Monday, March 31, 2014

Musings: Deep Green

One nice thing about airplane travel – perhaps the only nice thing – is the opportunity it affords to catch up on one's reading, which is how I came to finally finish a months-old New Yorker piece, “The Intelligent Plant.”

In it, author Michael Pollen explores some of the exciting research under way in the new field of plant neurobiology:

Its proponents believe that we must stop regarding plants as passive objects — the mute, immobile furniture of our world — and begin to treat them as protagonists in their own dramas, highly skilled in the ways of contending in nature. They would challenge contemporary biology's reductive focus on cells and genes and return our attention to the organism and its behavior in the environment.

Already scientists have discovered that “trees in a forest organize themselves in far-flung networks, using the underground web of mycorrhizal fungi which connects their roots to exchange information and even goods.” They even engage in interspecies cooperation, with evergreen trees tiding over the deciduous ones when they have sugars to spare, then calling in the debt later in the season.

For the forest community, the value of this cooperative underground economy appears to be better overall-health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance.

Other researchers are finding that plants can act with intention, learn and remember, and that “roots can tell whether nearby roots are self or other, and, if other, kin or stranger.” They can alter the flavor or texture of their leaves to repel, and even kill, browsers. And some, when attacked by caterpillars, can emit chemical distress calls that parasitic wasps — “plant bodyguards” — follow to find and destroy the caterpillars.

Not surprisingly, the findings are meeting with resistance from scientists who do not want to convey to plants the traits of intelligence, feeling and self-awareness that they are only now, and grudgingly, conferring to animals. As Pollan writes:

Descartes, who believed that only humans possessed self-consciousness, was unable to credit the idea that other animals could suffer as pain. So he dismissed their screams and howls as mere reflexes, as meaningless physiological noise. Could it be remotely possible that we are now making the same mistake with plants?

I believe it's not only possible, it's highly likely, seeing as how we have been so wrong so often when we dismiss or downplay the attributes of other species — especially so can justify our careless and easy exploitation of them. And I wondered how human consciousness would be altered if it expanded its understanding to value the plants that actually make every aspect of our existence possible.

Some scientists, such as Stefano Mancuso, are already thinking about that:

[P]lants hold the key to a future that will be organized around systems and technologies that are networked, decentralized, modular, reiterated, redundant — and green, able to nourish themselves on light. “Plants are the great symbol of modernity.” Or should be: their brainlessness turns out to be their strength, and perhaps the most valuable inspiration we can take from them.

Mancuso and others believe that because plants are sensitive and intelligent beings, we are obliged to treat them with respect, protecting their habitat, and avoiding such practices as growing them in monocultures, training them in bonsai and genetic manipulation. That does not preclude eating them; Mancuso notes plants evolved to be eaten, given their modular structure and lack of irreplaceable organs.

Reading the piece reminded me of my original, and enduring, opposition to genetic engineering, which began as resistance to the practice of using plants to create drugs and industrial compounds. I saw it as essentially using them as slave laborers, just like we've done with bees, to their great detriment, and it felt morally wrong. 

I'm sure some will object to my anthropomorphic terms. But just as we're starting to see it's wrong to turn a killer whale into an amusement park attraction, or a monkey into a lab experiment, perhaps one day we'll realize it's equally wrong to treat plants like expendable commodities that exist only to be manipulated or destroyed, as suits our own narrow purposes.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Musings: Hoodwinked

It's a new moon in Aries, a great time for setting intentions for the year ahead, and as the Cosmic Path website advises:

The Universe is asking us to release everything we don’t need; Weed out relationships that hold us back or cut us down and surround ourselves with people who support our evolution.

So I went right in to Facebook and unfriended a few “nevah was friends,” starting with Andy Parx, who left a stinking pile of doo doo in comments yesterday.

I recall, after the passage of Bill 2491, a few Facebookers lauding toxic Andy and his “reporting” — a steady regurgitation of propaganda — as the “hero of the anti-GMO movement.” And I thought that — and the emergence of Biotech Babe Nomi Carmoma as spokeswoman — tells you pretty much all you need to know about the low vibration of that movement.

Speaking of vibration, here's a profile that Nomi —self-annointed “kahuna” from So Cal — posted about herself:

I am all about lifting the vibration of humanity that we might set rising that of the planet and restore the reflective, sensitive rainbow electromagnetic shield around Earth. I'm in security, bioelectric security to be specific, and most of our Earthly problems are the results of massive security breaches because our egos spiked our vibrations low and our shield reflects our planets vibration.

Ironically, I would actually view Nomi quite a bit more fondly if I thought for one minute that any of that was true. But she, like Dylan and Dad Hooser, are posers of the worst kind, because they are doing harm — whether intentionally, or unconsciously — while pretending to be good and do good. That's why I expose them, and it has nothing to do with grudges or personality clashes. I know it's hard for the hoodwinked to accept the truth, but please don't expect me to indulge your delusions.

I bring them up today only because they are gathering on Maui for a march — followed by free food and music — where they are trying to get signatures for a yet another poorly-crafted ordinance calling for a temporary moratorium on GMO activities, pending an EIS.

All the usuals will be there: Walter Ritte, Makana, Dustin Barca (who apparently never read our bill, because he erroneously believes it includes an EIS), Gary Hooser….

Except on Maui, they don't even try to pretend, as they did on Kauai, that high end realtors aren't a key force in this supposed land-protection movement. They've got ritzy Wailea Realtor Mark Sheehan right on the program, where he can promote his commission-driven credo:

My clients want to avoid drift from cane burning, pesticides and GMO farms!

