Kaua‘i residents will only have the right to access Papa‘a Bay via a difficult, steep trail instead of a privately owned access road, after a judge found that the road leading to the public beach is controlled by movie producer Peter Guber.
Judge Kevin Chang upheld that Tara Ranch proprietor Guber owns the property and that there is no public access road through it to get to the beach.
Guber’s attorney, Paul Alston, said residents can still access the beach, just not via his client’s property.
“We have never disputed that there is a public trail that comes down from Aliomanu and people are free to use that and free to go on the beach,” he said. “They’re just not free to come past the end of Papa‘a Road to get there.”
Public beach access is guaranteed under state law, however, to do so, residents will have to use the eastside beach north of Anahola using a steep, rocky crossing, despite a tradition of using Guber’s access road.
In a prepared statement, Mayor Bryan Baptiste said the decision was “very disappointing.”
However, he said, the decision does not affect the county’s commitment to maintain traditional public accessways.
“We’ve asked our County Attorney’s office to review the ruling and determine if there are grounds for taking an appeal,” he said.
If the county appeals Chang’s decision, they would have to file a notice of asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit this issue to reexamine whether the determination Chang made was incorrect.
That process would likely take more than a year, Alston said.
“And we’re confident of prevailing,” he said.
Since 2003, the county’s position, with the help of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees and attorneys, has been that a traditional beach access did and does exist across Guber’s land to the beach at Papa‘a Bay.
Attorneys for Guber argued that no such access existed.
While the burden of proof to demonstrate that there was historical, consistent use of Guber’s property rested on the shoulders of Deputy County Attorney Jim Tagupa, Chang wasn’t convinced.
Alston said Guber bought the property in 1998. At that time, the seller and the title insurance company confirmed there was no public roadway like the one claimed by the county, he said.
“It was a surprise that the mayor would say that and we’ve said all along there was no basis for that claim, and the judge has now confirmed our views of that,” Alston said.
Guber’s property, reportedly valued at just under $30 million, is for sale.
• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or email@example.com.