Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Musings: Asking Too Much?

The rain had just passed and a small patch of sky was on fire in the east when Koko and I went out walking in the murky light of a cloudy pre-dawn. The waning moon shone weakly through the overcast, causing an oval of blue above the Giant to assume a pearly glow.

A truck passed, and the driver greeted me with a quiet toot of the horn, as he does each morning when he sees me on the road, and the horses responded by nickering softly in the pasture. Further on, Koko jumped when we heard pigs grunting in the bush, and she kept looking over her shoulder until we turned back.

Returning in the light of sunrise, I could tell from the yellowing guinea grass, brown wedelia and fried lauae fern that Roundup had been sprayed along the guardrail recently, with no notice, no warning. A lot of people and dogs walk along that section of road and we were all exposed, unknowingly. I know some people don’t care — remember the famous “Roundup is so safe I’ll drink it” line? — but I do. I realize the state and county aren’t ready to give up their roadside death-dealing, but it seems they could at least post a sign before and/or after they spray poison so we can avoid it if we choose.

Is that asking too much?

One of the low-income residents I work with was expressing concern yesterday that the food stamp office had been moved from the State Building Lihue in over to Eleele, which presented a bit of a hardship for her and the many other recipients who don’t have cars. Meanwhile, there’s an article in today’s Star-Advertiser about how furloughs and Lingle’s reorganization of the Dept. of Human Services has resulted in a severe backlog of processing applications for benefits, just as so many of us had predicted. It’s also created burdensome work loads for the employees who remain. And all this comes at a time when the demand for assistance is at a peak:

In May there were 139,816 people statewide on food stamps, up 18 percent from the year before.

[Linda] Tsark, the food stamp administrator, said 79.8 percent of food stamp applications statewide are "timely," which means they are processed within 30 days, or seven days for emergency assistance. That is down from 87 percent in July 2009. Federal guidelines require a 95 percent timeliness rate.

I continually see people getting totally stressed out because they have lost their jobs, have no financial reserves and then must wait weeks for unemployment benefits and food stamps to kick in. As a result, an already trying time is made that much more difficult. It seems a wealthy nation like ours should be able to respond quickly to folks in such dire straits.

Is that asking too much?

Meanwhile, as the U.S. is supposedly ending combat missions in Iraq today — while leaving behind 50,000 troops that could possibly be involved in fighting — 19 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Saturday. How much longer do you suppose the carnage there will continue, for no good reason?

Ironically, the reactionary outcry over building a mosque some 10 blocks from the Twin Towers site is working to boost recruitment, donations and support for the Taliban, according to an article in Newsweek:

America’s enemies in Afghanistan are delighted by the vehement public opposition to the proposed “Ground Zero mosque.” The backlash against the project has drawn the heaviest e-mail response ever on jihadi Web sites, [Taliban operative] Zabihullah claims—far bigger even than France’s ban on burqas earlier this year. This time the target is America itself. “We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage.”

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall—so tailor-made to show how “anti-Islamic” America is—that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. “We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantánamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks—and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York,” Zabihullah says. “Showing reality always makes the best propaganda.”

The cessation of “Iraqi Freedom” operations prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make this announcement to the Iraqi people:

”You are regaining the sovereignty of your country,” Mr. Maliki told a divided nation in an address on state-run TV. “Our relations with the United States have entered a new stage between two equal, sovereign countries.”

Um, yeah, right. But anyway, now that we’ve finally “freed” Iraq, perhaps we could focus on releasing our stranglehold on the independent nation of Hawaii.

Is that asking too much?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Musings: Wait and See

Well before the moon rose, Koko and I were out enjoying the stars and especially the planets — twinkling Venus foremost among them — that were huddled together in the western sky. The moon came much later and hung around over my house, peering in through the skylight, tricking me into believing it was time to get up.

By the time I actually did there was a thin band of rose along the eastern horizon, topped by another band of blue and above that a puffy mottling of yellow-gold-pink clouds that faded to gray before Koko and I returned from our walk this morning. Later, in the kitchen, I realized the sun is no longer rising in my front windows, but the ones on the side, offering evidence beyond the vase of yellow ginger that fall is on its way.

I made my way up to Anini yesterday to attend a picnic of the Sierra Club, which kindly gave me their Pono Award in recognition of my blogging and journalism on behalf of the environment. I hadn’t been out there in a while, and as I drove along that narrow road to the beach park, I thought of how so often people use Anini as an example of a place where they can't possibly farm, and so instead seek a vacation rental use of their ag land. And I was thinking, yes, they can't farm their half- or quarter-acre because their house takes up most of it.

