Friday, March 14, 2008

Musings: That Sick Feeling

The other day, while driving to Anahola, I passed the new sign advertising Kealanani, and I imagined what it would be like to have that 2,000-acre parcel developed into yet another one of the sprawling ag subdivisions that don’ have much of anything to do with ag, except zoning.

I got the sick feeling in my stomach that KKCR radio programmer Kai`ulani Huff had described earlier on air, where you wonder: what’s next?

Yes, what’s next? Which swath of centralized, fertile, irrigated ag land will be the next to go as the state and county make snail-like progress toward designating and protecting important ag lands?

Yet even the state’s most modest efforts to protect prime ag lands are challenged by attorneys like Jesse Souki, who make their living representing developers, and folks like blogger Charley Foster with a pro-growth attitude.

Their stance isn’t surprising; after all, much of what remains undeveloped in Hawaii is either zoned ag or conservation, so that’s where the goods are to be gotten if you’re the plundering type.

They make like they want to have a reasonable, balanced discussion on the issue, but their intentions are clear — open it all up to development — when they start out by posing such questions as: "Given Hawaii’s unmet housing demand by young professionals, blue collar workers, and the shortage of industrial space, would it be better to have a more balanced land use policy instead of one that has nearly 95 percent of Hawaii’s lands kept from development (the supply of land and burdensome regulations being the primary contributors to housing costs?" and “Will keeping almost half of Hawaii in Agriculture stimulate creation of the kinds of jobs that will stem Hawaii’s brain drain or entice Generation X, et al., back to Hawaii?”

I won’t even bother responding to the first question, because it’s so loaded, but I’ll answer the second question with another question: will the construction and service industry jobs that go hand-in-hand with development in Hawaii be any more successful in stemming the brain drain? No. In fact, that's what's been responsible for it thus far.

In response to their other questions — is there an unmet demand for diversified agriculture and is farming in Hawaii economically feasible? — the answer to the first is obvious. We're a state that imports nearly all of its food and has just a five-day supply in the stores, so the answer is yes, there's an unmet demand for locally produced food.

As to the second question, it could be economically feasible if the state provided some assistance with lower cost land and cracked down on developers — and the attorneys who represent them — who are constantly pushing to create gentleman’s estates, luxury homes, vacation rentals and other non-farming uses on ag lands, thus contributing to the speculation that drives ag land prices out of reach of legitimate farmers.

And I’m really tired of that question, how much ag land does Hawaii need to feed itself? If you look back at pre-contact Hawaii, when the population may have been comparable to our resident population now, they were cultivating taro and sweet potatoes everywhere, even in the remotest valleys.

That’s how much land is needed to feed a million people, and we probably need even more today given the depleted fisheries and demand for a more varied diet.

The more pressing question is how much land will it take to satisfy the insatiable greed of speculators, developers, land use attorneys and ego-driven mega-mansion builders?

That's when I get that sick feeling in my stomach again, because the answer is clear: far more than Hawaii’s got.


Andy Parx said...

I couldn’t have said it better myself Joan- I’ve been just assuming that the kind of silly drivel I read on Charley’s blog is so full of holes and smirky smarminess that people will laugh it off. But he and his developer/gentleman-farmer pals side-step the elephant in the room. They’re after developing our ag lands claiming it is too expensive to farm them... because of the loophole that’s already carved them for rich-man summer homes which has made the prices soar to the point where no farmer could afford to but a place to farm..

The fact that Charley runs away from actually declaring his anything-goes, libertarian land use stance- as he did in your comments section recently along with his own cheer-leading section- is belied in his own words and in links to places like Jesse Souki’s blog.

But I thought the circular reasoning they use in trying to convince people that what’s good for developers is good for the community- and if not tough noogies- with a “rape is inevitable so sit back and enjoy it” proclivity was too absurd to even address... but I’m glad someone said something.

Anonymous said...

You're mistaken, Joan. I would actually be against "open[ing] it all up to development." And, really, nothing I've ever written anywhere could remotely or fairly be read to mean that I'm for opening it all up to development.

And Andy, I explicitely denied and repudiated your assertion that I have an anything-goes, libertarian land use stance. I suppose you could call that "running away from" the position, except that it has never been my position.

And, finally, I acually am most interested in having a "reasonable, balanced discussion on the issue." I certainly have no ulterior motive. I don't work as a land use attorney, and I don't represent in any way any developer or landowner interests. Neither do I have any ideological or dogmatic beliefs involving the issue.

Anonymous said...

