On a recent Saturday in mid-December, organizers of the Defend Oahu Coalition took to the grass roots of Sunset Beach Elementary School to Keep the Country Country. With banners and placards and signs looking up and down the Kamehehma Highway, they created a minor, temporary traffic flow problem, in order to prevent major, permanent traffic flow problems along the North Shore of Oahu.
Make an L with your fingers, point your forefinger at two o'clock, look at it from the top, and that is the North Shore of Oahu. Facing directly into the north Pacific, the North Shore is world famous for its seven miles of surfing reefs and beaches. Surfers have been flocking to the North Shore since the early 1950s, and the community that has developed along the North Shore prides itself on being "country" – rural, small town, friendly, uncongested. Old Hawaii maintaining a niche in the modern world.
Over the years, the North Shore community has banded together to fight off a never-ending onslaught of developers who want to take advantage of the location and beauty of the North Shore, and build the character out of the town. Most recently, the Save Sunset Beach Coalition succeeded in blocking the Obayashi Corporations' ambitious plan to develop dozens of condo units along the Pupukea/Paumalu Plateau which overlooks most of those famous surfing beaches. Save Sunset Beach raised money through fundraisers and auctions and worked with the Federal Government and the State of Hawaii to buy the property and preserve it as a park forever.
A group calling itself No Mall at Shark's Cove fought successfully to stop the development of a "rural community shopping center" at Shark's Cove proposed by the Honu Group. The proposal would have built 53 shops over a 220-car underground garage but outrage by the rural community of the North Shore persuaded the Honu Group to call it off.
There have been similar battles regarding a quarry as well as condo units at Waimea Valley, and they have all been victories by a North Shore community banding together to Keep the Country Country. But new development ideas keep appearing like inland tsunami, and the pressure to develop continues. On Saturday the Defend Oahu Coalition took to the streets to alert North Shore citizens and visitors that the fight to stop the development of Kawela Bay and Turtle Bay are ongoing, despite a recent court decision that the developers did not have to update a 20-year-old Environmental Impact Statement.
The Oaktree Investment Corporation – which proudly refers to itself as a "vulture fund" – are moving ahead with a 20-year-old plan to develop five new hotels and 1000 resort condominiums at Kawela Bay and Turtle Bay, on the northern tip of the North Shore. The plan would bring 3,500 additional rooms to a community that has maybe 7000 residential rooms total from Mokuleia to Kahuku Point.
Citizens of the North Shore know the plan is ludicrous, that the new development will clog Kam Highway to Los Angeles levels of congestion, that the development will help to destroy the low key, rural nature of the North Shore. In effect living up to the words of The Eagles The Last Resort: "They called it paradise. I don't know why. You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye."
The citizens of the North Shore are not going to kiss their beloved country lifestyle goodbye without a fight, and the protest on Saturday was a small but effective brick in the wall to let the community know that the fight is ongoing.
The most recent move in the battle was the decision by state circuit court Judge Sabrina McKenna’s that Oaktree Investment was not required to file a new Environmental Impact Statement to replace the EIS filed when the agreement was made in 1986: "Oaktree argued, successfully, that the North Shore had not changed substantially in 20 years," said Karen Gallagher, who organized the Saturday rally. "That is a ludicrous statement to anyone who has lived here that long. There was a time when surfers came to the North Shore in the winter and the place was ours the rest of the year, but now the North Shore is flooded with tourists year-around. Some say it's because of 9/11 and Americans are afraid to travel outside the US. I noticed a big spike in popularity after the movie Blue Crush came out."
Gallagher teaches surf lessons to visitors, many of whom drive to the North Shore from Waikiki to sample a small piece of the legendary wave energy: "What I hear and see over and over again is that tourists get to Waikiki and realize it kind of sucks. They want to go somewhere that is trees and beaches and beauty, and so they come to the North Shore. They want to get away from the traffic and congestion and phoniness of Waikiki, so they come to this side of the island. When I tell my surf students about the plans to build all those condos and add all those hotel rooms, they are appalled. People love the North Shore because it is rural and simple and Old Hawaii in many ways. To bring Waikiki to this side of the island is an insult and we know we have to fight it."
There is a great deal of money and power pressing to develop the North Shore, and the defense is grass roots. The Defend Oahu Coalition needs your support to keep the Country Country.