OK. Thanks for making it so clear what this is really and truly all about. 

Looking at the faces on the program, I thought back to how Walter used to fight tourism, developers and fat cat realtors on Molokai. And now he's arm-in-arm. 

As the saying goes, politics — and shared economic interests — make for strange bedfellows. Which is why I prefer to sleep with my decidedly apolitical poi dogs, Koko and Paele.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Musings: Startling

Returned late yesterday to the Islands, startled by the soft air, the greenness and, as I moved with the masses through the Honolulu and Lihue airports, the perceptible hostility toward haoles — despite, or perhaps because of, the relentless marketing of aloha.

Then this morning, as I returned from a sunrise swim, following a truck with the bumper sticker “nocomekauai” that turned into the Kapaa High parking lot, the lyrics came to me: "Teach your children well…."

The first person I saw in the Honolulu airport was attorney Harold Bronstein, who told me he was in town to represent Mina Morita at today's Board of Land and Natural Resources hearing on the enforcement action — aka political hit — against her Hanalei Valley vacation rental.

It brought to mind a comment left on the blog post I'd written about the questionable timing of this targeted enforcement, and the role of Hanalei boatyard owner Mike Sheehan:

Lance making stink about the pedestrian easement through the Omidyar project last year made him and Mina 8.5 billion enemies.

As you may recall, I published several reports in June 2012 about Lance Laney — Mina's husband — being blocked from using a designated public access through billionaire Pierre Omidyar's proposed Hanalei Ridge development. The subsequent publicity resulted in a re-opening of the long closed access.

Update: Henry Curtis, who writes the Ililani Media blog, gives a report from the BLNR meeting and surprise, surprise, guess who showed up to testify against Mina: Terry Lilley, Sheehan's paid pal. Issue has been continued for 45 days.

Meanwhile, word has it that KCCC warden Neal Wagatsuma is finally being investigated — I initially incorrectly said suspended — following February's filing of two federal lawsuits alleging he subjected female inmates to psychological violence, sexual abuse and sexual humiliation in front of male prisoners, and that public safety officials engaged in retribution against a whistleblower who exposed it.

Let's hope this means the film “Irreversible” — described by the late critic Roger Ebert as “a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable” — will never again be screened in that (or any) jail.

Wagatsuma's accusers maintain his homespun approach to “therapy” included requiring mixed groups of male and female inmates to watch a movie that includes brutally appalling footage. As Ebert wrote in a 2003 review:

The camera looks on unflinchingly as a woman is raped and beaten for several long, unrelenting minutes, and as a man has his face pounded in with a fire extinguisher, in an attack that continues until after he is apparently dead. As I said twice and will repeat again, most people will not want to see the film at all. It is so violent, it shows such cruelty, that it is a test most people will not want to endure.

Unless, of course, it's required by a kinky kook in exchange for the granting of special privileges....

Sorting through my inbox, I found a news release about the creation of a Kauai Chapter of the Young Democrats of Hawaii for folks under age 36. Its leadership — and I use the term loosely — is influenced heavily by the anti-GMO (and, interestingly, pro-tourism) crowd, including communications director Aria Juliet Castillo, who in real life flacks for the Hyatt; treasurer Aaron Rosenstiel, who is married to Fern, leader of the Mana March; secretary Leeona Thompson, a guest service agent at the Kauai Sheraton and “sunny first mate” in boyfriend Dylan Hooser's sunrise shell biz; Makoto Lane, a KCC photojournalism student and anti-GMO Facebooker; and Dylan, who was elected chair.

The release quotes Dylan as saying:

"Exploring economically sustainable solutions [like sunrise shell jewelry, perhaps?] to the challenges facing our island is integral to the decision making process.”

It goes on to state that Dylan is running for the 15th state House District — against fellow Dem Jimmy Tokioka and rabid Republican Steven Yoder — though he has not yet pulled papers.

Dylan appears to have the same tendency to overreach politically as his dad, Gary, who crashed and burned in his ambitious bids for Congress, and Lieutenant Governor. But hey, why shouldn't a guy who has never held any public office and scavenges sunrise shells for a living have a shot at the state house? This is America, after all. Land of equal opportunity and political expertise via cell division.

Besides, Dylan's already shown us he's got the smarmy politician's slippery grasp of the truth, as evidenced by his anonymous crybaby comments on this blog, frequent letters to the editor and an anti-biotech commentary published on Civil Beat. In it, Dylan sounds like a chip off the old block, echoing Daddy's “shame” terminology along with the undocumented, and even discredited, claims about “unusually high levels of birth defects and certain cancers.”

Dylan goes on to write:

The chemical company executives hired the homeless and down-and-out to hold their places in line while myself and other supporters slept outside in the rain for the same privilege of getting our voices heard.

Uh, sorry, but a friend and I already exposed that supposed homeless place-sitter who saw the light and testified in favor of Bill 2491 as a fraud in an hoax perpetrated by the "red shirts."

Dylan then reveals that he has no sense of irony (or grasp of reality) with the statement:

These companies spent tens of thousands of dollars and threatened, cajoled and lied in their attempts to beat our community down but we won.

Mmm, we ain't won nothin' yet, except the chance to spend millions fighting the world's largest chemical companies in court.

But the real kicker was this:

Attorneys Margery Bronster and Paul Alston representing the largest chemical companies in the world, have decided to sue the people of my community to protect their right to spray poisons next to schools, hospitals and homes.

