Friday, July 30, 2010

Musings: Pure Shibai

While at the Council meeting on Wednesday, a friend pointed out the proprietor of Pure Kauai, the outfit that specializes in catering to the ultra rich staying in vacation rentals, most of them on agricultural land.

Earlier, she had sent me a link to the Pilaa Beach House property, which most assuredly is on ag land, and is just one of many the company manages.

There’s also Anini View Estate, billed as a “spectacular property [that] has been transformed from a 3 bedroom, 3 bath casual beach house into a lavish yet comfortable estate” — perhaps through one of those "unsubstantial improvement" scams the county is so fond of perpetuating.

Then there’s the Tunnel’s Getaway, which rents for “$855 nightly rate; $965 summer rate; $1,180 holiday rate,” and the Lake House, which is on North Shore ag land. But there’s no mention of a farm with this dwelling, just a reference to a “large, fenced yard on over an acre.”

Another one of the listings said Secret Beach Home New Home! Remember when the Council passed the last TVR bill and promised, like the Council is now, that there wouldn’t be any new ones?

I was already familiar with Pure Kauai and it’s particular brand of tourism, having read a glowing article about it in Spirit of Aloha a few years back. The article really, really, really pissed me off, in part because the writer joined in promoting this crap so unquestioningly, but mostly because it illustrated how this brand of luxury tourism was packaging Kauai in a way that I found particularly distasteful, a way that had nothing to do with reality and everything to do with exclusivity, privilege and conspicuous consumption.

I think what offended me most was the way the company billed itself as “pure Kauai,” as if this sort of nonsense has anything to do with the essence of this place.

Anyway, I wrote a piece as a sort of rebuttal, and the Council meeting prompted me to dig it out:

It recently came to my attention that if you have at least $3,500 — and no qualms about spending it on a week-long personal pamper-fest — you can stay in a palatial home overlooking “Secrets” beach and have a whole parade of people traipse through, waiting on you hand and foot, leading you in a yoga session, teaching you how to surf, massaging your body, guiding you on a hike, preparing all your food, cleaning up your dirty dishes, taking out your trash, making you feel that it’s your right, your privilege, indeed, your duty to indulge yourself so wholly.

You will remain blissfully unaware that the sandy strand you gaze upon is actually named Kauapea, that part-time residents who own the adjacent homes hired private security to banish nude sunbathers from that very same public beach, that your spacious vacation abode is ten times bigger than the cracker boxes inhabited by local families who live all jammed up because real estate speculation has driven up the price of land and housing.

You will not be troubled by the news that the bay you’re surfing is regularly contaminated with fecal bacteria, the trail you’re led upon is not one designated for commercial use, the house you’re luxuriating in sits on agricultural land, and so is supposed to be a farm dwelling.

You will never be pressed to acknowledge that the fee you’re paying to relieve yourself from the stress of your fast-paced “good life” back home represents 350 hours of toil for the ten dollar an hour wage slaves who rake the leaves, mow the lawns, change the sheets and all but wipe the butts of the oblivious ultra-rich who wash in and wash out, like so much flotsam on the tide.

Instead, you will be encouraged to believe you are experiencing pure kauai, never dreaming that it’s pure shibai.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Musings: "This is Almost Crazy"

I spent today in a strange place, moving between the surrealistic realm of the County Council and the real world as I juggled work with time in the Council Chambers to see for myself how the vote on the transient vacation rental (TVR) bill went down.

It took more than three hours for the Council to do its “deliberations” — not that anyone’s mind wasn’t already made up when they got there — before the Clerk finally called the vote and everybody said “aye." Except for Kaipo Asing and Derek Kawakami. They said "no."

But first the Council widened the loophole they added in last time. Thanks to amendments from Daryl Kaneshiro, you don’t actually have to be engaged in bonafide farming, as evidenced by tax returns, to get approval for your TVR on agricultural land. You can still get a permit if the planning commission finds intensive agriculture is prohibited by the shape, size, topography, surrounding land uses OR — and this is today’s big giveaway — for any other reason.

Kaipo did one of his power point presentations that covered a lot of the relevant legal issues, making it quite clear that what the county was doing violated both the intent and the letter of state law. He also read from Judge Ronald Ibarra’s decision on the Big Island’s Hokulia case, which said that luxury homes on ag land will render ag uses unfeasible by inflating the price of adjacent property and, at the mininum, discouraging existing ag use.

“We’re going to end up losing that too,” Kaipo warned, before going on to show aerial photos that make it quite clear we already are.

He focused on the Kilauea area, where he said the county knows of at least 47 ag TVRS, and then honed in on some of the more egregious examples. They were all above Kauapea Beach, which some websites described as “semi-private,” not far from where Sherwood Conant used to farm before high land taxes — driven up by high-end homes — drove him out. Places like Hale ‘Ae Kai, with its 1,600-square-foot pool, which rents for $6,300 per night. And Palama Huna Hale, which rents for $45,000 for six nights — $57,600 during the holiday season. And Hale Lani, whose owner, the extensively-remodeled Michele Hughes, was at the meeting, looking every inch the farmer in her floor-length red ball gown.

“What is this? Is it a hotel?” asked Kaipo as he flicked on a picture of a sprawling mansion.

“It’s disgusting,” said Anne Punohu from the audience.

“This is almost crazy,” Kaipo said. “What in the world are we doing? It’s just incredible what is out there on our ag land in the North Shore area.

“If we allow this bill to go forward, we would not be doing our duty to protect ag land.”

But forward it went, slowed briefly by Jay Furfaro's bizarre power play. He claimed that because Kaipo had relinquished the chairmanship to him during his presentation, he was allowed to keep running the meeting until the vote was taken. Jay called on County Attorney Al Castillo, who backed him up by reciting Roberts Rules of Order. His authority thus cemented, Jay then magnanimously returned the chairmanship to Kaipo.

“My only point here is to have the public understand we are a body governed by rules,” Jay said.

Mmmhmmm. In the animal kingdom, the stags just crash antlers.

Then Tim Bynum expressed his sympathy for TVR owners, saying “Those of you who ordered your economic life, your well being, around the status quo, it’s not fair” to tell you to stop.

Now that would've been a great defense for Bernie Madoff.

And Dickie Chang — even while acknowledging that locals struggling to survive are pissed off by the in-your-face affluence of the luxury TVR owners, and that owners could see a 40 percent increase in the value of their property if their TVR is approved — had this to say about the bill he supported (and his own moral compass):

“Whether it’s right or wrong, we need to move forward.”

I guess that answers the question of whether his private pau hana briefing by beer-bearing county attorneys had any effect on his decision. 'Cause he was against the bill before that little meeting.

Lani Kawahara babbled on about how she wants to see the planning commission “take the most rigorous possible look at these applications and if they deny one, our county attorneys will defend them to the end, the county attorneys are here to fight for the county and protect the county” — proving that she drank the Kool-Aid instead of the beer.

Derek, like Kaipo, got it: it's all about protecting agriculture.

“We try to craft solutions without first identifying the problem,” he said. “For me, the underlying problem really is that ag is struggling to survive.”

As a member of Kauai Economic Development Board’s ag committee, Derek said he tries to give farmers tools to survive. Some farmers had told him that having a vacation rental would be beneficial.

But the bill only allows those operating TVRS prior to 2008 to apply for permits.

“What this does, and what I disagree with, is for many farmers that are really farming, this closes the door for them,” Derek. “It limits the opportunity for a lot of legitimate farmers.”

Strange, how that didn't faze the Council members who kept repeating the mantra of "due process," or shake up Tim's concept of what's fair.

The proper way to approach it, Derek said, would be to ask the Lege to change the law to allow such uses.

Right before the vote, Jay said he had assurances from Planning Director Ian Costa that they will be “taking a hard stand and looking at this very, very quickly.”

Which means the permit application business should be brisk for Belles, Graham, Proudfoot, Wilson & Chun, which already had three attorneys — all of them formerly in the employ of the county — in the Council Chambers, ready to help their clients get a little more icing on their cake.

Musings: Wala`au With Dickie Part 2

It was 6:46 this morning when I got a call from Councilman Dickie Chang, who was taking his morning walk, and a brisk one from the sound of his voice. He’s not a blog reader, but he’d heard he’d made this one yesterday, and he wondered if he was too late in returning the message I'd left for him on Monday afternoon.

“Hey, if you want to talk, I’m happy to tell your side of the story, since I told the attorneys' side yesterday,” I told him.

So here goes:

“It is true that the attorneys came over, but I didn’t think it was wrong," Dickie said. "I talked to the Chair [Kaipo Asing] about it. I told Jay [Furfaro]. I told everyone. They had their concerns, but I didn’t think I did anything wrong.

"When I saw them [Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig, followed by Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung and County Attorney Al Castillo] show up in increments, I thought, wow, this is pretty heavy. I said hey, if we’re gonna talk business, let’s talk before we drink beers.

“I told them my views, going way back, because I’ve been talking to planners and a lot of people in the know going all the way back to 1976, and they gave me their opinions. They never influenced me one way or another.

