I understand why the guys who have leases on the land are now shilling for the developer. I understand why they're pressuring the Planning Commission to give the developer an unprecedented eight-year extension of his subdivision permits. I understand that they don't want to lose the ranches and farms that they've created, and they're afraid that if they don't go along with the developer, he's gonna pull the rug out from beneath them.
I understand all that.
But when you're talking about turning 2,029 acres of prime farm land into yet another “ag subdivision” — a model that has resulted in lots of houses, but precious few agricultural endeavors, all around the island — it's not just about what a handful of guys want.
Throwing some money toward a rodeo ring, a poi mill and the rehab of a privately owned property — the Kealia store — isn't a fair trade for giving the latest owner of that oft-sold land a chance to try and make his millions on a project that has never gotten off the ground.
It's not worth allowing him to skip out on an affordable housing requirement. It's not worth missing the opportunity to designate that acreage as Important Ag Lands, which would still give him some development rights, but also ensure it's in ag for perpetuity.
This application started out the right way, with the Planning Department recommending denial. But then the tenants got in there and started working it, working amongst themselves, and with the developer and his attorney, Max Graham, on a deal that benefits them, a deal whose terms have not yet aired publicly.
I understand that some of the players believe they're acting in the overall best interest of the community. But if that's the case, shouldn't we all be in on the discussion? Or is transparency just something that government is supposed to do, while the people hide their own backroom deals?
So while it's understandable that the tenants might be snookered, might want to hope against hope that they won't get burned by the crappy deal this developer wants to foist on the public, there's no excuse for the Planning Commission to get suckered in. Unless they just can't say no to the folks who are looking out for their own selfish interests.
Because surely the members of the subdivision committee must understand that when you're dealing with a mega-rich developer who has no ties to the community, as is the case here, you can't trust that he is looking out for anyone's interests but his own.
Meanwhile, I've been watching with interest as some Kauai folks and politicians speak out, quite rightly, against the Public Land Development Corporation, and most particularly the ability of its five-member appointed board to make land use decisions that can greatly impact this island.
I wonder, do they have any awareness that a three-member subdivision committee formed from a Planning Commission appointed by the mayor has that kind of power, too? Will any of them attend the meeting to speak out against this project?
Ironically, I'd heard that a “sit-in” was planned for this morning at Mayor Bernard Carvalho's office, to let him know they're unhappy that he isn't calling for the repeal of the PLDC. But it was called off because “decision makers” couldn't attend. And I thought, do they even know that a big land use project is up for consideration that very same morning? Something concrete and real, that's going to affect their own backyards?
I understand it's all a lot to keep up with. But let's not miss the forest for the trees.