Monday, January 14, 2013

Musings: Land Users

The ironwood branches are sparkling with raindrops and a small patch of bright can be seen in an otherwise gray sky, not that I'm complaining about the inch of rain that fell straight and steady in the last 20 hours, even though it did mean rewashing the laundry I'd hung out on the line before the clouds rolled in.

I stopped by the little “mahalo from Tulsi Gabbard” party yesterday afternoon at the Kauai Veterans Center to satisfy my curiosity about what Tulsi is like in person — she seems very down to earth. As it turned out, I met a few people who satisfied their curiosity about what I'm like in person, including Rep. Dee Morikawa, who seems like a genuinely nice person. And I'm not just saying that because she always reads my blog, and is especially interested in the comments.

That got me thinking of an article I read about how people are hired to leave comments on various web sites that promote a specific point in order to skew and manipulate public debate. Which explains why every time I write about depleted uranium the same paid shill always shows up in comments.

Ran into one woman who asked whether I thought there was any chance of beating back Pierre Omidyar's plan to develop high-end houses on the bluff above Hanalei Bay. As she recalled it, and she's pretty good with these sorts of details, that bluff was designated as a green belt, but files that identified it as such have gone missing from the planning department.

That's not the first I've heard of key files being "lost" at planning....

It just so happened that later that evening I stumbled upon an article that Pierre's wife Pam had written for The Hawaii Independent. She's plugging the value of early childhood education, which is fine, and "acting with intention," which prompted me to raise an eyebrow, but what jumped out at me was this statement:

[W]hen we align our values with our actions, we have even greater potential.
And I wondered again how, exactly, this project fits the Omidyars' declared values of supporting sustainability in Hawaii. How can building more lavish vacation rentals and an upscale resort, both of which would dump more tourists into Hanalei possibly be sustainable? Because let's get real, they ain't gonna restore the fish pond to actually raise fish.
She goes on to write:
In this modern age of consumerism and instant gratification, more attention is being paid to whether our current lifestyles are making us happier – and more specifically, identifying the things that make us truly happy. In many cases, happiness stems from the foundation that was created for us during childhood. 
Yes, Pam, that's exactly right, and if you and Pierre took just a moment to watch the videotape of the community meeting in Hanalei you would learn that sentiment is at the core of so much of the opposition to your project. Over and over people stood up to say they had such a happy childhood on the North Shore and they want to be able to give their kids at least some semblance of that same experience.
And they're upset because you folks are bankrolling a project that undermines their pursuit of happiness, and actually fosters the consumerism and instant gratification that has worked to degrade the culture and natural environment of Kauai.
As has been noted repeatedly, the Omidyars have the chance to become either heroes or pariahs. Which will they choose? Of course, insulated as they are by the underlings/middle men who stand to make money off this project, they may never know they have this choice.
Btw, I wasn't surprised to learn that the same architect — WCIT — who is designing the Hanalei project is also behind the proposed expansion of the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu, which residents there are fighting tooth and nail. 
Meanwhile, even as the Legislature faces mounting pressure to abolish the PLDC, the law's apologists are stepping forward. In a recent Star-Advertiser article, UH law professor David Callies bemoans the fact that Hawaii has too many land use rules in place:
Callies says he isn't against planning in general, but thinks there must be legitimate police powers involved for the right of development to be abrogated. 
"[T]the process is so complex that if you start out with a green-field site that's, say, classified conservation or ag, and you have in mind putting in a single-family residential subdivision on coastal land, it's going to take you 10 to 15 years to get your permit to develop."
I'm always astounded at how developers and people like Callies believe the right to develop translates as the right to develop how they see fit. If they wanted to do something that reflects the ag or conservation classification of the land, they wouldn't run into problems. But they always want to change the classification and the zoning so as to increase the value with residential, resort, industrial or commercial projects, then cry about being hindered.
Callies also claims the Hawaii Supreme Court has been overly friendly to conservation groups, an assertion he bolsters with this statement:
So I asked a couple of my research assistants to do a survey, and they came out with the figures that over 80 percent of the cases that the state Supreme Court decides find against either the county or the state or the landowner -- whomever the decision-maker is and who owns the property.
It's pretty disingenuous to go solely by the numbers, without looking at the merits of the cases involved. It's expensive to go to court and advocacy groups don't have a lot of money, so they tend to choose their cases very carefully, which is why it's not surprising that they often win. 
But this is the kind of whining that goes on in the development community, where it's been easy pickings for years and you have people like Callies pushing "solutions" like this:
"It seems to me that policy makers need to speed up the land-entitlement process so that once a development gets rolling, it doesn't take years and years, even allowing for recessionary periods during which the developer chooses not to do anything. And if nothing else is going to work, then, with all due respect to folks opposed, we're going to need things like the Public Land Development Corp., which is a mechanism to get economically unproductive land owned by the state, like closed schools, into use as rapidly as possible.
Which is why it's no surprise to learn that the pro-development Land Use Research Foundation was so intimately involved drafting Act 55, the law that created the PLDC.