Andy, if I get Al Frankin to write: "Andy Parx is a Big Fat Liar" will you stop making things up?
You don't know any more than I do about who contributes to the Planet Kauai debate on one of Kauai's most important issues.
What this is about is not taking sides in the debate. You've taken sides, on this and on other issues, and the operative perspective for sidetakers is either you're with us or you're against us. Well, in debate, that's as false as it gets and your hyberbole aside, you are intelligent enough to know it!
Regards, Pete Antonson

Anonymous said...

You're either 100% for 'em or against 'em (in their minds), Charlie. A person desiring a "balanced discussion" is immediately positioned as an opponent and must be vilified. All his comments will be restated out of context to justify their position.

Remember that Maui judge that was heavily dissed for allowing the HSF to operate, then practically sainted for a later negative ruling?

For "true believers" there is only black and grey. Unfortunately for them, the majority of the world operates in the grey.

But it is fun to pull their strings and make them dance like puppets in the comment thread, saying you didn't or did say something when the past facts are all there to read.

I'll bet you'd love to have them in a witness stand in court, if you're a hard-nose, smart, take-no-prisoners kind of litigator like the ones I like.

Anonymous said...

I really believe a balanced approach needs to come into play here. Yes Hawaii’s important agriculture lands need to be protected. So we are less dependant on imported food.

But on the flip side, I don’t think it is fair that every single spec of agriculture land should remain in the agriculture district. One of the reasons for Hawaii’s high cost of housing is the fact too much land is banked into the agriculture district. On the Big Island alone, there is over 1 million land classified as agriculture.

Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating paving over all lands in the agricultural district. All I’m saying is open up the lands that have minimal agricultural value to development and identify/protect all important agricultural lands. The latter process has already stated with the passing of Act 183 by the legislature in 2005.

Anonymous said...

It's true, there's a definite, "You're either with us or against us in the fight against development," fallacy at work in this post.

"You're either with us or against us in the fight," has a certain familiarity. Now, who was it who said that?

Anonymous said...

But that won't work, Aaron (I'm taking their position now). Peak oil will virtually eliminate all transportation of vital supplies to the islands and there will be vast dying-off of the population which has balooned to un-sustainable levels based on 19th century ag technology.

We have to start now!!! Ban all development on ANY ag land and start planting taro so all here can feed off that mystic starch.

Yesterday is tomorrow....or is it tomorrow is yesterday...I get confused....

BTW - you won't have to worry much because the new Peoples Republic of Hawaii will evict you to the mainland anyway.

Anonymous said...

I have this dream that the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation would only kick out the disrespectful haoles.

Joan Conrow said...

Aaron, I agree that not all lands in the ag district are well-suited to farming. However, I am concerned at how we are losing prime, irrigated ag lands while we wait for the state and county to complete a process of identifying prime ag lands that began 3 years ago and on Kauai, at least, could take another 10.

We're losing a lot of good land in the interim.

As for Charley, perhaps I did exaggerate when I said you and your buddy would want to open it all up for development. After all, doing that would drive down land prices so as to ruin the market for speculators.

Anonymous said...

I've actually never met or spoken with Jesse Souki. He's not my buddy and I have no idea whether he would be for opening it all to development or not. I'm not aware that I even know any real estate speculators and I don't own any real property here myself, and I have no incentive to wish prices to remain high, nor any actual desire that they remain high.

I'm a little bit surprised to see you employing this sort of Parx-esque rhetoric. You hold yourself out as someone with a certain level of ethical standards and you have always insisted, for instance, that your strong feelings about the Superferry would not prevent you from reporting about the issue without bias. But I can't tell here whether you are being willfully obtuse in misrepresenting who I am and my motives for speaking about this issue because it is easier that way to vilify and dismiss me, or if you actually think that anyone who would ask questions about an issue you have strong feelings about could only possibly be operating from rank economic self interest.

Joan Conrow said...

Charley, you are the who aligned yourself with Souki, who as a developers' attorney is almost certainly driven by rank economic self-interest in this issue, by printing his specious questions on your blog and saying they "strike me as important to ask when we confront the issue of preserving ag land."

As for who you and your motives for speaking on this issue, I have no idea. The attitudes espoused on your blog and comments posted here and elsewhere certainly give the impression of someone who is pro-growth, dismissive of efforts to protect ag land and to the right of laissez faire.

Yet as Andy has noted, whenever you are called on those views, you sidestep and/or disavow them.

Anonymous said...

Yay, another watchdog in the pack. Woof!

To add to the discussion, the reason I have been hounding Charley's opinions (not the person mind you, I don't know him) is precisely this ambiguity that Joan brings up.