“People are always coming to my house to talk story, and the same is true for Mel [Rapozo, a former Councilman who is requesting an investigation of the attorneys' meeting with Dickie.] He also came to my house and we talked like two local brothers, sharing our views, sometimes disagreeing.

“I understand the sunshine law as it pertains to Council members. I just felt it [the meeting with attorneys] was harmless. Maybe that has something to do with my inexperience, but I am entitled to ask an attorney for their opinion.”

“Did you initiate the meeting, or did the attorneys?” I asked.

“They initiated the contact,” Dickie said. “I didn’t ask for the meeting. I like these guys and I think they like me and we have gotten together at other functions so when Mike [Dahelig] called and said he wanted to come over, I said come on down. I don’t think the attorneys would have put me in a position to make me do anything wrong.

“People need to understand this is normal within the county. Anybody can call and within six hours ask you to meet for an appointment. And when an agenda item is up for a vote, Public Works can call to meet with us, Planning, Public Safety. And that’s just the county side. The private sector wants to meet with us about everything. It’s nothing to put out any red flags. I always get calls to talk, from people all over the community.”

“When you get calls from the other county departments, do they ask to meet at your house or after hours, or is it usually done within the business day at the county building?” I asked.

“It’s probably been during the work day and at the county building,” he said. “But I don’t see anything wrong with them coming to my house. It’s not like I’m meeting them at Rob’s or Duke’s. I feel like if it’s at my house, that’s OK, that’s a safe place, it’s comfortable for me, it's within the confines of my own house. I live in Puhi, so it might have been convenient for them to come to my house.”

“As you know, Mel is asking for a deferral of the vacation rental bill and an investigation,” I said. “Others have said you should recuse yourself from voting on the bill. Do you think there should be an investigation, and that you should recuse yourself?”

“I don’t believe I did anything wrong and I don’t know what an investigation would uncover,” he said. “They weren’t trying to influence me, they were not influencing me, they were not telling me how to vote. I just gave them a bunch of scenarios from June 4, 1976 to March 7, 2008 and asked was this legal, was that. We went through what went down and they were ‘whoa, Dickie.’ They were surprised I knew this stuff. I might not talk [in Council] because it’s not necessary, but I know what’s going on.”

“So do you think you should recuse yourself from voting on the bill?” I asked.

“I don’t think I do need to recuse myself,” Dickie said. “I got elected to make a vote, regardless of whether it pisses some people off. It would be easy to recuse myself, but it would be like telling people I don’t want to deal with the issue. I shouldn’t have to recuse myself.

"I'm pissed off about this issue [vacation rentals] and a lot of other people are, too. But there needs to be a process. We've stopped the bleeding, but now we've got to set things right. It's like BP. You cap the well, but you've still got to clean up the mess. So we'll see how it goes today at Council."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Musings: Wala`au With Dickie

Upon hearing reports that Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig had called Councilman Dickie Chang at home one evening and asked if he wanted to have a beer, then showed up with a cold pack, followed thereafter by the separate arrivals of Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung and County Attorney Al Castillo and a discussion of the pending transient vacation rental bill, in which Dickie reportedly was told it was his duty to pass the measure because otherwise the county would be sued, I called Mike late yesterday afternoon and asked if it was typical for county attorneys to meet with Councilmembers at their homes and have conversations about bills before the Council.

“You are not the first person to make that inquiry of our office today,” Mike said. “What we did was not illegal. We’re the attorneys for all the Council members. And it’s like any other attorney and client. If they wish to talk with us, we are not going to dictate the venue they choose; we are not going to discern where the locale is. Our office does not engage in direct lobbying, but if there are legal concerns, we will discuss those matters with them.”

“But I heard that you called Dickie,” I said. “He didn’t call you.”

“We may even ask to sit down with Council members if we feel there is some confusion about the issue raised about them on the [Council] floor,” Mike said. “We’re going to advise and counsel, but never take any type of action to tell them how to vote. If we feel that there is some issues being raised that are not on point, we will raise issues with them. We do not go and say actually you have to vote a certain way.”

“What about the beer?” I asked. “Is that just a guy thing, or what’s up with that?”

“Beer is not a substance that we’re not allowed to engage in,” Mike said. “In terms of what beverages we’re drinking, that’s not our job to be in a position to describe the circumstances of the meeting. As far as alcohol consumption, I can’t find anywhere that says it’s illegal.”

“Did you talk to any other Councilmembers?” I asked.

“I’m not going to answer that, and I’m not going to discuss the nature of the conversation,” he said. “That’s privileged information [under attorney-client privilege].”

Is what happened between Dickie and the attorneys illegal? The County Attorney’s office says no.

Is it unethical? In terms of the code for attorney conduct, I asked two lawyers and was unable to get an answer to that question.

Is it appropriate? I’ll let you decide.

Did it have an effect? Well, before the meeting, Dickie was not going to support the bill.

The bill goes before the full Council on Wednesday.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Musings: Monday, Monday

The big moon, which got me up and out the past two nights to revel in its glory, was still gloriously bright when Koko and I went walking this morning. My head swiveled from the rosy stain growing in the eastern sky to the sphere in the west that seemed to be growing larger, and certainly was becoming more yellow, as it descended toward Waialeale, which wore a raspberry beret, to borrow a line from Prince.

About that time I ran into Farmer Jerry on his way to work, and when he stopped to talk I told him to pull up a little bit so I could watch the moon, which was just about to set, and he happily obliged because he appreciates such things, too. And as it slipped down we chatted about pruning lychee, and plans to install another fence on Waialeale to keep out the pigs and the decision to move the high school football games to daytime to protect Newell’s shearwaters, two of which he’d seen dead on the road this past week.

“When I was playing football in high school, 20 or 30 of them would drop during a game,” he said. "This was over at Isenberg Park."

“What did they do?” I asked.

“Throw ‘em on the side and let the cats finish ‘em off,” he said. “There were a lot of birds then, and there wasn’t much consciousness at that time.”

“There still isn’t,” I said, and he agreed, adding that if the pros can play football during the day, that ought to be good enough for the kids.

As the moon grew whiter and sunk lower in a lavender sky, Waialeale draped herself in purple hues and our talk turned to politics, which got us both feeling a little down, until we brought things back around to the beauty of this place and felt better again.

Yes, the political season is in full swing, as the campaign signs attest, some of them dating back years. The other day I was driving with a friend down Olohena when he pointed out an I Like Lehua sign way up a hill. And you still see the John Hoff pineapple signs here and there.

Candidates took advantage of Saturday’s Koloa Days parade to gain some visibility, with the mayor riding a horse that was sweating beneath the load and Tim Bynum and Derek Kawakami carrying the County Council banner as Kaipo Asing trotted along, waving to the crowd. Jay Furfaro wasn’t walking with them, but as a friend noted, he’s more the kind of guy you’d expect to see on a float.

Neil Abercrombie was there, too, and Jon Riki Kuramatsu, who is running for Lieutenant Governor against Gary Hooser, who issued a strong statement pointing out one of the differences between himself and Lt. Gov Duke Aiona, who is running for governor:

The people of Hawaii watched as the Governor blatantly disregarded the promises contained in both the Federal and State constitutions. She was aided and abetted in this assault on civil rights by a Lieutenant Governor who has made no secret of his missionary zeal of “saving Hawaii for Jesus” - driven by his version of the bible and his version of God’s word.

The need to separate church and state is just one of the things that makes me a little uncomfortable about Mufi Hanneman, who bases his leadership style on the Mormon faith and directs his staff to pray about decisions, according to an article in the Mormon Times.

Getting back to local issues, the bill that would allow vacation rentals on agricultural lands to apply for a special use permit will go to the full Council for a vote on Wednesday. During last week’s committee hearing, both Jay and Tim said several times that it’s all about due process, giving folks a chance to apply. But if that’s really the case, why make it so easy for them to get the permit by easing requirements in the existing TVR bill and adding that big loophole that allows even those without a farm to get approved if the surrounding uses won’t support intensive agriculture?

It seems that allowing the planning department and commission to decide whether land can support intensive agriculture undermines the work of the Important Ag Lands group.

And as another Council observer noted, will this result in a separate tax class for vacation rentals on ag land? Has the Council really thought through all the ramifications?

Former Councilman Mel Rapozo, who is running again, is making this a key component of his campaign, devoting considerable blog space to the topic and publicizing an on-line petition asking the Council to reject the bill.

Meanwhile, I did ask Council candidate JoAnn Yukimura to clarify her stand on ag TVRs back on July 13 and got this email response:

Yes, my position has appeared confusing--partly because I am still searching for a fair and clear resolution of a situation and process that has been fraught with negligence and unwise decisions or inaction over a 30-year span of time. I intend to draft a written statement in the next few days.

So far, though, I haven’t seen it.

While we're talking about emails, one written by attorney Laura Barzilai offers evidence that people do listen to KKCR and things are getting even touchier around the Larsen’s Beach issue. Barzilai represents Patricia Hanwright, who owns property adjacent to the access. The land also is believed to include a segment of the coastal trail that currently runs across McCloskey’s land and stops at her fence.

