Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Musings: Mixed Messages

Though waning, the moon still shone brilliantly last night, causing clouds to gleam gold and the pastures to shine silver. By morning it had vanished, vanquished by a heavy pre-dawn rain shower that left the world, or at least our little corner of it, fresh and clean when Koko and I went walking this morning.

“Now this feels like spring,” I exulted when we ran into my neighbor Andy, who was still in that hazy place of trying to remember a dream. But I helpfully pulled him out of it with a discussion on politics — a surefire jolt into reality.

It seems Rep. Roland Sagum’s election year bid to pander to his constituents has gone down in flames now that the Lege has nixed his resolution seeking to recognize the cultural merits of cockfighting.

Kinda sad to think that was his main contribution to the legislative arena this session.

Interestingly, Rep. Jimmy Tokioka voted against it. Apparently in his contorted world, it’s OK to take a flat out stand of discriminating against same-sex couples, but you wouldn’t want to send the world a “mixed message” about cockfighting.

When it comes to climate change, it seems there’s an attempt under way to send people messages deliberately mixed up by special interests. According to a new Greenpeace report, oil companies and Koch Industries — one of the nation’s largest private corporations, owned by two brothers ranked among the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. — are providing extensive financial backing for climate change deniers. The report details where the money has gone and notes:

[O]rganizations funded by Koch foundations have led the assault on climate science and scientists, “green jobs,” renewable energy and climate policy progress.

A Koch spokeswoman offered this reassuring rebuttal:

These efforts are about creating more opportunity and prosperity for all, as it’s a historical fact that economic freedom best fosters innovation, environmental protection and improved quality of life in a society.

Gee, I really wish she would have cited her historical references.

The Greenpeace report also maintains that Koch provided money to help turn up the flame under the much ballyhooed “Climategate scandal.”

In related news, the British Parliament just completed a formal inquiry into the controversy and found the scientists had not manipulated data. The report further concluded that while withholding information is standard practice in climate science, it’s “unacceptable” in a matter of such extreme “global importance and public interest.”

The inquiry also found that the climate data generated by the University's Climate Research Unit corresponds with other datasets from NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the National Climatic Data Center.

Such facts are slow to trickle in to Fox News, which continues to beat the drum of denial.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is sending some mixed messages to the environmental community. On the one hand, we have the EPA finally speaking out against plans to blast the top off yet another coal-containing mountain in West Virginia, with the agency’s Shawn Garvin saying:

“We must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution, and the damage from this project would be irreversible.”

Then on the other, you’ve got Obama announcing plans to expand offshore oil drilling.

The latter is apparently part of Obama’s ongoing effort to appease obstructionist Republican lawmakers. But predictably, GOP politicians responded that it wasn’t enough.

When is the Prez going to realize that these guys are not gonna go along with anything he wants because their goal is to waylay his agenda in an effort to push him out of office?

And that by taking these sorts of approaches, he’s alienating a core group of supporters?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Musings: Both Ends of the Spectrum

The full moon danced all night, through the clouds and across the skylight over my bed, before finally slipping into a thick pile of fleece atop Waialeale shortly before dawn, which arrived as a smudge of pink against gray.

Big gusts of wind whipped the clouds into a frenzy and caused the leaves to tremble and the tree limbs to squeak, yet still the birds could be heard singing cheerfully, mightily. It does seem their sweet voices are louder in the spring.

The voices of the poor, disabled and disadvantaged are among the quietest, however, and so their needs — and the jobs of 228 eligibility employees, comprising almost half the workforce — are what the Lingle Administration is choosing to sacrifice to save about $8 million.

Yet to hear Human Services Director Lillian Koller describe it, service will actually be improved and wait times will somehow magically be reduced because people can apply over the phone, on-line and via fax and mail.

It’s rather remarkable that a person in her position is so out of touch with the clientele her agency is serving. Through my job, I’ve found that many of those eligible for or receiving such aid do not have phones and virtually none have fax machines. They do not have computer skills, email and/or ready access to the Internet, and they often need help completing applications.

The system, and its forms and letters, is not easily navigated. I’ve had people bring in letters from various government agencies that even I, with a pretty high level of English skills, have had a hard time deciphering. To think that people will get the help they need with fewer opportunities for face-to-face consultations with eligibility workers is totally unrealistic.

I was reading an article about health care reform and various politicians and pundits were saying that America has guaranteed its citizens certain basic rights, like food, a roof over their heads and a secure old age. From their comfortable and theoretical vantage point, that may appear to be true, but in fact, it’s not actually the case.

There’s currently a freeze on housing subsidies, which means that many people are unable to afford even the lowest rents, and a large percentage of those who come to our food pantry are already receiving food stamps, which don’t actually carry them through the entire month.

As for a secure old age, I’m not sure even the baby boomers, with their recently devalued investments, are guaranteed that, much less the working poor, like the 61-year-old jobless waitress I talked to the other day who is somehow living on $686 per month in unemployment benefits soon to be cut off.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, you have someone like Joe Brescia, with his multi-multi-million-dollar real estate portfolio on Kauai alone. And still he must have more, which is why he is building atop a burial ground at Naue, where the installation of his septic tank is currently under way some seven to 10 feet from two burials. You can see one of them surrounded by rocks, with a small ti plant.

But work had to stop when they encountered not burials, but electrical wires serving the house next door. It seems it’s always something at that job site.

Given the size of his lot and house, and the abundance of iwi, it’s hard to imagine just where his leachfield might go without actually contaminating the burials. That’s a question the Burial Council had, too, but the state decided it didn’t need to be answered.

The project required heavy equipment.

But Brescia's archaeologist, Mike Dega, also had to get in the hole.

Fortunately, contractor Ted Burkhardt is keeping a close eye on things — or at least, our photographer, anyway.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musings: Wailing

The world was dim, dove gray and dripping all around the edges when Koko and I went walking on this full moon Monday morning, equipped with an umbrella that I soon put into service as the fine misty rain turned into something much more substantial. And hopefully, it will keep on coming.

We ran into my neighbor Andy, who asked what I’ve been working on. I said I’d spent much of the weekend writing a piece for Honolulu Weekly about burials and the implications of State Historic Preservation Division Administrator Pua Aiu’s decision to approve the Burial Treatment Plan for Joe Brescia’s house, even though the Burial Council had unanimously rejected it.

This was followed by Andy, who frequently gives me short history lessons, talking about the traditional Hawaiian practice of wailing to mourn the dead.

“I still think they should go out there in front of the house, every couple of weeks, especially after it’s been rented, and wail at 6 o clock in the morning, just to make it really clear to whoever is staying there exactly what’s gong on,” he said.

“That’s a vacation rental,” I interrupted, pointing to a house with a rental car parked in the drive, where the entry lights are always left on all night.

Andy paused, deadpan. “Let’s wail. We’re mourning the death of the land, and since it’s still dying, we can keep wailing.”

Ain’t that the truth.

KIUC, now officially being sued by Earthjustice, should be wailing over the birds they’re helping to drive to extinction, but instead they’re just whining:

KIUC was “surprised and disappointed” to learn about the lawsuit, the co-op’s president and CEO, Randy Hee, said Sunday.

Come on, Randy. Earthjustice gave you a heads up weeks ago with a notice of intent of sue. However, the most telling paragraph came at the end of Coco Zickos’ story, which reports that KIUC admits that it’s killing birds each and every year:

“KIUC realizes the potential for harm against the seabirds,” Hee said. “We are interested in doing whatever we can.”

What he doesn’t seem to realize is there’s a big difference between interest and actual action, which is precisely why the co-op is being sued.

This topic always makes me think of the thoughtful “f the birds” comment left by the shift-key impaired, short dash-fixated “dwps” — aka “mainland mentality,” “Darwin was pretty smart,” “young white atheist male” and “anonymous” — who recently left the comment:

only here, and a few weird places on the mainland populated by strange people, would a bike path be seen as some sort of bag thing. its bizarre

I’m assuming he meant “bad” and not “bag,” so let me spell it out for him. A bike path that is part of a road system, so as to truly facilitate alternative transportation, could be seen as a good thing.

But a bike path that runs over a beach or burials, is constructed of coastline hardening concrete, delivers hordes of people to places previously untrammeled, exposes you to possible $500 fines and puts you on the radar of an over zealous enforcement officer riding a bicycle with a poodle in a basket, well, in my opinion, that’s a bad thing.

Another bad thing: Tasers, and Police Chief Darryl Perry’s desire to make sure each and every officer (and hopefully that does not include Path enforcement) has one.

