Thick clouds put a damper on the full moon’s brilliance but couldn’t completely dim its glow, which persisted through the night until finally succumbing to the higher forces of dawn.
Rain, and Sunday morning laziness, made for a greatly abbreviated walk and Koko, who is not plagued by the torments of an over-active mind, immediately returned to bed and snuggled into the still-warm covers. I, meanwhile, made a cup of tea, revised a short story I’m writing and briefly scanned The Garden Island on-line.
That’s where I read that Hawaiian Homes has dropped, for now, its plans to develop a resort at Wailua and is instead pursuing a 700-unit residential project on the mauka side of the highway.
It seems the agency got revenue bonds that will cover the residential infrastructure costs, eliminating the need to build a resort to generate the money. And that’s a good thing, since the visitor industry is weakening and tourism so often works directly against the long-term interests of many Hawaiians, if you factor in the role it plays in promoting the real estate development that is pricing them out of their homeland.
Hawaiian Homes is supposed to be providing the housing to keep them on the land, which sounds good in concept but has generally failed in practice. Aside from the fact that it’s failed to deliver homes to many eligible beneficiaries — some 18,000 remain on the waiting list — and a lot of the homes it did turn out were unbelievably shoddily, there’s a huge inequity built into the system.
Although homesteaders must pay mortgages to cover construction of their homes and lease payments for the land they are built on, they — unlike any other homeowner in Hawaii — can’t turn around and sell their property and reap the benefits of the equity they’ve created. Nor can they even pass the house on to their kids unless the keiki have the right blood quantum, which used to be 50 percent but was reduced to 25 percent a few years back.
So even though everyone else can, and is, buying up land in Hawaii, Hawaiians in the homestead program only get to pay to use it for a while — they’ll never own it. How nuts is that?
Meanwhile, it seems the real estate market has screeched to a halt on Kauai. As I drive around the island, and walk on my own road, I see the same real estate signs that have been out there for months and months, the photos of the smiling — and invariably haole — agents fading in the sun, the signs themselves sinking slowly into the soil.
I don’t suppose anyone keeps statistics on such things, but I wonder how many of those real estate agents who flocked here when the getting was so good have already left Kauai, to be followed by the other opportunists.
As my friend Eddie, a Hawaiian born and raised on the North Shore observed: “I watch them wash in, and I watch them wash out.”
I’m also wondering how many other people, and businesses, will become casualties of the economic downturn that has prompted high level county and tourism officials to begin holding regular meetings to discuss the dismal state of affairs, although their hand wringing — they haven’t come up with any measures for dealing with the problem — has not been reported in the local newspaper.
I stopped by my favorite Lihue restaurant, Pho Kauai, a really great and reasonably priced Vietnamese eatery, to pick up some dinner the other night. It was about 5:30 p.m., and the place was deserted. The owner told me it was starting to get scary, as customers had been almost non-existent for the past three days.
“Eating out has become a luxury,” he said. “So many of the hotel workers tell me they’ve had their hours cut way back. They’re barely making it. I don’t what’s going to happen, but it worries me, because I’ve got a mortgage to pay.”
As I drove though Kapaa yesterday, with its many little shops and restaurants, I wondered how many of their proprietors are also worried, and how many of them will default on their mortgages because business has died and they can’t sell their homes and what sort of ripple effect that will have on the overall economy.
In the midst of this, we’re preparing to elect a new mayor and council, prompting one friend to observe that when we’re considering candidates we need to look beyond their views on growth and dogs on the path and the Superferry. What we need now, he said, are people with the vision and intelligence to guide Kauai through an economic meltdown.
And when you look at it from that perspective, the field narrows considerably.