Really, Dylan? You think that's the crux of the issue?  Did you miss all the other stuff about federal pre-emption, an unconstitutional taking, discrimination? Are you truly that clueless, one of those guys who never read the bill or the complaint? Or are you just going for the politician's simplistic soundbite?

Tokioka is a total dud and good old boy lackey who should be replaced. Still, I can't see as how the poor folks in the 15th District will be getting a better deal with Dylan should he manage to pull off a major miracle and get himself elected.

The overall effect for Kauai, meanwhile, would be yet another powerless rookie getting munched by the big boys in the Lege, who would enjoy nothing more than ostracizing the offspring of a politician who has accumulated a long and powerful list of enemies.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Musings: From the Farm Belt

The past few days have found me in the Midwest — Springfield, Ill., to be specific, land of Lincoln. It's the place where my best friend lives in a 175-year-old brick farmhouse, once a stop on the underground railroad, surrounded by hundreds of acres that her family has farmed for generations.
With its flat, wide open spaces, its snow, morning frost and biting winds, it's about as different from Kauai as a place could be. But it's closely related, because many farmers here plant the seeds that were grown on the westside of our island. Yes, despite what you may have heard, the chem companies do indeed ship hundreds of pounds seeds from Kauai — seeds that are then sown in the deep, black loamy soil of midwest fields just now awakening from winter.

Ironically, it is that seed export, all done by air, that helps subsidize our airfreight costs, giving planes that arrive in Hawaii laden with the goods we import something to carry on the return flight to the mainland.

She picked me up at the St. Louis airport, and once we crossed the mighty Mississippi we were in what some have termed a giant garden — the fertile prairie soil fed by countless streams and rivers that grows much of the food consumed in this country.

Yet it is also, as my friend called it, “a commodities wasteland” — the land impacted by industrial agriculture that relies on intensive mechanization, chemical fertilizers and pesticides to meet the relentless consumer demand for cheap abundant food.

We've talked a lot about how to turn that juggernaut around now that farmers have invested in expensive equipment, become set in their ways of doing things, had some of their options narrowed by the consolidation of seed companies, constantly rising costs. It won't be easy, we agreed, and ultimately, it will be driven primarily by economics and its constant companion, politics.

Still, some changes are already under way.

We've seen fields planted in cover crops — an old-new approach that farmers are finding increases yield, while decreasing inputs. Conservation programs are strong here, with farmers given financial incentives to heal their land, re-plant the field-bordering windrows that prevent soil erosion and provide habitat for the deer, coyotes, racoons, opossums, eagles, owls, fish, migrating monarchs, birds and other animals that still travel through here. 

Farmers that have more capital are experimenting with grass-fed beef, pasture rotation, different techniques for tilling the soil, organic certification, though even that, in reality of practice, isn't a panacea, either.

Meanwhile, though, the farmers are getting older, and many of their children have abandoned rural life for more comfortable jobs in the cities — livelihoods that aren't dependent on the vagaries of rain, sun, wind, drought, disease, pest infestations; jobs that don't require them to gamble everything year after year after year.
And just like on Kauai, the “gentleman farmers” — folks who want acreage for lawns, but don't want to look at cows, horses, barns, crops — are encroaching into the farmlands, building ugly McMansions on hillsides and in former corn and soybean fields.
Many of these estates look out upon the remnants of a rural life that they are helping to imperil — with the cooperation of farm families that are selling off their land because the kids see more value in growing fancy houses than food.
For the first time, gates are being erected that have no purpose other than to distinguish the owners as people who have no intention of mingling with their neighbors, being part of the community.
As we drove and walked through this landscape, I had the overriding sense that we are at a crossroads, and nothing less than our food supply is at stake.

We saw evidence of the ingenuity, frugality, tenaciousness and sheer pluckiness that characterized the people who settled these vast prairies, digging wells by hand, hewing trees with axes, making bricks for homes that still stand, raising every speck of their own food, supplying all their own needs.
But how many among us today possess even the most basic survival skills? My friend has seen the vast gardens of her parent's youth, the baking, the handicrafts, the home-cooking, largely disappear. Everything can be lost in just one generation.

My friend, who returned to her family lands a decade ago after being away for two decades, including a stint on Kauai, where we met, has faith in the ability of wildlife to adapt, the land's ability to recover — given a chance, a bit of a boost from the humans who exploit it.

Will that happen? Or will we just keep pushing, until it collapses under our weight, our greed, our short-sighted quest for quick profits over longterm sustainability, our demand for the cheapest possible food and at the core of it, our quest for more, always and ever more, more, more?

Looking at these vast farmlands, talking with my friend, I understood the incredible complexity of the agricultural issue. Try as we might on Kauai to simplify it down to pro- or anti-GMO, there are no easy answers. And despite the self-righteousness that has accompanied the debate, there are none among us who are not complicit, at some level, in what's going down.

As with everything on this planet, we're all in this together.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Musings: Lessons Unlearned

A half-replica of the Vietnam Memorial arrived in Santa Fe the same day as I, so of course I wanted to visit it, having never seen the original.