An article in the Daily Mail reports on how the United Kingdom has also embraced Tasers:

But perhaps of greater concern than increased numbers of X26 guns is the expectation that the police will soon be armed with a new long-range model. The more powerful weapon can immobilise a suspect for 20 seconds from 100ft away and is being tested by Home Office scientists.

One problem with Tasers is that they give cops a chance to vent their frustration and/or sadistic tendencies without getting in the same sort of trouble as they would if they beat someone up.

I heard that when the cops Tasered LeBeau Lagmay, he was lying immobilized on the ground, sweating profusely, shaking uncontrollably and literally shitting his pants, and they still Tased him again.

Of course, if you ask the cops, the alternative would have been to shoot him, like we do to unarmed people in Afghanistan all the time, as Democracy Now! reports:

Meanwhile, military officials in Kabul have admitted US and NATO troops have killed thirty Afghans and wounded eighty others at or near military checkpoints since last summer. In no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops. In a recent video conference, military commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal said, “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."

Yet in the face of this, we still have President Obama defending the death and destruction there with paranoid Cold War rhetoric like this:

“Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here. And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al-Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake, the Afghan people will lose their chance at progress and prosperity, and the world will be significantly less secure.”

Kind of makes me want to start wailing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Musings: The Greater Good

Last night it was the moon, building and brightening, that lit the way through sighing trees when Koko and I went walking, while this morning it was the soft blue light of a cloudy pre-dawn.

The streets, wet from showers that passed through under cover of darkness, were nearly deserted, as is typically the case on a holiday. So it was easier for my neighbor Andy and me to chat without the distraction of passing cars, which are always a consideration when his dog is off her leash, as is often the case, because he likes to give her the freedom to be a dog.

Speaking of which, I heard the details of Humane Society Director Becky Rhoades’ citation, or rather, a credible account of her version of events. She apparently had just reached the Kealia Stream bridge, which marks the northernmost point where dogs are allowed on the Path, when she espied a dreaded unleashed outlaw, standing with its owner near yonder lifeguard stand.

With Toto in toto in a basket on her handlebars, she quickly pedaled down the Path to educate the errant owner. But as she began to deliver her lecture, his friend, a county park employee, reportedly interrupted and said, “Who the hell are you, you fucking bitch? You’re not even supposed to be on this part of the Path with a dog.”

At that point she demanded he call a ranger to cite the bad owner, as well as her, because she knew she was technically in the wrong, even though she was serving the greater good.

Now it could be argued that other public servants are technically in the wrong and not serving the public good, and that was the case that former Councilman Mel Rapozo made against the new TVR (transient vacation rental) bill on my radio show yesterday.

I must now add that Councilman Tim Bynum had a change of heart and did call in after all, toward what he thought was the end of the show. My co-host Caren Diamond and I were glad he did, as politicians should be willing to publicly discuss legislation they’ve proposed — especially those who like to characterize themselves as proponents of sunshine, transparency and open government.

What struck me as even more interesting, however, were some of the comments made by callers, particularly the observation that many of us have friends with vacation rentals. That’s true. It’s also true we tend to look more kindly upon them than the off-island investment consortiums that have developed the mini-resort TVRs along the North Shore, or the mainlanders using the income from a TVR to offset the costs of maintaining a second home.

We also tend to look more kindly upon the handful of farmers who have a TVR that helps them stay in farming than those who have built ag land mansions that rent for thousands of dollars per night and don’t even make a pretense of being linked to a farm.

So perhaps the tensions over this issue would be eased if we required TVR owners to be fulltime residents of Kauai, and to have a bonafide farming operation if it’s on ag land. It also seems it would be wise if the county first adopted an ag tourism bill that defines a farm before it wades into the quicksand of approving farm worker housing and ag land TVRs.

Several callers noted that zoning violations are rampant on Kauai, with Mel making the comment that locals are being “hammered” for minor offenses, while rich folks are let go because the county fears a lawsuit.

There’s no doubt that enforcement is often MIA on Kauai. A friend who is looking to buy a house said she was shocked at how many of the listings lack building permits, either entirely, or for various structures, such as the garage or an additional dwelling unit. And while some were good deals, she had to pass because they didn’t qualify for bank loans.

Then there are the palatial barns built on ag land that have the kitchens installed after inspection, giving the owners a house they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to have. This is so common that one draftsman told me he was actually trained to do this when he began working for a local architect who is active in the TVR biz.

And as Tim noted on the radio show, the county is still allowing new ag land subdivisions that are strictly residential, which pretty much makes a mockery of the agricultural district.

So until we get really clear on just what we want for Kauai’s agricultural lands, and are willing to get serious about enforcement in general, pursuing a new TVR bill is pretty much an exercise in futility.

But that would require politicians, and planning directors, who are both technically in the right and dedicated to the greater good.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Musings: An Earful

Today’s topic for my KKCR radio show is transient vacation rentals — specifically the bill legalizing TVRs on ag land recently introduced by Councilman Tim Bynum.

Mel Rapozo, an outspoken opponent, quickly agreed to call in, so in an attempt to provide the sort of “balanced discussion” that some critics had requested, I asked Tim and some TVR advocates if they’d like to participate.

The TVR advocates demurred, claiming they’d been subjected to threatening phone calls and vandalism of at least one home after they spoke at a public hearing.

Tim didn’t give me an answer right away, but instead said he wanted to talk to me. When lunch didn’t fit into my schedule, he said, “How about if we take a walk — on the Path?”

To interject a bit of backstory, I’d heard from a friend more than a year ago that Tim, a regular reader of this blog, fantasized about running into Koko and me one morning and joining us on our walk. I shared that with another friend, who sent an email last Friday with the message:

I wonder....if Tim B will still be fantasizing taking walks w/ you and KoKo after reading today's blog.

It was an extremely critical post, so I wasn’t sure, when I invited Tim to be on the radio, if he would even respond. But politicians are bigger, thicker-skinned — dare I say needier? — than that, which is how Koko and I found ourselves meeting Tim at Lihi Park — the southerly end of the section where dogs are allowed — yesterday afternoon.

Now, readers of this blog know that I am no fan of the Path, but it was a lovely day and the ocean — turquoise and glassy under an offshore wind — looked absolutely ono. Of course, I couldn’t legally access it for a swim so long as Koko was at my side, so I focused instead on the task at hand: listening to Tim.

I can’t share all of what we discussed, because much of it was off the record, but suffice to say that he was doing nearly all of the talking. So we were a good 90 minutes into the walk/talk before I finally had a chance to ask him a few questions about his bill, which he said was needed to spare Kauai County the cost of having to defend itself against the inevitable legal challenges to the existing vacation rental law. To avoid that litigation, which would cost a minimum of $5 million, the law needed to be rewritten to remove the illegal language and give TVR owners on ag land a chance to apply for use permits, too.

“Assuming that’s the case, and I'm not convinced it is, why did you delete the provision that requires an inspection first?” I asked.

“Because I was told it was illegal,” Tim said.

It seemed unfathomable that the county wouldn't even have the right to inspect a person’s property before issuing a special permit for a use that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed, but I went on to my next question.

“You say you are a proponent of open government, so why did you delete the provision that required the planning department to make the applications available to the public? How is the public supposed to participate in the process? Don’t the people have a right to comment on a special use permit?”

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Tim responded, before adding that the only real objections people could raise to such a permit would be noise and other such disturbances, and those concerns could be addressed by calling the police.

This was followed by some rather pointed remarks on my part about the moral implications of rewarding people for skirting the law, the county's tendency to cave in to big money pressure, slack enforcement and the continual undermining of the county's ag lands.

By this time, we were nearly at the end of our walk, which, with numerous pauses along the way, had spanned some three hours.

“So, are you going to do on the radio show?” I finally asked.

No, Tim said, he really wanted to, he was torn, he would if he could, but he had been warned by the County Attorney even when discussing the bill in the public Council session not to say too much because of legal concerns. And so he didn’t think he should risk coming on the radio and perhaps saying something he shouldn’t.

Now that seems to be a rather sorry state of affairs, that a Councilmember can’t even articulate to the public the rationale for a proposed law that will have tremendous impact on Kauai’s land use policies. I guess we’re just supposed to trust that the same folks who passed the supposedly fatally flawed bill now know how to fix it — and have our best interests at heart.

I was annoyed, but Tim, a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, found reason to look on the bright side.

“Just think, we had this wonderful walk and it didn’t cost us a thing,” he said, beaming. “We need more places like this.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would have been just as happy walking on the beach.”

