Law enforcement agencies have issued more than 100 citations to people at Kehena Black Sand Beach since the beginning of April, but some nearby residents are unsure whether it will solve longstanding problems in the area.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Monday that its Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, along with Hawaii County police and the Department of Public Safety’s Sheriff’s Division, recently increased law enforcement at the Beach, with officers issuing 123 citations since April 4.
According to a DLNR statement Monday, most of the citations were for alcohol and drug violations or public nudity. Others were for vehicle-related violations such as illegal parking on Highway 137.
The three agencies also handed out more than 200 masks to beachgoers who were violating social distancing guidelines.
“The joint enforcement efforts in this area have been in response to concerns raised by the community, and the Hawaii Police Department appreciates the collaborative efforts by all law enforcement agencies involved,” said Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira in a statement. “We also appreciate the community’s understanding and cooperative response to our officers that have been monitoring the activities in the Kalapana Seaview Estates to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.”
But some nearby residents are doubtful the law enforcement effort is achieving anything.
“(Officers) only come on Sundays, and they don’t do anything,” said Kevin Kalley, resident of Kalapana Seaview Estates. “There will be illegal food vendors at the beach, and the cops will buy food from them.”
Kalley said problems at the beach have been a growing concern among Kalapana residents for years now, and have only been amplified by the 2018 eruption, which obliterated most of the other beaches in Puna. Kehena has increasingly become a haven for beachgoers on the east side of the island, but its remote location also has allowed rowdy behavior to flourish.
Even before the pandemic, Kalley said the crowds at the beach — which regularly exceed 200 people — presented a health hazard, with people firing off illegal fireworks, getting into fights, and more.
“I’ll be blunt. People crap in the bushes,” Kalley said. “They leave toilet paper around.”
With Kalapana Seaview Estates home to a high number of older — and therefore, more immunocompromised — residents, Kalley said the COVID-19 pandemic would have been an excellent excuse to create sweeping management changes to better protect the beach, but he added that there appears to be little will to do so.
Kalley said the situation at the beach is marginally improved when officers are present, but added that they are only on the scene for a few hours on Sundays, and often not in time for the weekly drum circle event that takes place each Sunday.
Another Kalapana resident, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety, said officers make their presence well known among beachgoers by standing at the top of the nearby hill for 10 minutes before descending to patrol the beach, giving people ample time to hide any illicit substances.
“You hear people say, ‘Oh, the cops are coming, put everything away,’” the resident said. “People who get tickets throw them away, and kids say to just ignore the cops.”
Both the anonymous resident and Kalley said the issues at Kehena have spread to the Sea View Estates’ “lawn,” a private park on the subdivision that lately has attracted beachgoers seeking to continue their beach parties elsewhere.
The anonymous resident said she feels trapped in her own home and unsafe with all the people coming to the once-sleepy community. Last weekend, she said, she was randomly assaulted by a stranger who kicked her in the head while she tended her garden.
The DLNR reported Monday that the three agencies also have stepped up law enforcement at “the lawn,” but Kalley was frustrated at officers’ apparent unwillingness to enforce social distancing or crowd size mandates.
“They say they can’t do anything because it’s private property, which sounds like bull—-t, to be honest,” Kalley said. “I know I wouldn’t be allowed to have a group that size at my home.”
Neither Kalley nor the anonymous resident were sure what an effective solution for the beach’s problems would entail, but neither are confident that the law enforcement action so far has been anything but posturing.
However, the DLNR reported that the three agencies intend to continue their increased enforcement at Kehena and other parts of the Puna coast for the time being.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.