A chill breeze sapped the warmth from the sun as my sister and I walked across the field to the low, black, reflective memorial, and I began to cry as we drew closer, my flesh puckering into chicken skin just from the sight of it.
The low, mournful sound of taps played repetitively, hauntingly, and it took me a moment to find the source: a man on a park bench, back to the memorial, dressed all in black, from head to toe, blowing into a harmonica. At the end of each rendition, he would pause briefly, and then begin again. I wondered if he was homeless, a veteran, what brought him there to play that dirge again and again and again.
My sister and I walked the length of the memorial, reading the names of men we did not know — men who once were fathers, brothers, sons, lovers, friends. Such a waste, she murmured, such a waste of life.
Yes, I agreed. And we just keep doing it. 

Over and over and over again.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Musings: Minimal Influence

The failure of Hawaii's anti-GMO movement to gain political traction was confirmed yesterday by the death of the GMO labeling bill in the state Legislature.

Heady with success after Kauai County adopted its GMO/pesticide regulatory law, Molokai activist Walter Ritte proclaimed that labeling would be the next achievement. But even with the support of Rep. Jessica Wooley, a sympathetic legislator, the bill quickly died in the House Agriculture Committee she chairs.

Wooley used the controversial “gut and replace” technique to strip the language from an existing bill and replace it with the labeling language. 

Anti-GMO activists and Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser have bitterly criticized other politicians who used this method. But they voiced no objections to Wooley's move, offering yet another example of how the movement has embraced hypocrisy and an “ends justify the means” philosophy.

Though Wooley revived the bill, she seemed to give little thought to how the bill might actually be implemented. Or perhaps her response to enforcement concerns raised by other committee members reflected her decision to join Gov. Abercrombie's administration as director of Office of Environmental Quality Control:

"If we want to try to move this forward, we cannot burden the state agencies with the enforcement aspect," Wooley replied.

No, we wouldn't want to do that, especially since enforcement has never been the state's forte — especially when it doesn't want to.

Meanwhile, the Division of State Parks has issued a notice of violation to Kelley McMillan, who wrote a dreadful piece about spending 10 days in Kalalau for Details magazine. Though the campground was already filled to capacity, McMillan had been granted a special use permit to spend two days and one night in the wilderness valley for media access.

But McMillan abused the privilege and overstayed, a selfish, irresponsible move that no doubt will make it harder for legitimate journalists to gain special permission in the future. Way to go, Kelley. Though McMillan probably won't ever be prosecuted for the offense, given that extradition is unlikely for a petty misdemeanor, perhaps a warrant could be issued so that McMillan can't return to Kauai without risking arrest.

In other news, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has officially filed for re-election that he is certain to achieve, given that he remains popular and faces no credible competition — another indication that anti-GMO activists are unlikely to influence Kauai County elections, even though the "Babes" vowed to remove him from office. 

The Council race will be the one to watch, with a number of viable political newcomers eying a run. They include Arryl Kaneshiro, a young up-and-comer who works for Grove Farm, and Police Chief Darryl Perry, who can run without relinquishing his top job at KPD.

Curiously, Counciman Mel Rapozo is the only incumbent who had even taken out papers, as of yesterday. It will be interesting to see whether Councilman Tim Bynum seeks re-election after settling his lawsuit against the county, and if Gary Hooser runs again or moves on to livelier pastures.

And finally, the chem companies filed another round of reports on their use of restricted use pesticides through February. Though Kauai Coffee reported no RUP use in January, it did apply some last month.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Musings: Despoilers

The day dawned clear and a brisk 19 degrees here in lovely Santa Fe, where I arrived yesterday for a visit with my eldest sister. It's great to be in the wide open spaces of the desert, framed by craggy, snow-dusted mountains. Though the temps are still cool, the cottonwood trees are sporting new green leaves and I saw four purple iris and a yellow-flowered forsythia, sure signs of spring.

Before I left, I was chatting with a friend who mentioned that the Hyatt is weighing in against the proposed dairy at Mahaulepu, expressing concerns about possible odors and water pollution — like the hotel and its golf course aren't releasing any pesticides and other crap (perhaps even literally) into the ocean.

And I thought of how bitterly the Hyatt and golf course were opposed, for a lot of good reasons: taking land out of ag, introducing tourism to the unspoiled Mahaulepu coast, nearshore water contamination, extensive water use, light pollution and losing yet another beach to hotel guests — not to mention iwi kupuna and obake.

The size alone — at 600-plus rooms, it was the largest resort on Kauai — and extensive footprint on the land freaked out a lot of people. 

Mostly, though, it was perceived as giving Grove Farm a foot in the door. Once the Hyatt was built, many of us cautioned, other hotels, luxury condos and homes would eventually follow. Indeed, Grove Farm made no bones about its plans for resort development along the Mahaulepu coast. To my knowledge, it's never abandoned those plans, nor has it ever expressed any willingness to turn the area into any sort of park or reserve.

But Grove Farm is politically powerful, so despite opposition, it got the approvals it needed from the county and state and the Hyatt opened its doors in 1990.

Now here we are, 24 years later, and I think most folks view the Hyatt as generally an asset to our island, creating some of the better tourism jobs and hosting conventions that also boost the economy. Still, it has undeniably had irrevocable impacts on the coastline.

So it's just a tiny bit ironic that a resort we once fought, in large part because it was being built on agricultural land, is now fighting an agricultural use on agricultural lands. This is what happens, people, when you start mixing uses, as anyone trying to farm around gentleman's estates will confirm.

I've got my own questions about the dairy, which the Ulupono folks say they'll answer, and though I'm generally supportive, it's not as yet unqualified support.

