Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Musings: Debunking Myths

Like papers getting sorted off my desk, clothes shifted out of my closet, some mental energy about Bill 2491 needs to be moved out of my head before the New Year begins. As a truth-seeker, I've been dismayed for months by the almost gleeful, and certainly Orwellian, glorification of misinformation – right down to the celebration of a law that ain't all it's cracked up to be.

So I'd like to end the year by debunking seven common myths about the bill and its movement. If the “red shirts” who have responded with bewilderment and fury to my criticisms read this with an open mind, perhaps they'll understand why I haven't been gung-ho, and why I have called out some activists. Their missteps have consequences for all of us who care about “home rule” and protecting people and Mama 'Aina.

#1 “It was the best bill we could get under the circumstances.”

No, it's the bill that evolved from circumstances created by its sponsor and supporters. Remember when Christi “A'ole GMO” DeMuth and other “red shirts” literally broke down in tears, begging the Council to “vote it up or down tonight, we can't go on, we're exhausted?”

So the Council obliged and passed a bill in the wee hours of the morning. It contained a number of amendments that had been hashed out behind closed doors with no chance for public review or comment.

One of those amendments has the power to derail the bill. I'm talking about language that JoAnn Yukimura introduced that prohibits growing ANY crop in the pesticide buffer zones, even organic crops. That's right. The law says no crop can be grown on ag land. Doubtless biotech attorneys will argue that restriction is both a “taking” and a violation of the state's “right to farm” act.

It's wording that would have been caught with a bit of reflection, just like another one of JoAnn's amendments, which changes the trigger for disclosure to buying 5 gallons or 15 pounds of any SINGLE restricted use pesticide. Previously, it had been 5 gallons or 15 pounds total. If the biotech companies buy small quantities of numerous pesticides, the law won't apply and we'll have no disclosure.

Furthermore, rather than choose a strong co-sponsor for the bill, Councilman Gary Hooser picked Tim Bynum, whom he described to me as “an easy keeper.” This strategy served Gary well, allowing him to dominate the spotlight. But the bill suffered badly because Gary lacked the political clout to prevent it from being seriously gutted in committee.

#2: “It's a start.”

With all the drama, angst, money, time, energy and political capital that was expanded on this issue, we should have gotten more than “a start.” But what many folks don't seem to understand is that this flawed bill has the potential to be a “finish.” If it's struck down in a court ruling that affirms the “right to farm” and/or the state's power to pre-empt certain actions by the county, we'll be left with nothing, nada, zip. Except a big razzberry from the chem companies as they operate with impunity.

#3 “It's about protecting people and the environment.”

If the bill was truly about protecting people and the environment, it wouldn't allow the companies to spray in the buffer zones so long as they erect signs. And it would have curtailed the use of pesticides, particularly in public areas where the county has clear authority. It would have addressed the toxic gas that is released into neighborhoods every time a tent is removed from a termite-treated building, the pesticides applied to golf courses that drain onto reefs. But it didn't, because it wasn't about pesticides or protection.

#4 “The bill's not about GMOs or driving the chemical companies off the island.”

Bill 2491 was all about GMOs and trying to drive the biotech companies off the island. That's why the original bill included a moratorium on new GMO crops. That's why GMO Free Kauai, Center For Food Safety and Earthjustice were so heavily involved. That's why the bill targeted the biotech companies, rather than the county or the pest control companies, both of which use far larger quantities of restricted use chemicals than ag. That's why we got in a pissing match with multinational chem companies instead of passing a bill that actually reduces pesticide use on the island.

#5 “This was a spontaneous, leaderless, grassroots movement of local kids.”

Yes, Kauai youth — and old hippies, too — did march and testify in a sincere expression of social media-fueled community concern. But the movement was orchestrated by mainland groups that funneled in money, expertise, activists and infiltrators, playing Kauai as a pawn in a bigger battle. That's why Gary told me it didn't matter if the bill was never enforced — all that mattered was getting it passed.

#6 “This movement hasn't divided the island.”

This is pure denial, an assertion made by those who are either too insular or too ignorant to assess the social and political pulse of this island. Or maybe they just don't want to admit that this issue was made far more contentious than it needed to be because of the way Gary introduced it. In any case, this issue has deeply divided Kauai.

#7 “We got them to stop poisoning paradise.”

This myth is grounded in the “stop poisoning paradise” website hosted by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). In fact, the bill does absolutely nothing to lessen, much less stop, pesticide use on this island. All it does is require the companies to tell us how they're poisoning us.

