On a clear day the first lookout along the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail offers a sweeping view of the Ka Iwi coastline and an overview of Koko Crater in Hawaii Kai.
The state Parks Division, along with community members who fought to keep those vistas safe from development, gathered at noon Thursday for the dedication and unveiling of a bronze plaque commemorating those efforts over the last 45 years.
“Thanks to a zealous and engaged group of community folks, we have this park and open space,” said state Parks Division Administrator Curt Cottrell, “space across from Sandy’s and the recently acquired mauka lands to protect this area in perpetuity for us, our kids and our kids’ kids.”
Participants recalled the hard-fought battle to protect these open-view plains and how their cause was not guaranteed given the numerous efforts over the decades to develop resorts, vacation cabins, luxury homes and even a golf academy in the area.
The plaque, which is mounted on a free-standing lava-rock plinth at the first lookout, is a gift to the state from grass-roots groups Ka Iwi Coalition and Livable Hawaii Kai Hui.
It says, “In recognition of the many residents from all parts of Oahu who, over the past four decades, steadfastly opposed urban development along the Ka Iwi coast from Hanauma to Makapu‘u, mauka to makai. Their aloha aina protected the natural landscape, the endemic plant habitats, and the cultural and historic values of Ka Iwi for the enjoyment of present generations — and those yet to come. Mahalo nui loa! 2018”
Thursday was symbolic because it was also the 30th anniversary of a historic vote on an initiative considered a key turning point in defending the open-space wilderness between Hanauma Bay and Makapuu.
On Nov. 8, 1988, Hawaii voters supported the Save Sandy Beach Initiative, which would rezone land mauka of Sandy Beach Park from residential to preservation in order to prevent a luxury residential subdivision from being built.
It was a battle that took persistence, including some in court, but it also brought the community together, according to Phil Estermann, who was with the Save Sandy Beach Coalition, which met weekly to work on stopping the development.
In 1987 the Kaiser Development Co. proposed building about 200 luxury homes along the mauka side of Kalanianaole Highway opposite Sandy Beach. The Honolulu City Council voted to support the project, recalls Estermann, but four Council members did not: Marilyn Bornhorst, Leigh-Wai Doo, Gary Gill and the late Patsy Mink.
After gathering 40,000 signatures in 10 weeks, the Save Sandy Beach Initiative landed on the ballot in 1988. Estermann said 66 percent of voters supported the initiative. Out of 183 precincts, he said, 181 supported the initiative. He described it as a “smashing victory.”
Standing at the plaque brought back those memories for Estermann, who said he was struck by how many people supported the idea of keeping the area open.
“I’m just gratified that it’s going to be here for my grandkids and other people’s grandchildren,” he said. “It’s a protected, open space in perpetuity. It’s all in the public’s hands now.”
Kailua resident Ursula Retherford and two of her neighbors went door to door, collecting a good portion of the 40,000 signatures for the ballot initiative. She called it a wonderful experience.
“My foremost hope for this plaque is that it will always inspire people to believe in the power within them,” she said, “and band together, to defend what is dear to them.”
Elizabeth Reilly, president of the nonprofit Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, said she looked forward to the next chapter of Ka Iwi’s future, including the launch of a youth leadership program in partnership with the Sierra Club. The group also wants to chart out all the native plants in the area.
“The plaque, for me, is a moment in time to gather all these wonderful people and to give thanks for the great work they did decades ago,” said Reilly. “Truly an opportunity to turn a page together and start learning more about the coast, caring for it and celebrating it, using it in a responsible way.”
CARING FOR THE AINA
History of activism to preserve the Ka Iwi coastline in the last 45 years:
>> 1972: Community organizes to oppose a 7,756-room resort at Awawamalu (Alan Davis Beach).
>> 1983: City Council rezones Awawamalu in response to a 10-year community effort to stop the proposed resort.
>> 1988: The Save Sandy Beach initiative lands on the ballot, rezoning the land mauka of Sandy Beach Park from residential to preservation to prevent a luxury residential subdivision. The initiative passes after receiving the majority of votes.
>> 1989: The Hawaii Supreme Court strikes down the Save Sandy Beach ballot initiative. However, weeks later the Honolulu City Council votes unanimously to rezone the parcels mauka of Sandy Beach from residential to preservation.
>> 1995: Landowners and developers work out a deal with the city to allow them to develop 12 parcels in the Hawaii Kai-to-Makapuu area. Community groups led by the Ka Iwi Action Council oppose the development, and it is eventually dropped.
>> 1998: The state condemns 305 acres at Awawamalu for incorporation into the proposed Ka Iwi State Park while the city completes the purchase of the land near Sandy Beach Park once targeted for development.
>> 2002: City purchases land near Sandy Beach once targeted for development.
>> 2004: Save Sandy Beach and the Livable Hawaii Kai Hui create the Ka Iwi Coalition, a group committed to keeping the Ka Iwi coast, mauka to makai, in its wild and natural state.
>> 2006: Community launches “No Cabins on Ka Iwi” campaign following plans for 180 resort cabins on the Ka Iwi coast mauka land residential subdivision. City tightens rules for developing preservation-zoned land.
>> 2009: A new developer purchases the 182-acre Ka Iwi mauka lands for $9 million and announces plans to build a golf academy and visitor facilities.
>> 2010: The state Land Use Commission votes unanimously to reclassify the Ka Iwi Scenic Shoreline from urban to conservation. The area includes about 215 acres of state-owned land between Awawamalu and the Makapuu Lighthouse.
>> 2011: The Ka Iwi Coalition initiates a discussion to purchase the Ka Iwi Coast mauka lands, and contacts The Trust for Public Land.
>> 2016: The Trust for Public Land takes out a low-interest loan to purchase the Ka Iwi Coast mauka lands, totaling 182 acres, after securing $3.5 million in state and city program grants and additional funds through a community fundraising campaign.
>> 2017: The Trust for Public Land conveys the mauka parcels to the Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, which owns and stewards the lands.
>> 2018: Plaque is dedicated to those who opposed urban development over the past four decades.