Still, it rankles when I hear people bitch about the dairy for its possible impacts on tourism, as we see in a letter to the editor today from BJ Thomas of Koloa, who wrote:

We should say dairy farm versus tourism. The South Side depends on tourism, not milk. The impact will not be right away, but once the world hears about the smell and everything that comes with a diary farm, the beauty will be lost.

It rankles because many of us have resisted the explosion of tourism precisely because of our concerns that the rural character of the island, the tight-knit community, the laid back lifestyle, the beauty, the agricultural foundation, would be lost.

Which is exactly what is now happening  as more land is developed and additional newcomers with no sense of history, no respect for Hawaii's deep agricultural roots, stream in — to the point where tourism is being held up as the god, while ag is denigrated as the despoiler.

Speaking of despoiling, I saw an article about how toxoplasmosis, a dangerous parasite spread by cats, is now being found in beluga whales in the Arctic, prompting a public health warning to the Inuit who eat whales. As The Guardian reported:

The most likely cause of the outbreak was infected cat feces washing into waterways and on to the sea, where fish and other marine organisms became contaminated and ultimately eaten by the whales.

And I thought, so what about all the gazillion feral cats here and elsewhere in the Hawaiian Islands? We know that toxoplasmosis has killed monk seals. How might it be affecting turtles, dolphins, humpbacks, the fish and lobsters consumed locally? Could it be making people sick?

Has any widespread testing has been done? I doubt it.

Just something else to think about as we grapple with how to deal with the feral cat populations that also pose very real threats to endangered native birds.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Musings: ADU Deju Vu

Former Councilman Jesse Fukushima, reincarnated as a Realtor after his failed bid for mayor, is now finagling to make permanent a law that allows construction of an additional dwelling unit (ADU) on agricultural land.

The oft-extended ADU law was set to expire in 2009, but was extended until Dec. 15, 2014 for what was supposed to be the absolute last time. Now Jesse wants to make it permanent, with no expiration date.

What it essentially does is let people convert their guest house right into a full second home. These “entitlements” are then used to create CPR (condominium property regime) lots, which help the realtors make money, while subsequently driving up the cost of ag land so it's too expensive to farm.

Ag CPRs also come with all sorts of associated problems, such as inadequate infrastructure to handle the density, disagreements among landowners who have tenancy in common (a boon for attorneys) and the gentrification of ag land. They've also contributed to the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals.

Though the ADU provision was initially promoted in 1989 as a way to help the poor — sob — locals trying to provide housing for their kids, giving rise to the misnomer “ohana unit,” the reality has been far different.

As Michael Levine reported in The Garden Island back in 2009:

The council debated the original purpose of the legislation, agreeing for the most part that “the intent of the bill has been lost.”

While many members said the sixth extension — for five full years, to Dec. 15, 2014 — should be the final one and spoke out against inappropriate land use, when it came time to vote, the measure passed unanimously Wednesday morning.

Ag zoned lands should be for ag purposes, and we should keep that in mind,” [former Councilman Kaipo] Asing said, criticizing the original idea and all the subsequent extensions to it. “What have we created?” he asked, referring to transient vacation rentals and second homes along Hanalei Bay.

Yet here we are again.

In an email circulated by Chris Hayden, Jesse writes:

Through the grapevine, some of the council members have been approached with the request to have this item be placed on the council's agenda.

We have received responses from Council Chairman Jay Furfaro, councilmembers Ross Kagawa and JoAnn Yukimma [sic] and their sincere interest to work with our efforts.

How interesting, especially since Levine quoted Jay as saying, back in 2009:

This is the compassionate way to close the door.” Furfaro said he has no intent to revisit the issue in five years and he sees the extension as an “exit strategy” to help bring county law back into compliance with the General Plan.

As for JoAnn, well, she apparently “got it” back in 2006 when she introduced an amendment with the language:

While well-intentioned, this law … has caused the unintended consequences of residential growth on lands not primarily intended for residential use, and has thwarted one of the main goals of the Kauai County General Plan to “limit and control the dispersal of residential and urban use within agricultural lands” By not insuring that infrastructure could be available to qualifying lots before they were granted the privilege of applying for an additional dwelling units, the law has distorted the planning process and created a demand for infrastructure that is not in accordance with orderly community development.

The Kaua`i County Council finds that it is critical to terminate the ADU law and stop the creation of new Agricultural and Open lots entitled to apply for additional dwelling units. To not terminate the ADU law would be to encourage land use patterns that will be expensive to service and to live in. It will generate low density sprawl that could destroy the rural character and agricultural value of Kaua`i’s lands without providing affordable housing in effective and efficient ways.

But things apparently have changed, like both JoAnn and Jay are anticipating a tougher re-election fight than usual, having pissed off folks on both sides of the aisle due to their actions on Bill 2491, the pesticide/GMO regulatory law.

As an indication of who really benefits, consider this post on the Hawaii Life real estate blog back in 2009, when the ordinance was set to expire:

So what we have are a number of Ag-zoned CPR lots (a type of land subdivision based on Hawaii’s condominium laws) on the market right now that will lose the ability to have a home built on them, unless: a) they sell fairly quickly and the new owner starts the permitting process; or b) the current owner goes ahead and pulls a permit for a house they would rather not have to build.”

If you’ve ever considered buying and building on Kauai…this ‘ADU Sunset’ has created an unprecedented opportunity.

But not nearly so unprecedented as the opportunity to really mine gold by doing away with the expiration date altogether, forever.