Assuming, of course, that they are. But given the biased, elaborate, expensive — and woefully underfunded — Environmental and Public Health Impact Study the Council has planned, we'll likely never know for sure.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

DOH Report on Atrazine

An awful lot was said about atrazine on Kauai during the furor and frenzy of the deliberations into Bill 2491 (Ordinance 960), some of it true, and much of it false. Now the state Department of Health has reviewed all the available environmental data on atrazine in Hawaii and found “no exceedances of health-based or ecological regulatory standards,” according to its report to the Legislature.

However, the agency acknowledged that a dearth of surface water testing makes it impossible to determine whether “ecological benchmarks for atrazine exposure are being exceeded in streams and near shore waters in Hawaii.” Air studies are also sparse. Yet as the report notes:

The three major off-site transport mechanisms for atrazine are surface runoff, leaching to groundwater, and aerial transport through volatilization and drift. [It] is both persistent and mobile in surface and groundwater.

The report clearly underscores the state's shortcomings in monitoring pesticides within the environment. But it also reveals numerous flaws in how the Kauai County Council has chosen to address the pesticide issue on this island. 

In making its assessment of "no exceedances," the HDOH evaluated calls to the Hawaii Poison Hotline, as well as existing environmental data. The agency reported that atrazine concentrations in drinking water have not exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 3 parts per billion since 1993, and “there is a downward trend in atrazine levels in drinking water throughout the state.”

Though the state has “extensive” data on drinking water, the HDOH acknowledged that much less is known about what's happening in surface water, such as streams and estuaries:

This data gap exists because there is no regulatory program requiring surface water monitoring for pesticides, and no existing programs or funding in place within the HDOH or the HDOA [Department of Agriculture] to establish ongoing monitoring.

The report was full of interesting factoids about atrazine, a restricted use pesticide, and how it's being applied in the Islands. Its use in Hawaii has declined from a high of approximately 400,000 pounds per year in 1964 to about 77,000 pounds in 2012, due to the decline of sugar and tighter federal restrictions on how it can be used.

About 76.5 million pounds of atrazine are used annually in the U.S., the study reports. “Currently, the heaviest atrazine uses per unit area occur in portions of Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Nebraska.”

Here's how it's used in the Islands:

Seed corn, sugarcane, sweet corn and macadamia nuts are the only crops currently using atrazine in Hawaii. The sugar industry was and is the largest user of atrazine in Hawaii. About 94% of the atrazine sold in Hawaii is used for weed control on sugarcane. A very small fraction, 44 pounds per year, is used in macadamia orchards, and 326 pounds in sweet corn production. Seed corn production accounts for 6% of the total atrazine used statewide, at an average of 4,771 pounds per year.

For the years 2010-2012, the average annual sales of atrazine on Kauai is 3,457 pounds active ingredient, representing approximately 4% of the total sales for the state during this time period, and 72% of the atrazine used on seed corn statewide.

The seed corn growers in Hawaii grow three crops per year, but they are not planted within the same field each year. For example, both BASF and Syngenta grow one crop per field and don’t plant again until the next year. This is because of concerns about cross contamination with different genetic varieties of corn and crop rotation to control insect pests and maintain the soil fertility. Regardless of the number of seed corn crops grown on a particular field on an annual basis, the total amount of atrazine allowed is 2.5 pounds of active ingredient per acre for a calendar year. According to the label, the total amount of atrazine applied may not exceed 2.0 pounds of active ingredient in a single application or 2.5 pounds (pre- and post-emergence combined) of active ingredient per acre per calendar year.

The report also discusses some of the environmental problems associated with its use:

Atrazine that remains in the soil can dissolve into infiltrating rainwater and be carried down over time to groundwater aquifers. Within coastal zones, atrazine can leach into shallow groundwater and seep into bays, streams and near shore water. Like surface runoff, heavy rain events on bare soils treated with atrazine are likely to result in increased losses to groundwater. In groundwater, both atrazine and its major breakdown products have long half lives because they are resistant to degradation.

Airborne atrazine represents the most likely exposure pathway for people living near agricultural fields where it is used. However, compared to surface runoff and leaching to groundwater, volatilization of atrazine has been studied the least. With normal agricultural practices, atrazine can be dispersed in the air due to volatilization of the applied solution from soil after application or carried away from the target area in the air as tiny droplets or “aerosol”. Atrazine has been detected as far as 180 miles away from the closest application area and is commonly found in rainwater in the seasons following agricultural applications (ATSDR, 2003).

There is no inhalation health-based screening level for atrazine. Notably, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), the only state that monitors air as part of its continuous reevaluation of pesticides, does not monitor for atrazine in ambient air. California DPR monitors for 33 pesticides and 5 breakdown products based on potential health risk. Atrazine did not meet the criteria used to select high risk pesticides, which include higher use, higher volatility and higher toxicity.

