Grazed grass crisped to brown, poinciana trees spreading a flaming canopy — unmistakable signs of summer in Kapaa. Driving through the Homesteads in the soft gold light of early evening, enroute to a wild hive removal from a carport cabinet, I am overwhelmed by the profusion of foliage, blossoms and lush life.
A different kind of lush life is planned for the bluff overlooking Hanalei Bay, and Michelle Swartman was on KKCR this afternoon, pitching it. She's the Kauai rep for the San Diego-based company that wants to develop an ultra-upscale resort and swank cliffside house sites. Seems they're aiming to create a “village concept” for “someone who wants to be immersed in Kauai's culture and history.” Though not, presumably, quite so culturally authentic, as, say, Anahola village.
The land — I've written about it before, in terms of blocked, then re-opened, access — is owned by e-Bay founder and multi-billionaire Pierre Omidyar, who is also financing the project. This factoid prompted more than a few callers to wonder, quite reasonably, why can't he just give the land to the people of Kauai, turn it into a park?
The question underlying that one is this: when you are already one of the world's richest men, with more money than you can possibly spend or even easily give away in a lifetime, why must you pursue destructive, disruptive projects opposed by a community in a quest to acquire more?
It's a question that was also rightfully raised about Steve Case, and his decision to destroy Koloa Camp.
When is enough, enough?
As several callers pointed out, it must come down to greed.
Omidyar is often billed as a philanthropist, which in my mind should be a given for a man worth $6.7 billion. So the idea of him dedicating the parcel to the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust for public use in perpetuity isn't too far-fetched.
But what if it was turned into a park and the county didn't do a good job of managing it? Michelle worried.
Hey, we'll chance 'em.
Michelle also noted that Omidyar just provides the kala. “He does not get involved in any of our business decisions.”
So as one caller suggested, maybe the best thing to do is “let him know what his management company is doing, and that we don't like what's planned.”
Because the people who were calling in, and there was a string of 'em, most definitely did not like what was planned, despite Michelle's assurance that it would be “a resort-residential community that the public will have the opportunity to share, to celebrate and to be a part of.”
They also weren't buying her assertion that through this project, Omidyar will be “lending his support to keeping Kauai sustainable, adding to the quality of life. This will provide us with opportunities to showcase a sustainable development.”
Because as several people noted, it's going to be producing more sewage, more traffic, more trash, all of which impact the larger community.
Michelle acknowledged that burials may be unearthed during construction. She also said she had felt the mana — the spiritual power of the place that some of my Hawaiian friends say caused previous projects there to fail — and described it as “a very spiritual place.”
But that didn't stop her from repeating the developer's mantra, one that has started to wear a little thin on the tourism-stressed North Shore: “The positives and community benefits far outweigh the negatives.”
Who, though, really does the figuring for that particular equation?
When one caller suggested Omidyar build a cheap hotel, so that common people could enjoy the area, and not just the super rich, one of the radio hosts said, “You can't really be expecting millionaire landowners to fund something like that.”
When is enough, enough?