In closing, I received two striking images this weekend. The first is of Kauai, as taken from the International Space Station. At that distance, it's all about the island as a land mass in the middle of the sea. I love her profile.
The second, taken from a drone, shows the neighborhood in Wainiha that was the focus of the Abuse Chronicles series. 
It graphically depicts the transformation of this former residential neighborhood: the proliferation of de facto mini-resorts without virtue of a special management area permit. Just check out the size of those TVR houses, especially compared to the residences on the mauka side of the street.

This is what happens when the county fails to engage in sound land use planning and enforcement. It's happening again on ag lands around the county, and the situation will only worsen with an extension of the ADU law. 

Will the Council finally say no, enough? Or will it roll over again and go belly up for the special interests?

Anything is possible in an election year.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Musings: Backassward

That big bright moon slid behind the mountains, leaving Venus to announce a surreal sunrise of purple and orange, valleys steaming with mist, shama thrush warbling, pig smells distracting Koko and Paele, and as we returned from our walk, I saw the kids heading for the school bus: ears plugged, heads down, thumbs working phones, and I thought, this could be the first generation in human history raised with many of its senses purposely stunted, shut off.

And it did not seem to me to be a good thing, or evolutionarily wise, not when we need more than ever to be looking up and out at the big picture, actually seeing, smelling and hearing the real, living world that we are creating and destroying.

It brought to mind a quote from cultural expert Ramsay Taum, delivered at a climate change conference and reported in Henry Curtis' “ililanimedia” blog post yesterday:

In our medical systems we were looking at dead things. We take live things and kill them and cut them up to understand them and think we now understand them when there are alive. So we develop all of our methodologies, our responses, based on what we see after they're dead rather than alive, so maybe we need to shift the way we research.

We approach so much of life ass backward.

Like instead of fielding a candidate to try and beat Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., the ever-vengeful and deep-pocketed Mike Sheehan keeps pushing the state Attorney General to bust the big guy for taking the fifth during the “fuel gate” inquiries. Even though the AG clearly doesn't want to touch it, and already bounced it back to Police Chief Darryl Perry and Prosecutor Justin Kollar, both of whom declined to pursue it, saying it was a civil matter.

But Mike and his attorney, Richard Wilson, are still beating on the AG's door, this time asking the office to “make and file a certificate that Mr. Carvalho, fka [formerly known as] Mayor Carvalho, refused to testify two years ago in connection with a fuel audit.” The certificate is then supposed to be sent to the finance director, who is appointed by the mayor, apparently to make him stop paying the mayor's salary.

We already had a federal judge scold Kauai for its petty political feuds in Councilman Tim Bynum's lawsuit against the county – another action that Wilson was involved in. Will the AG issue a similar smack down over this obvious political vendetta? Aside from the questionable premise, there's the timing. This happened two years ago, and they're only now making a stink, when the mayor's up for re-election?

It's like a repeat of former Councilwoman Lani Kawahara's tearful and very public election-year allegations that former Council Chair Kaipo Asing supposedly had threatened her a year earlier — an incident that the police initially determined to be unfounded and that she herself chose not to pursue. It was all bullshit, a stunt contrived by Lani and Tim to exact revenge on Kaipo, but it worked, and his years of public service ended in ignoble defeat.

I don't think the same thing will happen to Bernard, but it makes an ugly process even uglier and discourages people from participating in politics at a time when we desperately need some new thinking.

I'll leave with you a joke for this Lenten time of year:

An Irishman goes into the confessional box after years of being away from the Church. 

Inside he finds a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap. On one wall there's a row of decanters with fine Irish whiskey and Waterford crystal glasses. On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest cigars and chocolates.

Then the priest comes in. 

"Father, forgive me, for it's been a very long time since I've been to confession, but I must first admit that the confessional box is much more inviting than it used to be."

"Get out, you moron," the priest replies. "You're on my side."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Musings: Positive Spins

Though the Kauai Humane Society is putting a positive spin on the new dog barking and cat licensing laws — for cats, “their status in the community has risen,” writes director Penny Cistaro in a commentary in today's paper — I don't think most folks are buying it.

The reactions I've been getting are “waste of time” and “ridiculous,” along with “unenforceable.” Others view it as a money-making scheme and/or power grab by KHS, and legislative craziness by sponsor Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

A better approach might have been addressing dog barking through a comprehensive noise ordinance, as Councilman Mel Rapozo favored. Why should dogs be considered more of a nuisance than boom-box vehicles, rooster ranches, screaming kids, mowers and blowers, helicopters?

The bill initially included a provision in which the unhappy person had to first speak to his or her neighbor, and keep a log of the offending barking, which would've cut down on complaints and forced people to humanize someone they've likely demonized. But that apparently got deleted. Now it's a vague: “Unsuccessful remediation of the nuisance barking following intervention by the Enforcement Officer may result in the issuance of a citation.”

Violations will result in increasingly more expensive fines, but you can't just pay the fine and be done with it:

The issuance of a barking dog citation and/or payment of a fine shall not bar the Court from imposing appropriate remedial action to be undertaken by the responsible party, such as, but not limited to, successful completion of a dog behavioral course or the hiring of a dog trainer.

Good luck with that. I think, as Councilman Ross Kagawa noted, that we're going to see more clashes between neighbors as a result of this law, with hunting dog owners the first to be targeted by those who object more to their use than their barking. I also think we're going to see more dogs turned in, and ultimately killed, because their owners can't comply with the law.

As for the cats, yes, they should be viewed as highly as dogs, but their perceived lack of value likely has something to do with their abundance. It's sort of like a dove, as compared to a Newell's shearwater. Better to emphasize education, and reduce the feral population, than adopt a law that is likely to be followed only by those who already do value their feline companions.

