Velzyland's long lockdown
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
The views from a little-known city beach park on O'ahu's North Shore at "Velzyland" are spectacular.
The surf during winter months at Velzy is monster, albeit dangerous.
A paved road given to the city eight years ago leads from Kamehameha Highway to eight regular parking stalls, and one for handicapped drivers. From there, it takes a minute, maybe two if you're slow, to walk to the water's edge.
There's just one problem: The city has never opened the road for public use for a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with public safety concerns and lack of money.
In 2002, developer D.G. "Andy" Anderson turned the road over to the city.
It was built on a strip of land on the Kahuku side of Anderson's Sunset Beach Colony housing project that sits on 19 acres on the Hale'iwa side of the beach access road.
By his reckoning , it cost about $700,000 to build the road. Anderson said the 1.5-acre sliver of land the road was built on was worth $500,000, so his out-of-pocket for the access road came to about $1.2 million, give or take.
He didn't build the road solely out of the goodness of his heart.
'IT'S A REAL SHAME'
In the mid- to late-'70s, the City Council passed the "park dedication fee" ordinance which required developers to pay a fee to the city based on the number of new homes in a project, with the money to be used to improve existing city parks.
As an alternative, developers were allowed to build park space within their own housing projects.
Anderson opted to build the road to what is officially known as the Waiale'e Beach Park as his way of satisfying the park dedication ordinance.
He's not happy the road has never been opened to the public.
"There was a great hue and cry as we were proceeding with the project, having to do with fears of losing public access to Velzy," Anderson said. "We put in the roadway, we built a bridge where it crosses the stream, we put in a walkway and spent close to a million and a half dollars on it and the first thing the city did after we deeded it over to them was to have it blocked off," Anderson said.
He said he's been told the road was never opened because the city never budgeted the money to post a lifeguard at the beach.
"It's a real shame, it's a beautiful place. As things stand right now, people have to park along a busy highway, and some of them have to cross that highway to get to the beach and then cross it again to get back to their cars."
Anderson said he visited the road about a week ago and found "California grass" pushing up through several areas of the road and overgrowth crowding up against it.
"It's just going to waste right now, to tell you the truth," Anderson said.
City spokesman Bill Brennan said the road's design does not allow ambulances or fire engines to get in and out safely. And the parking lot accommodates so few cars, it would quickly be outstripped by demand, especially on big surf days.
Lifeguard staffing is also a concern, Brennan said.
It costs about $55,000 to install a lifeguard tower and another $350,000 a year in personnel costs to staff it, he said.
The city Emergency Services Department, which oversees lifeguard services at city beaches on O'ahu, does not want to see large-scale public use of the park until access for emergency vehicles is improved, and doesn't want lifeguards stationed there until bathrooms are built, Brennan said.
Dr. Libby Char, who heads the department, said city lifeguard service has been expanded over the past few years to include beaches at Chun's Reef and Laniakea.
Members of the North Shore Neighborhood Board said they realize the city can only do so much during troubled economic times, but are hopeful the city will eventually be able to make the park more accessible.
Board member Reed Matsuura said long-term city budget planning documents call for $100,000 in design money for the park to be released in 2013, with more money to be allotted the following year for construction of a comfort station and three additional parking areas.
"We're always being asked by people in the community to take a look and see what can be done to open up the park," Matsuura said.
Board member Blake McElheny , who represents the sub-district where the park is located, said the issue has been brought up repeatedly by the community.
"I know City Councilman (Donovan) Dela Cruz has tried several times to get the city going on this, and the city Ocean Safety Division wants a lifeguard station before the road is opened to the public," McElheny said.
He said the board does not want to appear to be critical of city officials who are working hard during difficult economic times.
"It's just that Velzyland has this kind of incredible, in-your-face presence. It's a great resource, and to not have the issues addressed year after year raises questions out in the community," McElheny said.
AN INSIDER SPOT
But not everyone wants to see greater public access to the park anytime soon.
Francesca Gattolin, who lives in Waimea and rides her pink Hello Kitty bicycle to the access road and back almost daily for exercise, is an experienced surfer and said the Velzy break can be very dangerous for anyone who is less than an expert.
"If the gate is closed, people who are not from here are not going know about it," Gattolin said.
Velzy, in particular, is frequented during the big-wave season by foreign surfers "who can be very territorial," leading to confrontations with "outsiders who want to surf here," Gattolin said.
Bayleen Markwort, who lives across Kamehameha Highway from the paved park access road, doesn't think opening the gate is a good idea.
"I definitely think people would fight over the parking spaces," Markwort said.
"Right now, Velzyland is a really family-friendly beach. Opening the gate would make it much less so, I think," Markwort said.
Brian Bills, who has lived on the mauka side of Kamehameha Highway for the past 10 years, and on the North Shore since 1968, said city officials should follow through with what's been planned for the area.
"It's a shame to see it deteriorating. I think we just have to wait, and eventually everything will go in there as planned. Whether we will all still be around to enjoy it is another question," Bills said.