Monday, June 14, 2010

Musings: A Farm By Any Other Name

The rain was hovering all around the eastern edges, and indeed falling on Kalepa, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Waialeale appeared to be topped in soft snow and low-lying clouds drifted up lazily, like smoke, between the cinder cones.

The rain drew closer, moving like a ragged dark shadow across the Giant, and then arrived as pink haze, fine and light. The drops grew bigger, came down harder, prompting us to take shelter beneath twin banyan trees, and when they subsided we stepped out into the open to find a fat double rainbow emerging from the gray shrouded summit of Makaleha.

The pot of gold is Kauai’s agricultural lands, and the county’s ongoing struggle to determine who should do what on them emerged clearly this week with two issues that came before county officials. One was the farm worker housing bill, and the other was a request for a special management area (SMA) permit to build a “farm dwelling” in Kilauea’s ritzy Seacliff Plantation subdivision.

As The Garden Island reported, Councilman Derek Kawakami’s dream-driven epiphany not only stole Councilman Dickie Chang’s power as the swing vote on the farm worker housing bill, but made passage, previously very much in doubt, appear likely.

Kawakami, who is emerging as the man to watch in Kauai politics, said he had forgotten that his own family’s roots were in farming:

“When I look into the eyes of farmers like Louisa Wooton, when I look into the eyes of farmers like Roy Oyama, when I look into the eyes of farmers like Jerry Ornellas, it reminds me that I’m looking into the eyes of my own ‘ohana,” Kawakami said.

He went on to say he believed the intent of the farmers was “pure from the heart.”

No doubt the intent of those particular farmers, and others, is indeed pure. Problem is, non-farmers now own the bulk of Kauai’s ag land, and their intent is not always so pure.

Take, for example, the case of Steven and Diane Dechka, who own Canadian-based Canpotex Ltd , which claims to be the world’s largest producer of potash. They hired land planner Roland Sagum, who moonlights as the westside’s rep in the state Legislature, to help them get the Planning Commission to approve an SMA permit for their “farm dwelling” at Seacliff.

Sagum claims the 5,930-square-foot house, with its 1,777-square-foot covered lanai, constitutes a farm dwelling because they plan to devote one half acre of their 16.95 acres to fruit trees and one acre to turf.

“All it is is a frigging lawn,” observed one true farmer. “They say they’ll cut it up and sell it, but if there’s no market, or they don’t want to, then they’ll just keep mowing it.”

Ironically, the nearby Kilauea ag park, which was created as a condition of the Seacliff Plantations subdivision to ensure farming could continue in that town, is stalled out because of water issues. Yet these new “farmers” want to irrigate grass and put in a 4,513-square-foot swimming pool.

As The Garden Island reported, Commissioners Herman Texeira and Hartwell Blake were suitably skeptical of this so-called farm dwelling:

“I don’t know why we continue to entertain this anomaly,” he [Blake] said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Even Chairman Caven Raco, an architect, raised an eyebrow:

“We know it’s the state law, we know it’s a farm dwelling. It’s kinda blatantly putting one big house, and saying you’re going to mow the stolons, and do the fruit,” said commission Chair Caven Raco.

“It’s kinda hard to swallow,” he said.

Amazingly, the one person with farm experience on the panel, Commissioner Jimmy Nishida, seemed to have no problem:

“I saw you guys’ farm plan, I thought this is one good solution,” Nishida said. “The pay scale for landscapers tends to be more than agricultural labor.”

It’s yet another distressing stance by Jimmy that brings to mind the lyrics from a song by The Cars: “Jimmy, Jimmy, what’s the matter with you tonight? Are you pretending nothing’s wrong?”

Equally amazing, and distressing, was the way the planning commission’s attorney was going along:

“Why do you call this a farm lot?” asked commissioner Herman Texeira. “I don’t understand it.”

It is a home in connection with a farm, said Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung, advising Texeira to look in the packet of written documents he received that contains the turf-farm plan.

And that brings to mind the comments made by former Mayor and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura at the hearing on the farm worker housing bill, which she helped craft:

Yukimura said the council makes laws, but the mayor and the administrative departments are the ones in charge of enforcing the laws.

“I have to say the track record with respect to vacation rentals and shoreline setbacks; and all of these things haven’t been really good up until now,” Yukimura said. “We really have to ask the administration to step forward and do their part.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the Roland Sagums and Walton Hongs and Joe Brescias and Mike Tresslers of the world have already beaten us to it.


Anonymous said...

If the biggest problem facing Kauai was the size of someone's house on ag land, then we'd be in good shape. Too bad the real shit can't be dealt with here or even in Honolulu or, apparently, Washington D.C. It took 4.5 billion years for Ma Nature to make the planet habitable for mankind and a lot of other creatures, and we'll ruin it in a few hundred.

Anonymous said...

Roland will be elected again...blood and know.

Anonymous said...

At least these big houses are on the radar now. In the past they'd be approved without a secnd though.

Anonymous said...

Derek's actions were a total surprise. He did a complete 180 and justified it with a dream. I'm not sure what his motives are. I am disappointed with him, although I will probably vote for him again. I will be watching closely though.

Anonymous said...

It's called phony. And re-election ass kissing. Daddy's boy!

I heard his election was decided before the votes were in.