Anyway, according to the email :

“[I]i was was reported to me by my client and her neighbors that on or about July 14, 2010, Hope [Kallai] and Richard Spacer were guests on the Blue Grass Radio Show, during which time they instructed listeners to commit the crime of trespass upon my client’s private property on non-existent trails southeast of Larsen’s Beach. Any and all trespassers found on my client’s property will be immediately reported to the Kauai Police Department and prosecution will be pursued. We now intend to report Mr. and Mrs. Spacer’s instructions to the police.

I’m not sure that inciting to trespass is a crime, but these days, who knows.

And finally, just to end on a positive note, I did a little story for Honolulu Weekly that offers proof that people can make a difference if they get on it and don't give up.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Musings: Politicos

The sky was gray-blue and the air thick, hot and still when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Cars were pleasantly few and far between, allowing Koko to stretch to the end of her long leash in pursuit of intriguing smells. As for me, I got a few heady whiffs of mock orange and deeply inhaled the fragrance of an angel’s trumpet and fresh-mown grass.

It’s the kind of muggy weather that usually prompts complaints, but after talking to a friend in the Midwest yesterday, where high humidity pushed the heat index up to a soggy, miserable 110 degrees, I knew to count my blessings.

She told of a bit of action around her house, with cops and dogs hunting an escaped inmate in the adjacent corn fields, where the temperature was a good 20 degrees hotter.

“Now who would run into a corn field on a day like this?” asked her brother, a farmer. “Must’ve been a city person.”

Since we on Kauai aren't city folk, the entire social fabric of the island is in danger of disintegrating now that late season high school football games have been moved from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons. At least, that’s the opinion offered by Rep. Jimmy Tokioka in response to KIF’s decision to shift some of the games rather than risk hefty fines if the super bright stadium lights kill endangered Newell’s shearwaters and native petrels.

According to a comment first reported by a hybrid Honolulu TV “news” station and then picked up by an AP report in today’s Star-Advertiser:

"This is all the people have, we don't have the Ala Moana Shopping Centers, we don't have some of the things the other counties have for these kids and the entire community, to just go without having football games at night is really going to hurt the social fabric of our community," State Representative from Kauai, Jimmy Tokioka said.

What's he talking about? We've got plenty of entertainment: cock fighting, night hunting, tweaking, boozing, pill-popping, wife beating, gay bashing, beach raves, bleach fishing. Oh, and don't forget adultery. wink, wink

So tell us, Jimmy, how many Saturday afternoon games are you and your homophobic friends going to attend to keep the social fabric of the island intact?

With one notable exception — Rep. Mina Morita — Kauai’s state representatives are an embarrassment. And now that Gary Hooser has resigned his Senate seat to run for Lieutenant Governor, things are even bleaker. It looks like Ron Kouchi will slide in there, even though he hasn’t officially filed papers yet. It's kind of amazing to think that someone who couldn’t even get re-elected to the County Council will end up as our one and only Senator.

Because it’s highly unlikely that Integrity Locksmith owner Dave Hamman, whose deceptive actions belie his company name, will prevail against Ron, whose yard signs inexplicably preceded his filing.

It’s also unlikely that Republican Harry Williams, who was questionably allowed to file after the deadline because of Hamman’s smarmy shenanigans, can unseat Mina, even though her district includes the Republican bastion of Princeville. As The Garden Island reported:

Hamman admitted Thursday he did the paperwork shuffle to give his party time to find a replacement for him against Morita.

“Bottom line is Gary Hooser waited so damn long to decide what he was going to do,” said Hamman, who’s now running to fill Hooser’s vacancy after originally filing to run for Morita’s state House seat.

What? Gary’s been gearing up for the LG run for two years now.

Anyway, if you want to see who is running for office in Hawaii, check out this website. The crop of County Council candidates — big yawn — is on page 27. With incumbents Darryl Kaneshiro and Lani Kawahara deciding not to return, at least we’ll have two open seat. The only question is whether they’ll be filled by Mel Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura, who want back on since they didn’t win the mayor’s race last time around.

And that seat will, of course, go once again to Bernard Carvalho/Beth Tokioka.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Musings: Whine-a-Thon

I didn’t plan to testify at yesterday’s meeting of the County Council’s planning committee. But after listening to the comments made by people who want transient vacation rentals (TVRs) to continue on ag land, I just had to speak up.

Like the testimony from Warren Doi, who said that in this current economic climate, “we cannot choke off any potential source of economic activity. Any source of jobs needs to be promoted rather than restricted.” OK, green light for ice dealers.

Then there was Elizabeth Freeman, who started out by saying she usually appears before the Council asking them to recognize one of the volunteers who work so hard on her Festival of Lights. But this time, she was there for herself. Oh, but not really herself. She was there on behalf of the people she employs, and it sure would be a shame if she couldn’t donate the money she makes off her TVR to one of the many community causes she supports.

Later, her gardener and maid were trotted out to beg the Council for the opportunity to keep their jobs. One can only hope that in addition to writing their testimony, Elizabeth also paid them for the indignity.

In between was Harvest Edmonds, who talked of how the TVR she and her husband operated for the last 17 years “supplemented our ability to keep that land.” One would have thought the money they derived as Realtors selling off the North Shore would have paid the bills, but apparently not.

Then Carol Conley told of how the revenue from her rental “makes it possible for me to live on Kauai,” and she just might not be able to stay if she couldn’t do a TVR, and that would be hard on her kids. Of course, she could have bought something she could afford, like a condo in Puhi rather than a parcel on the North Shore....

Next up was the guy who proudly told of how his “homestay” employs seven people. Some of them only work an hour or three a week, but hey, it’s a job, right?

One of my favorites was a lady named Susan, who unwittingly laid out how this whole boondoggle gets started: “Lucy [Kawaihalau]from Kauai Vacation Rentals was kind enough to set us up with vacation rentals.” Yes, so kind. The Realtors sell people land they can’t afford and tell them no worries, they can just vacation rental to make the mortgage and they’ll even handle the property management and bookkeeping. Such a deal.

“What’s wrong with it?” Susan asked. “How is it hurting anyone?”

She apparently was oblivious to such aspects as the way non-ag users result in higher property taxes that drive bonafide farmers out of business, ala Sherwood Conant, and push the cost of farm land out of reach of farmers, much less the fact that it’s illegal under state law.

Most of the people, including Michele Hughes, the developer from Aspen who created Kealia Kai and owns 50 acres with TVRs above Anini and Kauapea beaches – now there’s some top dollar real estate – complained that their land wasn’t really suited to farming.

Surely developers like Michele know they could always go before the state Land Use Commission and seek a reclassification of their land to take it out of agriculture. But it’s so much cheaper to just sneak on through.

Michele, who is really too akamai about the development process to play dumb, claimed, “All these years we’ve done what we thought was right. We went to our lawyers [former deputy county attorney Lorna Nishimitsu among them] and said are we legal and they said yes.” Which might explain why Michele’s website cleverly describes her units as “farm dwellings.” Great cover -- except they aren’t on a farm or dwelt in by farmers.

She also spoke of how she was expecting that there would be “some re-zoning going on” when the Important Ag Land study is completed, with the implication that her land would be among the acreage moved out of ag. How sweet. And yet we keep hearing that no, the IAL designations won’t result in the second Mahele.

Nearly all of the speakers were for the bill, and all who spoke in favor had financial interests in it being passed. But there were a few who spoke against it, including Mel Rapozo and westsider Arthur Brun, who said, “This bill is wrong. What about the local families that had farm land for generations and followed the law? You’re making our families that followed the law suffer. I don’t think you should be punishing the people who followed the law.”

And that’s a very good point. Because under the bill, only those who were already operating will have the chance to apply for the permits. Anyone who waited and followed the law is aced out.

Or as an observer noted: "Once again, the local people who follow the law get screwed while the rich haoles who know how to get around the law make out."

Brun concluded: “Do what is right for the 60,000 people of Kauai, not the 26 people of Kauai.”

But the Council, as Jay Furfaro and bill author Tim Bynum noted more than once, was looking for “closure.” And since they acknowledged, following my testimony, that this bill wasn’t likely to stave off lawsuits from anyone who might be affected by this issue, the closure they’re apparently looking for is to get it off the Council agenda before the election.

Before approving it, they did add an amendment that requires applicants to be engaged in bonafide farming, as evidenced by state and federal tax returns or -- and here's the giant loophole that's big enough for a sleeps 12 mansion -- if the planning commission finds the shape, size, topography or surrounding land uses (you know, like other TVRs) inhibits intensive agriculture. Ladies and gentlemen, let the influence peddling begin.

Anyway, after listening to wealthy people play the victim and whine about how they need more, more, more, I’d had a belly full. And besides, it was time for me to get back to work, where it was a refreshing to man the food pantry and serve people who are truly in need, and grateful for what they get.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Musings: Scammers

Waialeale, blue and clear, her summit notched in two places, was the first thing I saw when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The birds were stirring and the northeastern horizon was dotted with scarlet in anticipation of the sun, which is steadily rising later each morning.

