Right now, it’s all hands on deck as Oahu begins a two-month race to crowdsource $500,000. That’s the amount of kokua necessary to complete the protection of the island’s Ka Iwi coast, one of the most accessible and spectacular stretches of wild coastline in the Hawaiian archipelago.

The money will nail down the purchase of 182 acres of hilly scrub in two parcels just mauka of Kalanianaole Highway, between the Hawaii Kai Golf Course and the Makapuu lookout — the last chunks of privately held and potentially developable land in the otherwise protected landscape. The deadline for sealing the deal with the landowners is a little more than two months away: Aug. 30, 2015.

The state and city already chipped in. So did the Trust for Public Land, the nonprofit facilitating the deal with an arsenal of tools too arcane to describe here.

Ka Iwi beach

Representatives from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Trust for Public Land, the Sierra Club and the Livable Hawaii Kai Hui tour Queen’s Rise, the easternmost of two Ka Iwi mauka parcels for sale, last September.

Courtesy of Greg Knudsen

Leading the campaign is an organization called Livable Hawaii Kai Hui. Dedicated to upholding the integrity of the East Honolulu Sustainable Communities Plan, the all-volunteer group, under the leadership of Elizabeth Reilly, Allen Tataishi, Gary Weller and Ann Marie Kirk, has an impressive track record: Among other things, it protected Hawaii Kai’s Keawawa wetland, where federally endangered alaeula (duck-like Hawaiian moorhens) hang out, as well as the adjacent Hawea heiau from the bulldozers. It worked with farmers from agriculturally zoned Kamilo Nui valley in Hawaii Kai to enhance and protect their farmland; it ensured public access to the surf at Portlock point.

LHK has activism in its DNA. It legally absorbed what’s known as the Ka Iwi Coalition, the evolutionary descendant of the historic Save Sandy Beach Coalition. (Disclosure: Over the years, I volunteered for both coalitions).

Back in the 1980s, the Save Sandy Beach Coalition mobilized thousands of citizens in a truly epic battle against the state’s entrenched power structure — landowners, developers, the construction unions, banks, and city government — to stop the wholesale urbanization of Ka Iwi.

First, members had to beat back a large-scale, beach resort proposal for Awawamalu (aka Alan Davis beach), which they did.

Ka Iwi beach

Historic remains at both Ka Iwi mauka parcels — Mauuwai (shown) and Queen’s Rise — would be studied and protected in perpetuity, according to the purchase plan.

Courtesy of Greg Knudsen

Then, despite intense public outcry, the Honolulu City Council approved zoning for a luxury subdivision lined up all along the mauka side of Kalanianaole Highway from Sandy Beach to the Hawaii Kai Golf Course.  The council’s actions provoked a public revolt led by the bodysurfing activists of the coalition, with their distinctive blue-wave logo and slogan, “Defend Sandy Beach.”

The campaign culminated in an island-wide initiative election in 1988, when Oahu voted by a 2-to-1 ratio to down-zone the land. That decisive political consensus has reverberated ever since. Irrefutably, the island wishes to keep the Ka Iwi coastal district wild and natural — from Hanauma Bay to Makapuu, from mauka to makai — forever.

Nevertheless, over the last two decades various owners of the two mauka parcels have pushed for vacation cabins, a golf school, and a private club; in other words, non-intensive, allowed uses for the preservation-zoned land. Each proposal stirred new skirmishes with community watchdogs and government agencies.

Now, finally, a Utah-based, court-appointed  bankruptcy receivership has agreed to a $4 million price tag for the acreage. LHK and TPL have already secured $3.5 million toward the purchase price: $1 million from the state’s Land Legacy Conservation fund and $2.5 million from the city’s Clean Water and Natural Lands program. According to the complex and time-sensitive deal (an intermediate deadline requires LHK to raise $150,000 by July 5), the land will be owned and managed by LHK, while the state holds a deed restriction and the city holds a conservation easement over the property. The $500,000 in public donations will seal the deal.

I ask LHK spokesperson Elizabeth Reilly what it’s like launching a mad-dash, crowdsourced fundraising campaign. She laughs nervously at LHK’s task.

“Well,” she says, “when you’ve got 60 people showing up every week at our meetings offering to help and share ideas, it’s exciting. We’re thinking outside the box. All the letters, offers of help, the small donations that come in — it’s pretty powerful.”

She tells me about recent Kaiser High School graduate Kendrick Chang, an intern at the Legislature who recently sent her a note with an offer to to help LHK’s campaign full time for the rest of the summer, before his freshman year at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

“Amazing,” she says, pausing, “but then Ka Iwi has always been a place that affects people. It’s always been a people-powered issue.”

About the Author