Rep. Mina Morita and former Sen. Gary Hooser, who is now running for lieutenant governor, were there to present the awards and say a few words. Gary is still hanging in there and needs small contributions — under $100 each — ASAP so he can qualify for matching public funds and buy more ads before the primary. Go Gary!

Mina said all the state departments have “been decimated,” the Office of Environmental Quality Control has “been gutted” and the Lingle Administration is proposing sweeping changes to agency rules, including those that govern the conservation district, to further entrench its philosophy before she leaves office.

“I don’t think the state can survive another eight years of Republican leadership,” she said, before urging folks who care about the `aina to support Neil Abercrombie for governor. “Mufi Hannemann doesn’t have an environmental bone in his body.”

Interesting, then, that our own Mayor Bernard Carvalho endorsed him. At any rate, it’s going to be a close race, and as several people mentioned, the guv's race makes voting in the primary worthwhile.

Later, talk turned to the county election, with much discussion about who is vulnerable. We agreed that the Council’s flat rejection of Tim Bynum’s three agricultural land bills last week offered pretty strong proof that he is dead meat on that panel, in terms of advancing any legislation. That doesn’t mean, of course, that he won’t get re-elected.

There seemed to be a general consensus that newcomer Nadine Nakamura is going to get in, and most likely former Councilman Mel Rapozo and incumbent Jay Furfaro. But questions surrounded the rest. Has Kaipo Asing seen better days? Has JoAnn Yukimura fallen so far from grace that she can't get re-elected? Has Dickie Chang got a shot? We’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ll also be interested to see if Kealanani, that ill-conceived ag subdivision on the mauka side of the highway at Kealia does, indeed, die a well-deserved death. That fake farm project should never have been approved, and now it’s looking like the economic downturn is taking a fatal toll.

Economics could also spell the end of blogging in Philadelphia, where the City Council has imposed a $300 business privilege license on local bloggers, even if they make no money, as well as various taxes. That’s one way to silence your critics.

Meanwhile, the progression of information technology races on unabated, as this video shows. It ends with a question that is very often on my mind: So what does it all mean?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Musings: After Thoughts

Few things are quite so delightful as being out in the solid darkness of night and hearing the roar of an approaching rain shower drumming on the leaves, coming closer and closer, growing louder and louder, until finally it arrives in an embrace of cool moistness and an explosion of sound on the roof of the porch where I’m safely sheltered.

By morning the rain had departed and the sky had shed most of its clouds and all the celestial bodies save for brilliant Jupiter and the moon, waning now, but still round and white, the two of them traveling companionably toward the mountains.

Travels to Kalalau soon will be halted for at least two months, and yesterday’s post about the planned “rockfall mitigation” work there, which will now involve the use of a Bobcat, prompted this email from a reader:

Bobcats aren't native to the Hawaiian natural environment.

I'm still in awe at the whole concept of geoengineering the Kalalau landscape.

It's a natural area. One of the features of a natural area is natural hazards, along with its natural beauties, its remoteness, its requirements that a person rely on wits and experience.

How long before there's a safety line the length of the Kalalau trail, with a requirement that all hikers wear a helmet and harness, and clip in to the safety line?

Good question in these litigious days when KVB is promoting the "Island of Discovery" and the county and state are super paranoid about getting sued. For my part, I’m still in awe that there’s been so little public outcry about the Kalalau project, which strikes me as both unnecessary and inappropriate.

There was a bit of an outcry about the section of yesterday's post that touched on the construction work at Wailua, with one person asking:

so what permanent impact do you think will occur? you are the 'expert' you tell us what the impact will be.

I can’t say for certain, and neither can anyone else, since no EIS or AIS (Archaeological Inventory Survey) was done on the cumulative impacts of the myriad projects planned there. Instead, they were treated as separate initiatives.

What I can tell you is that when the construction barricades come down and the massive scale of the bridge work is revealed, it will dramatically change the look and feel of the area. It’s much like how building a turn lane through the center of Hanalei abruptly altered the character of that town.

And when four lanes of high-speed traffic and a bike path begin moving through the Wailua corridor, it’s going to feel – to some of us, anyway – like another little piece of Kauai has been killed. But hey, small price to pay to keep our beloved cars moving along, right? At least,until we get a tsunami or major rise in sea level or even more traffic.

Of course, not everyone cares. In commenting on what sort of impact the construction will have on Wailua, another reader opined:

Certainly no more then the tons of human waste that has been deposited out there.

