Much as Kauai folks like to imagine themselves — and the island — as special and unique, what's happening locally is often a microcosm of what's playing out in the rest of the country.
Like the ongoing gentrification, and transient vacation rental (TVR) expansion. A recent Associated Press article detailed the problem in tony Aspen, Colo., where rich people are squeezing locals and workers right out of town.
The article prompted this email from a southside reader:
Residents of the “neighborhood” near the Whalers Cove have been talking about a story titled “Working Class Squeezed Out As Rich Move In. ” The article explains how the rich moved in to Aspen, driving up prices for everything, including lodging for locals employed as service workers, who have then had to move away from their town to find affordable lodging elsewhere. Sound familiar? Do you have relatives or friends who commute from the west side to the north shore to work in a restaurant, clean houses or make beds at a timeshare? Do you know there are folks who drive from Hilo to Kona daily to work at a hotel because they have no choice?
The Northshore and the Southshore are already the “Aspens" of Kauai. If you think Local government is interested in making things better for residents, think again. In fact, local government, recently teamed up with 2 self styled, self anointed, locally born community leaders, who seem to represent no constituency but themselves, to up zone a residential neighborhood to Visitor Destination Area. If passed, this would effectively destroy one of the last near shore neighborhoods on the South shore. So beware Hanalei. If they can’t figure a way to allow more illegal visitor rentals, maybe they’ll just up zone you to help the illegals.
It's a legitimate concern. When the county designated Visitor Destination Areas around the island, the intent was to limit tourism accommodations to specific areas. But as legal and illegal TVRs steadily encroach onto residential and agricultural lands, and the county toys with expanding VDAs into established neighborhoods, the VDA designation is becoming pretty much meaningless. And residents are feeling the squeeze.
Still, where there's political will, there's a way. As the article reports:
The situation would be worse had Aspen not gone to extraordinary lengths to try to avoid being hollowed out by the departure of middle-class and working-class residents. Financed by a 1.5 percent charge on real estate sales and a mandate that any new projects include affordable housing, the city and county run a 40-year-old program that allows people who have worked for one year or longer in Aspen to rent, or buy, cheap residences.
Gee, what a concept.
Meanwhile, another Colorado town is taking active steps to control its illegal vacation rentals. Boulder has joined other cities in challenging Airbnb, which allows owners to advertise TVRs whether they're legal or not. As an article on Circa reports, Boulder issued cease-and-desist notices to 20 property owners accused of renting out space in their homes through the service. San Francisco and Portland, meanwhile, require Airbnb to collect transient occupancy taxes on TVRs in those cities.
And in New York, Airbnb turned over data that allowed that state's Attorney General to file suit against two apartment building owners engaged in illegal short-term rentals. Some New York politicians and housing advocates also launched a campaign against Airbnb, contending the service reduces the supply of affordable rentals.
We've seen a similar reduction in affordable rentals on Kauai as illegal TVRs have proliferated. Since legal vacation rentals on Kauai are required to have a non-conforming use TVR permit, perhaps the planning department and prosecutor's office could start by asking Airbnb to require its Kauai advertisers to display their permit as a condition for using the service.
Speaking of tourists, did anyone else find it odd that Kauai Visitors Bureau spent $70,000 in taxpayer money to help Sports Illustrated finance its annual swimsuit edition, which features topless models on Kauai beaches, when KVB, the county and Kauai folks hold such puritanical views about nude and topless sunbathing? Guess the lure of all those salivating subscribers was just too hard to resist.
Meanwhile, the frenzy of social media activity — replete with fake names — that characterized the anti-GMO movement on Kauai (and has since largely disappeared) is SOP among antis. I noticed the Institute for Responsible Technology, which bills itself as “the most comprehensive source of GMO health risk information on the web,” is “recruiting 5000 digitally savvy volunteers willing to share our content and calls to action via social tools. You will be invited to join a private Facebook group, receive "insiders briefings," and participate in regular action alerts.” And presto, all of a sudden it seems like the “majority” is on the anti side, when in reality, it's long-distance smoke and mirrors.
And finally, it was interesting to read Mark Jeffers' letter to the editor today, where he maintains that religious leaders should be on the GMO/pesticide Joint Fact-Finding Group because “every religion teaches of the cyclic nature of all life on our planet” while “the science of GMO agro-chemical agriculture attempts to freeze our circle of life and control the outcome for the profits of the individuals and corporations that are involved.” He went on to write:
I believe the people on Kauai and throughout Hawaii and the world are refuting the GMO science because it is attempting to freeze the basic circle of life for gain at the cost of our humanity.
It made me recall a comment that Dr. Diane Ragone, an NTBG researcher who has been instrumental in founding the Breadfruit Institute, left on a Facebook post of mine:
Joan – I appreciate your writings on this subject, but please do not conflate “Agricultural Biotechnology” with “Genetic Engineering or GMOs.” Yes, it does include that but also so much more, such as:
Understanding, characterizing and managing genetic resources; genomics; molecular markers; marker-assisted breeding; measuring and conserving genetic diversity; genotype verification; breeding and reproducing ornamentals, crops and trees; cell and tissue culture and micropropagation; in vitro selection; breeding and reproducing livestock and fish; artificial insemination and multiple ovulation/embryo transfer. chromosome-set manipulation and sex reversal in fish; other biotechnologies; diagnostics and epidemiology; vaccine development, and animal nutrition (like probiotics).
Seems like a lot of that is life-giving and life-preserving, rather than life-freezing. Like all the native plants that have been saved from extinction through micropropagation techniques at Lyon Arboretum, which has absolutely nothing to do with "corporate profits.”
But then, that's one of the big problems with the anti-GMO movement. It's rejecting all agricultural biotech due to its obsession with Monsanto and Roundup Ready corn. And most of its adherents don't even have a clue about the bigger picture.