by Jenny Coyle
It took years of throwing rocks, but 300 acres of some of the last remaining wilderness just outside of Honolulu has been preserved in a Hawaiian-style David and Goliath story that pits a grassroots coalition against corporate developers.
Persistence and creativity paid off: This year, when landowners Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate refused a direct purchase offer from the state, Gov. Ben Cayetano filed an eminent domain action in court to force the sale of Queen's Beach. The matter is still in court pending a decision on the purchase price.
The landowner had leased the property to Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp., which planned to build an 18-hole golf course on the site.
"This is a rugged, volcanic landscape with spectacular views of the ocean, and it's the last open space in East Honolulu where people can find relief from urbanization," said Hawaii Chapter activist Anna Hoover. "They go there for solace, to escape, explore nature, hike, fish, look at stars and whalewatch. A golf course - yet another on this island - would have denied public access to all of that."
Hoover said that for 20 years groups have been working to prevent development on the Ka Iwi coastline, a stretch that comprises Sandy Beach, Queen's Beach, Makapu'u Head and other pristine areas. In the early 1980s, the Honolulu City Council down-zoned some of the property to protect it from resort development. Also in the '80s, Oahu residents voted 2-to-1 in favor of the Sandy Beach Initiative to keep the area undeveloped.
But the council's action sparked eight - count 'em, eight - lawsuits by landowners who argued that their property rights had been violated and that the city owed them millions of dollars in compensation. Wary of the potential financial hit, the council went behind closed doors with the developers in 1995 to hash out an agreement. At one point, the city council tentatively agreed to approve the development of 12 parcels - including a golf course at Queen's Beach - if the landowners dropped their lawsuits.
Well aware of the formidable power of developers in a tourist-hungry state, the Ka Iwi Action Council was formed, with the Sierra Club as one of the lead organizations. Surfers, anglers, paddlers, students, professors, neighborhood board members and elected officials also joined.
To raise awareness and gather signatures on a petition, the group held the free Sandy Beach Music Festival featuring local bands and guest speakers. "This kid just walked in and said he wanted to throw a concert for us, so he did," said Hoover.
With 7,000 signatures collected, the Ka Iwi Action Council called a press conference and unfurled an impressive streamer of petition pages from the third floor in the capitol rotunda; it hit the ground and continued to roll. On another occasion, activists stood outside Aloha Stadium with signs urging motorists to honk in support of coastline protection.
"This effort brought me into the Club," said Lisa Carter, vice chair of the Oahu Group. "We were passionate and tenacious. We did 15-minute slide presentations at almost every neighborhood board on the island. We met with public officials, had a fund-raising drive, sold T-shirts and gave away bumper stickers and flyers. The Sierra Club gave us liability coverage support so we could keep meeting in a particular church. Heck, just having the Club as a backer gave us untold credibility."
The word was heard. Gov. Cayetano chose to pursue an outright purchase of a portion of the property, and eventually garnered about $11 million in funding.
Though the site will be preserved and used by the public for recreational activities, the source of the funding means it can't be an official state park.
"But of course, it can't be a golf course, either," Hoover smiled.
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