That fact, coupled with the warm, mugginess of the dawn, prompted my neighbor Andy, who we encountered early on, to launch into a scientific explanation of why temperatures continue to rise for a couple of months beyond the longest day of the year.

I learn something new every day, which made me think of a quote someone had attached to an email with a link to a sweet video of a moose family encountering a lawn sprinkler:

"If I die from boredom, I am the killer."

And that made me think of a comment that a friend who lives in the Midwest wrote in an email:

I watched the barn swallows swoop around and feed between the thunder storms before dark and marveled at them and was a little sad as they’ll take off in a couple weeks to migrate back to S. America and I’ll miss them. If people could just learn to enjoy small things like that, they’d be a lot more happy.

Instead, some people put their energy into devising a commodities speculation scheme that “pushed 250 million new people into food insecurity and starving,” according to an extremely troubling Democracy Now! interview with Harper’s magazine editor Frederick Kaufman. Sure, they made billions, but who could be happy knowing they played a part in causing such suffering?

Although I’ve been dinged in comments for being “anti-wealth,” I’m not against money, per se. But I am against those who accumulate their dough through scamming and speculating. And while we’re on that topic, the Associated Press is reporting that Hawaii Superferry was already shorting the state on its monthly fees back in the summer of 2008, at a time when the company was boasting of record ridership.

Yet even as the state demanded payment and threatened legal action, the Lingle Administration continued to beat the drum for the big boat:

"All along, we felt that the state was carrying this thing, for whatever reasons," said Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, one of the groups that fought the Superferry in court. "The Superferry was able to play the victim when they never had an operation that made financial sense."

Similarly, many owners of vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land are playing the victim even as they scam the public. Like the eyebrow-raising Kilauea Lakeside Estate. Although it’s located on ag land, its website describes it as a “private resort." It also claims to be a “wildlife refuge" and a nonprofit, the Save Waiakalua Foundation, which supposedly donates income from the property to numerous environmental and charitable causes. But while its most recent 990 tax form showed total revenues of $37,400, it didn't disclose any such charitable activities.

That’s in addition to some hokum about how the ancient Hawaiians used to fish from the lake, which was actually a plantation reservoir. At any rate, these are the kinds of folks who now want the county to legitimize their decidedly illegitimate, non-farm activities.

Meanwhile, the County Council will be taking up the ag land TVR bill once again today. I have no idea how many hours it has already spent on this issue — and remember the countless hours devoted to debating whether dogs should be allowed on the Path? — but it does seem that other governmental bodies are able to conduct business more speedily. As Reuters reported:

The city of Oakland, California on Tuesday legalized large-scale marijuana cultivation for medical use and will issue up to four permits for "industrial" cultivation starting next year.

The resolution passed the city council easily after a nearly four-hour debate that pitted small-scale "garden" growers against advocates of a bigger, industrial system that would become a "Silicon Valley" of pot.

Just imagine, a Council that could make a decision like that after just four hours of debate. Gee, that’s even more surprising than this paragraph:

The toughest opposition at the Tuesday city council meeting in Oakland came from the small-scale marijuana growers who feel they will be squeezed out of the market by the new 'agribusiness'. Outright opponents to marijuana use were silent.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Musings: Monday's Mix

The squall came in quickly and hard, just as we were about to walk out the door, so there was nothing to do but lie on the bed, beneath the skylight, and watch it lash at the glass and send leaves skittering until it spent itself and moved on, as we did, out into a chilly world of mostly gray skies with patches of pink and blue.

Little rivulets ran down the sloped side of the street, and three waterfalls ran down the face of Makaleha, which was crowned with a puff of pinkish-orangey-gold. Meanwhile, clouds drifting south had picked up a rainbow column, which turned into a rainbow arch, which turned into a rainbow fragment floating above the mountains.

We came upon two small black pigs scratching their backs against a creosote-covered utility pole, but upon spying an alert, excited Koko they gave little barks of alarm, then slipped under the fence of a wooded lot and disappeared from sight.

Such apparently is not the case with toilet paper at Kalalau Valley. A friend said his recent hike into the valley was marred by crowds, helicopters and the sight of used TP everywhere, even tucked into the rock walls of ancient terraces and house sites. “It’s not the hippies living back there who are doing it,” he said. “It’s the people just passing through on their way on someplace else, the ones who hang out there for a month or two, thinking they're connecting with the land while they shit everywhere.” He said the valley was packed, with perhaps double the number of people allowed by permits, but for the first time ever, he did not see any nudity.

“Kauai sure is changing,” he said.

But not the way the cops are claiming. I checked with several folks in the know who said Officer Mark Ozaki was flat out lying when he said there’s a new strain of pot being grown on Kauai that goes from seed to harvest in 28 days and has a THC content of 60 to 70 percent.

“I wish,” said one.

You’d think that given KPD’s ongoing problem with credibility, they wouldn’t make stuff up.

But then, some people believe KIUC’s claim that it’s not to blame for the decline of Newell’s shearwaters, even though I picked up a dead one beneath a maze of 11 electric wires strung across the flyway to a nesting colony. That’s another nest that won’t make it this year, since a chick won’t survive without feeding by both parents.

The criminal trial against KIUC — such indictments are rare, as Michael Levine reported in Civil Beat a while back — is now set for Aug. 24, but that date will change. The feds are pushing for September or October, but KIUC wants to delay until Dec. 7.

That’s about the same length of time the County Council wants to delay making its proceedings accessible to the public by posting more of its documents on line and live-streaming its meetings. Guess you wouldn’t want folks to see too much of that sausage-making before they go to the polls….

We’ve seen an awful lot of stories that have Kauai Springs whining large about its alleged mistreatment by the county — waaah — but while the most recent is especially pathetic, it’s not piteous. It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for someone who moves here from somewhere else and starts bottling a public resource for his private profit, without getting the proper permits, especially since it’s quite clear that selling out is the real game plan here:

Several companies have approached Kaua‘i Springs “to buy out its stock,” [owner Jim] Satterfield wrote in an e-mail. However, the “family-owned business is stuck.”

“We cannot sell the company with the [county’s legal] appeal attached,” he said.

Meanwhile, the legal wrangling over passports that prevented Iroquois Nationals from playing in the World Lacrosse Championships offered Native Hawaiians a look at the kind of treatment they might expect under the Akaka Bill’s version of “sovereignty:”

"That's the reality of today's situation where the tribes continue to be dealt with on this relegated status and subject to the power of the United States government," [Hopi Cultural Preservation Office Director Leigh] Kuwanwisiwma said.

And finally, as I enjoyed some excellent cherries this weekend, I sent out a mahalo to the farm workers, some of them likely undocumented, who made that treat possible. All the xenophobes clamoring for tighter border controls and stiffer immigration policies need to wake up and get real: without Mexicans in the slaughter houses, fields and packing sheds, they wouldn’t find much to eat in the grocery stores.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Musings: How Blatant

It was quiet, the way Furlough Fridays tend to be, when Koko and I went out walking this soft, still morning beneath solidly gray skies. En route a light rain began to fall, each drop visible in its descent, and still we kept on for a while, me enjoying the sensation of being watered like a plant, until we found a place that was dry beneath a thicket of shell ginger sheltered by ironwood trees and from there we watched and waited until it drifted off, perhaps to join the sheer curtain that had similarly descended over Haupu.

I got home and more rain arrived, along with an email from a friend that had a link to The Garden Island article about how a military helicopter — but of course, not one of PMRF’s or the RIMPAC gang, because “We take our environmental stewardship seriously,” says Commander Greg Hicks — had flown right over sea bird nesting areas at the Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge.

It was bad enough that the Fish and Wildlife Service spoke out about it. The chopper apparently hung around for 30 minutes, so it wasn’t just a fly by, and passed with 20 feet of the coastline, rather than the recommended 2,000 feet.

“How blatant,” my friend wrote.

Indeed. But that’s the way those guys are.

I was particularly intrigued by a comment that Fish and Wildlife spokesman Ken Foote made in the article:

Additionally, low-flying aircraft creates stress in adult birds and their chicks, which increases the “chance of exposure to the elements possibly resulting in injury or death,” Foote said.

Eggs and chicks can “fall of the face of cliffs” and “harassed birds” that “take off in flight are subject to air strikes which often result in death,” said Foote.

Yet day in and day out we allow tour helicopters to fly low over native bird nesting areas in Waimea, Kokee, Wailua — heck, all the interior areas — and they’ve been doing so for years. Do you suppose that just might have something to do with the steady decline and imperiled condition of too many of our native forest birds?

But at least one helicopter company claims its fuel-sucking, treetop-hovering, ear-splitting ways (and I can hear one now, flying over my neighborhood because the mountains are socked in with clouds) are ecofriendly:

A helicopter tour has less impact on the environment while giving you a unique perspective of the diversity of Hawaii. Help us preserve some of the world's most delicate ecosystems.

