It was very cold, dark and starry when I got home last night from the meeting on the Path. It went later than I, or probably most anyone, expected. It was still going when I left, four hours after it had started, and it continued into my dreams.
It was a classic Kauai public meeting, in terms of socializing with old friends and staging interesting side discussions, prompting Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., who had flown in from Oahu, to remark: “I wondered what you did at night, and now I know. It’s better than going out drinking.”
Yes, I replied, and you feel better in the morning.
The meeting, which was very well-attended by at least a couple hundred people, was not, as one snide commenter predicted on yesterday’s post, “a circus.” Well, except for the creepy part where Planning Director Ian Costa and his deputy, Imai Aiu, closed in bouncer-like on a guy who said something to the effect of “you’re a fraud, goddammit,” when deputy county attorney Maunakea Trask was saying there were no burials on the beach.
I and others thought they were gonna yank that guy right out of there and beat the shit out of him, and I wasn’t sure if the cops that moved in behind them were gonna help, or protect the guy. Imai even did the finger wagging in the face bit, before backing off and striding around, nostrils flaring, chest heaving.
Let’s just say their behavior raised more than a few eyebrows….
The mayor was there, (although Beth Tokioka, unfortunately, was not), and to his credit, he appeared to be listening attentively, which is not an easy thing to do for hours on end.
Still, I couldn’t help but keep returning to a question that one person asked, early on, about why, exactly, we were having this meeting, since the mayor has already come out and said he wants the Path on the beach.
Bernard replied that he had brought in the experts — aka Path planners, and there’s a slew of them, which perhaps partly explains why it will cost $4.2 million to put a strip of recycled plastic on the beach — “because I wanted them to hear you speak and now is the time you folks going speak. I’m not gonna promise you that the decision is gonna be changed, but I want to hear what you folks have to say.”
He then went on to say: “We’re gathering information now” and “we held up this meeting from July so we could gather information.”
OK, so why, then, if you’re gathering information, have you already issued a decision? Which brings us back to the unanswered question of why, exactly, we were having the meeting.
That small matter aside, many of those who spoke were heartfelt and eloquent, hoping to convince the mayor both to change his mind, and not to.
Especially compelling was Val Ako, who was involved in exhuming and reinterring the 87 burials disturbed during construction of Coco Palms. “I don’t want the bike path in that particular location,” he said of the beach route. “It’s full of graves.”
And so, too, it seems, is the area behind Coco Palms.
As he and several others pointed out, including Alan Murakami, who referenced native accounts from kuleana awards as evidence, burials in that area stretch from the fish ponds to the sea.
Especially poignant, and cutting right to the heart of the matter, was Aikane Alapai, who observed: “We have been pushed to all the way of fighting for the sand, one of the smallest tangible things in the world.”
Wailua Beach, particularly coming on the heels of the burials dispute at Naue, is forcing the dominant culture to once again face those persistent, uncomfortable questions: how much, really, does the Hawaiian culture matter? Which Hawaiians are given credibility, and which are ignored? Who makes that call, and how it is justified?
My neighbor Andy and I have had heated discussions about that topic the past two mornings, and more are likely. Because as I see it, what this really comes down to is how exactly does a suppressed culture ever restore itself when that process inconveniences the dominant culture?
Getting back to the meeting, especially telling was one planner’s comment about the spur that’s planned to zig zag up the super steep hillside to the views afforded from atop Kawaihau. “I think this is gonna be a great destination,” he gushed. “Maybe people will even say ‘we did the Kawaihau section of the Path,’ like Lombard Street,” that steep twisty road in San Francisco.
Umm, so much for it not being aimed at tourists….
Especially thought provoking was Sabra Kauka’s comment that “anywhere we go in Wailua we will have an impact, so the question for us all, particularly those with the koko and those with the heart, is where we'll have the least amount of impact. …We came down to the coastal path.”
To which I would say, why, if we know there’s going to be an impact, must we proceed with this section of the Path? Isn’t there an alternative?
As farmer Jerry noted this morning, and the Sierra Club has also pointed out, there is the existing road that runs along the canal behind Coco Palms. Why can’t the Path run on top of it, so nothing new need be disturbed?
This is where Jan TenBruggencate and I disagree, and had an interesting discussion last night. He’s seen beach access disappear over his 50 to 60 years of coastal wanderings, and it’s come largely from development pressure. He worries we’ll lose more unless areas like the Path are set aside to ensure access for perpetuity, so he wants it to be as close to the coast as possible.
I share his concerns about coastal access. But it bother me to think that so many people never even walked along the coast until they had a concrete path to follow. That's really kind of pathetic, because it speaks to the way we've distanced ourselves from nature. Yes, we want to enjoy it, but we don't want to get our feet wet or dirty or devote the attention required to traverse an uneven surface. It’s even more disturbing to think the only way to ensure access is to homogenize it into a ADA-compliant, landscaped ribbon of concrete safe enough for a kid on a tricycle and cluttered with interpretive signs.
I mean, not everybody wants to use the coast in that contrived sort of way. As Jerry and I agreed, go ahead and have your path in urbanized areas like Kapaa and Wailua. But leave the last few bits of wild beach on the northeast side alone, PLEASE. And who is to say that expanding the Path, with its rules and regulations, won’t actually work to reduce beach access? If you’re a person with a dog, you can’t even cross the fricking path to get to the beach in those sections where dogs aren’t allowed. What about if the Path starts to break up or erode and the county closes it for liability reasons? And good luck trying to throw net when you’ve got a stream of joggers and strollers and bikes cruising through. In that way, the Path creates a new kind of development pressure that has the same effect of pushing people away from the beach, especially those who use it for subsistence purposes.
As Jan said, this mayor is sensitized to beach access issues, so let’s make the most of it. I agree. But that doesn’t mean full speed ahead on this expensive, artificial path.
Instead of spending millions on this project, why not start buying up some more easements, or acquiring them through eminent domain? Why not maintain and care for the accesses we have to ensure they’re not lost? Why not stop giving up access ways because of liability concerns? Why not start requiring coastal developers to provide vertical and/or lateral coastal access as a condition of their permits? Heck, they could have started with the Waipouli Resort, that monstrosity built atop burials where the coastal Path won`t actually run along the coast because it and adjacent properties said no, and the county caved in.
It was great to see so many people turn out last night, because as Jan said, it’s really good we’re having this discussion.
Let’s just hope it morphs into a broader fight to support cultural preservation and secure more mauka and makai access, rather than devolves into the usual polarization where we divide ourselves so the developers — and that includes Path planners — can easily conquer us once again.