In a way, I agree that the emotional level of some activist arguments do need some fact and reality checks, and that is where Charley always claims to stand. But to always examine and critique the progressive activists, and to do it with a wry sense of humor and sometimes omit the tempering analysis definitely makes me suspicious of his leanings.

In the end, Charley is closer to the center, but still on the spectrum that continues with his co-blogger Pete, and further to commenters such as kaulike and, at the far end (some might say off the deep end), gadfly. Of course, in all intellectual honesty, it behooves me to recognize that I am on the other side of the spectrum, but not too far from center I believe, in good company with Joan.

While it might be a platitude to say we are all somewhere on the spectrum and there is no exact center point or fence for someone to sit on, I also think there is a difference among the method of expression. (I won't generalize and say difference between the sides). And that difference is that Joan recognizes the emotions involved and puts them out in the open. I reveal my bias when I say a community project has more importance in my mind than a private property right, and I argue logically from there (or try to). I think Andy's blog is piss-yellow for a reason (sorry Andy), but he still strikes me as above the table and otherwise above the belt. But, just to mix metaphors, Charley claims not to take sides, yet he's always playing right field, or at least he's always out there catching fly balls and throwing out progressive batters.

Anonymous said...

I bet you didn't leap to the conclusion that I was alligning myself with anti-Superferry interests when I posted Gary Hooser's blog posts about the issue and called them interesting and worth considering.

I assume you didn't leap to the conclusion that I was alligning myself with environmental interests when I wrote sympathetically about the Niumalu neighborhood and said I supported legislation to abate the pollution there.

Think about it, Joan. Are you "alligning yourself" with everybody you quote approvingly? Or aren't you rather only "alligning" yourself - if even that is not too strong a way to put it - with the particular words you quoted? (Hint: pick B).

As to your "impressions" that anything I've ever written on my blog or elsewhere puts me "to the right of laissez faire," I've patiently pointed out that your impressions in no way logically follow from anything I've ever written. I certainly include private property rights in the equation of policy considerations, but I've never made any free market argument on my blog with reference to any issues at all. You and Andy just made that up.

I'm not sure how you imagine one should go about setting the record straight when one is mischaracterized the way you and Andy, for rhetorical purposes I presume, mischaracterize me. I'm not sure what to do besides tell you that you're wrong and point out that the mischaracterization is not logical - that it does not logically follow from anyting I've said.

Maybe if you guys could give me an actual example of something I've written that you imagine puts me to the right of laissez faire, then I could address your misaprehensions with more specificity. But I don't know what else to do with your unwarranted bare illogical assertions than to deny and disavow them. I don't know why you guys insist on calling it "sidestepping."

However, I think we are all left to wonder why you guys seem more intent on extrapolating and imposing characterizations on people you percieve as your opponants rather than having one of those "reasonable, balanced discussions" that, it just now occurs to me, you seem intent on avoiding.

Joan Conrow said...

Charley, please read Watchdog's comment. I'm not imagining all this. At least three of us have the same perceptions. If we are all getting a wildly inaccurate impression of your views, perhaps you are not expressing them well.

Anonymous said...

Heya Watchdog!

I always dig the Watchdog's comments on my blog. They are the kind of above board, intellectually honest true thought/feelings that a person can sink their teeth into, mull over, think about. They don't leave the impression that he's trying to kneecap you with a polemics hammer or win by reducing you or your writings to some absurd and simplistic caricature.

Still, Watchdog has always kind of obsesssed over me defining myself. (If that's a fair way of putting it. As always, Watchdog, if I'm wrong I trust you to set me straight). I've never understood that. I feel that my writing defines itself. There it is.

Watchdog's correct, I'm cerainly to the "right" of Joan and Andy and Watchdog. But I'm not sure how that's important or not otherwise obvious. I'm certainly not the ideologically pure storm trooper for lassaiz faire land rape that Andy and Joan would like to present me as. But I'm not sure why anyone would honestly presume I was. I think Watchdog has it probably about right on me.

I don't know. Does that help?

Anonymous said...

Joan, Watchdog said, "Charley is closer to the center, but still on the spectrum that continues with his co-blogger Pete, and further to commenters such as kaulike and, at the far end (some might say off the deep end), gadfly."

You said, I am "to the right of laissez faire."

I don't think Watchdog is saying the same thing you are.

Anonymous said...

Joan, if there is a concern that the IAL process is taking too long, maybe it would be wise to focus on trying to expedite that process. Instead of trying to trying to advocate band-aid solutions. which may interfere with the latter IAL process set forth in Act 183.