Andy Parx said...

I'm not sure how it is now but the last time I needed to review a planning department file (about maybe 10 years ago I think) I was put in a conference room and given the whole file- hundreds of pages and document, all originals and presumably the only copies- and left alone with them. No one checked either my briefcase or the file when I left. I could have easily walked off with anything I didn't like... or for that matter slipped a faux doc into the file without anyone knowing. And I didn't have millions of dollars at stake.
Oh and by the way- does the phrase "right to develop" make anyone else's blood boil?

Anonymous said...

While missing files are a problem at Planning, sometimes suspiciously so, the green belts of Princeville are not such an issue. The three major greenbelts are gullies. The developer set them aside, but they were not a condition of zoning approval. An AOAO has purchased at least one, the others may still be in private ownership. They are split-zoned, ag,open (County only)and conservation.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to think that since Ian’s departure that kind of stuff would not be going on. Perhaps just wishful thinking!

Anonymous said...

I'm so over the government, they tell us that we have to have all our papers in order to eat a hot dog. They then lose all their paper work and have to ask for a continuence so they can get their STG. What morons!

The solution is simple, stay out of the store and grow your own. Every time you make a purchase, the sales tax funds these inept fools. They get killer wages and venue benefits for substandard production.

It's so funny, they point finger at each other and blame. No was me!

Useless mechanism!

Defund them!

Grow your own.

Anonymous said...

Planning got a little better. Counter service bad. It should be reorganized and computerized from the ground up. One ought to be able to apply for permits online. Schedule inspections online. Have permits processed in the order they come in. And then force residential and retail development where it belongs, in the towns. Mixed use makes better towns, increases walking, consolidates infrastructure, tourists drive less and AG land gets to stay in AG. And if some required uniformity in the towns like one color roofs or no scrap metal fences in urban zoning, it could be more attractive and valuable for residents.

Anonymous said...

Each year brings new records for global temperatures, odd weather patterns and an uncertain future. Good luck planning for that.

Anonymous said...

David Callies tought me Real Property Law. He was a snobbish, elitist prick and I learned next to nothing from him.

Elaine Albertson said...

Yeah, makes my blood boil. I came to the realization some time back that such people actually BELIEVE they have that right, which in turn (as a behavioral scientist) tells me volumes about their world view and personalities. I honestly believe they don't get it that money does not bring right (as in civil). One cannot expect them to do the right thing, because they don't understand in the slightest what the right thing is. We therefore have to collectively employ the legal process to force compliance with the principles of sustainability, even in the face of ignorance, avarice, and flat-out lying.

Anonymous said...

Its about "cutting up the Pie" i.e. Hawaii... and making profits. Anything else is a lie.

The planning commission/department and our administration, mayor, etc. receive the "crumbs" that fall from the "table"...happy enough to fill their mouths, satisfied for the moment. We have many examples of this....Kealia Kai?

"Sustainability" is the new word to cover up lying. Sustainability really means more money for profiteers.

But this is nothing new.....its the Tao...the Way of those who believe that capitalism is more important than humanism.and that "development" is more important than culture

Hawaii was stolen the same your history. the US was in an Imperialistic power surge wanting to control the Pacific during the Spanish American War......took over the Philippines instead of giving the people their Freedom back.... and the Hawaiian Islands at the same time. Might equals Right! Thousands of Filipinos died trying to make it "right". Its too late for that tactic and no one is prepared to bare arms to fight.

The rot and corruption...Its deeper than it looks.

Dr Shibai

Dawson said...

Tourism as the main driving force in an economy is as extractive as strip mining. It dominates and digests every aspect of landscape and culture. Land use and lifeways, good government ethics and sustainable business practices -- all are devoured when tourism becomes the main economy.

The process is described in heartbreaking detail in Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twenthieth-Century American West by Hal K. Rothman.

Anonymous said...

Hooser was in Abercrombie's cabinet. He was also Senator and County Council past 15 years. Now he opposes the PLDC and Corn companies and they praise him. Typical Haole trick the locals.