Recently, however, the EPA has begun to look more closely at risks to bystanders from volatilization of pesticides. EPA has begun to explore the development of an approach for assessing inhalation exposure resulting from the field volatilization of conventional pesticides based on recommendations provided by the FIFRA Science Advisory Panel.

As far as statewide pesticide complaints, there were a total of 293 between 2010 and 2013. Oahu had 127, Big Island 73, Maui 51 and Kauai 42. “According to HDOA, less than half of the complaints are due to agricultural activities. For complaints involving potential atrazine exposure, atrazine was not detected in any environmental samples collected during this time period.”

There were a total of 1,310 fugitive dust complaints made to HDOH from 2010-2013, but just 5 percent involved agriculture. Of the 70 agricultural dust complaints, 35 were from Kauai and 23 from Maui County. Both Hawaii Commercial & Sugar and Monsanto were cited for dust activities on Maui and Molokai, respectively.

The study also included a summary of calls to the Hawaii Poison Center:

Of the 4,800 human pesticide exposure calls, approximately 90% of the exposures occurred in a residence, 4.4% in the workplace and 1% in a school. The remaining 4% consisted of miscellaneous locations (i.e., other/unknown, public areas, health care facilities, and food service.) 

At least 90 percent of the exposures caused no or minimal health effects. There were three deaths. None of the pesticide complaints were linked to atrazine exposures.

Currently, there are no requirements by state or federal agencies to conduct pesticide sampling in wastewater discharges or surface runoff. However, the U.S. Geological Survey has done some limited testing:

In 2012, the HDOH Clean Water Branch (CWB) conducted sampling at 28 stations on Kauai and 3 stations on Maui under the EPA Monitoring Initiative. These samples were analyzed for wastewater constituents, including about 10 common pesticides, and overall, showed low concentration detections of a few contaminants. This sampling found that 8 stations, including six locations in the Nawiliwili drainage, had trace levels of atrazine ranging from 0.01 ppb to 0.04 ppb, far below EPA’s proposed aquatic level of concern of 10 ppb.

On Kauai...two water systems had historic detections of atrazine in drinking water. A well in the Lihue-Kapaa water system registered a high detection of 0.28 ppb in their drinking water supply in 1986, dropping to 0.19 by 2004. The drinking water supply at the Gay & Robinson plantation in Kekaha was sampled from 1993 to 2011, with a single detection (0.081 ppb) in 2008, the last year of the sugar operation there. A sample from Waimea Valley School collected by the community and analyzed through the USDA School Water Testing Program had a detection of 0.006 ppb, well below the 0.050 detection limit used for regulatory drinking water samples. The only detection in irrigation water on Kauai was from a single irrigation well sample collected at Barking Sands in the late 1980s which measured a detection of 3.5 ppb. The status of the well is unknown and no follow up data are available. Surface water samples collected by DOH in 2012 showed trace detections of atrazine in samples from the Nawiliwili drainage.

As a result:

The HDOH recommends additional stream and near shore water sampling for atrazine and other commonly used pesticides to determine whether benchmarks are being exceeded. The HDOH secured limited funding and support through a partnership with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and HDOA and intends to conduct near shore and stream sampling for a broad spectrum of currently used pesticides in the next several months. The results of the stream sampling will be made available to the legislature and public upon completion of the study.

Air sampling by UH on Kauai did not find detectable levels of atrazine. Given that atrazine was not detected in UH’s passive sampling, the low levels found in air monitoring in other areas nationwide, and that California has not chosen it as a high risk pesticide for air monitoring, HDOH believes further air monitoring for atrazine is not warranted.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Musings: Valuable Things

Awoke to rain and the joyous recognition that it was the first of three days with no scheduling, no musts or shoulds, a time of rest and rejuvenation, like the corn fields of the Midwest sleeping between fall harvest and spring planting.
Looking at this picture, sent by a friend from the frigid farmlands, where a minus-12-with-windchill temp was expected, it struck me that the sparkle of ice on fence posts and stubble is not so different than the sparkle of raindrops on ironwood needles and lawn — when viewed without benefit of direct experience.

What do we really know? How much of who we think we are, what we doggedly believe about the world, is simply what we've been told? By whom, and for what reasons? Does it serve us? And if it doesn't, can we let it go?

