Under the Sun
Hawaii’s going private with public beaches
THE woman stepped back from her car wedged in a space along the lane that led to the beach. Tilting her head, she examined a window where a sticker similar to one that would permit parking was obscured by tall grass. It would pass casual inspection, she figured.
She glanced at the other cars and decided her silver Saab didn't look out of place among the Beemers and baby Benzes along the road. Only then did we set out for the shoreline to lunch on sandwiches and lemonade, a couple of outlaws with no right to sit on the fine, white sand and watch the Atlantic waves sweep in.
That's how it is in the Hamptons, the summer playground of the rich and richer, where "beach cottages" the size of community college buildings stretch across the Long Island coast, and their owners vigilantly defend the oceanfront against intruders.
Heaven forbid that cooks and waitresses who prepare and serve their gourmet meals in charming restaurants, the hardware store clerk who delivers applewood charcoal for their barbecues or the nurseryman who switches out fully grown trees on their estates to suit current garden trends should sunbathe on the same sand.
That's not how it is in Hawaii, or at least not how it's supposed to be. Access to the ocean is the law of our land, yet more and more public shorelines are being privatized.
Paths that for generations let residents pass by oceanfront houses get gates or just disappear when a new McMansion goes up. Walls and plants mask public land and lateral passage along miles bordering the sea. Resorts and hotels keep people away simply by restricting parking or charging high fees and, more insidiously, creating an unwelcoming atmosphere.
For five years, a housing development built on land leased from the Navy retained Iroquois Point as an exclusive beach, ostensibly for military security. The developers announced recently that it would graciously allow the public free, one-day passes if people show government-issued IDs and park in one of 20 specially branded spaces. Bicyclists can come in, but not people on foot, a puzzling ban except when you consider crowd control.
Using restrooms is allowed, probably because peeing in the sand wouldn't be a healthy option. But outsiders, as a company official said, can't horn in on the cabanas and chairs set up for its residents, as if most local people haven't long been used to staying off the furniture that marks boundaries at Waikiki's beachfront resorts.
Not that there's much beach left makai of some hotels, which has the industry and allied lawmakers proposing to spend tax dollars to replace eroding sand. The justification is as usual: If there's no beach, tourists won't come and if tourists don't come, the economy tanks and if the economy tanks, then everyone suffers.
Legislators say the plan would encourage hotel owners to chip in, but the proposal doesn't require them to contribute. If this goes through, oceanfront hotels and resorts should have to, and for the privilege of sitting on a public beach, be required to build and maintain public restrooms and provide adequate, reasonably priced parking.
That's not going to happen. State and county officials repeatedly make bad decisions when it comes to shoreline access. Were it not for persistent individuals, like a Maui woman who fought for access at Baldwin Beach for eight years, and environmental and native rights groups, many island beaches would be blocked off with few places left to eat lunch and watch the waves roll in.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org