But such is the nature of Kauai, where the politicians skirt the serious issues and instead focus on cats and dogs, some citizens cry for ever more regulation and in the end, it's all meaningless, because enforcement is essentially nil.

Which leads me to a great quote by Marcus Aurelius: “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

Which leads me to a comment that someone left on yesterday's post:

Joan, on a totally different matter, I was watching one of the council meetings recently on Hoike. it seems that nothing has changed as far as Ken, Glenn, and Joe are concerned. Why do they feel they need to continually scold or lecture the council members on every subject matter that the council discusses? They seem to feel that they are experts on every subject. Also, why do they always sit where they can be seen on tv? I guess for them it is the closest thing 
to being a council member when you are not electable. What a waste of time and taxpayer!s money to hear and see these Yoyos whine at every meeting. They should give tus a break and get a life.

As another reader noted in an email to me:

If anyone thinks marathon council meetings produce good governance they’re nuts – and these 3 are responsible for lengthening Council meetings by 30 percent. Council is also to blame, they could tighten up rules for testimony – under Sunshine Law they're not required to allow testimony on every agenda item, I believe.

I appreciate the accessibility of our Council, and it's great that they don't have to be told, like the Hawaii County Council, that folks have the free speech right to criticize them in public testimony. But surely Council Chair Jay Furfaro could find a way to stuff a sock in it when it comes to ad-nauseum nit-picker testimony. And then maybe his colleagues would also learn the value of being succinct — or better yet, silent.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Musings: See, Saw and Seen

While cruising up to the North Shore the other day, I saw lots of Brian Schatz for Senator campaign signs — though Coldwell Banker, Hawaii Life and Sotheby must be more popular, because their signs greatly outnumbered his.

And I thought of a comment that Wainiha resident Eddie Kauo made to me a few years back: “I watch them wash in, and I watch them wash back out.”

I giggled a little when I saw Schatz's blatant bid to lure the Kauai vote by pretending he can influence the return of Friday night football games. My first thought was, really? That's the best you have to offer us?

“Who do you think is better, Colleen Hanabusa or Brian Schatz?” I asked a friend.

It always comes down to the lesser of two evils,” he replied.

So which one is more evil?”

Well, Hanabusa's been around longer, so she's had more time to pile up the bad stuff. But Schatz is keeping pace.”

Isn't this the race that's supposed to determine whether the haoles have taken over Hawaii, or the Japanese have retained control? I thought that you, as an Asian guy, would be voting for Hanabusa.”

I am,” he said. “But not because of that. It's because her brother was my classmate, and my father knew her father...”

Oh, I see.”

I see The Garden Island has published yet another commentary bashing the dairy. Though for some odd reason it has refused to run a piece from Police Chief Darryl Perry that he submitted last Friday, explaining why Kuhio Highway was closed for six hours due to the fatal crash last week. The chief finally posted it on the KPD website, where far fewer people are likely to see it. But then, it's not the first time I've scratched my head over TGI's editorial choices.

In today's anti-dairy dirge, Poipu resident Charlotte Beall talks about how people come to Kauai to experience its natural beauty:

But part of keeping Kauai pristine is not bringing in industries that will affect everything that makes Kauai desirable. Who will want to come when we’ve polluted the rivers, land and ocean so much that those species we delight in will disappear?

Aside from the mistaken belief that Kauai is “pristine” — it's not, and it hasn't been for centuries now — Beall apparently fails to realize that tourism began in Hawaii when nearly every inch was covered with pineapple and sugar cane, crops that were regularly sprayed with pesticides, sometimes via planes. And the tourists kept coming even though cane fires were burning, sugar cane waste was being dumped into the ocean and the mills, pig farms and dairies produced odors that Beall no doubt would find offensive.

We heard the same thing during the Bill 2491 battle: the tourists won't come if we're growing GMO crops with pesticides. Except that many, many tourists come from the Midwest, where feedlots and GMO crops are part of the landscape. Others come from the polluted cities.

As a case in point, a friend was visiting from Los Angeles when we were getting all that rain. I advised against surfing Hanalei, due to the runoff from the cesspools, taro fields and backcountry. His reply: It's still better than surfing at home, where I'm dealing with all the runoff from a metropolitan area of 10 million people.

Which is not to say we should trash Kauai, only that we needn't worry about the tourists. It's going to take a lot more than a dairy at Mahaulepu to deter them, unfortunately.

Beall wants to “find another use for that pristine land near Mahaulepu Beach and the Hyatt,” apparently failing to realize it was designated Important Ag Lands through a very prolonged and public process. If not there, then where? Someone else's backyard? Kauai is a rural community, and that means agriculture in our midst, not tucked away out of sight, out of mind.

Some wily developers are even using farms as a bucolic selling point for projects like Agritopia. They're building subdivisions — now dubbed "agrihoods" — around farms that supply the residents with veggies and vicarious thrills. As the New York Times reported:

"I'm a foodie and interested in animal husbandry and cultivating my own wasabi and mushrooms," [Seattle lawyer L.B.] Kregenow said. But she also likes to travel, which she said makes living in an agrihood ideal. "For me, the serious downside of farming is doing it on your own means, doing it 365 days a year," she said. "But in this scheme we will have a farm without all the responsibility."

