Sunday, December 14, 2008

Musings: "Working" the Land

At some point in the night the rain stopped, the clouds drifted and the moon, full on Friday, was allowed to boldly shine forth. It was still bright and white when Koko and I went walking on this chilly Sunday dawn, in a world so saturated that even the tree trunks are soaked.

Waialeale, hidden for days, was emerging green and fresh from its thick, puffy quilt, and waterfalls streaked down the slopes of Makaleha. I found an elaborate bird nest beneath a stand of ironwoods, a place where I’ve previously collected nests blown down in a storm, and wondered how many birds live in this roadside row of trees.

And then, surprisingly, I ran into farmer Jerry, who was driving not to work but Wailua Homesteads, where he was going to help his friends move out of a $700-per-month-bedroom in someone’s home into hopefully better digs.

Kauai’s long-term rental market has improved slightly, now that the housing boom has bust, and hopefully the folks who were gouging their tenants or acting as slumlords will get their come-uppance with long-term vacancies.

Jerry and I got to talking about housing on ag land, a subject near and dear to both our hearts, especially his, since he’s a bonafide farmer and what you might call an agricultural activist. He’d been attending meetings for months to hammer out a bill for farm worker housing and thought the language everyone had agreed upon was clear — until he saw the draft bill, which was signed by former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who had attended the same meetings as Jerry, and Councilman Jay Furfaro.

Seems the draft bill was lacking key language to make worker housing portable — a provision intended to ensure that the housing wouldn’t remain if the farm was no longer viable. Without such restrictions, the bill amounted to a defacto zoning change for ag lands, Jerry said, because once a house gets built, it’s almost impossible to remove it.

And that raised the question: was the bill really intended to help farmers, or the real estate and construction industries? It's a legitimate question, given that JoAnn received substantial contributions from realtors during her failed mayoral bid and Jay previously worked for Princeville Corp., which has a lot of ag land still undeveloped, and apparently still serves as a consultant to that company.

It’s a question that also could appropriately be asked of another bill, reportedly drafted by JoAnn, but introduced by Jay, that would allow vacation rentals on ag land while the county conducts its assessment of which farm lands are "important" enough to retain that designation. It's unclear just when that inventory will be completed — if ever.

The bill states:

The Council finds it would be reasonable to permit single-family transient vacation rentals on agricultural lands to continue to operate where it can be proved that they were in existence and legal operation prior to enactment of Ordinance 864 except for the State requirements for farm dwellings. This grace period would be allowed only until the County’s agricultural land planning study and related regulations are completed and implemented;…

It’s telling that blogger Charley Foster found the reference to the bill on a blog maintained by Realtor Ronnie Margolis, who cites a letter reportedly from Furfaro providing rationale for the bill:

"…since Ordinance No. 864 regulating single family vacation rentals was signed into law by Mayor Bryan Baptiste on March 7, 2008, the financial system of our country has been thrown into major upheaval, with far reaching consequences for our hard-hit visitor industry in Hawai`i. In a recent briefing of the County Council, Kaua`i Visitor Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said that the Kaua`i Visitors Bureau and the Hawai`i Tourism Authority are now focusing on visitors who CAN come to Kaua`i, as opposed to those who WANT to come."

So in other words, once the going gets a little tough, throw all the regs out the window and return to the “anything goes if it brings ina buck” way of thinking that characterized the post-Hurricanie Iniki years and led to the development boom that is now crashing around our ears.

Margolis goes on to offer what appears to be his own take on the matter:

This legislation is also meant to help farmers who need to provide housing to their farm workers by renting the housing that is on the land they are working. Hopefully, this will relieve some stress for those who work the land and provide local-grown food, and help their cash flow in these recessionary times.

I have no problem with giving a break to bonafide farmers who are also running a vacation rental to help them survive. I know of one person who fits that description and have been told there at most a handful of others. So why not do something specifically to assist them, rather than use the ruse of “helping farmers” to allow realtors and off-island landowners to keep their foot in the door with vacation rentals on ag land?

When I sent Jerry a link to these posts on Friday, he replied in an email:

I'm not surprised. The rationale they use is that this will help farmers stay in business. To add insult to injury the farmers who have not broken the law by setting up an illegal vacation rental on their farms cannot have visitors stay on the farm because they will not be "grandfatherd in". I am close to despair over the treatment of those who work the land.

Problem is, folks seem to have different ideas about the definition of "working" the land.

Meanwhile, the Malama Kauai sustainability show on KKCR ended Friday with this message from Ben Sullivan: "Everybody grow more food."

