Is it better to have more restrictive public access to protect a still-pristine beach? Or should the most generous access be required in exchange for the right to develop a 76-lot luxury “ag subdivision” along the coast?
That's the question the Kauai County Council is grappling with as it decides whether to accept a beach access the planning commission approved for Falko Properties' Kahuaina Plantation subdivision, off Koolau Road.
Waipake Beach is currently reached only via long walk from the Larsen's (Lepeuli) access — unless you know somebody who will let you drive across private property to reach the beach, as some fishermen do.
Because it is relatively inaccessible and unused by humans, it's a place where you're likely to find sea turtles and monk seals, often with pups, basking on the beach. Albatross nest on the hillsides above.
Both the developer and beach-goers are using the presence of these protected species to advance their positions. The developer has offered a vertical access through the 360-acre property that also requires a long walk and ends at a pile of rocks, arguing that wildlife will be harmed if it's too easy for folks to get there. Except, of course, for the people who are wealthy enough to buy the lots.
Beach-goers like Peter Waldau, Richard Spacer and Hope Kallai, however, claim the public needs a better vertical access as well as a lateral access through private property in order to stay mauka of the monk seals that pup on that beach. They're pushing to delay the project until the long-contested ala loa — coastal trail — issue is resolved, which most likely will require litigation.
However, Clinton Bettencourt objected to Kallai testifying that it was "her sacred trail. The trail belongs to the kanaka. It always did and it always will. I don't care who owns the land."
Councilman Gary Hooser said state law requires lateral coastal access in areas where steep cliffs or rocks prevent access during high surf times. But Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura and Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung clarified that public access extends to the highest seasonal wash of the waves, and the county would need to go through the condemnation process to create a lateral access mauka of the shoreline.
Bettencourt, who has been fishing that stretch of coastline for 50 years, testified to the Council that Shawn Smith has been doing a good job of managing the land for Falko Properties, and the beach is “pristine because there's very little people that go there to throw their opala and then go home. We'd like to keep it the way it is.” However, he noted that it is becoming increasingly used by nude sunbathers, who are moving northward from their usual hangout at Lepeuli Beach. “This area should not be desecrated in such a manner.”
Councilmen Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa both expressed their alarm about the presence of nude beaches on Kauai, with Mel saying it's against the law and Ross expressing concern “when our keiki has to see that we cannot enforce the laws on our beaches.”
JoAnn shared her experience with the “complexities of public access,” noting she had tried to get Mahaulepu protected via the Trust for Public Land, but “the community was ambivalent, afraid it would get overrun by tourists if it was turned into a park, discovered and on the map.” So TPL acquired 130 acres by the Kilauea lighthouse instead.
“Some of the concerns about access need to addressed by the general plan,” JoAnn said. “It's about the carrying capacity of this island, the resident and visitor population.” She spoke of the halcyon days when Kauai had just 30,000 residents and unrestricted beach access.
“Now we have a clash of cultures, people with different values, and some of them don't fully appreciate the local culture or the Native Hawaiian culture,” she said. "Public access when not well managed is a double-edged sword."
Councilman Tim Bynum noted Kahuaina Plantation was supposed to be the county's last agricultural subvision. “The General Plan in 2000 told us to end this practice. But we're still creating these mansions in isolated communities with people pretending they're farming.”
Ben Ferris testified that he has a five-year lease on 10 acres there, where he grows ginger. He said a new water line is being installed, which he thinks seems to the permanence of farming.
Falko attorney Dennis Lombardi said that as each lot is sold, the owner will be subject to the caveat and requirement to engage in active farming for revenue to satisfy the farm dwelling agreement. “We have no mansions, but we have a farm,” he said.
Mmmm, yeah, but no lots have been sold, so nobody has had a chance to build a mansion yet.
Earlier this month, Shawn posted this ad in The Garden Island:
Councilman Mason Chock said that "eliminating people is just kind of stopping what is inevitable because people are going to find a way to get there. It's about education. There is a way. It's the mind set we're working against. It's not whether we should block people off or not."
The Council plans an April 30 site visit to the property to check out the proposed access.