Public Access to La`au Best Left As-Is

John Sabas recently outlined the Molokai Property Limited’s (MPL) shoreline access plan for La'au, where MPL hopes to develop a 200-lot luxury subdivision. MPL is seeking “an exception to the mandated 1500' beach access rule,” arguing that it will protect subsistence fishing. With only 2 public-access points, Sabas says, fishermen will be “forced to take home only what they can carry [on] the trail.”

Having only 2 public accesses points goes against existing law which “requires rights-of-way to be created where land fronting the shoreline is subdivided.” According to this law, MPL would be required to create 16 public access rights-of-way along the La`au Point development. The County “may” grant exceptions to this rule; however the law states that any exception “shall not differ substantially from that which would be required [for] standard rights-of-way.”

While it is conceivable that the required 16 access points could be whittled down to as little as 10, having only 2 would “differ substantially” from the normal requirement. There is also nothing preventing future litigation that could force additional accesses.

It is important to understand that this requirement for rights-of-way takes effect ONLY if MPL develops.

Without development, La`au's shoreline access would simply remain as it is. The development wouldn't CREATE access, because State law (HRS 115-1) already GUARANTEES public access to the sea and shorelines of La`au.

One of the reasons this law was created was to prevent “mounting acts of hostility against private shoreline properties,” by people who can’t easily access the beach. By allowing millionaire newcomers preferential access to the shoreline and making locals walk, MPL is indeed re-creating the very situation that the law was enacted to avoid

Furthermore, MPL’s plan admits it is “probable that subsistence practitioners will be confronted by insensitive newcomers.”

Imagine a La`au homeowner having a picnic on the beach with 10 guests. They have a cooler of beer and a BBQ grilling store-bought steaks. The people simply walked down to the beach from the homeowner's property in a matter of minutes.

Now imagine a subsistence fisherman walking 3 miles into La`au to gather food for his family. He encounters the homeowner and his friends who challenge his right to be there: “Hey Buddy! You can’t fish here…This is OUR beach!”

MPL believes situations like this can be avoided by requiring homeowners to “take a class with a kupuna,” in order to be informed about the culture and taught to “malama 'aina.”

Even locals will have to take “appropriate education classes” in order to access the La`au area and be “comfortable with the new development.”

Can people really be taught to respect subsistence rights, let go of their prejudices, and “malama ‘aina” that easily? And would the community – which is opposed to the development – ever truly be “comfortable” with it?

The main reason La'au is the “unspoiled coastal environment it is today,” according to MPL itself, is because “La'au Point is currently vacant, undeveloped land.” That is a very telling statement. La'au is unspoiled and pristine primarily because it has been left alone.

The simple fact that it is an undeveloped, unoccupied land has provided the greatest protection all these years – much greater than a “controlled development” or an “expanded conservation zone” or any number of plans, rules, or restrictions could ever provide. 

Let us continue to leave La'au alone so that it may remain pristine for the generations that will follow.


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