In fact, I would have been happier, because I wouldn’t have had to worry about whether Koko’s doodoo bags were prominently displayed — just one requirement of the dogs on the path law — or if someone would notice she wasn’t wearing a license that she doesn’t have. I wouldn’t have had to deal with the lady who persisted in having her dog make friends with Koko, who had her back up — a clear signal that a snap or snarl is pending, which is exactly what happened.

“I know some people like this, and that’s fine,” I said, recalling the obvious enjoyment of the folks I’d passed pushing strollers and cruising on roller blades and bikes. “But we don’t need something like this all around the island. There should be places you can go that aren’t so structured.”

Because despite Tim’s comment that attempts to restrict people from having dogs on the Path is a violation of their freedom, turning the coastline into a county park, with all the attendant rules and regulations, constitutes an even greater encroachment on our freedom.

And while we didn’t have to pay an admission fee, the multi-million Path is certainly far from free.

“I understand,” replied Tim, a former therapist who frequently punctuates his conversations with such agreeable phrases. “But I support it for the same reason Mayor Baptiste did: lateral access.”

Actually, there is a lateral access. It’s called the shoreline. And if the county wouldn’t allow people to construct seawalls and other fortifications, which apparently will be required to protect the Path in at least two places where erosion is already significant, or build their houses and hotels with inadequate setbacks, we’d be able to get around most everywhere on it.

But as I already know, and the conversation with Tim made even more clear, when it comes to what passes for “planning” on Kauai, the emphasis is on “use” rather than “land.”

Discouraged and depressed, I said my final good-byes, and drove away, convinced that the TVR bill, the Path and even democracy — at least, the dysfunctional, drama-laden, undemocratic way it’s practiced on Kauai — bode ill for this little island.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Musings: Clearing Things Up

An unexpectedly free half-afternoon found me at the beach yesterday on fresh-washed sand shared by a snoozing monk seal and watching big, dark blue waves capped with white that were skimmed by a fish-seeking albatross flying horizontally.

Despite the gray-tinged clouds bunched up over the mountains and bobbing along the horizon, there was no sign of the promised rain, which arrived instead this morning, just as my neighbor Andy was preparing to dispense dog biscuits at the end of our walk.

The streets were unusually quiet, as they have been lately, what with spring break and furloughs and tourism down. One upside of the economic downturn has been a marked reduction in traffic.

As we walked, Andy had gotten to talking about William A. Fernandez, who built the largest theatre in Hawaii, the 1050-seat Roxy Theatre in Kapaa, and was on the verge of bankruptcy when the U.S. entered World War II. Suddenly 40,000 troops were stationed on the island and the theater remained open 24 hours a day, allowing Fernandez to make money hand over fist.

“Oh, so it appears we need a war to improve Hawaii’s economy,” I said. “But what’s wrong with the two we’ve got? They’re just not big enough?”

As Andy noted, that’s one thing both political parties can agree on: spending money on war. Still, it seems there’s a fine line between wars that boost and drain the economy, and we’re apparently caught in the latter.

(Just to lighten things up, here’s a link to a humorous and clever piece in The New Yorker spoofing the Taliban’s effort to soften its image.)

Anyway, aside from the human woes caused by the sluggish economy — last week alone, two people came to the food pantry for emergency distributions, telling me, in stunned, soft voices, that they’d just lost their jobs, and other residents are moving in with family because they can’t afford even the lowest rents on the island — I’m getting reports of institutional decline.

One county worker was talking about the disarray in the state Attorney General’s office as talented attorneys and competent secretaries leave because of furlough-induced pay cuts and increased work loads. And yesterday, The Garden Island reported on the drastic reduction in conservation enforcement due to the budget cuts.

So I’ve been wondering, is this the way governments fall? Just keep trimming and gutting and pretty soon you get to a place where it functions even more poorly than usual and then collapses completely?

Meanwhile, the County Council is focusing on more pressing issues, such as allowing dogs on the entire length of the Path. Like blogger Andy Parx, I’m gonna miss the thoughtful reporting of Michael Levine and his ability to convey what’s really going on at the Council meetings, as he did with his report on the dog bill:

While the council’s Wednesday vote, like the vast majority of first reading votes, may have technically been 7-0, a number of council members voiced their displeasure over the timing of the bill’s introduction with deafening silence. At least Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing, Vice Chair Jay Furfaro and Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro declined to vote “aye,” but the record will reflect unanimity.

Ah, so the rift on the Council continues. Have you ever noticed how much passive aggressive behavior takes place in politics?

I also found it interesting that Councilwoman Lani Kawahara, who has been portrayed as an advocate of open government, declined to pony up the results of a survey on such a proposal, as did the Administration:

Councilwoman Lani Kawahara, chair of the Parks and Transportation Committee and a proponent of the measure, referenced the completed survey, but backed down when her colleagues pushed her for the results, which have reportedly been compiled but have not yet been released to the public.

Attempts to obtain the results from the Department of Parks and Recreation were unsuccessful. Beth Tokioka, executive assistant to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., said she did not believe the administration would be releasing any information prior to its presentation to the council next month.

It kind of makes you wonder, if they’re hesitant to release a survey about dogs on the Path, what else might they be withholding?

And a friend drew my attention to Mike’s report on the fine paid by Humane Society Director Becky Rhoades for having an unleashed dog on the Path. It seems that Dr. Becky had erred only in an attempt to bring another errant into compliance:

“I had a little poodle in my basket, tied to my handlebars. I was guilty,” Rhoades said, noting she paid the fine last week. She said she saw a dog without a leash north of the dog-friendly section, and went over to educate the dog’s owner.

“I have zero tolerance for dogs off-leash,” Rhoades said. “That’s where we get into problems, because you don’t have control over your dog.”

But so long as they’re in a basket, no problem. Or, you could outfit them in high-heeled boots to restrict movement.

The funniest part, however, came at the end:

Asked Monday why the press release was issued, Iseri-Carvalho said she had received numerous calls from the community regarding Rhoades’ citation, first reported by blogger Joan Conrow of, and wanted to make clear that she is not party to any conspiracy between the Kauai Humane Society and The Garden Island newspaper.

I'm so glad she cleared that up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Musings: Hope for New Life

It sure feels like spring this morning, what with the birds chirping and the air soft and moist and the sun rising early in a flush of burnt orange and the grass lush and Waialeale clear and little wispy clouds trailing off a pink-topped Makaleha.

Koko and I were out enjoying all this beauty when we ran into my neighbor Andy, who had three dogs, a pocket full of biscuits and opinions on a few of the topics I’ve covered lately: Taylor Camp and its impact on Kauai; ag TVRs; and the dispute over access to Ka`aka`aniu (Larsen’s Beach), which we thought should be settled through naked negotiations, seeing as how nude sunbathing is such a point of contention there.

Heck, we were so busy with local issues we didn’t even have time to get into the ”historic" health care reform bill passed by the House. I liked this comment by the Prez:

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a healthcare system that works for insurance companies but not for ordinary people.

It does?

I was kind of thinking it seems more like the answer to the prayers of cash-starved TV stations and advertising agencies, what with the big push planned to simultaneously sell and disparage the bill.

But I’m confident that TV-guzzling Americans will arrive at the truth because they’re so skilled at discernment and critical thinking.

And to think I’ll be missing all that shibai and distortion and hyperbole since I don’t have a TV….. Shoots.

Actually, I did wish, briefly, that I had a TV so I could watch the Council meeting where they talked about the ag land vacation rental (TVR) bill. But then a friend said she’d get me a copy, so no need. Someone left an interesting comment about the possible rationale for that bill:

Theory: The C.A. must be concerned about the County being forced, in a lawsuit, to compensate (essentially buy) all of the TVRs that it has previously allowed, taxed and even encouraged to be built over the years. Even the (government-approved) land deeds in Kalihiwai state that the right to TVR goes with the land - right in the deed.

Intriguing, and worth exploring. The county certainly has been remiss in failing to enforce the farm dwelling agreement, and I imagine there could be grounds for a suit; indeed, a certain skilled attorney has already taken the case. However, as Andy observed, not all deeds would confer such a right because a lot of TVRs were developed on raw ag land, and others were converted to such a use after purchase.

And as Caren Diamond noted in her testimony, the bill will actually allow a proliferation of new vacation rentals:

Instead, the bill reopens the window for applications until a year after the passage of this new bill - at least 2011!

Of course, vacation rentals and the equally ill-conceived farm worker housing bill — both pushed by Councilman Tim Bynum — are but two of the current assaults being mounted on ag land. There’s also the big future ag land give-away disguised as the Important Ag Land study.