Since it's the time of year when spirituality and consumerism collide, I wanted to share this passage from the book "Peace Pilgrim," the story of a woman who walked thousands of miles across America offering the gift of peace:

After a wonderful sojourn in the wilderness, I remember walking along the streets of a city which had been my home awhile. It was 1 p.m. Hundreds of neatly dressed human beings with pale or painted faces hurried in rather orderly lines to and from their places of employment. I, in my faded shirt and well-worn slacks, walked among them. The rubber soles of my soft canvas shoes moved noiselessly along beside the clatter of trim, tight shoes with stilt like heels. In the poorer section I was tolerated. In the wealthier section some glances seemed a bit started and some were disdainful.

On both sides of us as we walked were displayed the things we can buy if we are willing to stay in the orderly lines day and day, year after year. Some of the things are more or less useful, many are utter trash. Some have a claim to beauty, many are garishly ugly. Thousands of things are displayed — and yet, my friends, the most valuable are missing. Freedom is not displayed, nor health, nor happiness, nor peace of mind. To obtain these things, my friends, you too may need to escape from the orderly lines and risk being looked upon disdainfully.

May the holidays bring you the most valuable things that money can't buy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Musings: Ethical Messages

The Solstice night, made darker by rain, was good for sleeping, for burrowing deep into dreams, the vastness of the collective unconscious. And when the dawn arrived, late, it marked a time to wake up, start a new cycle of awareness.

Which makes it the ideal moment to begin a series of posts that hone in on some of the blatant BS that's surrounded the whole Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 movement. 

Let's launch with some of its most visible, self-promoting proponents: Babes Against Biotech. These wahine used that tired old standard, T&A, to draw attention to the anti-GMO cause, while also conveniently drawing attention to themselves.

But as Salon.com reports, two new studies from Queensland University show that “using sexualized images of women reduces support for ethical campaigns.” And why? Elementary, my dear Watson:

Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising, and this was explained by their dehumanization of the sexualized women, and not by increased arousal.

Research has shown that sexualized women are dehumanized, specifically being seen as more animal-like than non-sexualized women. This subtle form of dehumanization, called infrahumanization involves seeing another as lacking uniquely human characteristics such as rationality, refinement, and culture. Dehumanization can have damaging consequences for its targets. For example, men who dehumanize women by associating them with animals or objects are more likely to sexually harass women and have a higher rape propensity.

Sexualized advertising could therefore backfire for ethical causes by eliciting responses that are antithetical to such causes.

And that seems to be what happened here in Hawaii.

Though Salon and the studies used PETA [People for Ethical Treatment of Animals] as an example, Sophie Cocke at Civil Beat localized it by focusing on the Babes, using Nomi Carmona's topless calendar photo to illustrate the story. Anyone who has followed 2491 is familiar with Nomi, an Oahu resident who frequently jetted over here to shake her stuff in front of the County Council. I really began to lose respect for Councilman Gary Hooser when I saw his "hubba hubba" reaction the first time she testified.

While Gary apparently fell for her schtick, others who supported the movement expressed dismay. Indeed, a number of people told me they thought the Babes were actually working for biotech because their behavior and tactics were so over the top. An Oahu woman who attended the Legislative hearings on GMO labeling bills said she couldn't understand why all these scantily clad “girly-girls” were flaunting themselves and making outrageous, inaccurate statements. Her impression: I wanted to tell them to leave because it seemed like they were intentionally trying to discredit the movement.

I don't know if that's what they intended, but as the Australia studies confirm, sexual exploitation is a crappy strategy for building support among ethical, thinking people.

Curiously, Ohana o Kauai aligned itself closely with the Babes, as you can see from this KITV clip of Ohana leader Fern Rosenstiel and Nomi, who launches the interview with this typically inane comment: 

“But Fern is a scientist, she should tell you more about why it's horrible to spray poisons on children and community members.”

Which leads us back to the Australia studies:

In sum, our findings indicate that organizations promoting ethical causes should be especially concerned with communicating their message ethically, specifically in ways that do not dehumanize women. They also show that dehumanizing women not only has negative consequences for women but also for the ethical causes that traffic in them.

Hmmmm. Communicating ethically. Seems that would exclude flat-out lies and wild exaggerations.

Or as the Salon article notes:

This new research supports the nagging feeling many of us have held for years – that rather than filling people with warm helpful feelings, the true byproduct of using women’s bodies as window dressing appears to be boners. Advertising consultant Jane Caro tells the Canberra Times, ”Sex only sells if you are trying to sell sex.” You want to sell ethics? Try using ethical behavior.

Unfortunately, though the movement continually criticized the biotech/chemical companies for unethical behavior, its leaders/spokespersons too often failed to take the high road and instead engaged in the unethical antics and messaging themselves.