What surprised me was learning that Kukuiula, A&B's super-luxe project near Poipu, is considered one of these agrihoods:

The Kukui'ula community in Kauai, Hawaii, opened in 2012 and has a 10-acre farm in addition to a clubhouse, spa and golf course.

"As a developer it's been humbling that such a simple thing and such an inexpensive thing is the most loved amenity," said Brent Herrington, who oversaw the building of Kukui'ula for the developer DMB Associates. "We spend $100 million on a clubhouse, but residents, first day on the island, they go to the farm to get flowers, fruits and vegetables."

Perhaps Grove Farm should have followed that lead. Why bother with a 600-acre dairy that's getting dinged when you can lease 10 acres to a farmer and then build a resort, golf course, clubhouse and fancy homes all around it?

We may yet see that come to pass. Because I have seen one scenario play out repeatedly and unfailingly in Hawaii: development always replaces agriculture.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Musings: Targeted Enforcement

It looks like Kauai's Mina Morita, chair of the Public Utilities Commission, is the target of a political hit.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is suddenly moving to enforce against Morita and her husband, Lance Laney, for operating illegal vacation rentals in Hanalei Valley — just as Gov. Neil Abercrombie is making an unpopular move to dump her as PUC chair.

The investigation was reportedly launched by a 2008 anonymous tip which curiously only now has yielded “new information and evidence that supports this alleged violation claim,” according to a letter by DLNR Director William Aila that was leaked to The Garden Island

The newspaper also referenced a “draft submittal report expected to be on the agenda for the BLNR’s meeting March 28.” But neither the agenda, nor the the staff reports, are yet posted on the DLNR website, raising the question of who handed the documents to TGI reporter Chris D'Angelo. DLNR did not respond this morning to my requests for the documents.

But it smells of Hanalei River boatyard owner Mike Sheehan. He reportedly is the source of the original “anonymous” complaint, and blasted a December 2013 email in which he made numerous undocumented claims about Mina, including a reference to an "illegal B&B."  Mike also funds the ocean “research” of D'Angelo's dive buddy, Terry Lilley. Bizarrely, D'Angelo raises a totally unrelated issue — the 1995 breach of the Hanalei River — by citing an October 2013 letter from Honolulu attorney Les Iczkovitz, who has represented Lilley. To complete the circle, the governor recently appointed Patsy Sheehan, Mike's business partner and ex-wife, to the Hawaiian Homes Commission.

Word has it that Mina was offered the “soft landing” of running the Office of Environmental Quality Control if she agreed to step down as PUC chair. But when Mina declined, Rep. Jessica Wooley was sent instead to the political version of Siberia and another way was found to tighten the screws on Mina.

The allegation apparently was not a concern when the governor appointed Mina as PUC chair in 2011, and a complaint that Circuit Judge Mike Wilson operates an illegal TVR on Oahu was brushed off during his Supreme Court nomination hearing.

I welcome the state cracking down on illegal vacation rentals in the conservation zone. But this smacks of selective enforcement — especially when landowners who have admitted to operating TVRs in the conservation zone at Haena are allowed to operate with impunity.

At least nine property owners told the county real property office they are operating TVRs in the conservation district, both at Makua (Tunnels) and the area just outside Haena State Park.

Among them are a $4 million property owned by Joe Paskal, a $5.5 million estate owned by the Nan Guslander Trust, a $4.2 million house owned by the kama`aina Rice family, a $5.5 million mansion owned by the KTK Family Limited Partnership of Honolulu, and a $2.3 million house that is one of the Haena beachfront lots still armored with sandbags that were installed under a one-year temporary permit back in 1997.

All of these properties are currently paying TVR tax rates to our county, even though they're in the conservation district, which prohibits such a use. But they, apparently, haven't incurred the wrath of the governor.

Dear Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. I'm quite certain you already know about these violations, but please consider this blog post an official complaint against these properties, all of which are detailed in this document.

Meanwhile, the DLNR is properly outraged by the disgusting “Paradise Lost” article on Kalalau Valley published by In it, Kelley McMillan wrote of going to the wilderness valley, which is managed by Office of State Parks, to “live among the Outlaws for 10 days.”

The state is pissed because the article “is an egregious misuse of a national publication,” according to an email from Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator in the Division of State Parks. What's more, “the author failed to utilize any of the accurate information provided by DSP staff and was issued a special one day permit for access in order to be at Kalalau to write the article."

DSP is “drafting an accurate response regarding the actual impact of non permitted campers on resources, authorized and compliant campers and the limited park infrastructure,” Cottrell wrote. But here's the capper:

DSP concurs about the article's lack of quality and glamorizing non-compliant behavior - and is preparing a Notice of Violation based on the admission in writing on the 10 day camping - but is not certain on the ability to impose any repercussions other than submit the "NOV" to the magazine publishers.

So the state isn't sure it can do anything when a national writer admits to illegally camping in the park for 10 days and writing an article that is sure to draw more people anxious to trade drugs for massages from topless women and party with Hollywood celebs around goat stew and a campfire.

But they'll fricking ream your ass if you're a kanaka like Ikaika Pratt, who camped in the valley without a permit in order to malama Hawaiian cultural sites. As I reported in the Honolulu Weekly, they dragged him all the way to the state Supreme Court on a illegal camping charge just to prove the state's interest in managing "its" parkland overrode Pratt's right to practice his traditional religion.

Oh yes, the state can act with a vengeance when it wants to take out the caretakers — and the governor's political foes. But the desecrators — and the politically favored  —get averted eyes, or at most, a slap on the wrist.