In an article in today’s The Garden Island, Coco Zickos talks about the differing views held by members of the panel charged with making recommendations on which lands are important enough to protect:

Some, like Grove Farm Senior Vice President Michael Tresler, focused on the monetary aspects of the land while others, such as taro farmer and state aquatic biologist Don Heacock, concentrated more on the preservation of acreage for sustainable food growth.

Now who woulda thunk?

Most telling, however, was her closing paragraph, which described an exercise to rank criteria:

Some group members had a difficult time keeping pace, as terms like Agricultural Lands of Importance to the State of Hawai‘i (land identified as important by the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture in 1977) were unfamiliar to them. There wasn’t enough time for detailed explanations to bring everyone up to speed, as the meeting was already past its scheduled allotment.

Kinda makes you want to cry, doesn’t it? Unless, of course, you’re a land developer or Realtor.

But it’s spring, time to look on the bright side, have hope for new life. And that brings me to my ringing endorsement of Jan TenBruggencate for the KIUC Board.

Jan is honest, intelligent, independent, committed, hard-working, practical and akamai. In other words, he stands out from the crowd and we’re lucky he’s running.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Musings: The '60s Dream

Lying on lava rock, looking up, I saw the thin white moon high in the sky, holding its own as fluffy fleece breezed by on the bright-cool afternoon of Saturday’s Spring Equinox. But by nightfall, it had succumbed, and its snuggle up with Pleiades was blotted out by clouds that perhaps had some relation to this morning’s rain.

Fortunately, we’ll get another chance to see Pleiades, which the Hawaiians know as Makalii, connect with a crescent moon on April 16. It’s my favorite cluster of stars, home base of the light workers, according to Barbara Marciniak and the subject of extensive mythology for peoples all over the world.

I witnessed another bit of mythology last night when I watched John Wehrheim’s movie “Taylor Camp,” about the place of the same name in what is now Haena State Park. But it’s really more about an experience than a place — or more specifically, the memories of that experience — and the official website refers to it as “living the 60s dream.”

I am not of that generation, so I never dreamed that particular dream, but I was alive on the planet and living near the San Francisco Bay Area during the hippie heydey, so I certainly was aware of it, and curious about it, though not curious enough to drive somewhere and pay money to watch John’s depiction of how that dream played out on Kauai.

But about a month ago, John lent me a copy of the book and DVD, and last night I finally got around to checking out his creation. While I can’t fault John’s photography, which is remarkable, or even the way he put together the documentary — aside from its re-created bits, which felt like fill, and the aerial footage of Na Pali and the North Shore, which felt like a plug for the visitor’s bureau, and the superficiality of the interviewees’ reminisces, which were utterly devoid of any reflection on the fallout of their actions — I was extremely bothered by what Taylor Camp and its inhabitants ushered in.

After seeing the movie and reviewing the book, I must say I share the sentiments of Farmer Jerry, expressed in a previous blog post, that Taylor Camp was the beginning of the end for Kauai, especially the North Shore. Because the campers reflected an attitude that was sharply at odds with local culture, an attitude that still persists to this day.

Those who came to Taylor Camp didn’t care that no one else on the island wanted them here, except others like them who had arrived earlier and spread the word, encouraging more to come. And when they were told to leave, they cried out indignantly, “This is America, we have rights,” in much the same way the mainland transplants now claim they have the right to build atop burials or right smack on the beach.

They didn’t care that locals were offended by their nudity and lifestyle, or that they largely lived apart from the locals, literally lost in their own little world, just like the mainland transplants of today who stick to themselves and don’t care that locals are offended by the extravagant eyesores they construct in the view planes. The campers with their treehouses were essentially no different than those who build mansions that are similarly occupied by transients who are just passing through, removed from the larger workings of the community.

I was struck by how the campers, with few exceptions, gave nothing back to the place that they supposedly loved so much. Instead, they just took: food stamps, welfare, the time and patience of Clorinda, the longtime Hanalei postmaster who had to pass out their mail through general delivery, rides from people who had the cars they couldn’t afford or eschewed, fish from the ocean, water from the streams, schooling for their children, medical care. They were skimmers, folks who came in and took the cream off the top, much like the land speculators and Realtors and vacation rental operators who continue to exploit “Paradise” today, leaving their trash and doo doo and houses behind.

I was also annoyed by the campers' deluded belief that they were “living off the land” with their plastic-enclosed houses and furniture scrounged from somewhere and food and booze and propane purchased from Ching Young Store. It’s not unlike the folks who pretend they are living sustainably now with their veggie garden and solar panels imported from somewhere else.

But what really jumped out was the campers' selfishness, their insistence on doing what they wanted with no thought to how it affected the locals or this place, their overall lack of respect. One example was how they started living on the beaches, which prompted county officials to shorten the shoreline camping period from one month to two weeks, so locals ended up getting screwed. They also gave fake names like “mermaid’s pool” to places that already had perfectly good names conferred on them from ancient times. Amazingly, not one person interviewed in the film expressed one word about the Hawaiian culture or history. Instead, it was as if the place never existed until they arrived.

And unfortunately, that disrespect, whether through obliviousness or disdain, is an attitude that characterizes the mindset of so many mainland transplants living on Kauai today. That, and projecting all their fantasies onto the island to make it into something they want it to be, rather than taking the time to know and appreciate what it is.

I did enjoy hearing the observations of locals on the phenomenon, and putting faces with names. I also liked seeing the footage of old time Hanalei, which brought to mind the mournful refrain from a Shilo Pa song: “Whatever happened to Hanalei?”

But mostly, it just made me feel kind of sad – sad for Kauai, sad for the North Shore, sad that the campers’ true legacy is such a far cry from what they fantasized it would be, sad that the '60s dream is expressed as a narrow world of self-indulgent, narcissistic, destructive escapism. I always thought, as the generation that came after and looked up to the one that came before, that it was supposed to be so much more.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Musings: Revelations

Walking along the road, as I do every morning and evening and other odd times in between, I am often struck by the intimate details of domestic life revealed to one who is passing by, seeing, hearing, smelling, observing unobserved.

Like the man singing a mournful, but tuneful, song in his shower. The moans of a couple making love. The smell of coffee perking, rice cooking, toast browning, clothes tumbling in a dryer with one of those toxic fabric softener sheets. The dietary and recycling habits exposed by an open rubbish can.

Similarly, Councilman Tim Bynum this week revealed that he is catering to a very distinct and select constituency with the introduction of two bills. One would allow dogs on the entire length of the Path now that folks — with the notable exception of Kauai Humane Society Director Becky Rhoades and a handful of others — have shown they can follow the rules.

Would that a similar rationale was the basis for his second bill.

Instead, it not only rewards people for breaking the rules, it facilitates a process by which the county itself can violate state law.

Tim’s bill essentially guts the transient vacation rental (TVRs) ordinance that the Council labored over for many months and replaces it with language that allows TVRs anywhere on the island, including agricultural land. What's more, it doesn’t even require the ag land TVR operator to have even a semblance of a farm.

It also removes language that requires the TVR unit to be in compliance with all state and county land use laws, then goes on to delete language that requires the planning department to conduct a physical inspection of TVRs before they are approved.

Unfortunately, that’s not the whole of it. The bill gives TVR operators who didn’t get their application in before the last bill took effect another chance to apply. So that means that the few TVRs that the planning department previously rejected because of various violations will get another go, even if those violations haven’t been corrected. Because who will know, if there is no inspection?

The bill doesn’t even get into the issue of land use compliance until it starts talking about renewals, at which time the owner is supposed to provide proof of compliance and the county may, or may not, inspect the property.

If applicants fail to meet the deadline for applying within 60 days of the ordinance’s effective date, they can simply pay a $500 penalty and apply anyway, up to a year later.

And while the bill requires the county to post applications and completed applications on its website and make such materials available at the planning department counter, it delete the previous requirement for a deadline to do so. This means that years could by before the public would even know about, much less have an opportunity to challenge, TVR permits.

That provision alone speaks volumes about what Tim thinks about government accountability and transparency, and the public's right to participate in the process.

