Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Musings: Shadowy Side Roads

I saw the last of the moon yesterday morning — a golden sliver cupping a white sphere — so I knew Venus and Jupiter would be all alone this morning, and they were, reigning over the eastern and western skies, respectively.

Waialeale and Makaleha were all slopes and no summit, weighed down by the clouds that had brought a heavy pre-dawn rain, and the sun rose in a smear of smoky pink that spoke of showers along the coast and the likelihood of more to come.

And as former Councilman and mayoral candidate Mel Rapozo noted in the comments section of a previous post, more approvals of previously denied vacation rentals are also to come.

These rentals were previously denied permits because they sported such blatantly illegal features as enclosed ground floor units in the flood zone and multi-family units. But then, faced with the specter of a lawsuit, the planning commission, at the advice of planning director Ian Costa, rolled over and let them in, anyway.

One of the big problems is the lack of documentation on so many of these applications. This makes it difficult for the commission, much less the public, which has already been roundly shut out of the process, to know exactly why permits were approved or denied.

Let’s not forget that the planning department, with its bungling and lack of transparency, is the same agency that will be charged with monitoring and enforcing the farm worker housing bill once it’s passed. And have no doubts, it will be passed, because ag is now a sexy issue. Politicians want to be able to claim they’re helping farmers (and that includes ranchers and tree growers, too), even as they move to approve vacation rentals on ag land —a driving factor in the speculation that has pushed the price of farm land out of the reach of farmers.

Councilman Jay Furfaro called in to the KKCR talk show that Jimmy Trujillo and I were hosting yesterday afternoon to toot his horn about his leadership on ag worker housing and say we need to be willing to “take a risk” in passing a measure that supposedly will help farmers.

So does that mean Jay’s acknowledging the Council can’t/won’t draft a bill without loopholes? The planning department has already admitted that enforcement will be a major problem, which Jay glossed over, saying that could probably be addressed with funding and staffing.

I think the enforcement issue is more a question of political will, and let’s face it, there isn’t any when it comes to cracking down on people who are generating large amounts of property tax, even illegally.

Jay went on to justify giving permits to pre-existing TVRs (transient vacation rentals) anywhere, so long as they have a history of paying taxes, by saying the General Plan requires the county to regulate, not eliminate, them. Yes, but the Plan also says they’re supposed to be restricted to Visitor Destination Areas, which excludes Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and, ostensibly, ag lands.

It’s important for people to realize that with Kauai’s beach front land pretty much all taken, the island’s remaining real estate wealth lies in its ag lands, and there’s going to be tremendous pressure to develop them — if not outright, then through these shadowy side roads like farm worker housing.

And once the land is tied up in fake farms, it’s gonna be awfully hard to create the real farms needed to grow the real food that could reduce Hawaii’s $3 billion annual expenditure on imported food.

That’s right -- $3 billion. Of course, that pales in comparison to the $7 billion we shell out every year for oil, all of it imported, too. As Sen. Gary Hooser mentioned in discussing his platform — energy independence, environmental protection, education, equity for all — at Sunday’s campaign kickoff, just think what it would mean for the state if that money stayed here.

It would certainly erase the $786 million deficit and eliminate the need to cut programs and lay off state workers. A friend who is just two years from retirement recently got his pink slip. However, he can keep his job if he fingers another worker in his office to be fired in his stead. And as Gary mentioned, Department of Health Director Lillian Koller sent out notices advising workers in her agency to call a recording to see if they’ve been terminated.

Surely if firings are warranted — and I have to agree with Sen. Inouye that this is more of a political power play than a necessity — they could find a more humane way of doing it.

Finally, I was forwarded a link to an intriguing article in the Boston Globe that reports about a dozen municipalities have adopted measures that give nature rights under the law.

But proponents see it as part of an ongoing progression, an expansion of rights that slowly brings about an increasingly just society. After all, not so long ago, slaves and women were in some legal regimes deemed property, just as nature is today. Now we all accept universal human rights. The concept of animal rights has also become familiar, if much more contested. Advocates of this agenda see the extension of rights to ecosystems as the natural next step. And they believe it could spark a profound shift in our relations with nature, leading to more effective environmental protections.

Imagine that.

Still, it’s pretty creepy to think we’ve gotten so far removed from nature that we actually have to pass laws that acknowledge it has an inalienable and fundamental right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

"However, he can keep his job if he fingers another worker in his office to be fired in his stead."

2 yrs from retirement and full benefits...wow...I'd have my "fickle finger of fate" out and scanning the horizon for a likely target! Low man on the totem pole, most likely.

As to the planning dept fearing lawsuits, they should! No civic body can pass laws and apply them retroactively to such things as TVR existence. If they allowed them to exist for a long time, they have given, by their inaction, legal standing to them.

They could, however, introduce new licensing requirements...new "health standards", or whatever, that must be met by all TVR's from this date forward.

