Thursday, March 5, 2009

Musings: A Big Mess

Bits of cloud drifted lazily like smoke off Nounou ridge when Koko and I set out this morning on a walk delayed by rain well past sunrise. Not that the sun was anywhere in sight, but I knew by the brightness of the sky that it was up there somewhere. I collected an armful of oranges that had fallen from a tree whose bounty seems to be ignored by everyone but me, and felt a secondary rain as drops fell from its drenched branches.

Birds sang as they bathed in the small streams that had formed between the pavement and the strips of grass that line it along both sides of the road. What a concept, to view the rain as an opportunity, rather than a nuisance. I’ve grown weary of hearing people complain about this winter’s chilly, wet weather. Can’t we be grateful that the Earth is still functioning and it’s getting what it needs?

Do we need some 519 transient vacation rentals on Kauai? That’s the number of applications received by the county from folks seeking a special use permit to keep operating. Now that’s not all the TVRs on the island, mind you, just the ones that have applied for the permit.

You can go to that link, if you’re so inclined, and check out just who is applying. While many are owned by real people, some of them with multiple rentals, a sizable number are owned by entities like Daystar Invest Corp., Hanalei Buddies LLC, Aliomanu Sand Castles LLC and Waiwai Nui Haena LLC. And we’re supposed to believe these rentals are just the way that ordinary folks make their mortgage?

Equally interesting is the zoning for these TVRs. We’ve got some in the conservation district, where the state, not the county has jurisdiction, some in the open district and some in the ag district, where they are not allowed either by state law or the most recent county ordinance.

And it seems that some of those conservation land applicants previously argued they weren’t doing vacation rentals when the state moved to crack down on that unpermitted use. Now they’re saying they are, so they can get grandfathered in with the county. Sounds like they’re admitting guilt, but is the state checking out applications submitted to the county?

While no part of the island is immune from the influx of vacation rentals, a quick perusal shows a very large number in Haena, Wainiha and Hanalei. Although multi-family dwellings are not allowed in Haena-Wainiha, some people are asking for multi permits. Will the county grant them?

The situation prompted one North Shore resident who is alarmed by the proliferation of vacation rentals in that region's rural residential neighborhoods to exclaim: “We’re pau, we’re totally screwed. If you look at Hanalei, almost the whole town is taken over.”

A group called PONO, Protect Our Neighborhood `Ohana, has formed to challenge some of these applications, especially those in the Special Management Area, where the first single family house built is exempt from the SMA process, but businesses are not.

“They said they were building a house, but they were building a business,” the resident said. “They’re fricking liars.”

Will the county go along with the sham, or look at the cumulative impact of allowing TVRs in the SMA? And as the county slowly processes these permit applications, the TVRs will keep on operating.

One thing’s for sure, it’s a big mess that will likely end up in litigation.

This is what happens when the county just goes along and goes along and lets a situation get totally out of hand before it deals with it. By then, everyone is claiming they have vested rights, even though they didn’t have the right to do what they were doing in the first place.

Unfortunately, all this is coming to a head at a time when the economy is down, a situation that so many times in the past has prompted the county to take an anything goes so long as it brings in some money attitude.

It doesn’t seem to matter what's lost in the process.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

i live right next to a place that is a rental, and an "illegal" one it seems. but there are never any problems.

is my experience that rare? are most of the rentals really loud or have other problems?

it must be that certain rentals attract a "louder" clientele (young people?)

b/ just seeing and hearing different people / cars / voices does not seem to be a really big deal (to me at least)

tho i get the point that buildings / homes should not be going up on wetlands or whatever (some kind of protected area)

id much rather see the leash law enforced, as would my yard...

Anonymous said...

You and your response are the reason these illegal activities have and are proliferating.

Itʻs not about you.

Itʻs about the laws. What has been determined to be a permitted activity or an unpermitted activity.

"tho i get the point that buildings / homes should not be going up on wetlands or whatever (some kind of protected area)"

Exactly, ʻsome kind of protected areaʻ.

Anonymous said...

The link doesn't work....

Joan said...

Sorry. The link works now.

Anonymous said...

um ya and im saying that the examples of it near me dont bother me, and was asking others if rentals near them bothered them

so nice theory but im not dlnr

but i like laws, and i like seeing them enforced as much as the next person. i dont live near a rare swamp, just near allotta big doggies

Katy Rose said...

I have heard the point made that Hanalei would be less peaceful if all the houses were occupied year-round, instead of a few months a year.

I live next door to two VRs. Most of the time they are empty. When they are occupied, it normally doesn't affect me, but sometimes people party late into the night on weeknights, and right now a visitor has been leaving the incredibly bright porch lights on all night, which seem to be trained like tractor beams on my bedroom window. Naturally, the roosters think it's the rising sun so you can imagine.

All things considered, though, it bums me out that I see these perfectly nice houses sitting empty half the year when there are people sleeping under tarps at the beach. Something's wrong with this picture.

I guess I'd take the extra daily activity if it meant a more vibrant community with a lot of race and class diversity. To me, that's not noise, it's music!

Anonymous said...

"Naturally, the roosters think it's the rising sun so you can imagine."

i am sorry but that is pretty funny

but yes empty 1.5M homes near homeless is a painful message

Larry said...

On Oahu there has been a similar argument for years and years. When we came here and rented a place, after we signed up and moved in, suddenly a new little structure was under construction. The owner of the property was installing an illegal "ohana" to rent out. Never mind it's against the law. The thing is still there.

