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I discovered recently that the illegal gates that the city says Diamond Head homeowners built on the public oceanfront walkway between Leahi and Makalei beach parks have been removed.
But the city says it had nothing to do with taking down the gates that it said were installed without permits.
The metal poles that held the chain-link gates are still there, but the gates are gone.
No one is claiming responsibility for removing the gates — or building them in the first place. Landscape architect Richard Quinn says he saw them being installed late last year while was he working on landscaping renovations at Makalei Beach Park. He says two men were putting up the gates in the middle of the day.
That surprised me because I thought they might have been sneakily put up in the middle of the night.
Quinn says he didn’t think anything of it at the time because he mistakenly assumed the two workers were drilling holes and cementing in the gates on private property, not a public right-of-way.
Curtis Lum, spokesman for the Department of Permitting and Planning, said in an email: “The City did not order the gates to be taken down, nor did we know that they had been taken down.”
Some beach-goers viewed the gates as an attempt to intimidate them from walking on a pathway fronting multi-million-dollar oceanfront homes.
Others thought maybe the homeowners erected the gates because of security concerns. But police Maj. Lester Hite, whose responsibility includes Diamond Head, told me that this particular area between Makalei and Leahi beach parks does not have a lot of crime. HPD’s crime mapping statistics for the last six months back up what Hite is saying.
The gates were erected in the city’s special management area and in the shoreline setback area where permits are required for any kind of construction. Yet the city said permits were never obtained.
No one is sure if the gates had ever been locked to actually prevent people from walking along the ocean. But one beach-goer I interviewed after the gates were installed said they made the walkway seem less welcoming. Under state law, beach access must be preserved.
Art Challacombe, city Planning and Permitting Department deputy director, said at the time he would investigate and “determine the appropriate enforcement action.”
Yet, from inquiries I made later, I found out DPP never cited anyone for what it said were permit violations.
It makes you wonder, if someone in Waianae built an illegal gate, would the city have such a tough time finding out who did it?
In a request I made to DPP for all records relating to the case, spokesman Lum wrote back to tell me that DPP had not issued any notices of violation relating to the gates and that there were no records of letters dealing with the case.
In another email, Lum said DPP was no longer dealing with the issue of the gates because it had determined that the state had jurisdiction over the seawall, not the city.
He also said he couldn’t talk because the city was involved in a lawsuit involving the seawall. I found out later the lawsuit has nothing to do with the gates and was irrelevant to my query.
State Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison says, “We are in discussions with the City and County of Honolulu about this issue. Until those discussions are complete DLNR has no further comment.”
But just because the city and the state are in a dispute over who owns the Diamond Head seawall does not change the city’s responsibility to order the removal of gates when no building permit had been issued for them.
That’s what the city did in 1998 when investment adviser Bert Dohmen-Ramirez built two gates to block public access to the beach in front of his Portlock home. It seems reasonable that gates constructed without building permits at the foot of Diamond Head should be treated the same by the city. And if the city is claiming the seawall is state property, why would these gates be exempt from review and action by the city when other construction on state property is not?
Lum said in an email Friday that citing the violators for city building permit violations is moot because the gates are no longer there. But both the city and the DLNR said they were unaware the gates were taken down until I informed them.
I first wrote about this issue Jan. 21 after I noticed gates at either end of the oceanfront pathway between Makalei and Leahi beach parks, where I like to walk in the early mornings for exercise.
At the time, I called the city to find out who was behind the illegal construction.
The mayor’s information officer, Andrew Pereira wrote in an email Jan. 21 that “The gates were not erected by the city. They were erected by one of three property owners whose properties are located next to the ocean walk, or a combination thereof.”
Pereira wrote that “We’ve been told but have not confirmed that the gates are not being locked, and if they are, it is only during park closure hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.”
In a second email in response to my question of who was responsible, Pereira wrote that “I have been told the property owners are James Wei, Peter Tomosawa (sic) and the Hamamoto family. You will need to confirm this on your own through a property tax search. Again, we don’t know at this point if it is one of the property owners, or a combination thereof that erected the gates.”
By checking property tax records I found all three men own properties fronting the ocean walkway where the gates were built.
So who are they?
David and Martha Hamamoto own a house at 3125 Diamond Head Road. James Wei’s company, Puuwai Estate LLC, owns 3133 Diamond Head Road and Peter Tomozawa’s (correct spelling) wife, Donna Leduc, owns a residence at 3147 Diamond Head Road.
I tried to get in touch with Hamamoto, Tomozawa, Leduc and Wei to ask if they knew who erected the gates or removed them, but they did not get back to me.
They have familiar names, but maybe more familiar in Silicon Valley and Manhattan than Honolulu.
James Wei is general partner in World View Technology Partnership, a Palo Alto venture capital firm. He is on the Board of Trustees of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.
Hamamoto is chairman of North Star Realty Finance Corporation headquartered on Park Avenue in New York. He is also executive chairman of North Star Asset Management Group.
A New York Times list named Hamamoto one of the 10 highest-paid CEOs in the United States in 2014, with a salary of $60.3 million.
Hamamoto grew up in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou School in 1977. His wife, Martha, is also a Punahou graduate.
Peter Tomozawa retired in 2010 from Goldman Sachs and Company, where he was a partner and managing director. In 2014, Mayor Kirk Caldwell appointed Tomozawa to be Honolulu’s director of business development.
Pereira says Tomozawa is working for the city on a volunteer basis. His job is to help the city develop entrepreneurial projects and help business development in neighborhoods that will grow around rail transit stops.
Tomozawa is also a trustee of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.
I’ve learned that Tomozawa organized the neighbors to band together to hire a private guard from Matt Levi Security to patrol their neighborhood, including Makalei and Leahi parks, each night starting at 10 p.m.
It is interesting to talk about Hamamoto, Tomozawa and Wei and their accomplishments and clout. But they are not the only ones residing near where the gates mysteriously appeared — and disappeared.
There are 16 other homeowners living along the Diamond Head ocean walkway. Maybe one of them or a group of them is responsible for putting up the gates. Who knows?
Maybe someday the people who ordered the gates built will come forward and tell us why they did it and why they decided to take them down.