And so we are confronted with yet another one of those Giant Disconnects.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

This a copy of a letter that I sent to the council, as you can see my point opens up other issues.
=================================
Dear Council members
I just read this

In a letter from Nov. 28th, Councilman Jay Furfaro introduced legislation that was drafted by Joanne Yukimura, former council person who lost her bid for Kauai mayor. The legislation provides for the continuing of vacation rentals in ag land. In the letter Furfaro notes,

"since Ordinance No. 864 regulating single family vacation rentals was signed into law by Mayor Bryan Baptiste on March 7, 2008, the financial system of our country has been thrown into major upheaval, with far reaching consequences for our hard-hit visitor industry in Hawai`i. In a recent briefing of the County Council, Kaua`i Visitor Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said that the Kaua`i Visitors Bureau and the Hawai`i Tourism Authority are now focusing on visitors who CAN come to Kaua`i, as opposed to those who WANT to come."

Ronnie links to the bill in which the Council states its finding that -
...it would be reasonable to permit single-family transient vacation rentals on agricultural lands to continue to operate where it can be proved that they were in existence and legal operation prior to enactment of Ordinance 864....
My wife and I live in Anahola, we have a home that is suited for a vacation rental, both of us are nearing retirement and we had planned on turning part of our home in to a vacation rental to help us get by. Everyone around us have been doing this we could of started nearly ten years ago, however we are law abiding and were aware that our home was on Ag land and therefore illegal.
When the bill was in process I wrote to you and received a reply from council woman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho acknowledging my adherence to the law and stating frankly the Ag land was illegal and anyone who is doing it is breaking the law.
I followed the bill as it worked its way and was aware the bill would require those who were in the designated resort areas to apply for a permit by a certain date and prove they were in business and paying the hotel and GE taxes for a determined amount of time. I was concerned that the bill might allow Ag land to be included but and because I have been Law abiding I would not have met the requirements stated in the bill. We could of made our selves eligible by breaking the law. The bill was passed and it stipulated that no permits would be issued to any one who were on Ag land. I believed it was a fair bill.
But now according to councilman Furfaro he unwittingly but in fact will reward those who disregarded the law and punishing those who abided.
Yes these are hard economic times and yes many people would be relieved of quite a bit of the burden if they were allowed to rent their homes. But it is bad government to to change the rules like this without fairness. I don't know what my rights are as tax paying citizen but I know what is right and wrong. Its wrong to allow people who have been operating on Ag land a permit without opening up the opportunity for people like my self to also legally apply.
Most of the houses on Ag land have continued to operate with no threat of enforcement . The vast majority are not mom and pop like our selves, most of the houses are purely business the owners don't even live in Hawaii they are booked solid and are making thousands of dollars a month.
Please advise me of any remedy regarding such a change? Would I or should I bring some sort of suit under a fairness clause?
I thank you and I appreciate your service to our wonder kauai.

Anonymous said...

that fri kkcr show was quite good w/ the oil guy. nice job to them RE getting that guest

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the state land use classifications prohibit vacation rentals on ag land? If so, how can the County pass an ordinance that contradicts state law?

Joan said...

Yes, state law does prohibit such uses, so that is a very good question.

Anonymous said...

Why does Joanne get a free pass on this one?....she stands to benefit from it with her Kalihiwai property...always thought stuff was fishy with her backing of ending CPRs etc.. when she already "got hers".

How come she's always shown in such a good light on this blog? Ain't no Saint.

Joan said...

Free pass? You need to read more carefully.

Btw, JoAnn no longer owns that Kalihiwai property.

Anonymous said...

Joan, do you have any data on the number of units built during this boom that have been put on the market but are not sold? Or the number of units that have been started but won't be completed?

Joan said...

No, I don't, but it would be interesting to find out.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but the facts say otherwise.....maybe not "that" one in the Ridge...but she still owns another in Kalihiwai with the same ag zoning....and its a CPR.

Sure, Jay is running with it, but clearly it benefits her. Isn't there just a teeny bit of conflict here? Selling the Ridge property doesn't wipe the slate clean, and should in fact raise other questions...like profits she made when she wanted to limit or take away the potential from others.

No free pass? Then specifically call her on it...she wrote the draft.

TMK # 4-5-3-3-55-6 KALIHIWAI RD, Apt 5 KALIHIWAI RIVER FARMS
Owner: YUKIMURA, JOANN A REVOC LIV TR

9/4/1998 DEED $204,500 DOC 98-131834

Anonymous said...

we dont do facts here

Anonymous said...

tru dat