The other day, while driving to Anahola, I passed the new sign advertising Kealanani, and I imagined what it would be like to have that 2,000-acre parcel developed into yet another one of the sprawling ag subdivisions that don’ have much of anything to do with ag, except zoning.
I got the sick feeling in my stomach that KKCR radio programmer Kai`ulani Huff had described earlier on air, where you wonder: what’s next?
Yes, what’s next? Which swath of centralized, fertile, irrigated ag land will be the next to go as the state and county make snail-like progress toward designating and protecting important ag lands?
Yet even the state’s most modest efforts to protect prime ag lands are challenged by attorneys like Jesse Souki, who make their living representing developers, and folks like blogger Charley Foster with a pro-growth attitude.
Their stance isn’t surprising; after all, much of what remains undeveloped in Hawaii is either zoned ag or conservation, so that’s where the goods are to be gotten if you’re the plundering type.
They make like they want to have a reasonable, balanced discussion on the issue, but their intentions are clear — open it all up to development — when they start out by posing such questions as: "Given Hawaii’s unmet housing demand by young professionals, blue collar workers, and the shortage of industrial space, would it be better to have a more balanced land use policy instead of one that has nearly 95 percent of Hawaii’s lands kept from development (the supply of land and burdensome regulations being the primary contributors to housing costs?" and “Will keeping almost half of Hawaii in Agriculture stimulate creation of the kinds of jobs that will stem Hawaii’s brain drain or entice Generation X, et al., back to Hawaii?”
I won’t even bother responding to the first question, because it’s so loaded, but I’ll answer the second question with another question: will the construction and service industry jobs that go hand-in-hand with development in Hawaii be any more successful in stemming the brain drain? No. In fact, that's what's been responsible for it thus far.
In response to their other questions — is there an unmet demand for diversified agriculture and is farming in Hawaii economically feasible? — the answer to the first is obvious. We're a state that imports nearly all of its food and has just a five-day supply in the stores, so the answer is yes, there's an unmet demand for locally produced food.
As to the second question, it could be economically feasible if the state provided some assistance with lower cost land and cracked down on developers — and the attorneys who represent them — who are constantly pushing to create gentleman’s estates, luxury homes, vacation rentals and other non-farming uses on ag lands, thus contributing to the speculation that drives ag land prices out of reach of legitimate farmers.
And I’m really tired of that question, how much ag land does Hawaii need to feed itself? If you look back at pre-contact Hawaii, when the population may have been comparable to our resident population now, they were cultivating taro and sweet potatoes everywhere, even in the remotest valleys.
That’s how much land is needed to feed a million people, and we probably need even more today given the depleted fisheries and demand for a more varied diet.
The more pressing question is how much land will it take to satisfy the insatiable greed of speculators, developers, land use attorneys and ego-driven mega-mansion builders?
That's when I get that sick feeling in my stomach again, because the answer is clear: far more than Hawaii’s got.