squabble heats up
On the one hand areBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
property owners; on the other
and City Council
Property rights versus beach access.
The battle is brewing in a quiet Hawaii Kai neighborhood.
Portlock residents Santy and Bert Dohmen-Ramirez say the city is unfairly condemning a lane through their property to allow strangers access to the small beach fronting their home.
Neighbors, the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation -- and now the City Council -- say beach access is sacrosanct and that the Dohmen-Ramirezes are overly protective of what they wrongly believe is their back yard.
The Council yesterday positioned for final vote a measure that would condemn a strip of property, partly owned by the Dohmen-Ramirezes, to allow access to what proponents say is the only sandy beach along Portlock Road.
The city has set aside $50,000 for the purchase. The Dohmen-Ramirezes have a one-quarter interest on the easement. It shares the lane with two neighbors.
At the center of the dispute is a gate that the Dohmen-Ramirezes installed several years ago that stands between the end of the vehicular road and the beach.
Bert Dohmen-Ramirez, an investment adviser, said he and his family endorse public access but put up the locked gate to prevent vagrants and rowdy, late-night partyers from going through their property.
Santy Dohmen-Ramirez recalled how, when her children were younger, a man visiting the beach exposed himself to them.
Surfers and other beach-goers are free to use access paths on either side of the beach and their property, Bert Dohmen-Ramirez said, and the city has no compelling reason to condemn the property.
"It's not like they're condemning property to build a school or a highway," he said.
One of their neighbors, also with a one-quarter interest, tore a previous gate down and is fighting this one as well.
Gates blocking other Portlock beach paths, including ones to the two sides of the Dohmen-Ramirezes' property, have been ordered removed by the city because no building permits were issued for them.
The Dohmen-Ramirezes' gate, despite the opposition of the neighbor, has been allowed to stay up for over a year because the city did issue them a permit. The opposing party was given a key.
The couple question why their lane -- in the middle of Portlock Road -- is the first to fall under condemnation. Their neighbors say it's because their lane has traditionally been the best access to the small beach.
Steven Smith, who lives across Portlock Road from the Dohmen-Ramirezes, said he learned to swim at the beach, as did his daughter.
Smith said his parents' deed to the property stated implicitly that all Portlock residents had right of entry to the beach.
Beach-goers need to travel through water and a rocky terrain to get to the beach from the trails on either side of the Dohmen-Ramirezes' gated path, Smith said.
Michele Smith, Steven Smith's wife, said the Dohmen-Ramirezes are exaggerating the demeanor of beach-goers.
"This is a family beach. It's never a party hangout."
Other neighbors with lanes say some surfers and other beach-goers leave trash and block entryways.
Despite their complaints, however, everyone except the Dohmen-Ramirezes favors the gate being taken away.
"The Dohmens have to realize that we in Hawaii have a fundamental right to the shoreline and that includes all beaches," said Rep. David Stegmaier (D-Kalama, Portlock). "They have a right to privacy and quiet enjoyment of their property, but their right does not supersede the public's right."
Council members appear ready for approval of condemnation but asked for a site visit before next month's vote.
Councilman Jon Yoshimura said a compromise might be to have the gate remained open during the day but closed at night.