I saw the celestial show of Regulus, Mars, Saturn and the crescent moon, all lined up over the mountains last night, from what turned out to be a perfect vantage point at Lydgate Park.
I’d gathered with some friends to hang out with George Cooper, author of the classic “Land and Power in Hawaii,” who is visiting Kauai right now. I had to promise that everything discussed last night would be off the record; it seems not everyone likes to have their utterances end up on my blog.
Well, actually, only one person voiced an objection, so out of respect to him, I won’t repeat any of the juicy nuggets I heard last night — even though none, ironically, were contributed by him.
But previously, I’d spent some time with George, who hasn’t been to Kauai in seven years, a period that has seen rapid growth of a mostly palatial kind. He was stunned to see the changes, yet what he found especially hard to take were the local families that are now involved in acrimonious disputes over their land.
Kauai land has gotten so valuable that more and more families are experiencing the bitter, divisive conflict between those who want to cash out while the getting is good and those who want to hold on to the land.
I was thinking of this as I was driving on Hauiki Road, between Kapahi and Wailua Homesteads the other day, and was struck by all the spec houses and raw land — much of it marked “reduced” — that’s for sale over there. Much of this was once homestead land, which immigrants purchased when they completed their plantation contracts, and it’s been passed down at least one generation, and maybe two.
Now it’s moving forever out of local hands and into a price category that only people with money from elsewhere can afford. And as the fancy houses are built among the ramshackle ones, driving up the property values, what’s going to happen to the property taxes of the local working class families that for so long have lived there?
I’m not saying that local families don’t have a right to sell, because of course they do, and they have many reasons for doing so that they don’t need to justify to me or anyone else.
It’s just that when it comes to current land prices, and who is getting squeezed out and who is coming in, we’ve embarked on a course that won’t be easily reversed — save perhaps through Hawaiian independence — and it promises to have a profound and lasting effect on Kauai. In short, locals who don't already have land don't hold much of a prayer for ever getting it, not with the current giant disconnect between wages and real estate prices.
Land sales may be slowing right now, but that’s not going to change things. The top feeders who can afford Kauai’s prime are pretty much immune to the current economic downturn. They’re the ones who are currently wreaking havoc on the land, the social fabric and local culture as the rest of us struggle to survive. And unfortunately, they just keep on coming.