A little sliver moon hung in a shell pink eastern sky, and Venus glowed brightly, if intermittently, due to clouds flitting overhead, when Koko and I took our walk on this very quiet morning.
The interior mountains were dense with dark and the ground was still wet from the rain that thankfully fell last night. It’s been way too dry. The grass at Hanalei is already crisping, and I feel sorry for the cattle and horses grazing — if you can call it that — on the dry, shadeless pasture at the future Kealanani “ag subdivision” at Kealia. Did you notice they changed the sign there, and replaced it with a cheesy one that shows a red-earth coastline — even though none of those lots are beachfront?
Speaking of beachfront, I’ve been wanting to write about a contested case hearing I recently attended in Kapaa. It speaks to the systematic harassment of an activist working on shoreline preservation issues, and the mentality of a certain group of people who use Kauai for playground and real estate investment purposes.
The case was brought by Anawalt Lumber, a Los Angeles company that owns a house at Haena Point (Kanaha). It was fighting a citation from the Department of Land Natural Resources for the unauthorized construction of a shoreline fence in the conservation district.
The hearing required eight persons to fly over from Honolulu, including two deputy attorney generals, a hearings officer and DLNR staff. It continued on for a second day, requiring the Honolulu folks to either fly back or stay overnight, all at taxpayer expense.
Caren Diamond, who made the initial complaint about the fence, was subpoenaed by Anawalt’s attorney, which required her to miss work, drive down from Wainiha and spend the afternoon at the hearing, which was an hour late in starting while some of the participants had lunch. For this, she was given a check for $8, which she said she had no plans to cash.
Why was Caren subpoenaed? Because Randy Vitousek, the attorney for Anawalt Lumber, was trying to make the case that she had undue influence with the DLNR. Now Caren is the same woman who filed suit against the DLNR, in a case that went all the way to the state Supreme Court over its shoreline certification process. And she’s pushed for years to get DLNR to enforce its own rules against vacation rentals in the Haena conservation district.
The idea that she might have any influence, much less undue influence, is ludicrous. But then, Vitousek is the same guy who is representing the Haena vacation rental owners in their lawsuit against the state, claiming that the no vacation rentals provision in the Conservation District Use permits that allowed them to build their homes in a protected area is illegal.
Vitousek also filed a lawsuit against Caren, claiming she had engaged in ecoterrorism by allegedly ripping out vegetation that a Haena homeowner had planted on the beach. But when he failed to show, the case was dismissed.
It wasn’t the first flak she’s encountered for her efforts to keep the public shoreline open to the public. She’s also been threatened by a guy wielding a chainsaw and lost her rental after people she’d pissed off repeatedly hounded her elderly landlady.
Anyway, back to the hearing, which was finally getting under way a full two years after Caren reported the fence. The owner had been ordered to remove the fence and pay a $2,000 daily fine until it was done. But once the contested case hearing was requested, everything was put on hold.
During one of the recesses, I chatted with David Anawalt, whose family lives in Los Angeles and occasionally comes over to use the house. He told me his family’s lumber business is “ecologically minded. We’ve been recognized for conservation issues.”
When I asked why, then, he didn’t just take the fence down and go through the proper permitting process, he replied: “Does it look like a conservation district to you? I have private property rights to build in a residential neighborhood.”
And that’s exactly what’s wrong with the conservation district now. People get special permits that allow them to build houses there, and then they seem to forget that it is a conservation district, with specific rules and restrictions aimed at protecting these natural areas.
Instead, they start treating it like an urban area, and come up with all sorts of expectations about what they should be entitled to do on “their” private property, including blocking the shoreline access, skirting the permit process and harassing citizens who are merely trying to get the state to follow its own rules.
I don’t think Caren will be deterred from her coastal activism by this particular case, aggravating though it was.
But I did wonder, after seeing the annoyance and frustration of the DLNR guys who had to waste a couple of work days getting hammered at a contested case hearing, whether they’ll be so likely in the future to issue citations in Haena and other conservation areas where the landowners have teamed up behind attorneys to fight rules that were created to protect sensitive lands.
And I felt sad that it's people like this who are buying up the island, squeezing Hawaiians and locals out.
Update: The Star-Bulletin today has an article on an Oahu beach vegetation crack down, where the situation is very similar to Haena, Aliomanu and elsewhere. Check out the comments, too. It sounds like people are sick of this private encroachment onto public beaches.