Trudy Moncrief, at right, stands next to the controversial beach gate on L'Orange Place in Kailua. Her husband, Robert, is in the background.
Kailua-Gate affects us all
Kailua Beach is a special place for me. It's where I started my mornings while I was in rehab at Castle Medical Center back in 1988. It's where I was reborn, in a sense.
Each day at 7 a.m., a van took us to the beach park across from Buzz's, where we had an hour to do whatever we wanted. Some swam. Others meditated or just chilled. Me, I jogged. Years of drinking and smoking had taken its toll, but I was determined to get back in shape, physically and mentally. At the time, my wife and I had a condo in Diamond Head. But after 28 days of running up and down that beautiful beach, my heart would always be in Kailua.
In 1991, we bought a modest townhouse at the marsh end of Kainui Drive, known as "Duck Lane" to locals. Part of my writing routine and ongoing recovery has been jogging to the beach two or three times a week. On weekends, my wife and I would walk to the beach, using the path at the end of L'Orange Place, which is directly across Kalaheo Avenue from our street. In all the years we've lived here, no one has ever stopped us or asked us not to use that path.
Then, last month, I encountered a rude surprise. Someone put up a locked gate on L'Orange. Why, though? I had never noticed any major parking problems. I rarely saw people using that road to get to the beach during week days. On the few occasions I did see shady characters cruising down L'Orange, I made a point of watching them until they drove off. I felt I owed it to my neighbors since they had been kind enough to let us use that path. I mean, isn't that what good neighbors do for one another?
But in Kailua, the signs of change are visible all along Kalaheo Avenue, quite literally: "FOR SALE" signs (if you have to ask how much, keep driving); "PRIVATE ROAD" signs (yet they continue to make use of public services such as garbage pick-up and mail delivery); and "NO BEACH ACCESS" signs on nearly every corner.
Wait a second -- isn't it illegal to deny access to beaches in Hawaii?
Yes and no. There are laws on the books that provide for public access every quarter-mile of beach. However, after I sent e-mails to the Kailua Neighborhood Board and other elected officials, I got a reply from City Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall stating that the L'Orange homeowners were legally within their rights. Well, it may be legal, but it doesn't seem right.
That's why I chose to take a stand. A Kailua Neighborhood Board member said I should bring up the matter at their meeting on Sept. 6, so I printed 20 fliers and gave them to residents who lived close to L'Orange. What happened next threw me for a loop. One of the people who got up to speak at the meeting was Bob Moncrief -- a L'Orange homeowner.
Uh-oh, I thought. But Bob and his wife, Trudy, came because out of the 16 L'Orange Place Community Association members, they were the only ones who opposed the gate. They have lived on that road for 37 years. And to them, this gate was "un-Hawaiian" in spirit because the beach belongs to all of us.
I never wanted to get in a battle with the L'Orange homeowners. In fact, I even suggested a compromise. If there is a problem with inconsiderate boobs partying on the beach and making noise on their road after dark, lock the gate at night. But keep it open during the day for residents and beach-goers, who by and large are respectful of others.
Moreover, locked gates create additional foot and car traffic on the next closest road with beach access. Which then leads to those homeowners wanting to put up their own gate, too. So this issue goes beyond L'Orange Place. If they can do it, you can be sure you'll be seeing gates going up on other "private" roads not just in Kailua, but throughout the island.
What really disturbs me, though, is the vigilante mentality that has emerged in some homeowners associations. I witnessed it on L'Orange. Last Saturday, my wife and I walked down Kainui Drive to hand out fliers about the Sept. 11 Neighborhood Board Sustainability Committee meeting on this issue. We continued down L'Orange to see if the gate was still locked. It was. But Trudy just happened to be returning from the beach, and opened it for us.
She told us how she and Bob had been "ostracized" for voting against the gate. She wasn't exaggerating. While she was showing us the code for the lock, I turned and saw a group of her neighbors in the middle of the road. One was videotaping us. Apparently, Trudy had violated some unwritten association rule by sharing the gate code with us. Their next step will probably be dictating whom she can or cannot issue the code to. (Later, we learned that one of the L'Orange homeowners "tailed" my wife and me to find out where we live.)
While chatting with Trudy, she told us a little about the history of that area. During World War II, Bob's family stayed at a beach house in Kailua. He was just a toddler when he and his older brother wandered off and got lost. They wound up at the home of a woman who ran a nursery school one house over from where Bob and Trudy now live. She gave them pieces of orange, then phoned the police to find their parents. Her name was Mrs. L'Orange. I asked Bob what she would think of the gate her name is now associated with. "She'd be outraged," he said.
The silver lining in all this is that I've gotten to know more of my neighbors. People like Bob and Trudy, and others who voiced their concerns at the board meetings. It troubles them to see our community being subdivided into small gated enclaves, with private beach accesses. That is not the Kailua they grew up in, or want to see their kids and grandchildren live in.
One gate has closed. But new doors have opened for me since then, and despite the efforts of a few people to lock us out, I now have a couple of new friends on L'Orange Place who reminded me what aloha is all about.
Rich Figel lives in Kailua. He has been clean and sober for 18 years. His column, which frequently deals with addictive behavior, appears periodically in the Insight section.