Further observations on Kahala Hotel use of state land

Here’s a bit more information about the Kahala Hotel’s request to gain approval for expanded use of state-owned beachfront property around the hotel site, and to make this use permanent.

Since posting about this yesterday, I’ve received additional questions.

The photo below shows the area in question. Click on the photo to see a larger version.

The area bounded by the dotted yellow line shows the state-owned property that the hotel wants to control through a permanent easement. You can see that it’s substantially larger than the area bounded by the solid line and marked as TMK 3-5-023-041.

From Draft Environmental Assessment

On the far right, just barely within the dotted yellow boundary of the expanded area, is a small white square. That’s actually a small gazebo used for weddings, although it is outside the area covered by the hotel’s existing revocable permit. A second gazebo, covered by the permit, is shown below.

I took the following photographs this morning.

The first shows the wedding gazebo built within the state-owned property covered by the existing revocable permit. The hotel’s oceanfront ground-level dining room is in the background.
A small sign, circled in yellow, shows where the state-owned parcel ends and the hotel’s property begins. There is no other signage to inform visitors they are on public property.

A staff recommendation in 2014 to prohibit the hotel from performing weddings within this area was rejected by the state land board.

Wedding gazebo


The beach cabana tents shown in the photos below are all in the state-owned area. They have concrete foundations, have room for two beach chairs, and rent for $115 per day.

The blue beach chairs spread on the beach, and on the grassy area above the beach, are all within the state owned land.

The hotel rents lounge chairs for $65 a day.

cabana tents and chairs

lounge chairs

In its filings with the state, the hotel’s consultants state that lounge chairs are available for public use on a nondiscriminatory, first-come-first-served basis. However, there is no signage indicating that these are available for public use.

Is public access really “public” if it’s a secret?

Even this semi-permanent bar area along the beach is well within the state-owned land.

beachside bar

State records show the hotel pays the state $1,244 per month for its use of the public beach and surrounding area.

Several years ago, a friend inquired about holding her son’s wedding at the hotel. At that time, the hotel was charging $5,000 to use the hotel property, plus fees for all the necessary wedding services.

More to come….

Kahala Hotel seeks to extend its use of the public beach

An application by the Kahala Hotel and Resort for an easement to increase its use of the public beach fronting the hotel for commercial purposes has been getting increased public attention, but it’s too late for the public to comment on hotel’s draft environmental assessment. The comment period expired this past week.

However, once the draft environmental assessment is processed, the entire matter will have to return to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for its consideration.

According to the draft environmental assessment, the hotel is seeking:

Non-exclusive Easement for Applicant’s Existing and Continuing Use of State Land for recreational and resort-related activities including the renovation and maintenance of landscaping, construction of access paths and pavement, conducting wedding and vow renewal ceremonies for hotel guests at up to three locations, maintaining an existing wedding gazebo, an outdoor seating area, and a open-air hut partially within the State Parcel, overnight storage of aquatic and beach equipment, placement of ten canopy tents, 40 to 50 cabana loungers, public showers on the State Parcel and presetting approximately 100 beach lounge chairs along the eastern side of the sandy beach for use by hotel guests and the general public on a non-discriminatory first come – first serve basis.

Currently, the hotel has a revocable permit to utilize the area. The permit was transferred to the hotel’s current owner is 2014, and is subject to annual renewal. The granting of an easement would make the arrangement permanent.

In 2014, DLNR staff recommended the land board prohibit the hotel from placing improvements on the state-owned land, preset any beach equipment, store equipment, or “conduct surfing instruction or wedding ceremonies” on the state parcel.

But when the matter came to the board, the proposed restrictions on wedding ceremonies was dropped, according to minutes of the meeting.

According to an August 26, 2016 report to the board, the hotel currently pays just $1,244 per month to utilize just under one acre (.929 acre) of oceanfront property owned by the state.

•Rent carried over from previous permit holder, which was set via in-
house valuation dated 11/22/06.

• RP issued to the hotel’s new owner to continue the then existing hotel operations over the subject location. The hotel is working on the environmental assessment for the long term disposition, and staff will bring the request to the Board at a later date when the EA process is completed.

According to the hotel’s website, hotel guests pay $65 per day to rent a lounge chair with a shade, $115 per day for a cabana tent with room for two lounge chairs, $30 for a beach umbrella, and fees for beach equipment, lessons, and other services.

In addition, the hotel does a substantial wedding business utilizing the state-owned property, although the number of weddings isn’t publicly reported in the available documents (at least not as far as I’ve been able to find), so it is difficult to quantify how much they would limit public access to those areas. The hotel says it intends to hold weddings at three locations.

I have to wonder how there could be a quick finding of “no impact” when the draft environmental assessment fails to quantify its use. How many weddings does it conduct? How often? Are there limits to the number of weddings in a day? How many people generally take part in the average ceremony? How many beach chair rentals? How many tents are set up on public property? The environmental assessment does not provide numbers that would allow an estimate of likely impacts, and whether its various uses (and their impacts) are projected to increase over time.

According to KITV (“Kahala Resort plan: Privatization of public beach?“):

A quick glance down the shoreline fronting the Kahala Resort and Hotel and you can see a line of hotel beach cabanas and beach chairs. It may look like a private beach, but it’s not.

Little by little, the previous owners of the hotel began encroaching on public land to the point, beachgoers may have thought they were trespassing on resort grounds.

