This story has been corrected. See below.
The owner of a gate blocking access to a private lane that leads to a popular Portlock beach said it would be costly for taxpayers if the city condemns the lane to keep it open.
Bert Dohmen-Ramirez told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday that if the city condemns the private lane, “they have to pay fair market value,” which he said one outside observer pegged at more than $2 million. “Do you think taxpayers would agree to that?”
Dohmen-Ramirez’s comments followed Tuesday night’s Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meeting where City Councilman Trevor Ozawa promised his Hawaii Kai constituents that he will seek condemnation of the lane.
Residents and surfers expressed outrage at Tuesday night’s meeting after Dohmen-Ramirez, who claims 75 percent ownership of the lane, put up the gate in early May with a sign that reads: “No Trespassing — Private Lane.”
The gate blocks public access to a surf break known as Seconds, and one of the few sandy beaches along Portlock Road. The gate is at the 300 block of Portlock Road.
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.
Tuesday’s Neighborhood Board meeting drew a crowd of about 150. Dohmen-Ramirez did not attend.
Portlock resident Clyde Kaimuloa said that when his father-in-law was president of the Portlock homeowners’ 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 surf.”
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,” she said.
Wayne Fujihara said he got involved in 1997 with the access 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 said the city is looking to acquire three shoreline access lanes along Portlock Road, but the plan does not specify parcels. He said liability and budgetary concerns stopped the City Council in the past.
Environmental Services Deputy Director Tim Houghton said the mayor fully supports public shoreline access but also respects private property rights.
The Planning Department in 1996 issued a permit to build the gate, and the new one is a repair of the old one, Houghton said.
A lock was on the gate a few weeks ago, but Dohmen-Ramirez said the gate is unlocked.
Surfers said the lane offers 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 cuts on his face are from trying to enter the ocean through the other lanes.
Dohmen-Ramirez wrote a commentary for the Star-Advertiser in which he says, “It’s private property, and there is NO easement for public access.”
He wrote that the private lane was originally created by Bishop Estate to give access to the four houses along the lane, and it provides the only access to his home.
He complained that beachgoers obstruct the driveway to unload boards, kayaks and other items. He also claimed vandals want access to his lane, although there are 22 lanes on Portlock Road, and many are open. He alleges vandals use drugs, urinate, get drunk on the beach, trespass at his and other homes, and leave leftover food and broken bottles.
Resident Ann Marie Kirk said residents do nothing but care for the area. Kamehameha Schools conveyed an undivided interest in “Lane N,” the subject lane, to the makai owners, namely Dohmen-Ramirez and two other owners, at no cost, she said.
No property taxes are paid on it and it is not a driveway, but is adjacent to his property, she added. The previous landowner was appalled Dohmen-Ramirez was given a permit for the gate, Kirk said.
“More private landowners are closing off access, claiming that we are intruders,” Jeannine Johnson 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 on Lane N and supporting public access to beaches.