Today’s topic for my KKCR radio show is transient vacation rentals — specifically the bill legalizing TVRs on ag land recently introduced by Councilman Tim Bynum.
Mel Rapozo, an outspoken opponent, quickly agreed to call in, so in an attempt to provide the sort of “balanced discussion” that some critics had requested, I asked Tim and some TVR advocates if they’d like to participate.
The TVR advocates demurred, claiming they’d been subjected to threatening phone calls and vandalism of at least one home after they spoke at a public hearing.
Tim didn’t give me an answer right away, but instead said he wanted to talk to me. When lunch didn’t fit into my schedule, he said, “How about if we take a walk — on the Path?”
To interject a bit of backstory, I’d heard from a friend more than a year ago that Tim, a regular reader of this blog, fantasized about running into Koko and me one morning and joining us on our walk. I shared that with another friend, who sent an email last Friday with the message:
I wonder....if Tim B will still be fantasizing taking walks w/ you and KoKo after reading today's blog.
It was an extremely critical post, so I wasn’t sure, when I invited Tim to be on the radio, if he would even respond. But politicians are bigger, thicker-skinned — dare I say needier? — than that, which is how Koko and I found ourselves meeting Tim at Lihi Park — the southerly end of the section where dogs are allowed — yesterday afternoon.
Now, readers of this blog know that I am no fan of the Path, but it was a lovely day and the ocean — turquoise and glassy under an offshore wind — looked absolutely ono. Of course, I couldn’t legally access it for a swim so long as Koko was at my side, so I focused instead on the task at hand: listening to Tim.
I can’t share all of what we discussed, because much of it was off the record, but suffice to say that he was doing nearly all of the talking. So we were a good 90 minutes into the walk/talk before I finally had a chance to ask him a few questions about his bill, which he said was needed to spare Kauai County the cost of having to defend itself against the inevitable legal challenges to the existing vacation rental law. To avoid that litigation, which would cost a minimum of $5 million, the law needed to be rewritten to remove the illegal language and give TVR owners on ag land a chance to apply for use permits, too.
“Assuming that’s the case, and I'm not convinced it is, why did you delete the provision that requires an inspection first?” I asked.
“Because I was told it was illegal,” Tim said.
It seemed unfathomable that the county wouldn't even have the right to inspect a person’s property before issuing a special permit for a use that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed, but I went on to my next question.
“You say you are a proponent of open government, so why did you delete the provision that required the planning department to make the applications available to the public? How is the public supposed to participate in the process? Don’t the people have a right to comment on a special use permit?”
“I don’t have an answer for you,” Tim responded, before adding that the only real objections people could raise to such a permit would be noise and other such disturbances, and those concerns could be addressed by calling the police.
This was followed by some rather pointed remarks on my part about the moral implications of rewarding people for skirting the law, the county's tendency to cave in to big money pressure, slack enforcement and the continual undermining of the county's ag lands.
By this time, we were nearly at the end of our walk, which, with numerous pauses along the way, had spanned some three hours.
“So, are you going to do on the radio show?” I finally asked.
No, Tim said, he really wanted to, he was torn, he would if he could, but he had been warned by the County Attorney even when discussing the bill in the public Council session not to say too much because of legal concerns. And so he didn’t think he should risk coming on the radio and perhaps saying something he shouldn’t.
Now that seems to be a rather sorry state of affairs, that a Councilmember can’t even articulate to the public the rationale for a proposed law that will have tremendous impact on Kauai’s land use policies. I guess we’re just supposed to trust that the same folks who passed the supposedly fatally flawed bill now know how to fix it — and have our best interests at heart.
I was annoyed, but Tim, a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, found reason to look on the bright side.
“Just think, we had this wonderful walk and it didn’t cost us a thing,” he said, beaming. “We need more places like this.”
“Actually,” I said, “I would have been just as happy walking on the beach.”
In fact, I would have been happier, because I wouldn’t have had to worry about whether Koko’s doodoo bags were prominently displayed — just one requirement of the dogs on the path law — or if someone would notice she wasn’t wearing a license that she doesn’t have. I wouldn’t have had to deal with the lady who persisted in having her dog make friends with Koko, who had her back up — a clear signal that a snap or snarl is pending, which is exactly what happened.
“I know some people like this, and that’s fine,” I said, recalling the obvious enjoyment of the folks I’d passed pushing strollers and cruising on roller blades and bikes. “But we don’t need something like this all around the island. There should be places you can go that aren’t so structured.”
Because despite Tim’s comment that attempts to restrict people from having dogs on the Path is a violation of their freedom, turning the coastline into a county park, with all the attendant rules and regulations, constitutes an even greater encroachment on our freedom.
And while we didn’t have to pay an admission fee, the multi-million Path is certainly far from free.
“I understand,” replied Tim, a former therapist who frequently punctuates his conversations with such agreeable phrases. “But I support it for the same reason Mayor Baptiste did: lateral access.”
Actually, there is a lateral access. It’s called the shoreline. And if the county wouldn’t allow people to construct seawalls and other fortifications, which apparently will be required to protect the Path in at least two places where erosion is already significant, or build their houses and hotels with inadequate setbacks, we’d be able to get around most everywhere on it.
But as I already know, and the conversation with Tim made even more clear, when it comes to what passes for “planning” on Kauai, the emphasis is on “use” rather than “land.”
Discouraged and depressed, I said my final good-byes, and drove away, convinced that the TVR bill, the Path and even democracy — at least, the dysfunctional, drama-laden, undemocratic way it’s practiced on Kauai — bode ill for this little island.