For example, lets say there is moratorium on development on IAL's
before all the IALs are identified.
In my opinion, it would be just a band-aid solution. There is quite
a bit of agriculture activity that
occurs on non-prime soil lands (e.g
Kona Coffee).

Thus people would still be able to build your despised McMansions on these lands even with a moratorium in place.

Just something to think about...

Anonymous said...

Dear Watchdog,
I think one of the last things we still have power over is defining ourselves rather than being defined by others. In your post, you got to define yourself; but, insisted on defining us; that's just not fair.
Having written that, I will jump into the basis for the conclusion: there is a reason the middle is pointing out the faults of progressives and leftys; there is a reason why progressives are pointing at lefties and the middle; and there is a reason why lefties are pointing at progressives and the middle; We're the only ones debating issues. The right already knows what's right and if they haven't realized it yet, FOX News is eventually going to tell them and tell them they're right they're right. They don't need to talk to us and they're not doing so. Frequent TGI letter writer and unashamed right winger Gordon "Doc" Smith is a notable exception and once in a while some others venture forth from heavily fortified bunkers in Kapaa. Doc Smith was a friend of mine up until 2004. Every week we would argue vociferously for an hour then sit down to lunch and gentler topics. There was too much at stake for Doc during the 2004 election year and that was the end of it. My experience with other "true believers" has been identical. That's why, whether it's Charley's, or Joan's, or Doug';s, or Juan's (when he had it) blog, there's no place I'd rather be; because I know that ultimately ideas get respect and ideas are worthy of challenge.
Regards, Pete Antonson

Anonymous said...

I'm glad my sarcastic hyperbole amuses (some of) you. Although I exaggerate my positon somewhat for "theatrical impact" I do not claim to be neutral.

I'm pro-development to the extent that I don't want Hawaii to become rabidly ag. A mainland like rural/suburb picture, with more mainland style ammenites is more to my liking. It will get here soon.

I'm pro-HSF. If it fails due to poor business plan or ship design, I can accept that. As long as those damn activists didn't cause their demise.

I belive that the Hawaiian sovereignty pukes are crazier than a outhouse rat on crack.

I don't like activists. That pretty much says it all on that subject. Know where I'd like to see their pictures? On milk cartons.

I like the status quo because it works for me and will continue to do so.

I'm pro military expansion. War and/or the threat/prep thereof is good for the economy...mine, anyway.

I am, in fact a rather amoral, averistic, incredibly successful primarily retired businessman with very useful sociopathic leanings. For a TV analogy, think of some combination of "Gregory House, MD", "Alan Shore" of Boston Legal (with a teaspoon of "Denny Crane") and Dexter. Corporations like the work I do for them as an advisor.

I like lawyers. They occupy some buttons on my speed-dial. They help me get what I want (or who I want) sometimes.

I don't attempt to avoid characterization, but I love seeing how folks here attempt to characterize others not of thrir fold.

I love to observe how different factions run around posturing, etc on that little island of Kauai thinking that it will really make a difference. It's like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Very amusing to watch, though, and dip my toe in once in a while for my usual "you're all crap" kinda comment.

In the long run, we're all crap after all.

Anonymous said...

net geeks all

Anonymous said...

I'm going to try to be reasonable and balanced in explaining what appears to me to be Charley's unstated bias.

First off, he is right, he has supported some environmental causes and welcomed good arguments from the both sides of some issues. Nor, as he says again, has he outright stated a position in many of the issues. In fact he often hints at supporting the "progressive" side but expresses reserve about the other supporters. However, he never takes a final stand, so it's hard to say if he feigns support for rhetorical reasons, or genuinely supports a cause. Sometimes it sounds like the support is conditional on there not being other supporters with tactics that he disagrees with.

Secondly, I believe there is a certain blindness to emotional positions, one best illustrated by Andy Parx's recent snafu over a link on IslandBreath. When you always look for problems, sometimes you start seeing them and jumping on them before doing enough critical analysis. As a watchdog, I know my credibility rests on not barking at every car that goes by (yeah, I know, that's another poor metaphor, oh well). It would behoove all of us activists to think twice before opening our mouths, because Charley is listening carefully.

So, it seems that Charley plays a good watchdog of the progressive activists, blogging from the sidelines when they present some fallacy, usually logical or legal. And he is usually accurate, I have to admit.

But I don't think he is fair and balanced (where have I heard that before). His bias appears in his treatment of certain subjects, and in his choice of subjects. I will mention two examples I have critiqued in his comments: the "blue meanies" illustration and the recent photo of the Koloa protestor. Both times were single images portraying protestors negatively, with no text of his own. Maybe I'm just overreacting like Andy, but then it seems as if those images were posted to draw out some reaction.