The entire bill, meanwhile, speaks volumes about what Tim thinks of the law. By introducing this ordinance, he completely thumbs his nose at Chapter 205-5 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which states quite clearly (emphasis added):

(b) Within agricultural districts, uses compatible to the activities described in section 205‑2 as determined by the commission shall be permitted; provided that accessory agricultural uses and services described in sections 205‑2 and 205‑4.5 may be further defined by each county by zoning ordinance. Each county shall adopt ordinances setting forth procedures and requirements, including provisions for enforcement, penalties, and administrative oversight, for the review and permitting of agricultural tourism uses and activities as an accessory use on a working farm, or farming operation as defined in section 165‑2; provided that agricultural tourism activities shall not be permissible in the absence of a bona fide farming operation.

Ordinances shall include but not be limited to:
(1) Requirements for access to a farm, including road width, road surface, and parking;
(2) Requirements and restrictions for accessory facilities connected with the farming operation, including gift shops and restaurants; provided that overnight accommodations shall not be permitted;
(3) Activities that may be offered by the farming operation for visitors;
(4) Days and hours of operation; and
(5) Automatic termination of the accessory use upon the cessation of the farming operation.

It’s clear that non-agricultural uses encourage speculation, which drives up ag land prices and make it unfeasible for farming. It’s clear that we already have people who have flouted the law and constructed mini resorts on ag land, like this one and this one and this one, to highlight but a few.

It’s also clear, at least from the vacation rental ads, that very few bonafide farmers are actually operating TVRs.

Instead, they’re a money-making scheme promulgated largely by off-island land owners looking for a bigger return on their investment than a farm could ever provide. And with some of them charging rents ranging from $4,500 to $6,000 per week to $4,450 to $5,500 per night, it’s a very lucrative enterprise indeed.

The other benefactors of the bill's largesse are the Realtors who peddle Kauai's coastal and farm lands, knowingly and willing, to folks who wouldn't be buying it they couldn't exploit it for resort uses that don't even make a pretense of being linked to a farm or a neighborhood.

Those are the folks Tim is catering to with this bill, and he’s not alone. All the other Council members, with the exception of Kaipo Asing and Derek Kawakami, went along.

So if you’re wondering, come election time, who your Councilmembers are working for, odds are, it sure as heck ain’t you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Musings: A Better Way

When Koko and I went out walking this morning, we headed straight toward the Big Dipper, Waialeale hulking in the distance, off to the left. My ears were filled with the music of crickets and the sounds of a pig, or maybe two, crashing through the brush alongside the road. The fragrance of citrus blossoms wafted past my nose.

The birds woke just as the stars were fading from the sky, which turned first robin’s egg blue, bordered with soft rose, and then darker blue, bordered with gold. Darkness departed and Waialeale emerged, crowned by a curl of cloud, and waterfalls could be seen streaking down Makaleha.

And then the sky drained pale, waiting for the sun.

While I hold no illusion that today’s conclusion of the post I started yesterday will be as brilliant as the sun, I do hope it will shed a bit of light on the larger issues associated with the controversy over access to Ka`aka`aniu (Larsen’s) Beach.

As I mentioned yesterday, there’s the liability issue, which is driving how both the county and landowner Waioli Corp. are dealing with this matter. But there’s another issue, too, and it revolves around traditional Native Hawaiian access rights.

In this case, there's a trail that runs parallel to the beach, a trail that cattle rancher Bruce Laymon initially planned to block as part of a fencing project. When I talked to Bruce last Saturday, he said the fence now likely will be placed further mauka, due to topographical constraints, which would leave much, if not all, of the trail open. But even without a fence, Waioli Corp. and Bruce are now actively discouraging people from using the trail.

Bruce believes the trail is a relatively new creation because it, and others crisscrossing the property, correspond with fence lines installed when Meadow Gold had cows there.

Others in the community, most notably the highly respected Linda Sproat, who is the plaintiff in an appeal of Bruce’s permit filed by Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., maintain the coastal trail is an alaloa that has been used for generations. As The Garden Island reported:

“They [her family] talked about how they used to walk from Anahola to Ka‘aka‘aniu to pick limu. That was just the way we did it in the old days before we had roads and cars,” Sproat said. “People used to walk all the way from Kilauea Point. It’s not as if we don’t know what we’re doing and we haven’t used the place.”

“So if it’s an alaloa, don’t you have to keep it open so Hawaiians can exercise their traditional access and gathering rights?” I asked Waioli attorney Don Wilson, who was also at the beach last Saturday.

Don, while noting that “nobody’s ever suggested we wouldn’t allow Native Hawaiians to exercise their rights,” said “the law hasn’t been developed sufficiently to determine what’s included in traditional cultural rights — does it include hiking? – and how it all works in with private property rights.”

Now, that's a rather glaring legal puka.

There’s also the question of the alaloa’s alignment. While old maps do show a trail, it’s hard to pinpoint if it’s exactly the same as the dirt road/trail in use now.

“So how do you determine the route of an alaloa?” I asked Don.

“I don’t know,” he said, again noting that the law doesn’t outline a process. “I’m certain Native Hawaiians who have used that would think they would have some idea.”

But would that be enough to satisfy the courts? As I’ve seen in following the Naue burials issue, and other situations involving traditional rights and practices, the Hawaiian approach often doesn’t jibe with the Western legal/political system. And when push comes to shove, the latter invariably prevails.

When I wrote about the dispute over access in an earlier post, a reader left this comment:

Did you know (or do you even care) that if I want access guaranteed to me by the PASH laws, all I have to do is call the landowner. 

I have never had my rights violated and have always been given access. Who are you people trying to protect, yourselves or Hawaiians?

Don told me that Waioli is open to such an approach.

“We won’t keep Native Hawaiians off, but you’ve got to let me know,” he said. “We can’t just leave it open. But nobody’s gonna deny them, honestly and truly, if they call and ask permission.’

Not all Hawaiians, however, like the idea of having to call someone to ask before they go. When I discussed it with a few Hawaiian fishermen, they expressed doubt that all landowners would be receptive, and said they don’t even know who owns some of the land now. And they chafed at the idea of having to plan ahead, instead of just being able to go when they had the time and the conditions seemed favorable.

And then there’s the issue of whether alaloa access rights would apply only to Native Hawaiians engaged in traditional practices, such as fishing or gathering limu, or to everyone. Proponents of the latter argue that in the old days, anyone could use an alaloa, so there’s no reason to believe it would be any different now.

Except that now we have a lot more laws, a lot more lawyers, a lot more concerns about liability and a lot more emphasis on "mine."

Which brings me to my point. We’ve got laws that were set up to give the general public and Native Hawaiians certain rights and protections, and politicians make a great deal of hay out of how much they support access and the perpetuation of traditional practices. But the laws they've drafted aren’t always as clear and specific as they should be. So citizens are pushed into seeking legal clarification and/or redress, a process that is not only costly, but lengthy — if they can find attorneys who are willing and/or able to take a case that isn’t likely to make them much, if any, money.

And in the meantime, access can be denied, development can be completed, landscapes and cultural resources can be obliterated, burials can be covered in concrete and a lot of bad blood can be made.

Sigh. Isn't there a better way?

As I was walking up from Ka`aka`aniu on Saturday, I ran into a local fisherman, and we got to talking about the access issue. While he doesn’t usually take the lateral access, he didn’t like the idea of a fence. He said it likely would be repeatedly cut “because people have been going that way for a long time now,” and that prospect caused him to worry about police, confrontations, security guards, “a bad scene.”

He shook his head, then asked if I’d seen the glass in the parking lot.

“That was from my truck,” he said, explaining that someone had broken in a few days ago while he was down fishing. He shook his head again.

“It’s getting so you can’t even enjoy yourself anymore,” he said and walked away.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Musings: Don't Shut Us Out

Delightedly, I fell asleep and woke to the sound of rain, which was still dripping from leaves and eaves when Koko and I went out walking in the dwindling darkness of a new moon night. The sky wore a black cap, pulled down low, but yellow, pink and silver light was leaking out around the edges.

The rain returned mid-way through our walk, then pulled back, leaving tendrils curling on the Giant and rivulets running on both sides of the road. It’s just what we’ve needed, these few days of soaking rain.

I’ve finally gotten a much-needed break from the paying work and deadlines that have kept me from the blogosphere, and just about everything else recently, save for a Saturday morning visit to Larsen’s Beach — or Ka`aka`aniu, as it’s identified in Pukui’s “Place Names of Hawaii.”

I took the time to go because I wanted to see for myself what was happening down there, after hearing allegations of illegal clearing, people being barred from accessing the beach and heated confrontations between beach-goers and Bruce Laymon, who is proceeding with a cattle-fencing project on land that the nonprofit Waioli Corp. owns adjacent to the beach.