I don't know about you, but it was a huge turnoff for me.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Musings: Holiday Dreams

It's the time of year when people are inclined to believe in miracles, magic, wishes and dreams come true, so of course it's not surprising that the County Council has given Coco Palms the green light.

Developer Chad Waters brushed away concerns that he's a “flipper” – that was in a past life, when he worked with little stuff, like California spec houses, before graduating, Monopoly-style, to hotels — and both he and his partner, Tyler Green, re-reiterated their intentions to do all the right things.

Ah, yes. Good intentions. That perennially popular paving stone on the road to hell.

Though they declined to put those intentions in writing, no doubt we can trust them. After all, the people who are getting money from them swear they're the absolute greatest guys in the whole wide world.

As a friend observed, let's just hope we don't have a hurricane or tsunami in the next two years while the Iniki ordinance is in effect. Otherwise, we'll be in for a real planning disaster, with all sorts of non-conforming and inadequately setback structures allowed to rebuild in place.

Many folks, including myself, are wondering why the county hasn't made Prudential Insurance, which owns Coco Palms, tear the wreck down. So I asked county communications director Beth Tokioka, who said the mayor had “looked into that issue exhaustively shortly after he first took office and according to our staff, there was no way to accomplish that given current laws.” Here are the reasons given by the Building Division and Fire Chief:

After reviewing the condition of the property, the county was unable to find evidence that the buildings are structurally unsafe.  In the past even when it was apparent that a building was structurally unsafe (e.g. Po‘ipÅ« Beach Hotel after Hurricane Iniki), the County Attorney determined that fencing of the project site was sufficient and we could not require demolition.

So it looks we're gonna be stuck with that eyesore until hell freezes over and gives Kauai a white Christmas.

County Auditor Ernie Pasion has hung out his stocking – in the form of a legal complaint against the County and Council Chair Jay Furfaro — hoping for some candy to go with the lumps of coal already delivered by the County Council.

By which I mean a letter of reprimand in his file, a one-week suspension, a 120-day probation period followed by an evaluation, and an ongoing quarterly assessment by an “audit review committee.”

Now Pasion wants the county to kick down some cash for his $600-per-hour legal fees and medical costs (doesn't he have insurance?). Because it's stressful, ya know, to fight off legitimate efforts to can your ass and difficult to find the money to pay such expenses yourself, even when you're earning $114,848 a year.

Pasion's attorney claims the Council cruelly “held the threat of termination over Pasion's head, disrupting Pasion's ability to fully perform his job as Auditor and causing Pasion ongoing and severe emotional stress.”

If you're generous, that may explain his lack of performance since September. But what about the year-plus prior? Because his office hasn't produced any audits in 18 months.

Ernie's complaint contends he was persecuted for an audit that showed irregularities in the mayor's use of a fuel card, resulting in the Council's illegal retaliation against him. His attorney further maintains the Council has no authority under the Charter to discipline the auditor. 

Even, apparently, if he's been a bad boy. Great. Another county employee with no accountability.

But others say Pasion was nearly fired because he failed to conduct an audit into alleged improper fuel use by former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and her deputy, Jake Delaplane. And according to a hostile workplace complaint filed by former staff internal auditor Ron Rawls, Ernie and Shay doctored the fuel audit investigative report given to the Council to make the mayor, their political enemy, look bad.

Rawls says he was harassed when he spoke up, and subjected to illegal retaliation. He was ultimately banished by Pasion to a small, windowless office with no work assignments for five months. Rawls resigned effective Jan. 7, 2013, and the auditor's office has essentially been at a money-sucking standstill ever since.

Gee, somebody needs to develop a cheat sheet so we can keep all the retaliation allegations and harassment lawsuits straight.

But thankfully for the plaintiffs, giving is the theme during the holidays, and like Santa, the county has an endless sack full of goodies, right? And since it's cheaper to settle than fight, no doubt all those who have penned a wish list will find some bling under the tree, if not this year, then next — regardless of whether they've been naughty or nice.

Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Musings: Sketchy Studies

Though concerns about human and environmental health were supposedly the main drivers behind Bill 2491, it will be another three years before any scientific studies on those issues are completed.

And it's questionable, given the process outlined in a resolution before the County Council today, whether the scientific work to be undertaken will have any credibility. It's also unclear how much it will cost, or who will pay.

But that's not stopping Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura, Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum from forging ahead.

The resolution — initially introduced by JoAnn and former Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura and heavily amended last week in the Committee of the Whole — calls for hiring a “neutral facilitator" to convene and facilitate a Pesticide and Genetic Engineering Joint Fact-finding Group (JFFG) comprised of knowledgeable scientific, medical and environmental experts and community stakeholders to design and oversee a focused, accountable and credible Environmental Health Impact Study (EPHIS).

