I saw the last of the moon yesterday morning — a golden sliver cupping a white sphere — so I knew Venus and Jupiter would be all alone this morning, and they were, reigning over the eastern and western skies, respectively.
Waialeale and Makaleha were all slopes and no summit, weighed down by the clouds that had brought a heavy pre-dawn rain, and the sun rose in a smear of smoky pink that spoke of showers along the coast and the likelihood of more to come.
And as former Councilman and mayoral candidate Mel Rapozo noted in the comments section of a previous post, more approvals of previously denied vacation rentals are also to come.
These rentals were previously denied permits because they sported such blatantly illegal features as enclosed ground floor units in the flood zone and multi-family units. But then, faced with the specter of a lawsuit, the planning commission, at the advice of planning director Ian Costa, rolled over and let them in, anyway.
One of the big problems is the lack of documentation on so many of these applications. This makes it difficult for the commission, much less the public, which has already been roundly shut out of the process, to know exactly why permits were approved or denied.
Let’s not forget that the planning department, with its bungling and lack of transparency, is the same agency that will be charged with monitoring and enforcing the farm worker housing bill once it’s passed. And have no doubts, it will be passed, because ag is now a sexy issue. Politicians want to be able to claim they’re helping farmers (and that includes ranchers and tree growers, too), even as they move to approve vacation rentals on ag land —a driving factor in the speculation that has pushed the price of farm land out of the reach of farmers.
Councilman Jay Furfaro called in to the KKCR talk show that Jimmy Trujillo and I were hosting yesterday afternoon to toot his horn about his leadership on ag worker housing and say we need to be willing to “take a risk” in passing a measure that supposedly will help farmers.
So does that mean Jay’s acknowledging the Council can’t/won’t draft a bill without loopholes? The planning department has already admitted that enforcement will be a major problem, which Jay glossed over, saying that could probably be addressed with funding and staffing.
I think the enforcement issue is more a question of political will, and let’s face it, there isn’t any when it comes to cracking down on people who are generating large amounts of property tax, even illegally.
Jay went on to justify giving permits to pre-existing TVRs (transient vacation rentals) anywhere, so long as they have a history of paying taxes, by saying the General Plan requires the county to regulate, not eliminate, them. Yes, but the Plan also says they’re supposed to be restricted to Visitor Destination Areas, which excludes Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and, ostensibly, ag lands.
It’s important for people to realize that with Kauai’s beach front land pretty much all taken, the island’s remaining real estate wealth lies in its ag lands, and there’s going to be tremendous pressure to develop them — if not outright, then through these shadowy side roads like farm worker housing.
And once the land is tied up in fake farms, it’s gonna be awfully hard to create the real farms needed to grow the real food that could reduce Hawaii’s $3 billion annual expenditure on imported food.
That’s right -- $3 billion. Of course, that pales in comparison to the $7 billion we shell out every year for oil, all of it imported, too. As Sen. Gary Hooser mentioned in discussing his platform — energy independence, environmental protection, education, equity for all — at Sunday’s campaign kickoff, just think what it would mean for the state if that money stayed here.
It would certainly erase the $786 million deficit and eliminate the need to cut programs and lay off state workers. A friend who is just two years from retirement recently got his pink slip. However, he can keep his job if he fingers another worker in his office to be fired in his stead. And as Gary mentioned, Department of Health Director Lillian Koller sent out notices advising workers in her agency to call a recording to see if they’ve been terminated.
Surely if firings are warranted — and I have to agree with Sen. Inouye that this is more of a political power play than a necessity — they could find a more humane way of doing it.
Finally, I was forwarded a link to an intriguing article in the Boston Globe that reports about a dozen municipalities have adopted measures that give nature rights under the law.
But proponents see it as part of an ongoing progression, an expansion of rights that slowly brings about an increasingly just society. After all, not so long ago, slaves and women were in some legal regimes deemed property, just as nature is today. Now we all accept universal human rights. The concept of animal rights has also become familiar, if much more contested. Advocates of this agenda see the extension of rights to ecosystems as the natural next step. And they believe it could spark a profound shift in our relations with nature, leading to more effective environmental protections.
Still, it’s pretty creepy to think we’ve gotten so far removed from nature that we actually have to pass laws that acknowledge it has an inalienable and fundamental right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.