The visit, which coincided with a clean up by Bruce and a site visit by the Waioli board, served to dispel, correct or at least provide another perspective on allegations that have been made. It also reassured me that safe access does indeed still exist, although folks walking on the lateral trail very likely will be told to move onto the beach if Bruce’s crew happens to be out there working.

This project has been fraught with skirmishes, some of them overblown, and I don’t want to get into them here, other than to say I really hope that the folks involved can calm down and cool down and sit down and talk, as it appears, at least to me, that resolution is possible without protracted legal battles or other nastiness.

Because I’m concerned that two extremely important issues — how liability is affecting public access, and gaps in the law regarding the exercise of traditional Hawaiian rights — are in danger of being submerged as attention is instead focused on more manini points, such as whether Bruce had a confrontation with a naked guy or mowed some naupaka.

Right now, the county has a legal access to Ka`aka`aniu that it doesn’t want because it’s rough and rugged and has liability written all over it. But instead of fixing the access or negotiating with Waioli for a new one that the county would maintain, it wants Waioli to provide another access, and assume all the liability. And since Bruce’s permit for the fencing project includes a condition requiring him to resolve the access issue, Waioli is faced with either acquiescing to the county’s demands or abandoning a fence that it thinks is necessary to keep people from camping on its land, and thus exposing it to liability.

Now you may think that strong arming approach is fine and good if it forces Waioli to provide access, but what kind of message is it sending to other private landowners who have accesses that the public wants? What incentive do they have for granting access if they have to bear the liability? Yes, there is a state statute that is intended to provide private landowners with some protection, but what it basically does is allow them to use that as a defense if someone is killed or injured. It does not prevent them from being sued.

And what does the county’s approach to the Ka`aka`aniu situation tell us about its overall commitment to maintaining accesses when the liability can’t be foisted off onto a private landowner? The fact is, the county regularly passes on accesses that have high potential for liability, which is why it refused to accept an access to third beach at Kauapea (Secret) Beach that a landowner was willing to provide and turned a blind eye to access acquisition recommendations made by the Open Space Commission.

I understand the county has a responsibility to the taxpaying public to reduce liability exposure and the potential for costly lawsuits. But it also has the responsibility to ensure that people have access to the coast and mountains. Decisions regarding accesses are too important to be made in private by Mayor Carvalho and his assistant, Beth Tokiok, with no public discussion or review.

The county's fear of incurring liability through public accesses is even more vexing since it does not act to uniformly shield the taxpayers from costs related to liability exposure. KPD was not prohibited from using Tasers, which have been the subject of numerous lawsuits, most recently one involving the death of a California man, and the public continually pays to defend the county from its misdeeds and ineptitude, such as the sexual discrimination suits now pending.

Beth tell us, in regard to the Ka`aka`aniu access, that the county will be announcing a decision soon. But what she and other members of the county administration seem to forget is that they are dealing with public money and public accesses.

So stop shutting us out, from our accesses and the liability concern-driven decision-making processes regarding them.

And since I have to leave now for an appointment, I'll get into the second issue, gaps in the law regarding the exercise of traditional Hawaiian rights, in tomorrow's post.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Musings: Of Interest

The mountains, both mauka and makai, were snuggled under fluffy fleece, and sparkling stars blanketed the sky when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Above us, but slightly to the east, a thin wedge of gold highlighted a dark sphere of moon.

It’s been an action-packed week, so I thought I'd share a few of the things that caught my interest along the way:

• The revelation that killer whales, which have never deliberately attacked a human in the wild, have killed 24 people while in captivity. Do you think they’re trying to tell us something?

• A new study that found liberals are more intelligent than conservatives.

• A report from friend who visited Tokyo. He got sick and went to the emergency room, where he was seen by a doctor, treated and given a prescription — all within 30 minutes, and at a cost of just $70, without insurance. “American health care sucks,” he proclaimed.

But after leaving a dance hall with some other reggae performers, their car was stopped by police, who spent 45 minutes searching it, including pulling off the door panels, in a fruitless search for marijuana. “They’re really down on the herb over there,” he noted.

• The skinniness of mama cows after they’ve weaned their calves.

• The news that some in the pro-GMO University of Hawaii College of Tropical Ag are trying to prevent Professor Hector Valenzuela, outspoken GMO opponent, from getting tenure.

• This video clip about last month’s senseless, heavy-handed evictions at Wainiha.

• The snuffling, grunting sounds of a pig rooting in the thick vegetation alongside the trail where Koko and I walked one afternoon.

This link from a friend, who also sent a PDF of a study that showed semen quality and quality is on the decline in Switzerland, along with the message: “Israel and Switzerland have now reported studies. Wonder which country is next?”

And on a related note, research that has linked endocrine-disrupting chemicals to nearly every major human disease, including obesity and a decline in male births.

• Ant behavior, especially how quickly they can assemble and disperse.

• News that the insecticide clothianidin, one of numerous chemicals added to the new Smarstax variety of genetically modified corn, which was grown experimentally in Hawaii for years, has been linked to deaths of wild honey bees. This prompted a beekeeping friend to comment: “One of the keynote speakers at the national bee meeting has been railing about this for years and gone unheeded, but people are now starting to listen to him.”

• The far-reaching cultural significance of both Wailua and Haena, as articulated so eloquently by Kehau Kekua and Aikane Alapai on my KKCR radio show yesterday. I’ll devote a blog post to this soon, as well as a link to an audio file of the show.

• The irony of deleting a comment that artfully and amusingly outed an often annoying and particularly prolific poster who invariably complains and cries “censorship” whenever I delete any comments in that section. But since the comment advocated sending viruses to his business email, I figured it shouldn't be allowed to stand. Of course, if the guy remains absolutely and adamantly opposed to deletions, I could retrieve the comment from the trash….

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

KKCR: Key Cultural Sites

The cultural significance of Wailua and Ha`ena, and the impact of development in those key areas, will be the topic of my next KKCR show, 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 11. My guests will be the remarkable Kehaulani Kekua, kumu hulu of Halau Palaihiwa O Kaipuwai, and `Aikane Alapa`i, the halau's alaka`i.

As Kumu Kehau notes: "It is a result of our practice that we understand how vital these places are to the health and wellbeing of Native Hawaiians and all of Hawai`i Nei."

So please join us for an informative, thoughtful and eye-opening discussion. You can tune in at FM 90.0, 91.9 and 92.7, as well as on line. An audio file of the show will be posted on KKCR's archives and this blog.

Musings: The Fraying Social Fabric

The moon, thinning fast, was white and floating on a patch of apricot in a sky of patchy blue and rolling gray when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The mountains, darkly capped with fluffy swirls, held the threat — or promise — of rain.

Birds trilled and sang, their voices vibrant in the temporary absence of whistling wind that at various times in the past few days threatened to rip my car door right off its hinges when I opened it.

We soon ran into my neighbor Andy, and as his dog, Momi, chased chickens that Koko, in leashed frustration, could only covet, our conversation rambled through dogs getting hit by cars, cat allergies, lawsuits and alternative medicine before settling in on the economic situation, which is far less likely than the day to turn sunny.

A friend in real estate told me he’d been chatting with A&B’s economist, who said he wasn’t expecting real estate sales to pick up until 2017. Meanwhile, the credit counselor leading a symposium I attended as part of my part-time job said home values aren’t expected to return to their prior levels for at least another 12 years.

As I told Andy, the counselor reported that while she’d been seeing about 300 clients per month on the Big Island in recent years, the number jumped to more than 800 in 2009, with about three-quarters of the clients declaring bankruptcy.

Andy said it annoyed him that people are allowed to write off their debts, or renegotiate their tax bills, because it means that other people will have to pay more.

“You’re sounding like a Republican,” I admonished, before telling him that the counselor had said the recent rise in bankruptcies, foreclosures and debt consolidation was not caused by folks seeking to shirk their responsibilities.

Instead, she said, they simply can’t pay their bills, given the combined effects of the imploding housing market, greedy banks sticking it to credit card holders, who in some cases are paying an insane 40 percent interest rate, and, of course, job losses.

Andy, pointedly ignoring my question about whether his disdain for bankruptcy meant he was an advocate of debtors’ prison, said he’d been reading an interesting article in The Atlantic Monthly about how joblessness — now at about 10 percent, with the average duration of unemployment surpassing six months for the first time since the feds began keeping such statistics in 1948 — affects people, particularly men.

“They start beating their wives and kids more,” I said.