But a wedding gazebo on the west corner is on state land. For years, the hotel was charging big money for couples to get married here, when it actually it wasn’t legally permitted by the state.

Local beachgoers didn’t know about the longstanding issues.

The hotel’s current application would, if granted, legalize its partial takeover of the beach.

Hawaii News Now reported (“Kahala residents fear hotel’s beach wedding venue plans would privatize shoreline“):

Residents against the plan say that will only make it even harder to access the public beach which is in front of the hotel’s property.

“Everyone assumes that it’s private and I believe that the hotel wants to reinforce that and make it even more private,” said Kahala resident Jim Nicolay.

“They ask you to, ‘Oh, can you walk in the ocean when you pass by so you won’t upset our weddings? Oh, you can you walk in the back corridors in the hotel where we have the dirty dishes so you won’t upset our paid for weddings?’ and a high price I might add,” said beachgoer Linda Wong.

The hotel already has two areas where they hold weddings. Now it is asking the state for an easement to use for a third wedding location.

“I can recall multiple times where I’ve had to decide whether I would walk through the water to avoid the wedding,” said Nicolay.

It looks like there will be more public pushback when this matter returns to the land board for action.

King Tide seems to be getting more attention here than elsewhere

We stopped in at the Elks Club on Waikiki Beach on Friday afternoon during the much-publicized King Tide.

The bar, lounge, and dining room–all just feet from the water–were operating as normal, except that the tables closest to the waves breaking on the seawall were not in use.

This was the view around 4:30 p.m. The rising surf definitely added a new dimension to the unusually high tide.

Waikiki Beach

But have you noticed that the King Tide is getting hyped a lot more here than in other places?

Most of the stories about the King Tide found in a quick Google search were from here in Hawaii.

A story from Florida focused on the dangers to nesting seabirds.

An understated story broadcast in Connecticut reported: “You may not know this but today’s high tide on Long Island Sound is the highest high tide of the entire year!”

In Boston, WCVB reported: “‘King tide’ likely to cause minor coastal flooding.”

Here in Hawaii, a lot more resources are going into reporting on these high tides than is happening elsewhere. Is it just the we focus more on weather? Is it the specter of future sea level rise? Or is it just a good excuse to report from the beach with sun and splashing waves all around?

The morning Bonnie went missing

My sister would have enjoyed hearing this story.

On Wednesday morning, for a couple of very long hours, I couldn’t find Bonnie. Well, you need to know that Bonnie died in October, and what I really mean is that I went to pick up her ashes in preparation for scattering them at sea in a couple of weeks and, to my surprise, they weren’t where I expected them to be.

Not lost, necessarily, but not where I expected them to be. I credit my brother-in-law, Peter, for that fine distinction.

I thought they were in a box that was among the last things moved to storage when we finally emptied Bonnie’s condominium last month in preparation for offering it for sale. There were probably a half dozen boxes in that last batch. Time was running out and things were a bit chaotic, but I thought I remembered carefully placing the urn with her ashes into a box along with some old family photo albums. And I remember moving those boxes in to our rented storage locker and stacking them up on one end of the almost-full space, along with the remaining boxes of unsorted memorabilia left from my parents’ passing and now, most recently, from my sister.

So on Wednesday morning, I unlocked the storage locker, located the stack of most recent boxes, and went looking for Bonnie. She was nowhere to be found. I pulled that stack of boxes away from the others and carefully examined the contents, one by one. No sign of the urn.

I had been confident that I knew just where to find it, but that confidence quickly faded. And I started getting nervous.

Despite my best efforts, in the back of my mind I began imagining that the designated box could have been mistakenly dropped off at the Kaimuki Goodwill along with other bags and boxes of giveaways. It didn’t rationally feel like a reasonable scenario, but the longer the search went on, the more that thought pressed into the back of my consciousness.

So then I thought that perhaps my initial recollection was mistaken, and that Bonnie was still back in our garage in Kahala among the last remnants still waiting to move to storage. So off I went back to Kahala for a look. Unfortunately, once there in the garage, it didn’t take more than five minutes or so to examine all of the possible places. No urn. No Bonnie.

Was there a fleeting memory of giving the urn away? I know I wouldn’t have done that, but…possible? Thinking about the possibility planted a tiny seed in my mind that perhaps….Don’t think it.

Tick, tock. The clock was ticking. What was I going to do if I couldn’t find her? My brain was now speeding, fueled by simple paranoia.

So it was back to the storage locker as I chanted a simple mantra. Calm, calm, calm. She’s got to be there because where else would she be? Back in to the building, punch in the computer code to reach the second floor, walk back several rows to our storage spot, unlock, lift the roll-up door. Stare at the wall of boxes. Visualize where it would have made sense to leave her urn when I brought in all of those final boxes.

This time I used a different search pattern. Instead of assuming the urn was among the last boxes that had been moved there, I looked at the boxes most easily accessed. And that did the trick. It might have been the second box I looked in, and there was the urn, with its contents, along with the original plastic box that came from the mortuary.

A rush of relief. A moment of wonder that I ever considered that she was actually lost. I won’t have to come up with an explanation for her family after all, and she’ll be returned to the waves on schedule.

I would have enjoyed telling her this story, emphasizing my foibles. And she would have enjoyed hearing it. So perhaps I’ll tell it anyway.