How blatant. But that’s the way those guys are.

We also have the paper reporting on this week’s meeting of the planning commission, which had four requests for nonconforming use permits for vacation rentals (TVRs) on its agenda. But none of the owners could be bothered to show up, or even send representatives. And one of the applicants, California resident James Christiansen, who has a TVR in Haena, also stood up the county inspector, which caused him to miss the March 30, 2009 deadline to apply for the permit.

How blatant. But that’s the way those guys are.

At least a few of the commissioners seemed to understand the crux of the matter:

“For them not showing up, when the inspectors were out there, to me that’s grounds for denial,” Commissioner Jan Kimura said.

”To me it seems that he’s taking this commission for granted,” Kimura said. “I feel this county had been taken advantage of.”

“How far do we have to bend over to be quote ‘fair?’ They’re not being fair with us,” [Hartwell] Blake said.

“If you’re applying, then you make it happen. If the inspectors are there, you better be there,” Blake said. “Don’t just not show.”

Yet with Deputy Planning Director Imai Aiu and Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung smooth-talking to smooth the way for Christainsen, commissioners couldn’t muster the fortitude to turn the guy down.

Instead, they deferred the matter until Aug. 10. But prior to voting, they found out the guy also hadn’t provided plans:

Planning Department Director Ian Costa did clarify that the plans are not part of the ordinance, but something the department requires as a policy.

“We couldn’t technically say it was an incomplete application,” he said.

Funny. Lack of plans did prompt the department to turn down one TVR owner I know, which kind of makes you wonder about selective enforcement and arbitrary decision-making.

How blatant. But that’s the way those guys are.

Meanwhile, as a photo in The Garden Island seems to indicate, Christiansen apparently is continuing to rent out his property, even though he’s not allowed to operate a TVR outside of a Visitor Destination Area without the extremely valuable special use permit that he couldn’t be bothered to show up to get.

How blatant. But like I said, that’s the way those guys are.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Musings: Agricultural Arms Race

The evening sky has been a special delight the past two nights, with that thin sliver of white moon angling toward madly twinkling Venus, which is all lined up with Mars and Saturn, the whole bright bunch of them gathered in the darkness above the darkness of the Wailua River, sliding down toward Waialeale.

You get those chances sometimes — actually, oftentimes — to feel and experience the essence of this place, which is why it’s hard to learn about things afoot that could harm her at the deepest level.

I’m talking about a new push in the genetically modified seed industry, which has a large and growing presence on this island, to develop seeds that can resist herbicides like 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, as well as dicamba and HPPD inhibitors. And why? Because the first round of GMO seeds, those designed to withstand direct doses of Roundup, have resulted in weeds that are resistant to Roundup and other classes of herbicide.

Or as the Wall Street Journal characterized the situation:
“Superweed Outbreak Triggers Arms Race.”

Yes, now even agriculture is being militarized, using some of the very same chemicals that the military employed to defoliate large swaths of jungle in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and numerous sites here in the USA, including Wailua, with tragic results.

Since Kauai is a test site for Dow, Syngenta, Monsanto and the other companies developing this new round of herbicide-resistant seeds, it’s pretty much given they’ll be testing their new wares here. And they’ll be doing it with no environmental assessment of any kind, in open air trials that allow full interaction with the natural world.

We the people don’t know what the chemical/seed companies are growing, or how, or where, only that their presence now extends from Kekaha to Lihue. They are growing crops alongside our roads, next to our schools and shopping centers, and they are using herbicides on them in concentrations and combinations that very well could have a deleterious effect on native species, human health and other agricultural endeavors. Field trials are regulated by the feds, and the little oversight extended to the state will be minimized further now that Lingle has eviscerated the Dept. of Ag, especially its inspection arm.

And we certainly cannot count on these companies to regulate themselves or minimize risks, not when there’s so much money at stake to be the first out of the gate with these extremely valuable new GMO seeds. Meanwhile, the pesticide treadmill is accelerating, and as the companies conduct their field trials and then grow out the new seeds for export, they’ll be dumping more and more chemicals on Kauai’s land, where it runs into the rivers and sea.

In the process, who knows what kind of herbicide-resistant weeds will be developing here? Invasive species are the number one threat to Hawaii’s native environment, and if they can’t be eradicated with the more common types of herbicides, will their advance continue unabated, or will even more toxic chemicals and combinations of chemicals be used?

Which leads to the bigger question of just how long will it be before the weeds develop tolerance to the herbicides that will be used on this newest round of GMO seeds? When it will it ever end? And once we start on this path, can it ever end? Or will we just keep going until all our land and food is drenched with toxic substances, and super weeds and insects finally rule the world?

We'll never be able to "beat" nature. But like the nuclear arms race, we could destroy ourselves and a lot of other stuff while trying.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Musings: Best and Worst

Lazing in that luxurious place between sleep and wakefulness, after a pleasant dream, the dog next door barks, which causes Koko to bark, which causes my eyes to fly open to pink light streaming through the window. Preparing to walk, a shower arrives and we return to the prone and wait, emerging to find an orange sphere rising from a smoldering bed of dusky scarlet.

Gray fringe drifts toward the mountains, carrying rainbow fragments, drops drip from trees, sparkling like jewels, sunlight reaches out and touches the dark slopes of Makaleha, bringing them to life in a sheen of green-gold.

Yes, morning is always the best part of the day.

I’m not sure which is worse, that the Kauai cops are force-feeding people propaganda about marijuana, or that The Garden Island, via KPD lapdog Paul Curtis, is dutifully and unquestioningly reprinting it.

I’m talking about today’s article, which has Officer Mark Ozaki claiming that people “hooked on the ‘new,’ more-potent, quick-growing strains of Kaua‘i marijuana are breaking into homes and vacation rentals seeking money to fund their habits.”

Since Paul obviously didn’t ask, I will: Hey, Ofc. Ozaki and Chief Perry, could you please provide some hard data to back up that wild claim? And while we’re at it, if so many people are getting hooked on Kauai-grown weed, which grows from seed to maturity in 28 days, no less, uh huh, yeah right, what does that say about the effectiveness of Green Harvest?

Meanwhile, the real story, which Paul buries, and then minimizes with a DEA website comment about how “drug legalizers use ‘medical marijuana’ as a red herring to advocate broader legalization of drug use,” is that the cops stole a man’s registered medical marijuana during Green Harvest.

Ironically, the article ends with this:

“I’m not trying to scare you guys but I guess it’s good if I do,” said Ozaki, adding a simple but powerful message: “Don’t be an easy victim.”

Yeah, Paul, don’t be an easy victim. Cuz ya know, there’s a sucker born every minute. And Ofc. Ozaki, you might wanna stop popping the pain pills (how come you consider them legit, but not doctor-prescribed medical mj?) and quit lying to the kids.

In other real news, KIUC has agreed to buy biodiesel from Kauai Farm Fuel. Now this is true alternative energy that’s locally produced from used cooking oil. The oil used to be illegally dumped or shipped to Oahu until Adam Asquith started picking it up from restaurants and turning it into a better grade of diesel fuel than petroleum, with the help of his wife, Bonnie.

What’s good about this story, which I reported a while back for the now defunct and archiveless Kauai People, is not just the way Adam turns trash into treasure, but how he turned his concerns about peak oil and the need for alternative fuel into both positive action and a successful small business. Way to go, Adam.

And way to go, southsiders who are ripping out naupaka taking over Poipu Beach, with very good results.

Now, if Caren Diamond tried that on the North Shore, she’d be arrested. Perhaps the southside oceanfront landowners are less rabid. Or maybe it’s because the clearing there is being done by a retired county worker, who is also a local boy, with the assistance of current county workers.

At any rate, since the state has passed legislation that prohibits landowners from deliberately planting vegetation that prevents beach access, it would be great to see this clearing effort extend all around the island. The highest wash of the waves determines the public corridor, so vegetation in that corridor needs to be removed.

Hey, I just got an idea. Why not put the cops to work on that version of Green Harvest? They'd be doing something useful, and they wouldn't have to annoy us with their low-flying helicopters.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Musings: Nightmare in Paradise

The day started with pale yellow light and two shrieks from a barn owl that pierced the chorus of crickets when Koko and I went walking this morning. Pearlescent clouds were dripping off Waialeale and forming little white lakes in the depths of the pastures and at the base of the cinder cone.

On our return, birds began adding their twitterings to the background music of the crickets and the northeastern sky exploded in a blast of orange-pink that caught the mountain slopes on fire.

A mainland couple, writing a letter to the editor entitled “Nightmare in Paradise,” are all fired up about the scam that is timeshare ownership, what with its exorbitant ownership dues — some properties charge $600 per month —puppet boards and just one way out: foreclosure.

Meanwhile, the homeless who staked out a space beneath one of Honolulu’s freeway overpasses are experiencing their own “nightmare in paradise” as the state once again rousted those with nowhere else to go.