It’s true. According to the article:

Last March, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received almost half again as many calls as it had one year earlier; as was the case in the Depression, unemployed men are vastly more likely to beat their wives or children. More common than violence, though, is a sort of passive-aggressiveness. In Identity Economics, the economists George Akerloff and Rachel Kranton find that among married couples, men who aren’t working at all, despite their free time, do only 37 percent of the housework, on average. And some men, apparently in an effort to guard their masculinity, actually do less housework after becoming unemployed.

And as the article also reports:

The weight of this recession has fallen most heavily upon men, who’ve suffered roughly three-quarters of the 8 million job losses since the beginning of 2008. In November, 19.4 percent of all men in their prime working years, 25 to 54, did not have jobs, the highest figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the statistic in 1948. At the time of this writing, it looks possible that within the next few months, for the first time in U.S. history, women will hold a majority of the country’s jobs.

Joblessness tends to corrode marriages, the article reported, with W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, noting:

It may sound harsh, but in general, he says, “if men can’t make a contribution financially, they don’t have much to offer.”

Well, especially if they aren’t doing the housework, either.

The article went on to say that Kathryn Edin, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and an expert on family life, "fears that marriage is being supplanted as a social norm by single motherhood and revolving-door relationships."

And that trend is apparently not good for men, or the rest of us, either. According to the article, communities with large numbers of unmarried, jobless men take on an unsavory character over time as the guys get into drugging, drinking and crime. Or as Wilcox noted:

“Marriage plays an important role in civilizing men. They work harder, longer, more strategically. They spend less time in bars and more time in church, less with friends and more with kin. And they’re happier and healthier.”

That trend is apparently not good for kids, either:

But a large body of research shows that one of the worst things for children, in the long run, is an unstable family. By the time the average out-of-wedlock child has reached the age of 5, his or her mother will have had two or three significant relationships with men other than the father, and the child will typically have at least one half sibling. This kind of churning is terrible for children—heightening the risks of mental-health problems, troubles at school, teenage delinquency, and so on—and we’re likely to see more and more of it, the longer this malaise stretches on.

Yet even those social woes don't reflect the full extent of the fallout from down economic times, according to the article.

One study showed that college graduates who entered the job market during previous recessions hadn’t closed the income gap even 15 years later, despite raises and promotions, and they were less likely to work in professional occupations. Another study found that long bouts of unemployment provoke long-lasting changes in behavior and mental health among young people, including depression and a heavy drinking habit as they approached middle age.

Other studies link joblessness to a decline in physical health, with two researchers recently finding “that particularly among men in their 40s or 50s, mortality rates rose markedly soon after a layoff,” according to the Atlantic Monthly article. “[T]he lives of workers who had lost their job at 30… were shorter than those who had lost their job at 50 or 55—and more than a year and a half shorter than those who’d never lost their job at all.”

While income inequality usually falls during a recession, indicating that everyone’s sharing the pain, that hasn’t happened with this one. According to a new study by the Spectrem Group, the number of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more than $5 million is on the rise. And according to Labor Department data:

If the current trend continues, then the American income gap will resemble that of Mexico by year 2043.

Not surprisingly, a lot of folks aren’t handling the economic crisis well. As the Atlantic Monthly reports:

One National Journal poll in October showed that whites (especially white men) were feeling particularly anxious about their future and alienated by the government. We will have to wait and see exactly how these hard times will reshape our social fabric. But they certainly will reshape it, and all the more so the longer they extend.

And that's something that all the reporting on the economy hasn't really touched on.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Musings: Divisive Issues

What a treat to wake to the sound of rain, to have our walk delayed by rain, to venture out, after a cup of tea, and watch the rain gather over the mountains and drift near, then nearer, to have the end of our walk blessed with light rain.

Somewhere along the way, in the time closer to the venturing out part than the getting rained on part, Koko and I ran into our neighbor Andy, and his dog, Momi. I brought up the issue of Larsen’s Beach, seeing as how The Advertiser, in it’s usual leisurely fashion, had finally covered the many months-old story, and had Bruce Laymon saying:

Laymon said he's always been willing to use his equipment and workers to help improve the county access. However, he said, over the past week some "menehune" volunteers have cleared brush from the county access-way and removed the fence blocking it, making it useable.

I told Andy that those close to the issue said that was total bullshit, and the county trail, whose proper alignment, to my understanding, is still not clearly defined, remains impassable. Andy said he thought Bruce had meant to imply that he was the “menehune.”

“But that would mean he was working in the conservation district without a permit,” I said, which prompted Andy to say that’s why the menehune had done it, because they don’t need permits.

Ah ha.

It seems that some of those involved in the issue are also questioning whether the tractor vandalism was staged to generate sympathy for Bruce and his fencing project. That serves as just one more example of how much distrust there is of Bruce — and how far apart folks are on this issue.

Of course, that’s not the only divisive issue on the island. Bills dealing with farm worker housing and transient vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land are back on tomorrow morning’s Planning Committee agenda.

These bills have been kicking around for a long while, when really, they should just be drop kicked into the dumpster. The worker housing bill is a good idea gone very, very wrong, while the ag land TVR bill is simply a bad idea, period, save for perhaps the one or two bonafide farmers who already have modest TVRs.

I got a call yesterday from a farmer who wanted to know my thoughts on the worker housing bill, which I shared: it arose to give Moloaa landowners housing rights they knew they didn’t have when they bought land for dirt cheap in Mike Strong’s ag subdivision. Indeed, the fact that no housing was allowed is likely the only reason it remains a true ag subdivision, and the bill is ripe for abuse and even the county planning department has said enforcement would be difficult, so why not listen to them?

The farmer said he felt the same way, and could see why Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro backs it, since his son works for Grove Farm and he has some ag land himself where he could build a few “worker housing” units, but he couldn’t understand why former Mayor and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura was a big backer of the legislation.

I couldn’t shed any light on that myself, other than to say, perhaps it’s for the same reason that she also supports TVRs on ag land.

I mentioned to Andy that one proposal that has been floated would allow ag land owners to keep their TVRs so long as they allow someone to conduct farming operations on the parcel.

While the spirit of that is good, Andy said, what happens if the farm is not profitable? Would the landowner be required to subsidize it? And if the farm was abandoned, would they make the owner tear down the vacation rental?

Well, we know neither of those things are gonna happen.

And then there’s the bigger question of whether the county can properly manage the permitting of ag land TVRs, given the rather bumpy — and decidedly opaque — process they’ve followed in permitting all the TVRs outside the ag district.

Another batch of TVRs — 18, to be exact — is up for approval by the Planning Commission today. I was especially intrigued by one condition:

Any expansion, alteration or increase in intensity of use shall be subject to approval by the planning director.

So what, Ian Costa alone gets to decide if a relatively modest TVR can morph into multi-bedroom mini-resort, with no input from the community?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Musings: "Care, Respect, Humility"

The sky stage, set last night with countless constellations, had been changed by the time Koko and I went walking this morning to a thick wedge of moon and countless clouds in shades of gray, white, yellow and rose that hurtled across the heavens, collided, joined forces, broke apart and piled up atop the mountains.

The musical score, however, remained the same: crickets, and the wind, which whistled past my ears and through the trees and shrubs, causing them to sigh, roar, clatter, flap, squeak and flutter, and setting all the leaves to dancing. Behind us came a strange clomping sound, and we turned to see a runaway cow make a brief cameo appearance.

The Academy Awards were on last night, but I did not watch them because, as the friend whose home I was visiting and I agreed, what’s the point, when neither of us had seen any of the movies, nor we were likely to.

We had just experienced an afternoon of entertainment at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge watching whales spout and breach offshore, albatross soar and glide, red-footed boobies fight over nesting materials and nene trying to made some headway as they were buffeted by the wind.

I was glad to see the enthusiasm of the other spectators, nearly all of them tourists, who had paid $5 for a front row seat at the show. One group waited two hours for a chance to see iwa — the giant frigate birds — and was not disappointed.

Later, at my friend’s house, I flipped through her magazines and saw an article in National Wildlife about how animals are “adapting” to the global warming that some human animals still think is a hoax. As the article reports:

“The first kinds of behavioral changes were changes in range and timing," says Camille Parmesan, a biologist at the University of Texas, Austin. "Now we’re seeing changes in diets and other behaviors that show some animals are trying to adapt to their new circumstances. Unfortunately, many instances are more an act of desperation than a true adaptation.”

Since we tend to care about things only in terms of how they affect us, it’s worth noting that the habitat disturbances caused by climate change are causing polar bears to enter Inuit camps looking for food and an increase in tiger attacks on humans in South Asia.

