article by clicking here.

Meanwhile, the State Legislature has kicked off their 2014 session with the usual well-meaning announcements that they are going to do something about addressing global climate change and rising sea levels... yeah, right. Call me cynical, but it seems the most vocal advocates -- like Rep. Chris Lee -- don't grasp the reality of Hawaii's split jurisdiction handling of the shoreline. No matter what the State does in the way of studies or task forces, they have no power over shoreline setbacks or zoning restrictions because that is up to each individual county council as it stands right now.

Until they face the fact we need a joint State-Counties coastal commission that has authority to make rules and enforce them, all we will get are nice sound bites and photo opps while the naupaka keeps growing, beaches keep eroding and sea levels keep rising.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, Same Old Politics

It's been awhile since I last posted, due to other professional responsibilities and lack of any real news on the beach access front to share. If you live in Hawaii, you've seen the TV and newspaper reports about houses on the North Shore that are in danger of being swept away by high surf as a result of beach erosion. What's been missing in those dramatic video shots and articles is any detailed discussion of accountability.

As I have been writing in this blog and elsewhere for over three years, Oahu's shoreline setback rules are dangerously shortsighted. The proof is what we're seeing on TV, happening before our very eyes. Yet it should come as no surprise to anyone living here since it's been going on in Kahala, Lanakai and around the island for decades. People build too close to the sea, which interferes with sand dunes and natural erosion/replenishment cycles. That leads to homeowners building seawalls or planting vegetation that hardens the shoreline break and hastens erosion further, until there is no beach left.

The only local news outlet to question existing shoreline setback policies is the Honolulu Civil Beat. Ian Lind wrote a piece about it, and today they ran a story about the county REJECTING federal funding for shoreline management purposes because they feel like there is too much paperwork and accountability that goes along with the money. And you wonder why nothing gets done to protect what beaches we have left? It's absolutely astounding that the Honolulu City Council accepts this rationale and sits on its hands with their heads stuck in the sand... except that sand is being washed out to sea, leaving their inaction exposed for the entire State to see.

Meanwhile, the other islands have said the fed reporting requirements aren't that onerous and are taking advantage of Oahu's idiotic rejection of funds -- if Honolulu doesn't use that money, they get more to work with. Here's the link to the Civil Beat piece.

Excerpts from today's article:
Every year, the City and County of Honolulu lets slide an opportunity to get more than a quarter of a million dollars in federal funding to promote sustainable coastal development. The funds, which the other three counties in Hawaii receive, is mostly used to hire staff to implement the Coastal Zone Management Act, which is federal legislation that was passed in 1972 to balance the needs of environmental conservation with coastal development. 

Honolulu county was receiving about $280,000 a year from the program until 2007, when Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting concluded that increased federal oversight and stricter reporting requirements were too onerous. “The funding comes with a lot of strings attached to it,” said George Atta, director for the county planning department. “It was creating a lot of headaches for us from an administrative standpoint.” 

Michele McLean, deputy director for the Maui County Planning Department, said, “It’s become such a routine thing for us in terms of the reporting. It really isn’t burdensome." Maui County receives $344,600 in funding from the program which it uses to fund four full-time positions. McLean, who called Oahu’s rejection of the funding “eyebrow raising,” said that Maui’s staff members deal with issues related to sea-level rise, coastal development and erosion. 

Atta insisted that the loss of funding does not impede the department’s ability to comply with federal and state regulations relating to coastal development. He said that other staff in the department’s land use permitting division have taken on the work required by the Coastal Zone Management Act.
Still, the lost funding would have equaled about one quarter of the $1.2 million annual budget of the land use permitting division for 2014. And though the county planning department hasn't sought such federal funding in recent years, it is requesting an increase in development fees, partly to cover coastal management activities on Oahu. 

Robert Harris, executive director for the Hawaii Sierra Club, said that the county’s rejection of the funds is indicative of the county’s general reluctance to address coastal development and erosion problems.

Whereas Maui and Kauai have been "relatively progressive" in trying to find the right balance and in planning for future erosion, "Oahu has been about the most adamant in believing those controls are unnecessary,” said Harris.

Statewide, 9 percent of Hawaii's beaches have been lost, mostly due to improperly located coastal development, according to a recent report from the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

On Oahu, between 30 and 40 percent of beaches have disappeared, mostly as a byproduct of efforts to protect private property from encroaching erosion, said Dolan Eversole, a coastal hazards specialist at the University of Hawaii. The main cause: erecting seawalls to save houses.