In between are the average working people, like a woman I know who recently managed to buy a house in Hanamaulu that required the incomes of three adults working four fulltime jobs between them to make the payments. And while she gets medical insurance through her job, she’s paying $390 per month to get coverage her child.

Who is making it here in paradise? Surely not the farmers, as yesterday’s letter to the editor from Sherwood Conant pointed out. Sherwood, who used to farm out on Kauapea Road in Kilauea, recounted his own nightmare of being forced out by the high tax assessments levied on his land after a “gentleman” bought the land next door and built a “gentleman’s estate.”

The house site which I had dreamed to live acquired a “fair market” value after my neighbor moved in. Since I could not afford these taxes, I had to sell my farm (the rich neighbors were not too happy about other farm activity also).

On the same road where Sherwood farmed can be found high end ag land vacation rentals, including some owned by Michele Hughes, the developer of that fake agricultural subdivision known as Kealia Kai. As her website for luxury homes, which she actually has the nerve to call "farm dwellings," notes:

The 50 acres of land owned by Michele and Justin Hughes is zoned agricultural but most of it is unsuitable for farming because of its location on the rocky bluff above Secret Beach and Anini Beach. Despite the adversarial conditions, they have made, at considerable expense, a concerted effort to irrigate, add steps and trails for access, and plant the hillsides and whatever small flat areas available.

Do you suppose they got a conservation district permit for their trail to the beach? Which, btw, is not far from the access trail that the county gave up because it feared liability. Or perhaps it just decided it wouldn't funnel the public riff raff onto the beach near these wealthy vacationers.

Just down the road a piece is the ritzy gated Seacliff Plantations ag subdivision where the planning commission recently approved a fake farm/mini hotel that calls for a 4,500-square-foot swimming pool and plans to "farm" an acre of sod.

As Sherwood can so painfully attest:

Anytime non-agricultural use (and/or non-farmers) occurs near farm property, the farmer will suffer.

Yet County Council members who claim to love farmers and support ag are simultaneously working to cut them off at the knees with their bill to allow vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land. The point that is often missed in the discussion about the bill now before the Council is that it would replace the existing bill governing TVRs, which does not allow those on ag land to seek use permits.

That’s why it’s so disturbing to see Councilman Tim Bynum make comments like these to the newspaper:

“After I heard the public hearing and I read all the testimony, I revisited the bill with the attorneys and the staff,” Bynum said. “We found areas based on input that we can make the bill clearer and a little tougher.”

Bynum introduced an amendment suggesting that the Planning Department “may physically inspect” the transient visitor rental prior to issuing a certificate. The original bill had no requirement for physical inspection, which drew much criticism from the public.

In fact, the existing law on TVRs says the Planning Department shall inspect the property. So Tim is not only weakening the law, he’s lying about it.

And if he’s lying about things that are clearly black and white, it kinda makes you wonder if the whole thing isn’t a sham — just like those fake farm dwellings and "barns" that the county keeps approving.

In my last post about TVRs, in which I noted that former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura had testified in opposition to Tim’s bill, someone in comments wrote that JoAnn has always opposed ag land TVRs.

Not so. Some may recall that she and Councilman Jay Furfaro drafted the bill that called for unenforcement agreements. In other words, the planning director would agree not to enforce against ag land TVRs until the Important Ag Land study is completed. Under that bill, TVRs operating on lands deemed important would have to stop, while those on less important lands could continue.

The bill was so heavily amended after going through 16 hearings at the Council that it was pulled back and Tim’s bill was introduced in its place. But that bill is still alive, and it seems quite likely that if Tim’s bill dies, it will be resurrected.

Meanwhile, farmer Jerry, who sits on the Important Ag Land committee, said that at the last meeting of that panel, Planning Director Ian Costa finally said that nothing will change after the designations are made. “It won’t be open season,” Jerry told me. “The [less important] land won’t be rezoned.”

So how, then, could TVRs be allowed on some ag lands and not others, without triggering more threats of a dreaded lawsuit?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Council should stop screwing with the TVR bill until it gets clear about what kind of agricultural future it envisions for this island.

Because right now, they're working to create a “nightmare in paradise” for agriculture.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Musings: Twisted Image

I’ve been following Roger Christie’s pro-cannabis/anti-drug war efforts for about 20 years now, ever since I ran into him on the Big Island while working for the now defunct Honolulu Advertiser. He’s had some successes, including winning a selective prosecution lawsuit against Hawaii County, helping to get voters to approve an initiative that makes marijuana cultivation and possession the lowest police priority and convincing that island’s County Council to reject funding for “Green Harvest.”

Now, however, he’s facing serious federal charges of conspiracy and marijuana manufacturing [how, exactly, do you manufacture a plant, except through genetic engineering?], possession and distribution related to his THC Ministry in Hilo.

The feds, who actually used a Coast Guard C-130 plane to bring Christie and the other 13 defendants to Honolulu, played up the bust at a well-covered news conference, prompting a friend to observe, “Of course. They gotta shoot him down in the media first before they shoot him down in court.”

I was astounded to read that Christie and a few other defendants may not be released on bail pending trial, and that some of them could actually face life in prison for growing marijuana plants. This prompted one Star-Advertiser reader to comment:

Our justice system is grossly disproportionate compare BP to Roger Christie. Roger is in Jail. BP still making millions. Who did a greater disservice to our country? Where is the Sanity?

Really, where is the Sanity? Btw, did you know oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, and that BP was getting a tax deduction of $225,000 per day for renting the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig? And people bitch about welfare….

Getting back to Roger, his arrest prompted some interesting responses from the pro-cannabis crowd, including this apt observation from the California Cannabis Ministry blog:

Arresting Roger Christie is thuggish -- more of the same from our military industrial corporate chemical government, that shoots innocents with drones; induces birth defects for generations using depleted uranium munitions; bankrupts our country then rewards the guilty bankers; pokes a gaping petroleum wound into the Gulf of Mexico; "fraks" our water supplies; and engenders a two trillion dollar black market while creating essential resource scarcity in the world by banning industrial hemp agriculture.

You can’t say they don’t have a good point. But so does “Radical” Russ Belville of the NORML Stash blog, who earlier this year took Roger to task for promising ministry practitioners a religious use defense that thus far hasn’t held up in court:

Never mind that civil rights attorneys who went to law school and studied and litigated the issue for decades now have been unable to get one single US court to recognize a First Amendment right cannabis as a sacrament.

[H]ere’s the point upon which all attempts to recognize a First Amendment right to religious cannabis use have failed:

The Sherbert Test consists of four criteria that are used to determine if an individual’s right to religious free exercise has been violated by the government. The test is as follows:

For the individual, the court must determine:

• whether the person has a claim involving a sincere religious belief, and
• whether the government action is a substantial burden on the person’s ability to act on that belief.

If these two elements are established, then the government must prove:

• that it is acting in furtherance of a “compelling state interest,” and
• that it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or least burdensome, to religion.

As Belville notes, a Colorado judge didn’t buy the THC Ministry defense, and I found that a Pennsylvania man who attempted to use that same defense in a hearing before a judge was sentenced to 9 to 23 months in jail.

Roger, who is totally sincere in his efforts and beliefs, may do better in a jury trial. Since this is not his first barbecue, I assume he has a good attorney and is going to use the trial to further champion the cause. And that's really what this is all about. Roger has been too outspoken, made too much headway, and the feds want to shut him up and put him away.

In the meantime, Hawaii sent the world a bizarre message last week: it opposes civil rights and religious freedom, but welcomes war games with open arms.

That's kind of a twisted image for the so-called Aloha State.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Musings: Friday FYI

We saw it coming, or at least, I did: a thick bank of clouds, fronted by a gray fringe, that was headed south when Koko and I were returning from our walk this morning. The sky turned white and then I could hear the rain coming, drumming and pounding as it swept over the trees, falling straight and hard, each drop visible, backlit by the sun. We were quickly wet, and so we kept going, me with my head up, enjoying the spectacle, Koko with her head down, because she’s not so crazy about water.

And then it departed, drifting toward Haupu and maybe Poipu, and we were left with wet fur and soaked clothes, respectively, and a vibrant double rainbow arching over the pastures and cinder cones.

It’s Friday, a good day for a wrap-up, so here goes…..

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a sexual discrimination suit against one of PMRF’s contractors, ITT Corp. on behalf of Kauai resident Melissa Pacheco and a male co-worker who opposed the harassment. Melissa blazed a trail as the first female firefighter out at the missile range, which prompted me to write a story about her for Kauai People three years ago this month. The clip archive died with The Advertiser, so I pulled this from my own files:

“When I first started, a lot of the guys were not very nice,” says Pacheco, who was hired on at PMRF in March 1995. “There have been a lot of ups and downs and adjustments, especially for the men, but for me, too.”

Initially, the firehouse had no women’s quarters, so she had to bunk with a dozen men.

Harassment, usually dished out by the same group of men, continues to be a mainstay of her job, but Pacheco can hold her own. “I’m a scrapper. If I know I’m 100 percent right, I’m not afraid to tangle. But there’s been a lot of stuff I’ve just let go. I have to pick my battles.”

