Saturday, April 25, 2009

Musings: Good, Bad and No Planning

The still blackness of a starry, new moon night had given way to an expanse of blue flushed with pink when Koko and I went walking this morning. Aside from bird song, and the inevitable crowing, it was so quiet I could hear the wind sighing in the very tops of the ironwood trees, and so chilly I made my sweatshirt sleeves long to double as mittens.

The dawn was awash in a shimmer of gold and pink, and a wedge of fleecy clouds had just parked itself on the summit of Waialeale, when we ran into my neighbor Andy, walking his dog Momi. We talked about family and shared some good laughs; truly, there’s no better start to the day than a lovely sunrise and laughter. I told him that land use attorney and author George Cooper had sent me an email, expressing wonderment that our mutual friend, Jimmy Nishida, is now the planning commission chair:

The reason I came to Kauai was he was in a lab I was leader of for a UH environmental course. We became friends from that lab. For his lab work I helped him research the environmental impact of Princeville, as I recall, then we came to Kauai and spoke about PV to classes at KCC and high schools. That eventually led to all the organizing work we did on Kauai and bodysurfing Brennecke's when it was still good there. In those years the Planning Cmn of course was a big enemy. And now Jimmy's running that show! Although: what does the PC have to do now since I guess no one's developing anything?

Well, as Andy noted, these down times are when all the developers come in with their projects because everybody’s crying, we need jobs, and they get their approvals and time it so their projects start at the beginning of the upswing, so they do well, and then everybody’s crying, how come we have all this development? That’s how planning’s done on Kauai. It’s no planning.

I revised my morning plans to take advantage of the good clothesline weather and followed the path of the sun shining on the sea down to the Laundromat, where I ran into my friend Jim, who is Native Hawaiian. He’d been reading a book by John Schofield, who in 1873 was sent on a secret mission to explore the strategic potential of a U.S. presence in the Hawaiian Islands. That led him to recommend America establish a naval port at Pearl Harbor, and he was later memorialized by having his name attached to Schofield Barracks.

Anyway, as Jim recounted, Schofield wrote that if America could just get in and “Christianize and civilize the natives,” it could make a nice little place for itself in the Islands. So that’s what they did, my friend said, “but we’re still not civilized enough for the haoles. I made one little shelter when I was fishing at Wailua and they called the police, saying I was one eyesore in their little community. Do they have any idea what’s it like to be called an eyesore when you’re just fishing the way we always used to?”

Fishing has been much on my mind lately — to the point of sapping most of my creativity and time from blogging — since I’m writing a very long piece on Hawaii’s fisheries. So Chris Pala’s piece in the current Honolulu Weekly caught my eye. It details the sorry state of the world’s fisheries, according to studies done by Daniel Pauly, who Pala describes as “perhaps the world’s most influential fisheries scientist.”

It seems not only are we catching more fish, but smaller ones, and as stocks are depleted, we move on to different species. And while we’re becoming more aware of it, this unceasing exploitation has been going on for a very long time. He reports:

Unfortunately, virtually all of the world’s fishing activity has been restricted by the effectiveness of the gear, not because people understood that if you take too much fish today, you won’t have any tomorrow. There are some exceptions, such as some Pacific islands like Hawai‘i and Palau prior to European contact, but not many.

“We have basically never fished sustainably and there’s no evidence the industry is about to start,” Pauly explains. “The world’s fishing fleet is twice the size it needs to be to catch the current amount of fish and a lot of countries are still spending their taxpayers’ money to increase their fleets.”

Pauly sees economics, rather than a change in consciousness, as ultimately turning the tide:

Inevitably, the price of fuel will rise for good. Boats that must tow big nets behind them for long distances, like trawlers and shrimpers, consume huge amounts of fuel and operated deep in the red last year because of the spike in fuel prices. When the prices go back up, even massive subsidies will not save trawlers that are exploiting depleted fish stocks.

