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.