Both PMRF and ITT gave Melissa a lot of heat for speaking out in that article. It’s been a tough road for her, but I’m glad the EEOC has taken her case.

In a surprising turn of events, former Mayor and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura testified in opposition to the bill that would allow vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land. The Council has again deferred a vote on the matter.

It’s unfortunate that in covering this story TGI reporter Léo Azambuja continues to rely so heavily on Councilman Tim Bynum, who introduced the measure. Today’s article is especially egregious, offering only Tim’s glossy take on things.

What I found most amusing was Tim’s comment that he had made the bill “clearer and a little tougher,” in part by introducing an amendment that the planning department “may physically inspect” the TVR before issuing it a non-conforming use certificate. Whoa, yeah, you’re really getting tough there, Tim.

The amendment makes it clear that the department’s staff may inspect a TVR if they feel it’s necessary. The criteria for a possible inspection, however, will be up to the department, said Bynum.

“We try to write laws that allow people to do their job, not dictate every aspect,” he said.

Yes, Tim, that would be great in an ideal world. Unfortunately, this is Kauai, and the planning department under Ian Costa needs clear direction, not more ambiguous leeway.

In a further cementing of the already tight bond between the University of Hawaii and biotech firms, Monsanto has established
In case you haven’t heard, the ACLU and Lamda are preparing to sue over Gov. Lingle’s veto of the civil unions bill. According to its press release:

“We’re obviously disappointed that Governor Lingle has, once again, used her power to deny the people of Hawai`i their civil rights” said Laurie Temple, Staff Attorney for the ACLU. “Luckily for the people of Hawai`i, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the Governor won’t honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a federal ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional:

Judge Joseph Tauro in Boston ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, arguing that the law interferes with the right of states to define marriage.

And in a further cementing of the already tight bond between the University of Hawaii and biotech firms, Monsanto has established a $100,000 scholarship fund bearing its name at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources for students who will study plant biotechnology and biological engineering. According to the press release:

“Hawai‘i is the gateway to the future of worldwide agriculture, and we want to support and encourage as many local students who are interested in pursuing an exciting and meaningful career in agriculture,” said Fred Perlak, vice president of research and business operations for Monsanto Hawai‘i.

Looks like the gateway will be dead and brown, the result of repeated applications of Monsanto’s Roundup….

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Musings: No Easy Answers

The night brought rain that continued until the morning, but stopped just before dawn, when Koko and I went out walking beneath a sky mottled in shades of dusky pink, with blue sections cut out like the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

The only sounds to be heard were the cooing of doves and the steady plop, plop, plop of drops falling from leaves, branches, rooftops. That is, until I yelled, “hey!” at the oblivious guy in the convertible who came within inches of me, even though the other lane was wide open. Now I know why one of the other early walkers carries rocks in his pocket.

And then the garbage truck, on its new schedule inspired by automated trash pick up in Lihue, wheezed by, with friendly waves from the driver and the guys hanging on the back as Koko and I stopped to watch a black squall drift south from Haupu, carrying the teal, rose and yellow bands of a rainbow along with it.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho yesterday wasn’t able to get the County Council to go along with his plan, which is becoming increasingly inexplicable, to pick up a new easement to Larsen’s (Lepeuli) Beach from Waioli Corp.

Following an executive session that spanned nearly two hours, deputy county attorney Ian Jung made a power point presentation that came off like a campaign ad for Bernard, portraying him as aggressively seeking out another easement across Waioli land.

What the presentation didn’t make clear is why that easement is even needed. The county already owns an access that runs roughly parallel to, and eventually joins up with, the one the mayor is now seeking to add. The county hasn’t maintained that trail, however, and so in parts it’s impassable. But several knowledgeable people testified that it could easily be restored, and is in fact less steep than the trail now on the table. After all, it was created by former state forester Ralph Daehler, who knew what he was doing.

Further, the new access would simply be an easement across Waioli’s land, which means Waioli would have the ability to revoke or close it for various reasons. If that happened, the public would be left without any access.

So the big question remains, why doesn’t the county just clean up the existing trail it owns rather than essentially abandon it in favor of another one over which it has less control?

The Garden Island’s article this morning has mayoral assistant Beth Tokioka saying any improvements to the county-owned trail would require it to meet ADA requirements. But the county’s own ADA coordinator said the law doesn’t apply to trails, or to other projects that aren’t connected to pavement or structures, which is the situation at Larsen’s.

That’s not the only discrepancy. Waioli attorney Don Wilson claimed during his testimony that the lateral trail -- which the Sproat family of Kalihiwai says is part of an ancient alaloa, and which many frequent beachgoers want the county to acquire because it easily delivers them to the north end of the beach -- “was never offered and will not be offered. It was never on the table.”

Funny, that isn’t what I heard from several people in the know. Don then went on to say he’d made numerous attempts to talk with the Sproat’s attorney “but he refused,” which is also contrary to what I heard from the Sproats and their attorney.

So at best, there’s a major communication problem here. Overall, unfortunately, this issue has been muddled by deception, distortions and misrepresentations on all sides, which is probably why it just keeps getting more convoluted and polarized.

I must say that as listened to the testimony I was struck by comments that referenced making Larsen’s beach accessible to the elderly and keiki, as well as bicyclists, and connecting it to the county’s coastal Path. “It’s restrictive,” said Hope Kallai, claiming the county’s existing access and the one it wants to acquire from Waioli are too steep. “It eliminates user groups.”

While I’m a big fan of beach access, I think that in the case of Larsen’s – one of the few wild beaches left on Kauai and site of numerous drownings – it’s a mistake to encourage easy access. If no effort is required to reach a place, that tends to cheapen its value and intensify its use, often to the point of degradation. We already have plenty of beaches that families and those with physical infirmities can and should use, in part because they have lifeguards. We have very few beaches that are still considered remote, and IMHO, so long as there’s some kind of access, they should be left alone, not opened wider.

It’s also important to note that the access was initially created back in the 1970s to ensure access for fishermen and limu pickers, not for general recreation.

Still, there’s another side to that particular point. Waioli’s lessee, Bruce Laymon, will be able to give easy beach access to his friends and family via a road that runs through the cattle pastures, and that’s what really grates on a lot of folks. The way they see it, some people – or more specifically, locals -- will be in and the haoles, with their trash-leaving, body-baring ways, will be out.

That deeper issue of who has access to which beaches is also a factor in the dispute over vacation rentals, which have caused large numbers of tourists to be dumped onto beaches that previously were pretty much the domain of local residents. As a result, fishermen have been pushed out and local residents have stopped using some beaches because they’ve been taken over by tourists.

As for the alaloa, I have no doubt that one used to run along that coastline and that Linda Akana Sproat and her family used to be able to walk from Anahola to Kalihiwai. That issue is now the subject of judicial and administrative proceedings initiated by Native Hawaiian Legal Corp on behalf of the Sproats, whose primary concern, as I understand it, is keeping Bruce’s cattle from getting too close to the beach, which could harm the reef ecosystem.

But pushing the fence back would hinder Waioli from blocking off the lateral access, which it wants to do to prevent people from walking across its land. Waioli officials and Bruce Laymon have said they’re happy to provide access for "bonafide Hawaiians" exercising their traditional and customary practices. That’s good, and as it should be. But use of an alaloa couldn’t legally be restricted to Hawaiians. It seems that unless some intense negotiations get under way soon, the alaloa question will end up by being decided by the courts, which is one reason why the Council deferred action on the easement.

During the testimony, Councilman Tim Bynum said it really bothered him to see easements on the map that the public can no longer access. Yes, that is troubling, and if he and the mayor are truly concerned about access, it would be nice to see them get to work on re-establishing some of these "lost" accesses and even condemning land to acquire new ones. And if they’re so worried about liability, they just might want to give a little thought to the liability exposure the county is creating for itself by funneling tourists staying in vacation rentals onto beaches with no lifeguards.

The Garden Island presented this very complex issue as a split between two families, but it’s much more than that. It also touches on the deeper questions of stewardship, private property rights, liability, mauka-makai access, transparent government processes, citizen involvement in access issues and the kind of a future we want for Kauai.

It’d be nice to think that simply getting an easement would resolve things, but unfortunately, there’s quite a bit more to it than that.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Musings: Pretty Darn Pathetic

I first heard the news about Gov. Lingle’s not-so-surprising veto of the civil unions bill from a young man I work with, just as I was closing up the food pantry yesterday afternoon.

“There are a lot of angry people on Facebook and Twitter right now,” he said, and when I asked why, he told me of the veto.

“There’s so much fear out there,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief, and I could only commiserate. We talked for a while, wondering why people are so threatened by homosexuals, why people are making a civil rights issue into a religious issue, why people are so ignorant, why people who supposedly claim to love God have so much hate in their hearts.

Then this morning, scanning the Star-Advertiser's coverage, I felt my stomach tighten as a I read Dan Nakaso’s article on the crowd’s reaction:

They broke out in song and cries of "Hallelujah, Jesus" as word spread instantly yesterday that Gov. Linda Lingle had vetoed Hawaii's civil-unions bill.