“The fishing industry lobby is very powerful, but at some point the taxpayers are going to say ‘enough,’” says Pauly. “What will remain are small coastal fishers employing traps, lines and set nets, which are much more energy-efficient.”

Hmmmm. Yet another reminder that small, localized economic activities make a lot of sense. But it seems we're still stuck in the global trade mode, whether it's food or tourism, rather than planning for community-based economic development.

That message came around again when I headed over to an interview this morning with Pearl Nonaka, whose family owns Kauai Producers Ltd. The business started out as a farmer’s cooperative, and she recalled how in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kauai farmers were growing so much produce, they were shipping it over to Oahu.

Now the situation is reversed, and they get no local produce. Instead, it comes from Oahu and elsewhere. And why? “The kids didn’t want to farm because the work was too hard,” she said. “So they went off and got other jobs and the farmers divided up their land and sold it and probably made more money.”

She sees some farmers still trying to make it, struggling to grow corn in the old cane fields without any water, faced with competition from backyard growers who sell at the sunshine markets, unhindered by insurance and other costs borne by commercial farmers.

“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is for them,” she said.

If times get tighter, and fuel costs get higher, will farming also go the small, localized way that Pauly foresees for fishing? It seems likely. But even having that option depends on good planning so we have some land and water left for farming. And people will need to be either willing to get their own hands dirty — or show more respect for the labors of the farmers and fishers.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is all clear now. The Hawaiian Isles were part of the Pacific "defensive triangle". Made up of Alaska, Panama and Hawaii.
So far so good...

Andy Parx said...

Sunday rant:
Why is this “no one wants to farm because the work is (too) hard” myth allowed to perpetuate? The sole reason for lack of farmers is that an investment in the land is prohibitive to a successful operation because the good ad land is used for rich people’s estates.

If that’s so why are there, we hear, a gaggle of kids working on some of the NS organic farms? Don’t you think they’d jump at the chance of farming their own plot if the price was in a range that could make sense economically?

What they mean is that no one wants to work for less then minimum wage for those who either inherited the land or for some other reason don’t have to put the land cost into their bottom line equation.

If “we” made one or two acre plots available to families at a reasonable cost we could create self sustaining family units of farmers and they would be providing local farm products for others.

Proof?- there’s a long list for those upcoming Kilauea ag park lands and even it’s not really going to be that cheap.

Farming families won’t happen as long as we keep allowing the farm land prices to soar by taking it out of ag and making “ag condos”- it may never happen because if we don’t stop it soon there will be none left.

And don’t solely blame the state for failing to stop condominiumization. We still have no county bill to take the density out of open land which is what allows many of the houses to be built on small plots of ag land. And we won’t if we keep electing people who only give lip service to sustainable ag or own their own ag condos or subdivisions as some do.

Funny- I see hundreds of “activists” screaming “sustainable future” and “grow our own (organic) food” but I see none of them even talking about something like the open land density bill to address this root cause and lobbying the council for it- much less supporting other legislative measures that would lower the cost of starting a farm- the key to sustainability.

Guess they don’t “do” politics... so politics “does” them.

Anonymous said...

There is no property tax income from affordable ag land. Better to have high tax base land units to pay for the government's workers and its services.
Plus you don't have out of state back to nature types running all over the place.

Anonymous said...

"Why is this “no one wants to farm because the work is (too) hard” myth allowed to perpetuate? The sole reason for lack of farmers is that an investment in the land is prohibitive to a successful operation because the good ad land is used for rich people’s estates."

When I was a kid, my dad asked me, my brother and my sister if we wanted to continue farming or move to the city. It was a no brainer for us, as the choice was between working after school and on Saturdays or not. My parents, who, in addition to working full time jobs, worked on our farm on weekdays until the sun set and on weekends (at least the kids got Sunday off). I've never asked them, but I would bet that they too, were relieved to sell the farm. It's easy to say that "no one wants to farm because the work is too hard" is a myth when one does not work, period.