The moon, on its way to full tonight, had just set, taking its brightness behind the mountain and leaving Jupiter to shine golden in the blackness of a winter morning, when the dogs and I went out walking. The ground was still spongy from yesterday's storm, which arrived with rumbling, crackling, drenching fury. Thunder and lightning used to be a rarity, but we've already had two whopping storms and the month is only half-over. Climate change, anyone?
The Star-Advertiser published a passel of stories yesterday about the changes taking place on Kauai, and how we've come “bouncing back” from Hurricane Iniki and the global recession. The paper has done similar packages profiling the changes on Maui and Hawaii Island.
It was an interesting collection of stories that addressed the conflict over Bill 2491, the seed industry, Coco Palms and the vacation rental debacle. Reporter Timothy Hurley did a much better job of covering these issues than our local newspaper, which seems to have a morbid fear of depth and controversy.
Though many of us tend to think of Kauai as the center of the universe, seeing the stats helped put things in perspective. Yes, we're up to 68,434 residents, but that's just 5 percent of the state's population, which may explain why we don't have much political clout. We also have only 14 percent of the state's agricultural land.
With a median house price of $561,600, it's no surprise that just 13,968 of the homes here are owner-occupied, while 9,271 are in rentals. Another 6,553 are listed as “vacant” — are those the TVRs?
Interestingly, most of the immediate future growth is planned for Lihue, where Grove Farm is planning a 1,500-unit affordable project, and Poipu, where another 1,500 units are planned for Kukuiula. Except lots there range from $1 million to $4 million, and come with perks:
Members-only amenities include an 18-hole Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course and a clubhouse complex with a restaurant, pools and a spa, plus a 6-acre farm and a lake stocked with peacock bass.
Amazing what you can do when you're A&B and control a lot of water.
Or in other words, the division between the super rich and the middle-class/poor will continue unabated.
The richest people live in Koloa and Hanalei — no surprises there — and their wealth skews the island's median household income. The truer story lies in the per capita income, which is just $26,591. Some 10 percent are below poverty level and a third of the households are considered “economically needy.” I know that about 20 percent of the island's residents depend on the Hawaii Foodbank – Kauai Branch for food assistance, which is a lot. But it's understandable when you consider this:
More than 3,500 jobs were lost between early 2008 and early 2010. Since then, less than half of those positions have reappeared.
About 90 percent of the civilian jobs here are in the service industry, and 28 percent are in the visitor industry, with its typically sucky pay. About 500 to 600 people work in the seed industry.
Despite all the recent talk about GMOs and pesticides sickening people and driving off visitors, 81 percent of us are in good health and the tourists are still coming in droves. In fact, on any given day about 25 percent of the people on Kauai are tourists:
More than 1.08 million visitors arrived on Kauai in 2012, up 7.2 percent from 2011. So far this year, visitor numbers are up 4 percent over last year, with tourists arriving on more direct flights from the mainland than ever.
In the story covering the conflict that erupted over Bill 2491, I was disappointed to see Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced the bill, making this statement:
Hooser fingered the biotech companies as largely responsible for dividing the community by painting the bill as a threat to on-island jobs.
And in his blog this weekend, where he was exhorting people to show up for yesterday's anti-GMO march in Haleiwa, Gary claimed:
On Kauai we have learned to speak truth to power, with aloha – and we won.
With aloha? Who is he kidding?
I keep wondering when Gary is going to accept some responsibility for what he unleashed. He set the tone with his “million little fists” bit and he's been fanning that fire ever since.
Why not just own it, instead of trying to distort reality? It also remains to be seen whether “we won” or not.
Despite the allure of professional surfers and the promise of free food and music, the Haleiwa march drew a small crowd — organizers estimate 1,000, which means the actual number was likely closer to 500 — from an island with nearly a million residents.
Though we were breathlessly told, in the heat of the 2491 battle, that “the whole world is watching,” truth is, it wasn't. Heck, we barely caught the attention of folks on Oahu, and if the Haleiwa march is any indication, they aren't especially interested in the issue.
But the seed/chemical companies are watching, and conducting their telephone surveys to assess public opinion about them and the anti-GMO activists.
The state Legislature is also watching. Soon, its members will be asked to choose between anti-GMO legislation and bills that strengthen the "right to farm" and pre-empt local regulation. They'll be weighing the views of an island with just 5 percent of the state's population against their hundreds of thousands of constituents on Oahu.
Which is why, at the end of the day, I don't think we are going to emerge winners – at least, not according to Gary's definition. Instead, I think we'll find what has worried me from the start: folks either badly miscalculated the power of this movement, or it was intentionally set up to fail.