Monday, February 25, 2008

Musings: Playing Charades

The moon, shrinking fast, was still bright enough to illuminate clouds playing ring around Wailalale when Koko and I went walking this chilly morning. But they disappeared before the sun began to rise, sending out broad bands of pink that framed shiny Venus.

It’s shaping up to be another beautiful day.

Ran into farmer Jerry, whom I hadn’t seen for too long, and as the sky slowly brightened we caught up on things, at least those that pertain to agriculture. You can’t cover everything in five minutes along the road.

Both he and I were quoted in a Star-Bulletin article yesterday on the Kealanani subdivision at Kealia. The friend who passed it along noted I could add “shibai expert” to my list of credentials.

I find it extremely ironic that the project’s fa├žade as the state’s “first legal ag subdivision” — the developer’s self-proclaimed reference to a farming requirement in the homeowner association’s bylaws — not only got it approved, but has attracted widespread publicity.

Clever, dem.

Of course, when you’re developing a multi-million-dollar project masquerading as something else, you need to hire a good PR team. Just ask Hawaii Superferry.

And just as HSF hyped itself as being something it’s obviously not — a viable form of alternative transportation in the Islands — so too is Kealanani, with its hiking trails and ocean views and hefty price tags, pretending to be a farming community.

As has been the case in other articles that have appeared about this project, the story quotes buyers who— surprise! — have no actual farming experience, but just can’t wait to get their hands dirty. In this instance, it’s a Lake Tahoe, Calif. family that is planning to make the plausible shift from Poipu timeshare owner to hobby farmer.

They say they do not expect to make a living from farming the land, and instead see it more as a lifestyle. Of course, and it’s the same lifestyle that so many other gentleman farmers seek — one with plenty of manicured lawn around your spacious hale, a few fruit trees (or in this case, cacao) and maybe a horse to complete the pastoral scene.

When the reporter observed that the high land costs might deter real farmers from living there, co-developer Paul Kyno, a real estate agent, blithely replied that perhaps some of them could move into the affordable housing that is planned and work for the landowners.

Yes, the landowners will quickly grow tired of their hot, hard and dirty hobby, thus providing yet another opportunity for locals and earnest back-to the-land hippies to slave for rich haoles. It’s the new plantation model — with none of the worker benefits.

And anyway, Kyno fails to mention the affordable housing, if it happens at all — there is no requirement for the developer to build it — is a good 15 to 20 years off into the future.

Meanwhile, the land use charade continues in another guise. Jerry told me the newest ploy for developing mini hotels on ag land and elsewhere — while also getting around the ban on new vacation rentals and timeshares outside of visitor destination areas — is a scheme known as interval ownership.

Under it, a number of unrelated people join together to buy a property and build a gigantic house, which is broken up into separate living units once the county inspection is pau.

When it comes to making big money, you’ve got the big lawyers working overtime to dream up new ways around the law, while the county either looks the other way or fumbles through a belated response.

In the meantime, the council on Wednesday will again take up Mayor Baptiste’s call for a temporary moratorium on new ag subdivisions. Councilman Tim Bynum has supported the measure, saying there’s a need for an ag planning prcess, but apparently the initiative is meeting strong resistance from Councilman Jay Furfaro.

Hmmm. Do you ‘spose that could that have anything to do with Jay working for big landowner Princeville Corp.?

Baptiste first proposed such a moratorium eight years ago, while on the Council. Although he was unsuccessful then, he’s more confident it will fly this time. An article in The Garden Island quotes him as saying: ““I took a licking. But times are different.”

Are they? It seems like the same old vested interests — the developers, the realtors, the engineering companies, the big landowners — wield just as much power as ever.

What’s the solution? Jerry and I both agreed the county has to aggressively enforce the farm dwelling agreement, which is a provision of state law. Under it, you can own all the ag land you want. But you’d better make sure you’re actually living in the house fulltime and working the land.

So why doesn’t the county do it? It just might have something to do with these same old vested interests noted above.


Anonymous said...

There was an interesting comment on the S-B story about tea not being suited to lowland tropical environments. If true, that would be a big hole in their cover story.

Anonymous said...

kauai's gentry class; farmers from tahoe trading a snow plow for a plowshare. what's with the council not passing the mayor's moratorium? the council is going to the dogs!