Meanwhile, McClatchy Newspapers reported yesterday that oxygen levels in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans are decreasing dramatically, which could disrupt food chains, and thus the entire marine ecosystem:

"The real surprise is how this has become the new norm," said Jack Barth , an oceanography professor at Oregon State University . "We are seeing it year after year."

Barth and others say the changes are consistent with current climate-change models. Previous studies have found that the oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"If the Earth continues to warm, the expectation is we will have lower and lower oxygen levels," said Francis Chan , a marine researcher at Oregon State .

"It's like an experiment," Chan said. "We are pulling some things out of the food web and we will have to see what happens. But if you pull enough things out, it could have a real impact."

The National Wildlife article, while reporting that some animals, like red squirrels, have experienced genetic changes that allow it to adapt, concludes by noting:

“Unfortunately, most species have much slower reproductive cycles,” [John] Kostyack [Executive Director of Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming for the National Wildlife Federation] says. “The climate change we’re seeing is far faster than their ability to evolve.

And when you figure that the human reproductive cycle is one of the longest of earth’s animals, how is that we think we’re going to emerge from this huge shift unscathed? Has our arrogance increased to the point where we think we’re immune to the effects of evolution?

Our own survival aside, the impacts we’re having on the environment and other species doesn’t reflect well on our God-directed duty of “dominion.” Thanks to Dawson for providing this insight from Jane Goodall’s book, “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey:”

...I explained that many Hebrew scholars believe the word "dominion" is a very poor translation of the original Hebrew word v'yirdu, which actually meant to rule over, as a wise king rules over his subjects, with care and respect. It implied a sense of responsibility and enlightened stewardship. Then I spoke of the humility I have learned from the chimpanzees -- how we humans are not quite as different from the other animals as we used to think.

This was followed by his own observation:

Key words: care, respect, humility.

Given how people in general, including organized Christianity, act toward animals and each other, the "mis"-translation of dominion is appropriate.

But it's never too late to adopt new behaviors. Indeed, it appears our survival depends on it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Musings: And So It Goes

My neighbor Andy was already ahead of us when Koko and I set out walking this morning. She lunged toward him, pulling me forward, and though I jogged a little to bridge the gap, we lost ground when Koko stopped to pee. I tried to get his attention by letting loose with a quiet, in deference to the hour, “hoo-ey,” but to Andy, I learned later, it sounded like a little bark. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time with Koko.

Anyway, after a cheery talk that led us to agree that the world was doomed because overpopulation will essentially create the same impacts as global climate change, so either way we’re all screwed, we arrived back at Andy's driveway, where The Garden Island had recently been delivered.

“Uh oh,” he said, glancing at the headline that read Tractor vandalism, mechanized clearing cloud Larsen’s debate. “This is not good.”

No, it is not, because it strengthens Waioli Corp.’s position in saying, “See, these are the kind of lawless people we’re dealing with, and that’s why we need a fence to keep them off our land.”

Meanwhile, the attorney representing those opposed to the fencing project fired back that Waioli’s lessee, Bruce Laymon, was involved in his own lawless behavior.

And so the polarization continues.

Just as it does with the bike path, now that Mayor Bernard Carvalho has announced that it’s full speed ahead with plans to have it straddle the dunes and highway shoulder at Wailua Beach.

He could have just left it at that, but instead had to offer this platitude:

“I want to acknowledge everyone who provided input on this matter, especially our Hawaiian community who shared their concerns, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Federal Highway Administration, and the state Department of Transportation Highways Division.”

And that pissed off cultural practitioner Kehau Kekua, who told The Garden island she was “insulted” by the mayor’s “empty words,” adding:

“We have repeatedly offered our ‘ike (knowledge) and expertise, only to be ignored and denied any consideration.”

Truly, few things are more aggravating than to be totally blown off, especially by a mayor who claimed to want your input.

The Wailua Beach announcement was coupled with the news that the Path’s route has been altered again, and now will go behind the Coconut Marketplace resorts, rather than mauka along the canal.

This whole boondoggle of a project is being done in such a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion. And like the Superferry, it’s still not clear just how much it has cost, although it’s got to be quite a lot, considering that the small section between Kuamoo and Papaloa, as well as the spur to Kapaa Heights, will cost some $7.2 million.

That’s a lot of dough just to get eastsiders off their asses and out exercising, which of course they could have been doing already by walking on the beach or cane haul road.

Heck, it might actually have been cheaper, and caused far less angst, to buy them all gym memberships.

But hey, enough of the serious stuff. Here’s a little video clip that made me laugh this morning, and that's always appreciated, so I'm sharing it with you.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Musings: A Few Kooks

We’re quickly gaining minutes on either side of the day this month, though it was hard to tell through the thick layer of gray that covered the sky when Koko and I went walking this morning.

I saw a silver spot that, in time, was briefly revealed to be the moon, but otherwise it was such a dim dawn that Koko was straining at her leash in anticipation well before I spotted my neighbor Andy, and his dog Momi, coming toward us.

Since he’s on the board of Waioli Corp., which owns the land that currently provides public access to Larsen’s Beach, I asked him what he knew about reports that Bruce Laymon, Waioli’s lessee, apparently got off to a bad start in his plan to install a pasture fence there.

But since he’s on the board of Waioli Corp., Andy didn’t want to talk about it, and instead filled me on his joint pains, which I found a far less interesting topic. Fortunately, I already had reports from other sources that Bruce allegedly was using a mechanized mower to clear brush, which violates the terms of his Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP).

As a result, attorneys sent a cease and desist letter to DLNR and Bruce’s attorney, Lorna Nishimitsu. It’s not the first time Bruce has engaged in unpermitted activities on various leased properties, with minimal consequences.

“So what do you think DLNR will do this time?” I asked Andy. “Tell Bruce, now don’t do that again, and I mean it?”

But Andy wasn’t biting.

“Can Bruce really be that dumb?” I pressed. “I mean, didn’t he realize that people would be watching him like a hawk?”

After all, as The Garden Island reported this morning, Bruce’s fencing project is now the focus of double-pronged legal action.

You’ve got Oahu attorney Colin Yost appealing Bruce’s CDUP on behalf of Surfrider Foundation, Malama Moloa‘a, the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, Hope and Tim Kallai and the Aunty Loke Would Go Coalition, and Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filing an appeal on behalf of Linda Sproat, matriarch of the iconic Kilauea family. The appeals are directed at Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Laura Thielen, who attorneys say acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” and “failed to protect Native Hawaiian rights” in granting Bruce’s permit.

And as Andy Parx blogged yesterday, Office of Hawaiian Affairs has also weighed in with its concerns that the project “will impact constitutionally-protected traditional and customary Native Hawaiian rights," like fishing and gathering.

Meanwhile, the county, which has been allowing the public to use an access that partly, if not wholly, encroaches onto Waoili land, is now negotiating with Waioli for a legit access along the more user-friendly “lateral” path to the beach.

It’s still unclear whether the albatross nesting area there ultimately will be protected. Under Bruce’s current permit, it won’t be, and if he moves the fence further mauka to keep the lateral access open, it still won’t be. Hopefully, if the appeals are granted and a contested case hearing is held, the needs of the birds will be addressed.

When I mentioned this to Andy, he was finally ready to talk.

“Oh, Joan, nobody cares about the birds except for a few kooks.”

He was just kidding. I think.

However, I’m sure a lot of folks don’t care about the birds, any more than they care that children in Fallujah, which the U.S. bombed the crap out of six years ago, are suffering shockingly high rates of serious birth defects, most notably heart problems. And parents and doctors are blaming the weapons we used. As BBC News reported:

We went to a house where three children, all under six, were suffering from birth defects.

Two boys were partially paralysed, and their sister clearly had serious brain damage.

Like all the other parents we spoke to, their mother had no doubt that the American attacks were responsible.

Outside, a man who had heard we were there had brought his four-year-old daughter to show us. She had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.

She was also suffering from a number of other serious health problems. The father told us that the house where they still lived had been hit by an American shell during the fighting in 2004.

There may well be a link with drinking-water, especially in al-Julan.

After the fighting was over, the rubble from the town was bulldozed into the river bank, and most people in this area get their water from the river.

So why should more than a few kooks care, aside from issues of common decency and compassion? Because the military uses Hawaii to test and blow up all kinds of weapons, and we’re not privy to what or where, much less how these activities could affect us and the environment. We, too, are the Pentagon's unwitting guinea pigs.

Finally, here’s the winner of the creepiest photo of the week contest. Now these are truly a few kooks. But nobody can say they don't care.