Anonymous said...

"No civic body can pass laws and apply them retroactively to such things as TVR existence."

TVRs on ag land has been illegal for a long time. People have ignored this law for financial gain. Just because you haven't been cited for speeding on the highway doesn't mean you can continue to speed. That is such a silly argument.

Anonymous said...

you are right about farm worker housing - - how do they expect to scrutinize it when they can't even keep track of vacation rentals?

Anonymous said...

"the enforcement issue is more a question of political will"

--- mmmm. id like to know that answer too. id think ability also factors in. but maybe it is mostly just funding? ie, need more enforcers? just guessing


dwps

Anonymous said...

There is a precedent for the lack of enforcement over a period of time granting de facto rights.

I could sue on that ground and win. I've seen it happen numerous times.

Any affected TVR owner need a lawyer reference?

Anonymous said...

Joan wrote: "Still, it’s pretty creepy to think we’ve gotten so far removed from nature that we actually have to pass laws that acknowledge it has an inalienable and fundamental right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve."

When one speaks about "rights" it is always among equals for the rich do what they can, and the poor do what they must. Neither are equal to nature which always has the ultimate say.

Anonymous said...

TVRs on ag land are a great source of income to Kaua'i. So was growing pot back in the 70s... Those days are over and allot of people had to restructure there incomes. I was raised on the most beautiful beach in Haena and we could afford it because the land owner operated a TVR and let us live in the guest house for 18-years very reasonable. It was a wonderful trade-off. If TVR owners agreed/required to offer affordable housing in order to have a TVR we would see more rentals at much more affordable rates.... lessoning the need for Farm Worker Housing.
the Farm Worker Housing bill is supper scary. There is no doubt some farmers need it. We just cant afford not to take the time to close all loopholes.
Without a County Bill, if everyone would commit to ways of supporting the distribution of local goods and commit to eating food grown here I think we could see so much more money directed to the farmers economy and not to out of state grocer's. What are the positive steps we can take today without Ian Costa

Anonymous said...

"Just because you haven't been cited for speeding on the highway doesn't mean you can continue to speed. That is such a silly argument."

Yes, but what if State law did not define what "speeding" was. The fact that the County had to pass this new ordinance making TVR's illegal, alone, supports the argument that there is no previous law that makes them illegal - like two previous County Attorneys have concluded after doing the legal research.

And what about having long-term renters on houses on AG land. Has that also been illegal all along? Why not? Politics are being confused with law.

Anonymous said...

Accept the fact that the system is flawed and work within it. A lawyer friend of mine once said, if you want justice don't come to the courthouse.

Profit from what is rather than rail against "what shouldn't be".

It has worked well for me.

Dawson said...

Profit from what is rather than rail against "what shouldn't be".

It has worked well for me.


Astonishing. That's nearly a direct quote from the colonial supporters of the British Crown, c. 1760.

Amazing how nothing changes over the centuries: American Colonies or Garden Island, it's still greed and power uber alles.

Anonymous said...

Just shows that it's smart to stick with what works!

Anonymous said...

yeah, just get the trains to run on time

Anonymous said...

The trains may run on time but where are they headed... you better watch your speed!

"We just cant afford not to take the time to close all loopholes."

Trouble ahead and trouble behind.

"Just shows that it's smart to stick with what works!"

- you call what we have now working? Jerking is more apt.

Anonymous said...

It works for me...that's what counts.

Brad Parsons said...

Without a means for legitimate farm worker housing we're not going to have a resurgence of agriculture on Kaua'i.

Joan, in the hearings on the Farm Worker Housing bill, the Council pretty much determined that the content of the bill that the Planning Commission drafted is inadequate and unrealistic. At the last committee hearing on this there were 4 Draft Amendments to the Farm Worker Housing bill circulated. The content of those amendments begins to tighten this up.

I don't suppose you have seen or read those amendments, have you Joan?

Anonymous said...

Brad, what was the original "surge" of agriculture you refer to, in order for there to be a resurgence? Cane era? Or are you Brad commenting on the subsistence farming on Kaua'i of old, pre western?

Brad Parsons said...

Anon said, "Brad, what was the original "surge" of agriculture you refer to, in order for there to be a resurgence? Cane era? Or are you Brad commenting on the subsistence farming on Kaua'i of old, pre western?"

I'm referring to a resurgence of sustainable agriculture that people can eat a living diet from. There won't be a reason to have monoculture agriculture (like cane) on Kaua'i in a few years when liquid fuel oil is over $200 a barrel. Even if it was for crop derived ethanol, it still would not be cost effective. I assumed I did not need to clarify these points. Agriculture on Kaua'i will never again be like it was 50 to 100 years ago, with or without farm worker housing. Agriculture here will never again be "cost effective," the best it can be is something the inhabitants of Kaua'i can live off of nutrition wise.