About a month ago, I was standing on a small beach in Portlock — a beach that I’ve stood on for 15 years — when one of the neighbors walked over to me and accused me of vandalizing her property the night before.
She sounded pretty sure I was the one who pulled down her chainlink fence, saying something along the lines of “there was a female in the group.”
I looked at her and said, very directly, that no, I wasn’t here the night before and no, I didn’t pull down her fence.
She continued to complain to me about these vandals — “Are you sure you weren’t here last night?” — and proceeded to tell me, as she has done to countless other people who have stood on this same beach, that the access path that runs alongside her property is privately owned and no one should be using it.
I was standing on the beach. A public beach. I had every right to be there. She doesn’t own the beach, and I told her that.
She wouldn’t stop. The complaining, the accusations. I stopped her and said, “I’m standing on a public beach and you are harassing me. If you don’t stop, I’m going to call the cops.”
She stopped — because I was right — and sheepishly walked away (still complaining).
A week later, I get an email from a Portlock resident who lives across the street from this beach access. The woman put up a gate. With a lock. And people were pissed.
It’s led to the Hawai‘i Kai Neighborhood Board taking up the issue at its next meeting, 7 p.m. May 30 at Haha‘ione Elementary School.
Here’s the backstory: The homes along this stretch of access do own the path leading to the beach. (I confirmed this with the city.) But a dispute nearly 20 years ago led the city to condemn this pathway to create a public right-of-way to the beach. At the time, the homeowner had erected a gate, too, to keep people out. (Another neighbor, who was a part-owner of this private path, made copies of the key and distributed it. Clearly, he wasn’t in agreement with his neighbor.) But nothing came of this decision to condemn it, and for years, it seemed like the neighbors stopped fighting with the families, fishermen and surfers who were using the beach access.
This woman — I don’t know her name and she won’t talk to media — has started harassing beachgoers. She’s put up No Trespassing signs, yelled at people, even embedded sharp objects into her wall to deter people from sitting on it.
To no avail.
Then she put up a gate.
So, according to the city, this is, in fact, a private lane, owned equally by four landowners. (The beach, though, they don’t own.) But each landowner has to agree IN WRITING that they want to stop the public from using the beach access, and that hasn’t happened.
I totally get her complaints. Yeah, it sucks to have people smoking weed or drinking on the beach fronting her property. It sucks that people throw trash in her yard or make a lot of noise in the middle of the night. I get it. As a property owner, she has rights, too. But, bottom line, she doesn’t own the BEACH. And that’s a major distinction. (Read more about beach access in Hawai‘i here. It’s a complicated issue.)
And if she doesn’t like the idea that strangers are lounging or fishing in front of her multimillion-dollar ocean-front property, then don’t buy a home on the ocean in Hawai‘i. I don’t feel that badly for her. It was her decision to live there.
The issue of beach/coastal access is a huge deal in Hawai‘i, where beaches are public. (Unlike in other states, including California and Florida, where you can actually own the beach.) Neighborhoods have gotten very clever about trying to skirt this access issue — like the residents of Lanikai did by restricting parking near the beach on weekends and holidays.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the reason these homeowners were drawn to these ocean-front properties is the same reason why everyone else treks there, too.
But putting up a gate and harassing beachgoers aren’t solutions. They’re just scare tactics that will probably only make the problem worse.
At least we’ll see on May 30.
If you’re curious about where the public right-of-ways are, click here.