Lance Laney, who is married to PUC Chair Mina Morita, is pushing back against an effort to prevent people from using an easement to the beach through the old Hanalei Plantation site.
Lance said he's been using the access to do summertime fishing for years. But last week, a security guard called the police after telling Lance the property was private and he couldn't walk through it.
Lance went anyway, noting that the gate was wide open and there weren't any no trespassing signs. Soon, three cops showed up. “At first they had an attitude, a definite attitude,” Lance said. But after talking with him for a while, “they backed off totally from their original stance and turned out to be pretty nice, polite guys.”
As a local friend observed, when I told him this story, “yeah, because they realized he wasn't just any fucking haole.”
Anyway, the cops initially told Lance he had to leave. “I said 'why? I'm on the beach,'” he recalled. “They kind of backed off, then one said, 'but if you go back up through this piece of property, I'll have to arrest you.'”
The cops reportedly told him they'd been advised that the easement no longer existed because the new owners — Ohana Hanalei LLC, an affiliate of Montage Resorts, an ultra luxury hotel developer whose properties are owned by eBay and Civil Beat founder Pierre Omidyar, according to the Wall Street Journal — had supposedly done a swap with the St. Regis. So he would have to use the access there.
“I said 'look at me. I have on my tabis, my fishing vest. I'm carrying a fishing pole They don't want me walking through the St. Regis Hotel,'” Lance said. “And they [St. Regis] hassle you, too. They don't make it easy for you. To offer an easement down there is a complete slap in the face because it's all private parking. There's no place to park.”
By comparison, there's ample parking along the county-owned Hanalei Plantation Road.
Lance said he told the cops that if they were right, he wouldn't return, but if they were wrong, he'd keep using the access. So he went to the county and researched the TMK, which shows the easement.
It is also listed in the county's 1984 beach access guide as a .35-mile easement that goes through the center of the property, and is included in the state's Na Ala Hele inventory.
Curiously, the April 2012 draft proposal for the project, submitted to the Hanalei-Haena Community Association, notes [emphasis added]:
In addition to the existing public pedestrian easement located along the ridge, a new pedestrian access to the beach wil be provided along Honu Road and bordering the northern portion of the site over an elevated boardwalk above the marsh to provide enhanced public access to the shoreline.
Lance then consulted with an attorney, who told him it looked like an open public right-of-way, and that even if there had been an in-house agreement among landowners to swap easements, that can't be done without public notice, and it appeared there was none.
“To me, it looks like they're aware of the fact that it's illegal to close it off, but they're trying to discourage people,” Lance said, noting he had recently heard reports of other fishermen being hassled there, too. “It's not a popular access because people are discouraged from going down there. I'm sure a lot of surfers would like to park on top and go down there. It would save them a long paddle out into the [Hanalei Bay] backdoor channel.”
Lance said it was the first time he'd seen anyone acting as a security guard on the site, though she wasn't wearing a uniform and was sitting in an unmarked car. “The only thing she could have been guarding was the access,” he said, noting no construction materials were on-site.
“It's just one piece of property after another that the developers buy up and close,” Lance said. “It's just another nail in our coffin, trying to close up our access to the beach and mountains. I've been here all my life. I've been watching this happen and I've never said a word, because I've been too busy with my business. But I think I'm right on this one and I'm gonna push the issue.”
Lance said he plans to make copies of the documents so he can show them to the police if they are called again. He also thinks the cops “should understand these easement laws. This was not an isolated incident. There have been other problems down there.”
I sent an email to Planning Director Mike Dahilig yesterday, asking what's up with this property and its easement, but I haven't yet gotten a reply.
Meanwhile, in perusing some of the information on Princeville Corp.'s sale of that parcel, which has a rather interesting history, with more details available here, here and here — amazing how the value of the property has so dramatically increased — I came upon this quote from P'ville owner Jeff Stone:
"We believe Montage is the ultimate luxury brand that will create memorable experiences for guests to and residents of Kaua'i."