Here's where things get squirrely. Those 12-15 participants are supposed to come from Kauai AND be respected, representative of the community, balanced in terms of perspectives and willing to serve on the panel. Good luck on that.  What's more, they must be vetted by Bynum and Council Chair Jay Furfaro, both of whom voted for 2491, and the mayor, who vetoed it.

So right off the bat, we're talking about a highly-politicized process to even form the group, with Gary adamantly opposed to anyone from the farm bureau or chemical/seed companies serving. Apparently he doesn't believe conventional farmers or biotech workers are a part of this community, or legitimate stakeholders with information about their practices and industry that could add to the process.

Once the group is cobbled together, it has a year to define the scope of the EPHIS, following this process (emphasis added because that language jumped out at me):

Undertake sustained and science-centered deliberations to identify the highest priority environmental and public health questions pertinent to the pesticides used and genetically modified crops grown by the Kauai Coffee and the four biotech companies “in comparison to the production of other agricultural products.” 

So little Kauai, all by its lonesome, is supposed to determine whether GMO crops are as safe as any other agricultural product?

The group is also directed to come up with recommendations “as to the highest priority questions to be asked,” as well as “preferred methodologies for replicable studies, monitoring and epidemiological studies; including the thresholds of safety or danger related to the pesticides.”

Why in the world is Kauai County even considering studies to determine the safety of pesticides already approved by the federal government – studies that could take decades and millions of dollars to conduct? And how likely are we to get any money from the state or feds to do this?

The group is tasked as well with assembling an inventory of reliable existing studies – "preferably but not exclusively peer-reviewed," which opens the door to all kinds of crap — on the high priority questions, and estimate the cost and timelines of such studies, as well as identify possible funding sources.

Here's another questionable bit: The group can consult with “experts” who will not be disqualified from conducting the studies they suggest, which seems rather self-serving.

Once the recommendations are in, the resolution calls for the county to carry out the EPHIS, with the JFFG, providing oversight.

Now comes the alarming part. The county will seek funding not only from government, but private funders “as deemed appropriate, and from a variety of sources and diverse stakeholders willing to support a community process built on community consensus.”

So in other words, “red shirt” Realtors Neal Norman and Mimsy Bouret, or billionaire developer Pierre Omidiyar, could pay for studies that we're all supposed to believe are legitimate, unbiased and credible.

And who will determine “as deemed appropriate?” Councilmembers who have received substantial contributions from high-end realtors and developers?

The EPHIS report is anticipated to take 18 months, according to the resolution, though it's hard to see how they arrived at that figure since the JFFG is supposed to come up with a timetable. So it could actually be even longer than three years to get any info — despite Gary's insistence that the bill had to be passed immediately because of the terrible urgency in regard to people's health concerns.

It's unfortunate The Garden Island has failed to cover this issue, but even the “red shirts” seem to have lost interest, with blogger Andy Parx prodding folks on Facebook that they still need to pay attention to the process. Yawn. Marches and campouts at the county building are so much more fun.

But “red shirt” leader Andrea Brower was at the last committee meeting, where she was seen apparently feeding questions to Gary via an electronic device. Gee, didn't Gary get in a super snit about county communications director Beth Tokioka texting Nadine and JoAnn during a Council session?

Apparently what's not good for the goose is just fine for the gander.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Ruggles, the staff person from Pesticide Action Network who claimed she saw Beth improperly texting, has moved on, as paid political instigators do, with a nice send-off party by the “red shirt” leaders and Gary.

The county has just $110,000 allocated for this EPHIS process, which is expected to cost well over $1 million, or likely more, given the hefty price tag associated with some of these studies. Who do you think is really motivated to kick in the rest?

Or will it just die because there's no money, and the whole purpose of this exercise was not to actually improve or even accurately assess human or environmental health around the biotech fields, but make a political point that helps Gary and the national anti-GMO groups?

To borrow a phrase from Kauai Rising — correction, Ohana O Kauai — folks on this island need to “wake up” and start paying attention to who and what are really behind 2491. Because from the language of the bill itself and this EPHIS resolution, it seems to have very little to do with reducing harm and improving health.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Musings: Oahu is Watching

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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Musings: Life Teachings

Funerals, they say, are for the living, and so it was today, at Peter Nakamura's memorial service, when his niece, Casey Nakamura, (Nadine's daughter) delivered a eulogy that really made me think.

Casey, a poised and intelligent 17-year-old, spoke of how Peter encouraged her to read, and had long discussions with her on the wide range of subjects that someone who truly was a renaissance man could converse.

