Public safety at beaches threatened by blocked paths


POSTED: Monday, December 28, 2009

On a recent morning, I was reminded why the beach access battle against locked gates still matters.

While jogging back from Kailua Beach, I saw three paramedics pushing a gurney down the Kailuana Beach right of way—the only public access for a one-mile stretch of beach. The dirt path from Kalaheo Avenue to the beach is about a hundred yards long.

As soon as I saw the paramedics I knew there was a big problem. I had just come from the beach and didn't see anyone in trouble near the 89A Emergency Locater sign next to that access path. I did, however, notice a group of people further down by the area surfers call Castles, near the house where President Barack Obama and his family stayed last Christmas. That was at least a quarter-mile from the public access.

The paramedics left the gurney on the path because they couldn't push it through the sand and overgrown naupaka for that distance. I told them there was a closer access to the victim's location on Kailuana Place, but there was a locked gate on that private easement. Apparently, the accident was not a life-threatening situation as far as the paramedics knew. What if it was though?

One of them made a call and shortly after that another ambulance drove down Kailuana Place. I presume they were going to try to get someone to open the gate so they could transfer the accident victim to the second ambulance. All this took 10-15 minutes. If it had been a heart attack or drowning victim, those extra minutes could have meant the difference between life and death.

What's more, Kailuana Place is a public street. That's right—our tax dollars pay for the upkeep of their road. But the gate is on a privately-owned piece of land, so they can legally lock out their neighbors. Unfortunately, they also lock out emergency responders from reaching people in need of help. The same situation exists going in the Lanikai direction along Kailua Beach, where the next closest public access is over a half-mile away.

No one died today. But if someone does die because of these locked gates, who will be held responsible—the city or state—for allowing this to happen? Or the homeowners, who value their exclusive beach access more than the public's safety?

Rich Figel is co-founder of www.BeachAccessHawaii.org.