That sort of sentiment is often voiced in discussions about development. It’s already been disturbed/trashed/impacted, some say, so what’s the big deal if we degrade it even more? I thought Kehau Kekua had a good answer for that. After Judge Watanabe refused to grant an injunction against the construction work, saying the Wailua area has long been impacted, Kehau responded, in an interview with me:

“We realize that, but now we’re at a place where as Native Hawaiians we can speak against it. What has happened in the past should not provide an excuse in this 21st Century when we have laws that are supposed to protect our iwi kupuna and our ancestors. But we’ll always be at a disadvantage fighting the fight in a Western system.

And that’s why the work at Wailua goes on.

Finally, if you’re interested in some other news, I’ve got a piece in Honolulu Weekly that sheds some light on how Mufi Hannemann dealt with the issue of homelessness and housing while serving as mayor of Honolulu and an article on depleted uranium at Civil Beat, which loads slowly. Even if you don’t subscribe to Civil Beat, you can get a daily guest pass for $1.49 and read anything on the site. It’s a wealth of information on many pertinent people and issues in Hawaii.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Musings: Night and Day

Driving home last night, beneath the clear white moon, heater on in the car to ward off the chill, crossing the Wailua Bridge where the men are working nights, the flagmen barely visible in the darkness, I was aware of their vulnerability, and also of the vulnerability of that special place.

I ran into Waldeen Palmeira the other day and she said the feds had met with Hawaiians who are objecting to both the Wailua project and its process, and the feds agreed to a consultation “at the very highest level,” whatever/whomever that means. Most likely, we agreed, it means nothing, but is instead a way to buy time, pacify critics, because meanwhile, the work goes on, without an EIS.

And I was reminded of how so often that’s the case, where procedural challenges continue, complaints are lodged, lawsuits are filed, but still, the work goes on, so even if folks ultimately prevail in the end, much of the damage is already done. That same scenario is played out over and over and over again. But the system will let you bang your head against its walls and try to convince you it's a fair and reasonable process.

A restless night, full moon bright through the skylight, streaming in the windows, then blotted out by heavy rain that dimmed the first light of dawn and delayed our walk. But when we went out, oh, it was heavenly, with shards of orange and scarlet and soft pink and hot pink all mixed up on a lavender backdrop.

Rainbow shafts shot up from Makaleha, which was streaming with waterfalls, and Haupu, which was being drenched by a squall, and Waialeale was wrapped in these strangely yellow clouds that gave it an especially ethereal feel.

When the wind blew, droplets of rain flew off the tree branches, creating a fine mist that was backlit by the sun, forming a zillion sparkling diamonds, the kind of treasure that can’t be piled up in the bank or used for legal tender, and yet is priceless, immeasurably valuable — the only thing, really, that counts for much in the end.

Then the sun climbed a bit higher and the light flattened out and the color drained from the clouds and it was a grayish morning and I was aware of how fleeting it is, and how important it is to cherish it all and take nothing for granted and get out in it every possible chance.

And I wondered, is it really possible to take a Bobcat into Kalalau and blast rocks off the cliffs and cart them around and park a container on the beach and yet “have no substantial environmental or ecological effect in Kalalau?”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Musings: Sunday Ramblings

The moon, full on Tuesday, lit up the night, peeking in through the skylight, darting behind clouds, staring through the window before it slipped behind the mountains, restoring darkness for a brief spell before dawn.

The sun was barely above the horizon, tentatively sending out gold and scarlet rays, when the rain arrived and drummed it into gray submission. Then it moved on and Koko and I moved out into a landscape that was all fresh and wet.

We surprisingly ran into farmer Jerry, prompting me to ask what he was doing out so early on a Sunday morning and of course he was headed over to help set up the county fair — for the third day in a row. And next week he’ll help man it for four days, then take it all down.

A lot goes into the farm fair, just like a lot went into the ‘Aha Hula that Kehau Kekua’s halau shared yesterday, what with an ono feast prepared by Stacy guys at Waipa — she is a member of the halau, and one of her daughters danced last night — decorations, music, beautiful costumes, lei and several amazing hours of chants and dance.

We sat on the lawn at Church of the Pacific, cloud-shrouded mountains at our backs, the sparkling blue ocean before us and off to the side was the brownish-grey creep of Princeville. Behind us was the steady roar of the highway, and we were looking at what used to be the old road: no shoulder, meandering, and narrow enough to prompt a complaint from my father, years ago, when he visited, and my sister, a New Zealander, to reply: “Well yes, it is a wee road, but this is a wee island.”