But of all the many things she learned from Peter, she said, three really stood out:

How you say something can be just as important as what you say.

You have to understand all sides of an issue before you form an opinion.

A story may very well be the most effective form of communication we have.

Those life teachings have stayed with me, as well as a quote from Abraham Lincoln that Mike Belles, in his eulogy, said was one of Peter's favorites:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

In the often jagged, caustic world of politics where many of us are immersed, or occasionally dip, and at a time when the bonds of our small community have been severely strained, those are good words to live by and remember.

Mahalo, Peter, for striving for goodness, and devoting so much of your life energy to public service.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Musings: Gambling on Coco Palms

As Councilman Tim Bynum sees it, the question is, “Are we going to give Coco Palms another chance or not?”

But it seems the more pertinent questions are, does it make sense in 2014 to re-build a 350-room, four-story hotel in the flood zone at the most congested intersection on Kauai — and have the public subsidize it, to boot? By which I mean allowing the developer to possibly skate on requirements to pungle up employee housing, road improvements, impact fees and other exactions that would be assessed of someone building a new resort.

And why does the Council believe this developer can be trusted when all the other shuckers and jivers who had lofty plans for the site never did nuttin', despite being given chance after chance after chance for the past 20 years?

I mean, aside from Bob Jasper's vote of confidence, which meant an awful lot to Bynum, and Councilman Ross Kagawa's “special feeling” that the newest starry-eyed developers — Chad Waters and Tyler Green of Coco Palms Hui LLC — “are the guys to make it happen.”

The developers and their lawyer — former county attorney Mike Belles — were before the County Council's planning committee yesterday supporting an amendment to keep the “Iniki ordinance” in effect for another two years. That way they can rebuild the iconic resort without having to comply with laws adopted since it was trashed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

It's unclear just what requirements the developers will be allowed to skirt. Belles said the main deviations would pertain to setback and height, and some construction standards, such as hurricane clips. In order to comply with federal flood laws, the ground floors of the buildings along Kuhio Highway would be used as parking structures, rather than hotel rooms, and some of the mauka buildings, including the chapel and “Elvis Presley's cottage,” would likely need to be elevated or moved.

Planning Director Mike Dahilig said the county won't know exactly what requirements the developer will have to meet until plans are submitted. But he said the project will have to secure a special management area permit, which requires a public hearing.

After the last developer failed to perform, despite repeated extensions, the state allocated funds to pursue acquisition of the land for public purposes. But when Mayor Bernard Carvalho moved to end the Iniki ordinance, Waters and Green suddenly stepped forward with a grand plan to bring the resort back to its former glory. Coco Palms can only be rebuilt if the ordinance is allowed to stand, Belles said. If they have to go through the regular approval process, it would result in a different type of project.

In response to questioning from Councilman Mason Chock, who had a private meeting with the developers, as did Councilman JoAnn Yukimura, Waters claimed “we have absolutely zero intention to sell the property.” But Waters added the caveat that “life has interesting twists and turns and you never know exactly what the future will hold.”

Green said he views rebuilding the hotel as “my chance on a personal level to feel connected, to feel like I belong.”

Belles, by way of offering further assurance that the developers aren't fly-by-night, said they have two other properties, the Kauai Kalani and the Mokihana, and Waters' mother lives here, too. 

Waters said they've spent $500,000 to date on the project, supposedly with no guarantee they'd be allowed to proceed. "That's our commitment."

Though Belles said he can't guarantee the resort will be restored, even if the ordinance is allowed to stand for another two years, “we will make our best-faith efforts to rebuild.”

However, as soon as the developers apply for permits, they're vested into the exemptions of the Iniki ordinance, Dahilig said, even if they fail to begin construction before the ordinance is repealed.

And with permits in hand, the project could be flipped. Because as Waters said, you never know what the future might hold. You know, like the need for some fast cash.

The developers said the resort will employ about 400 people. It's expected to cost between $2 million and $3.5 million to demolish the moldering eyesore that the county has allowed to blight Wailua for the past two decades, with new construction taking about two years.

In response to questioning from Councilman Gary Hooser, who isn't a member of the committee, Waters said they have no intention of building timeshares. Hooser said he plans to introduce an amendment prohibiting timeshares, as they require fewer workers than a resort.

Jasper, who made it clear he is the only one authorized by owner Prudential Insurance to give tours of Coco Palms, said that hundreds of people have signed online petitions to rebuild the resort, “including some notable Hollywood names. People all over the world want to see this.”

However, none of them would have to regularly navigate the traffic generated by hundreds of hotel guests and workers on Kapaa's already clogged roads.