As for the choice of subjects, he does overwhelmingly dwell on the "protestors" as targets of his critique. Perhaps they set themselves up with their amateurism and emotionalism against the entrenched and stoic powers that be. Granted, various county officials come in at a close second, so again, maybe I'm reading too much. But then I see IslandBreath tackle a developer's advertising with a fact- and illustration-rich deconstruction, and I know who's the progressive one. Logically, being anti-anti-something doesn't make you pro-something, but when you make it a habit, it sure looks that way.

I also need to address the "either you're with us or you're against us" sentiment that the "progressives" are accused of harboring or stating outright. I think that attitude comes from being the underdogs or the minority opinion. I don't agree with the sentiment myself, but I think it is easy to see where it comes from. When you're dealing with emotion, every heart that doesn't join in, just makes the silent majority look that much larger. Charley seems often to inhabit a neutral zone, not taking sides, just appointing himself as referee.

I think there is such a thing as third way, someone taking neither side but instead of critiquing (one side more than the other, in appearance), it would involve constructive criticism or suggesting creative solutions. But, and this is a difficult condition, if both sides do not see you as occupying that middle ground, you can't. Like it or not, you and your writing are defined by how others perceive it, and the sum of those perceptions is public opinion. You can ignore it but you can't control it.

Anyways, that seems like so much hot air now that this thread is all warmed over. I respect the fact that the dialogue is open, I even respect wherever it is Charley stands, but he shouldn't expect to go unchallenged (and neither will I). Keep blogging, I'll keep watchdogging, and life will go on.

Anonymous said...

Heya Watchdog,

I agree that I'm not balanced or unbiased. But I don't think I'm particularly unfair. I try very conscienciously, for instance, to not misrperesent the views of people I happen to disagree with. (And that's one reason I find Andy and Joan's unwarranted misrepresentation of me so appalling. I think I strive for a kind of fairness that that sort of tactic clearly violates. I would never write off one of them as "just a hippie" or "oh, disregard what they say, they're just radicals who hate everything." I disrespect that kind of crap and disavow it even if it is used in support of some opinion or position that I would otherwise agree with).

I'm pretty careful to try not to ignore relevant facts and information and I definitely invite people who disagree with me to chime in. I prefer that the people who hold the opinions I disagree with define their opinion, rather than I do it and run the risk of getting it wrong. Often, when I do state someone else's position, I explicitely invite them to correct any mistaken understanding on my part. Joan and Andy on the other hand, insist that their mischaracterization of me is the correct view despite my protests! It's kind of wierd.

I think a point of confusion arises because of fundamentally different approaches to issues. I simply do not identify with any particular ideology. So when I say, "I don't particularly care (about a particular issue) but I think those people are acting stupid and I think this is how a court case will come out," you can take me at my word that I don't particularly care about the issue.

The Superferry is an example that you and I got into it over. I literally don't give a hoot one way or the other about the Superferry. I did criticize both sides (you failed to recall that in addition to blue meanies, I also posted Geribaldi's photo next to Bozo the Clown's and called it "Separated at Birth"). I don't know whether I criticized the anti-SF side more. Maybe I did. If so I would say it was a function of a sort of 'whack-a-mole' approach to my blogging. The moles popping up get the attention. Otherwise, yeah, I fail to see the big deal in Act 2 or any of that. So, others may criticize it. I never criticized nor threw my support to it. I said it was probably constitutional, but that's because it is my educated legal opinion of the issue, not because I want it to be constitutional.

There are things I have opinions about, but I think I make that pretty clear on my blog. I never try to hide my opinions about things.

But my having an opinion about a thing is perhaps different than Joan and Andy and maybe you having an opinion about a thing. My opinions do not arise from a larger ideology or political world view. I don't disagree with some of the monkeypod stuff because I'm "for development." In fact, I expressed sympathy for those who wanted to prevent the development from being approved in the first place in my first couple of posts on the issue. I blamed the county and sympathised with those who opposed the development.

But then Carol Ann went running to the progressives to mobilize the troops and they broke out the candles and said a bunch of innacurate crap and she lost my sympathy. I still sympathize with anyone who is sad to see the trees cut down. But I also respect the federal court order that makes it legal. Now if the community had ever mounted a realistic legal challenge to the court order, I would have happily, unbiasedly written all about it at great leangth. But that never happened.

Anyway, thanks again for the serious consideration. I always respect your comments.