If that house that's empty part of the year could not make money as a TVR they would have to do something else, like rent it legitimately, or sell it, or live in it themselves. Probably it would not benefit homeless anyway. As a TVR it won't benefit homeless.

Each day people turn corners without stopping, run through red lights, cut off pedestrians in crosswalks, speed, drink under the influence (I'm looking out my window, so I have traffic examples on my mind). Breaking the law is a way of life here. The TVR issue seems to me to be part of a larger fabric.

Actually, I misspoke just now, not enforcing the law is a way of life. Even our governor chooses which laws she will follow and which she will ignore, setting a great example.

Andy K said...

Thank you, Joan! This post expresses the reasons for much of the outrage and dissapointment I have over the TVR issue. There is so much plain lying and money grubbing, not to mention government incompetance, borderline malfeasance.

A permanent tvr is not the same as a rolling stop at an empty intersection, it'll kill the community as sure as DUIs will--if I may stretch the metaphor a little. Tvrs might be quiet, but they're not neighbors. As Joan's analysis goes, it's just another way for rich folks to approriate the island life that residents have created through their contributions to the community. And the tvr owners don't care that they're hurting the community--worse, they pretend to be oblivious.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the TVR applications indicate residents...or not. Can there legally be more taxes, fees, etc. imposed upon those owners who do not even live here on island? Some kind of differentation. If an owner is living on this island, contributing daily to the economy, that seems to warrant some type of break....

Anonymous said...

Does PONO have a contact number, website, or email?

Dawson said...

There are more mainland tourists than you might think who avoid TVRs for all the reasons in Joan's blog.

It's increasingly clear that greed builds these things. And these days, greed is increasingly Out. The more the word gets spread on the mainland of how TVRs hurt people's lives, the less appealing they'll be.

As always, realtors and politicos are the last to hear the theme of the times: that ordinary people are being hurt by those who want to exploit and extract at any cost.

Anonymous said...

The more the word gets spread on the mainland of how TVRs hurt people's lives

Talk about over dramatic.

Anonymous said...

again, id rather have leash laws enforced first. is there even a dog catcher on this island?

Anonymous said...

Aloha! You can contact PONO by emailing ponokauai@yahoo.com ~ Mahalo

Dawson said...

The situation prompted one North Shore resident who is alarmed by the proliferation of vacation rentals in that region's rural residential neighborhoods to exclaim: “We’re pau, we’re totally screwed. If you look at Hanalei, almost the whole town is taken over.”

One good quote deserves another:

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate ...’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”


Full text at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/opinion/08friedman.html?_r=1

Anonymous said...

thankfully, the "standard of living" has gotten better and better over time

and even when wisely factoring in a black swan chance the models and predictions are wrong, to-date the malthusians have been largely wrong. room for improvement? always. time to panic? some always do

Dawson said...

> thankfully, the "standard of living" has gotten better and better over time <

You miss the point. It's the way the standard of living has gotten better that is the problem -- and the fact that this "better and better" standard of living is being enjoyed by a smaller and smaller portion of the planet's ever-increasing population.

The situation is not only non-sustainable, it's explosive.

Anonymous said...

"way the standard of living has gotten better"

i would just suggest factoring in things like:

-- farm machinery use (more food)
-- basic sanitation and clean water (planning)
-- monies for kids, moms, and old people (social programs)
-- better medicine and medical treatment (technology)

and that is just a short list of items over the last 50-100 yrs which have helped most people on earth live much longer

but of course the idea of future debt for present short term use is a dangerous one (money, nature, w/e)

Anonymous said...

yeah, it's helped people in the west live much longer, and some way longer than they'd probably like. meanwhile, average lifespan in Africa is 35. the west has been improving its own lot at the expense of others.

Anonymous said...

"yeah, it's helped people in the west live much longer, and some way longer than they'd probably like. meanwhile, average lifespan in Africa is 35. the west has been improving its own lot at the expense of others."

-- buddy i hear you. most of africa has been screwed over for sure

yet in latin america, most of asia / india...i bet those factors still apply, and it was mostly not at the "expense of others"

there is a diminishing return dynamic here for sure too. if a resource x 1 helps a guy in asia live 10 more years, what is the deal with an american using that resource x 10 to just live 2 more years? gets complicated

Dawson said...

> yet in latin america, most of asia / india...i bet those factors still apply, and it was mostly not at the "expense of others" <

What Latin America is doing to South America's rain forest is at the expense of the entire planet.

Not that we Norteamericanos have anything to be smug about.

Dawson said...

> Itʻs about the laws. <

And it's about greed. And it's anywhere that people have struck the Devil's Bargain with Tourism. Surf spots or ski slopes, the story is similar:

"MAMMOTH LODGE OWNERS SAY, GO AFTER THE TAX VIOLATORS.

The dam has broken on a perennial Mammoth issue. Transient Occupancy Tax compliance has veered out of control, and Mammoth's Lodging Association doesn't want to put up with it any longer, especially now that the Town of Mammoth Lakes wants to audit them.

The problem is simple, but enforcement is not. Some condo and home owners in Mammoth rent out their living quarters on their own rather than going through a rental agency, and they do not pay TOT taxes on these rentals. These private owners charge less, leaving official lodging with a business decline, according to local rental agent Judy Farnetti. The lodging associations may also face an audit by the Town."


Full text at http://www.ksrw.sierrawave.net/site/content/view/1832/48/

More than you might want to know about where Kaua'i is heading is in Rothman, Hal K., Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.