Beach access must remain
The people of Hawai'i have a legal and historical claim to the shoreline that's rock-solid in statute and case law.
The shoreline itself, though, is a bit more mobile. It's defined by the highest wash of the waves under non-storm conditions, a variable line in the sand.
Try telling that to owners of pricey beachfront property, who like property lines fixed and would prefer keeping the public at a distance. The principle of public shoreline access may be sacrosanct, dating back to Hawaiian kingdom law, but the 21st-century homeowner who paid the hefty price may not be feeling the love.
The state, then, needs the tools that House Bill 1808 would provide to enforce the public access to the beach. The bill represents the latest effort by state agencies and other proponents to deal with a problem of homeowners — primarily in coastal East Honolulu but in scattered spots statewide — who have propagated plantings that encroach on the public part of the beach. At high tide, the plants — largely the salt-tolerant naupaka — can block the only footpath along the beach.
Of the current versions of the bill, the best is the House draft, which clearly lays out procedures for state land enforcement officials to notify those with encroaching plants and sets the fines for those who don't keep them in check.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources doesn't have the staff to police hedges and shrubs, which officials say isn't the intent anyway.
But they should curb incursions into the public zone when they become excessive, much in the way that sidewalks are kept clear. A path on the beach should always remain open.