Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kailua Beach Gate Redux

Eight years ago, I co-founded Beach Access Hawaii when residents on L'Orange Place put up a gate to keep others from using the beach path at the end of their privately owned road. I soon learned that at least 17 Kailua beach-side lanes were gated or had put up "No Beach Access" signs. Upon further investigation, I found that the State law pertaining to beach rights of way wasn't actually an enforceable law. The attorney representing the City and County of Honolulu contended it was only a guideline because it said there "should" be public access every quarter mile in urban areas or every half mile in rural sections. "Should," not "shall."

Despite standing room only crowds testifying for the need to preserve beach access at Kailua Neighborhood Board meetings, and having thousands of people sign petitions supporting our cause, ultimately the State Legislature and City Council chose to do nothing. We also organized a state-wide Groundhog Day rally in 2008 that brought together over 20 organizations on every island -- there was even a Surfrider protest in Florida that same day, which was inspired by our efforts. For all our lobbying, calls to State and county officials, media attention, sign waving, proposed bills that got multiple hearings and lip service from elected reps, in the end, the status quo prevailed. Forcing property owners to allow public access on privately-owned land would amount to "takings" or require condemnation proceedings by the State, which would be costly and probably fail in court.

I bring this up because once again in Kailua there's talk about another gate going up on Ka'apuni Drive. The difference this time around is that the rumors spread faster thanks to Facebook. Back when my neighbors and I began Beach Access Hawaii in 2007, our chief form of communication was going door to door and handing out flyers. We then built an email list, which became our main tool to spread the word about what we were trying to accomplish through our meetings with State and county government people.

But social media is a different animal. Anyone can post anything, and often no one bothers to check the facts or research an issue. Much of it takes on an ugly tone, resorting to slinging the "F" bomb or "sh*t" every other word on the "My Kailua" Facebook page, which is presumably meant for a wide range of ages. Unfortunately, it's the rude commenters that give fuel to the arguments put forth by the Gate Keepers, who point their fingers at miscreants for trashing their streets and beach paths or disturbing them at all hours of the night when the rude idiots are out partying, defacing property with graffiti and so on. There is no defense for rudeness, online or elsewhere.

As some noted in the thread comments, there are good neighbors too who have taken the time to help clean up the Ka'apuni Drive access. Killing them with kindness is a far better strategy than threatening to make their lives miserable if they put up a gate. The one positive outcome we had from the L'Orange Gate controversy was that State Rep. Cynthia Thielen convinced residents on her beach-side lane to unlock their gate. But many of the other oceanfront properties in Kailua aren't even occupied by local owners. Some have been bought by investors that rent them out as vacation homes or B&Bs with their own private beach access.

So what can be done? Here's my suggestion: if homeowners on "private" roads want to deny beach access to the public, then treat those roads as private and require them to pay for all public services they currently enjoy at the taxpayers' expense. Let them pay for trash pick-up at their homes, or else they can cart it out to the public road adjoining their private lanes. Ditto for mail delivery. And make them pay for any public utility work that must be done beneath or bordering their private roads. They can't have it both ways -- their roads shouldn't be used for public services when it suits them, but kept off limits to the public when it doesn't.

I have also suggest to State reps and City Council members that they could offer positive inducements for allowing public access, such as tax breaks on their "private" roads and easements. Sometimes a carrot is better than a stick. For what it's worth, here's the post from the My Kailua Facebook page that elicited a strong reaction:
KA'APUNI TO BECOME GATED
Area Resident Local Reports In...
The "residents" of Kaapuni Drive have voted to put gates up and restrict beach access. This after only a few months ago they denied claims that this was happening nor would it ever. After local news was about to release the story, the Kaapuni association president called the news denying any validity to the accusations and dismissing it as baseless rumors. Now that one of the long time residents that has always opposed putting up gates has passed and her property is for sale, the "residents" (several of which live on the mainland and vote by proxy at the board meetings) now have the votes to pass the motion. Meanwhile the neighboring community that takes care of the beach accesses through community cleanups and beautification projects will be the ones most affected by this restriction. The next nearest public accesses are over a HALF MILE APART. We need to let the Kaapuni board and residents know that this is a horrible idea and will not decrease crime, vandalism, and littering. Those punks will just jump the gate or come down from another access. It is the families that grew up using these accesses and actually take care of the beach and accesses that they will be punishing. Beach access needs to be protected and opened, not limited! If anyone has contacts with the residents or board members, please share. Or contacts at local news outlets. Help spread the word before another beach access is restricted. Anyone happen to know the minimum distance between public beach accesses? Or an ordinance/law/etc regarding public trash and mail access on private roads?
Looking back, there was another positive result from the Beach Access Hawaii campaign... a lasting one. We got to know a lot of our neighbors by going door to door, and meeting in person to make our signs for the rallies and protests. That's one thing you can't do online. Putting names to faces, sharing stories of growing up in Kailua or elsewhere, spending real time together for a concerted purpose will always mean more than sitting in front of a computer, typing out pithy Tweets or snarky Facebook retorts. But at least grumbling online is a start. The question is, will any of them follow through and attempt to do something about it?

1 comment:

Micah K Pregitzer said...

Hello, I am the person trying to put together the opposition against the gating of the Kaapuni beach accesses. Any help you could provide would be much appreciated.

Aloha,
Micah Pregitzer