In the end, the committee agreed to let the ordinance stand for another two years. It will go to the full Council for a vote next week, where it appears likely to pass.

Small risks lead to success,” Chock said.

We could really use these good jobs for our kids,” Kagawa said.

Yukimura, while noting the project would preclude the community from moving forward with its vision for the site, said, “it may be we can merge the visions.” Belles said there's about four acres mauka that could possibly be used community and/or cultural purposes.

My gut's telling me these individuals are sincere and committed,” Bynum said. “My intellect tells me that may change.”

My intellect tells me it's absolutely insane to add a 350-room hotel to that congested corridor. And my gut's telling me there's a sucker born every minute, with four of 'em sitting on the planning committee. 

But maybe, just maybe, they'll finally tear that wreck down. Though I wouldn't bet on it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Musings: 'Nuff Po, Huff Po

Has anyone else noticed that the primary purpose of Huffington Post Hawaii seems to be encouraging people to move to the Islands?

I'm not talking about articles promoting travel to Hawaii — though Huff Po-HI has plenty of those — but pieces like “How to Escape from New York and Move to Hawaii” and “Here's How You Know It's About Time You Considered Moving to Hawaii.”

The latter is representative of the painfully banal approach that Huff Po-HI typically takes to relocating to Hawaii: your life sucks, the weather sucks, you're bored and then voila, “you Google image search pictures of Hawaii” — because of course you're not interested in substance, only superficiality — and whattaya know, you find all these gorgeous photos of the Islands on the Huff Po-HI website.

Why is the Huffington Post trying to dumb down and pimp Hawaii, turn it into a parody, reinforce all the worst stereotypes, misperceptions? 

Like this blog post on “6 Reasons Hawaii Will Ruin Your Life,” which uses goofy photos to illustrate such statements as: “who needs a career path” and “work ethic? forget about it” and “Soon, you'll find that you have less in common with your friends and more in common with those drifters sitting on the sidewalk.”


And this “escape to paradise” post that proclaims:

I've brought that Aloha Spirit into my own life by using the pineapple as a welcoming symbol throughout my home. My dogs are named Maui and Tiki in honor of our love of Hawaii. I've also written a series about a young woman vacationing in Hawaii for the summer who meets the local heartthrob surfer. Along with discovering paradise, they find love set among the beauty of these tropical islands.
Sadly, this kind of distorted imagery is not a rare occurrence. In the three months since Huffington Post piggybacked on Civil Beat to launch a Hawaii edition, it's published precious little of substance and more than 30 pieces extolling the virtues of the Islands. They've included such puffery as adventure travel on Maui, surf cars, “glamping” (upscale camping) in the Islands, “lucky we live Hawaii,” and even a photo series on vog entitled “who knew air pollution could look this good?”

Typically, they're photo-rich, content-limited and substance-challenged.

And if they don't have articles of their own, they'll run something from Forbes, or the New York Times. Main thing, just keep the message out there: come to Hawaii, and stay.

Though some are authored blog posts, many more run without any byline, raising the question: who is writing this palaver, and why? How come there's this drive to lure more people to Hawaii to live, when we don't exactly have an abundance of jobs or housing?

Like the post “Honey, Let's Move to Hawaii." Or The Coolest Jobs In Hawaii Might Make You Reconsider Your Career Choice” — yes, you, too, could be a beloved helicopter pilot, a property manager for a lavish estate or even a farmer, so long as you don't grow GMOs. 

Which leads us to the anti-GMO issue, the only topic, besides relocating, that Huff Po-HI has covered with a vengeance.

Do you suppose there's any connection between that emphasis, and the two-part, real estate agent-penned post on Making the Dream of Living in Hawaii a Reality”? Or Civil Beat owner Pierre Omidiyar's plans to develop a super upscale resort and homes on Hanalei Ridge? (Which is the subject of a Star-Advertiser poll today.)

And keep in mind that this is the photo they used to illustrate a "farm" in those "cool career choices:"

The last time Hawaii was the focus of a major push to encourage new residents was more than a century ago, when the plantation owners went shopping for cheap field labor.

So what do the fabulously wealthy Arianna Huffington and Pierre Omidiyar have in mind with their current campaign? What might they be seeking to gain from encouraging folks to pack up and move to Hawaii, where the newbies typically hunker down together and rarely assimilate? Is this an attempt to further dilute local culture, to create a block of voters who primarily value Hawaii for its climate and recreation, who have no ties to this place aside from the deed to their house? 

Or is it simply the 21st Century expression of the same desire that drove the planters: accumulating money and power through the land?

As a friend observed: Whatever happened to that bumper sticker, nofogetfogohome?