Access to Oahu’s shoreline is being blocked little by little
Kailua has lost another path to the beach as homeowners, bothered by noise, crime and litter, put a locked gate across their lane.
State law dictates that Hawaii's shorelines are public and access cannot be restricted, but houses, hotels, resorts and commercial buildings effectively block wide stretches of Oahu's coasts. Except for intermittent glimpses through park areas, even views of the ocean from beachside roads are few and far between.
So the recent conflict between public entitlement and private landowners about a right-of-way to Kailua Beach is a common episode, one that will be repeated until a sensible, enforceable policy is established to support the access law and existing standards for pathways are implemented.
Political leaders have struggled to satisfy private-public demands and haven't made beach access a priority, but failing to do so erodes the objective of keeping Hawaii's shores open to all.
The latest contest about access was sparked when homeowners on L'Orange Place in Kailua decided to put a locked gate across their private lane to stop outsiders from using it to get to the beach. The owners say noise, crime, traffic, liability and litter forced their action and since they own the lane, they are within their rights, as long as they pay property taxes on the land.
But other Kailua residents, some of whom had used the lane for years, were understandably disappointed. Though there are other ways to get to the ocean, the community feared that more beach paths will be shut as foot and vehicular traffic flows to fewer access points.
Other Oahu neighborhoods have already seen access disappear as new construction and urbanization cover foot paths and easements that makai property owners in a different time considered a neighborly courtesy.
Gated subdivisions near Velzyland, resorts and condo developments on the Leeward coast and walled residences along Kalanianaole Highway in East Honolulu have converted public beaches into exclusive enclaves simply by blocking access.
In the late 1990s, the city's attempt to condemn Portlock beach lanes to maintain public access was entangled by a landowner's successful lawsuit. Though the Portlock community said it would continue to allow access, private property and trespassing signs and video surveillance remain and as property changes hands, there are no guarantees the paths will stay open.
While the city has standards for access points at every quarter-mile, there are few areas where that has been achieved. Revenue shortages and priorities clearly prohibit new land acquisitions. Nonetheless, the public's right to get to the beach is fast becoming a privilege for the few.