Some of the dozens of opponents of House Bill 444 who had gathered outside of Lingle's Capitol office dropped to their knees, threw their arms in the air and wept openly, crying, "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!"

What the hell does Jesus have to do with this? And what the hell is Jesus doing in a discussion about the rights of American citizens? I think what really disturbs me about this issue — besides Lingle’s decision to keep gays in their second-class status — is how it reveals the growing political power of churches in our supposedly secular nation, and the way duplicitous politicians like Lingle pander to that crowd:

And while some will disagree with my decision to veto this bill, I hope most will agree that the flawed process legislators used does not reflect the dignity this issue deserves, and that a vote by all the people of Hawaii is the best and fairest way to address an issue that elicits such deeply felt emotion by those both for and against.

Of course, the veto got her name out there in the international media and fits right in with the reactionary, intolerant role she adopted in forming the pro-Superferry “unified command.”

Still, it’s kinda funny she didn’t have any problem with closed door politics and excluding the public from important decisions when she was the one doing it.

Overall, when you look at the three issues that defined her term in office — the corrupt debacle of the Superferry, the continued oppression of gays and the gutting of public education through Furlough Fridays — it’s pretty darn pathetic. Sounds like she’s ready to hit the big time.

While we’re on the topics of closed door politics, the Council will take up the issue of the Kaakaaniu (Larsen’s Beach, Lepeuli) access in an executive session in a “special council meeting” this morning. It’s scheduled for 8:30 a.m., which is before the Hoike cameras are turned on, so even if they let people testify, the public will never hear it. [Update: The executive session went until 10:15 a.m., so the public testimony that followed it was recorded on Hoike.]

As I recall, when I first reported that Waioli Corp. had offered the county another easement — as opposed to the dedicated, fee simple access we currently have, but that the county allowed to fall into disrepair — with the caveat that it had to accept liability, someone in comments claimed I was making it all up.

Yet here it is, all wrapped up by Beth and Bernard behind closed doors and presented for the Council's review behind its closed doors…..

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Musings: Freedom Fragments

It started with a black hole, chock full of impossibly brilliant stars, bored clean through a quilted thicket, and then hours passed before Koko and I went back out again, this time to grayness and cool gusty winds that sprinkled rain drops loose from the trees. As we walked, an orange disc appeared, murkily, on the northeastern horizon and then it blazed into gold and before long there was a sort of fire happening in that corner of the sky against a backdrop of soft lavender with pearly swirls.

And then it went white — all white, bled white, bleached white, sun sucked into dense clouds leaving only paleness, and a faint fragment of rainbow in the south.

We still have a few faint fragments of freedom remaining to us; heck, you can opt for a pat down rather than the radioactive full body scan now being inflicted on passengers at the Lihue Airport. Or maybe, if you’re unlucky enough to have a few napkins in your pocket, you’ll get both. Aloha!

If you don’t like it, well, you have the freedom not to fly, and that’ll teach you to oppose the Superferry. After all, as one person noted in the Star-Advertiser’s comment section:

i dont think that this is a constitutional issue. its for the safety for ALL Americans

Yeah, even those who haven’t done anything wrong and still somehow got on the Department of Homeland Security’s terrorist watch list, resulting in a shake down, delays and more than a little stress for a hapless Kauai surfer wrongly targeted while traveling with the latest WMD — surfboards — between those two radical snake pits of Kauai and Samoa.

If you’re a gay or lesbian, Gov. Lingle just might decide today to give you your full complement of civil liberties. Or then again, she just might decide to burn your ass, because she knows you ain’t gonna vote Republican, and so you’re of absolutely no use to her.

One thing we haven’t lost, though, is the freedom to have it our way, whether at the fast food counter or on the world stage. That’s why we’re sending warships and Marines to Costa Rica and solidifying our ties with that terrorist nation, I mean, valued ally, known as Israel.

So in honor of that freedom, and all the guys and gals who are playing the RIMPAC war games to keep us safe — garage door openers and Waianae beach bogdowns be damned — here’s a little video to remind you just how damn lucky you are to live in the US of A.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Musings: Independence Day

It’s been a day of wondrous beauty, starting, perhaps, with the half-moon glimpsed dodging clouds through my skylight in the pre-dawn. And then there was that rainbow fragment above the gentle blue of the mountains at daybreak and the shimmer trail on water full of the smell of limu.

Later, it was the pungent fragrance of a sun-warmed ironwood thicket, looking down into a clear green sea, two big honu drifting on the swells. Also, the black and white speckled white-tailed tropic bird chick with impossibly big black eyes, nestled into a nest in the roots of a tree, while above the red-tailed tropic birds were soaring, chattering.

Not far from there an albatross chick stood — perhaps still stands — poised on the edge, downy feathers clinging afro-like to a head that revealed its dinosaurian ancestry, adult wing feathers itching with nits, which it groomed, scratching its head, dog-like, with feet shaped like the working end of a hoe.

Last to fledge in a colony of nine, it looked out, not down, ruffling its feathers, its feathers ruffled by the wind. Was this the day it would take flight, seize its independence?

Driving home, past poinciana blooming so exuberantly, a fine fiery alternative to the rocket’s red glare, while green glowed the mountain ridges, the lawns, the pastures. On the edge of Anahola, a pick-up truck was parked on the side of the road. Beside it was a man I’ve seen many times before, gray pony tail poking out beneath lauhala hat. With his back to the highway he was tending a grill, hands busy turning, tantalizing smoke billowing.

Two signs were propped up next to his truck. “Huli huli,” read one; the other, “Hawaiian Independence.”

And I thought of him and the bird on the brink and all the beauty and the lyrics from that Chicago song ... “every day’s the fourth of July” ... kept playing through my head.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Musings: Media Independence

Driving home yesterday, I happened to tune into KKCR and heard Jonathan Jay interviewing Andy Parx. It was a very interesting show, and once I got home, I was even motivated to clean the kitchen so I could keep listening. I was reminded again that Andy really does know a lot about what’s going down on Kauai, and has a good historical grasp of political issues. Most important, he's a rare independent voice.

This blog and I were the topic of discussion a few times, and while it was kind of strange to hear people talking about me on the radio, it was all accurate, except the part about me working three jobs. To clarify, I have one part-time job (which sometimes feels like three) and make the rest of my living doing freelance.

Andy repeated the story of how MidWeek terminated my freelancing agreement because I wrote a post criticizing the inaugural editorial in the Star-Advertiser, or more specifically, this line:

We will strive mightily to be on the side of angels. We will work constantly to do, and shout, the noble thing.

I then asked if the demise of the Advertiser, which was founded by a missionary descendant and taken over by a man who helped overthrow the monarchy, would finally result in fair coverage of the Hawaiian sovereignty/independence movement:

Is that cause pono enough “to be on the side of angels?”

I already knew the answer, but it was confirmed today with Derrick DePledge’s one-sided piece on the Akaka Bill. He didn’t even bother with an obligatory comment from an indigenous person, either pro or con; indeed, the piece read like Gov. Lingle and a few Republican senators are the only opponents who need to be considered. He also mentioned that draft amendments to the bill have been provided to Akaka’s staff, but offered no insight as to what revisions are being considered, other than they might make the bill more palatable to Lingle.

The article and headline were all about the need for haste in pushing this bill through. It’s the same message Derrick and the Advertiser editors — some of whom were kept on by the hybrid paper — have been harping all along, even though the bill has sizable local opposition. It’s just really unfortunate that such an important issue isn’t getting anything close to a full airing in the mainstream media.

And it won't, so long as reporters are afraid to challenge the spin they know their editors want — a fear that is even more acute as journalism jobs disappear and owner David Black makes it clear he won’t even tolerate criticism, much less dissent.

Meanwhile, Ragnar Carlson, my editor over at Honolulu Weekly, has a piece in this week’s paper about how Star-Advertiser owner David Black’s new lock on Oahu printing presses forced the independent weekly over to a printer on Maui. As Ragnar wrote:

Black’s $150 million [for the Advertiser] was the price he paid to establish a monopoly–or something very close to it–in Hawaii’s newspaper market.

Not to get all sanctimonious, but that is a really bad thing. There is a reason we have laws prohibiting media monopolies, and it’s that they are devastating both to the essential functions of journalism–fewer voices means the public’s right to know suffers–and to the ability of small businesses and other advertisers to receive a fair market rate on advertising.

Don’t bother writing a letter to David Black–as they say in poker, he’s pot-committed.But we hope you will consider expanding your use of newspapers and news sources other than the Star-Advertiser, as a consumer of both news and of advertising. A monopoly may be good for that paper’s owners, but it bodes ill for the rest of us.

As the Honolulu Weekly also reported, that's certainly true for the newspaper carriers, who got totally screwed by the merger. So much for the Star-Advertiser doing "the noble thing" and striving "mightily to be on the side of angels."

Just a little something to consider as we move into this American Independence Day weekend.