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Debate over private Portlock lane gets heated

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    A gate has been put up at the access path to the beach at Portlock and the surf spot known as “Seconds.”

Residents and surfers expressed outrage Tuesday night about a new gate on a private lane blocking public access to a Portlock beach.

They want access to a small sandy spot at the end of a lane on the 300 block of Portlock Road and a surf break known as “Seconds.”

The city had moved for condemnation nearly 20 years ago to create a public right of way, but the condemnation never went through; and the gate was removed.

The topic of discussion was taken up at a Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meeting Monday night at Hahaione Elementary School, which drew a crowd of about 150.

A sign on the gate installed at the beginning of May warned: “No Trespassing — Private Lane.”

Portlock resident Clyde Kaimuloa said when his father-in-law was president of the Portlock Association, it always had discussions of public access and fought against gates, tearing them down.

“It is our ohana’s mission to follow what he felt, and that’s how we feel, that everybody should have access to the beach,” he said. “We learned how to fish, we learned how to pick limu, we learned how to swim.”

His wife, Lo Kaimuloa, asked attendees who use beach access to stand, and a majority stood up. “If you own it and if you don’t want to share it and you don’t want to malama it, go mauka.”

Wayne Fujihara said he got involved in 1997 with the effort, and in 1998 the community asked the City Council to take the gate down. “They said it’s public access. I don’t understand why this is happening all over again,” he said, receiving applause.

A city Department of Planning and Permitting representative told the audience that the city is looking to acquire three shoreline access lanes along Portlock Road, but the plan does not specify a specific parcel. He said that liability and budgetary concerns stopped the City Council in the past.

Tim Houghton, director of city environmental services, told those attending the meeting that the mayor fully supports beach and public access, but also respects private property rights. He said the matter of condemnation was overturned in the state Supreme Court, which is why the condemnation did not occur.

The corridor is privately owned, and the planning department issued in 1996 a permit to build the gate. The replacement gate was a repair of the old one, according to Houghton.

Although a lock was on the gate a few weeks ago, the property owner said in a written letter to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said the gate is unlocked. He said the original gate was stolen.

Surfers said it was the best access to the ocean for surfing.

Surfer Jimmy Costello, 68, who walks with a cane, said it’s the “only place you can enter safely,” he said. He said the cuts to his face are from trying to enter the ocean through the other lanes.

Owner Bert Dohmen-Ramirez’s wrote a commentary for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that states, “It’s private property, and there is NO easement for public access.”

He writes the private lane and driveway were originally created by Bishop Estate to give access to the four houses on the plot, and is the only access to his home.

He complained that beachgoers obstruct the driveway to unload boards, kayaks, etc. He claims vandals want access to his lane, although there are 22 lanes on Portlock Road, and many are open. He alleges vandals do drugs and get drunk on the beach, trespass at his and other homes, and leave leftover food, broken glass, bottles and urine.

Vans drop snorkeling tours and surf classes in the lane, Dohmen-Ramirez wrote in the commentary which was published Tuesday.

He says enhancing security should be the primary concern for the Portlock neighborhood, instead of devoting efforts to confiscate private property.

A neighbor said that he is one of three living along the lane, all of whom welcome Hawaiian fishermen, surfers and moms bringing their kids. The gate owners are a wealthy couple whose agenda is to build a case of safety, and they are only part-time residents — from two to four months, he said.

Residents say they were upset by Dohmen-Ramirez casting aspersions against them in his letter to the newspaper.

Resident Ann Marie Kirk said residents do nothing but care for the area.

Kirk said Kamehameha Schools conveyed an undivided interest in “Lane N,” the subject lane, to the makai owners, which included Dohmen-Ramirez and two other property owners, at no cost. No property taxes are paid on it and it is not a driveway, but is adjacent to his property.

She said that the previous landowner was appalled that Dohmen-Ramirez was given a permit for the gate.

Richard Ray, a neighbor, said, “You can’t block access to property you don’t own.”

City Councilman Trevor Ozawa said everyone would empathize with the landowner, but it’s about the way he is saying it, which got ‘no, no, nos’ from the audience. He said he will seek condemnation.

Jeannine Johnson said what happens when private landowners are cutting off access to beaches and mountains all over the island.

“More private landowners are closing off access, claiming that we are intruders,” she said. “I am not an intruder. That is my public beach. When I grew up here, we could go down anybody’s backyard to go to the beach.”

Neighborhood board members, with 10 ayes and one abstention, resolved to support Ozawa and the City Council in finding resolution to Lane N and supporting public access to beaches.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jeannine Johnson’s name.
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