Things sure have changed. A commenter on a recent post complained that this blog so often gets into politics. It’s hard to escape them when you see their implications all around you, and even harder this time of year. I ran into JoAnn Yukimura, who said that during the election season she might be at a drag race in Mana one night and a hula event on the North Shore the next.

“Do you even need to campaign?” I asked of the woman who has been a force in local politics for some four decades. “Doesn’t everyone know you?”

“No,” she said. “Some people know me, but don’t know I’m running for Council. And some of the young people and new residents don’t know me at all.”

One place to see just about everyone on the Island is the farm fair, and Jerry said candidates requested so many booths this year that there wasn’t room for some of the nonprofits that usually have a presence. Apparently Mufi Hannemann wanted to sponsor the piggy race, but the fair doesn’t go in for political sponsorships.

It does, however, accept corporate sponsorships. I heard the fair ad on the radio the other day, talking about the Verizon opening night, and the Monsanto hall and the Grove Farm tent. I understand they need/want the money, but it’s creepy and weird that so many things/places/events in our lives are “owned” by the corporations. But they have their way because they give not only money, but “volunteers” who are on the clock for their jobs.

Nonprofits, especially small ones, can never compete, which is why you won’t see a GMO Free Kauai tent at the fair – and perhaps not even a booth or table.

And private investors apparently cannot compete against the federal government, at least, not when it comes to fulfilling Mufi Hannemann’s dream of resurrecting the Superferry. As KITV reported:

Gubernatorial Candidate Mufi Hannemann (D) has touted reviving the bankrupt Hawaii Superferry as one of the cornerstones of his economic revival plan.

Hannemann made the proposal last month when he announced his 10 point plan to stimulate Hawaii's economy.

Hannemann said he had talked to a group of private investors eager to revive the inter-island ferry service.

But U.S. Maritime Administrator David Matsuda said Friday the Maritime Administration expects to be the winning bidder when the Superferry vessels are put up for auction.

Matsuda said he doubts any private bidder could compete to buy the ships.

It seems Mufi guys were banking on a fire sale, and hoped to scoop up the ferries — now docked in Norfolk, Va. — for no more than $40 million each, according to KITV. But the feds already have $150 million into the boats, and besides, they’ve discovered just how handy they can be:

"They are extremely versatile as we saw the military successfully activate them for use in the response to the earthquake in Haiti. We saw what they can do," said Matsunda.

At last, they seem destined to serve their true calling.

It’s interesting that Mufi has been pushing the HSF, especially as part of an economic plan. Regardless of how one feels about the ferry, it was losing money badly. It’s hard to see how it could go, even if the boats were bought cheap, unless it was subsidized by government and military contracts. And that is not a good thing.

Perhaps he’s willing to risk turning off voters on the Neighbor Islands, where he is reportedly stronger than Abercrombie, to court voters on Oahu, where he’s lagging. Not that polls really mean all that much. Especially when there’s so much more money to be spent, and mud to be slung, influencing voters in the next four weeks.

And finally, we got a sad and ugly look locally at how the ill-conceived Iraq war just keeps on killing, long after the previously normal soldiers — or in this case, National Guardsman — come home.

After returning, he [Clayborne Conley] suffered from insomnia, combat nightmares, startle reactions, morbid ruminations, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol abuse, court records said.

Nearly as troubling as the three deaths that occurred is what this comment portends:

[Fred] Ballard, with [Hawaii Dept. of] Veterans Affairs, said PTSD and traumatic brain injury are the predominant injuries of the current conflicts in the Middle East.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Musings: Movement

Koko and I walked up the mountain trail late yesterday afternoon, where clouds were softening both the golden light and the jagged ridges of Makaleha and a frisky breeze ruffled the leaves of the ohia and caused the ironwood and eucalyptus to moan and sigh, respectively.

In the distance, the ocean stretched smooth and blue until it merged with the sky, where a white moon that is edging its way toward full stood bright and bold directly above the head of the Giant.

Returning — restored, mind calm — in the gathering dusk, I heard the distinctive call of a Newell’s shearwater, perhaps heading in to tend its fluff ball chick in one of the burrows that dot the slopes of Makaleha.

The birds were back in the news yesterday, with The Garden Island publishing a press release — what TGI too often passes off as “news” — from KIUC talking about how it plans to spend $11 million protecting the birds. But only half of that is actually going to be used to change the utility lines that are killing birds. Much of the rest will be spent on studies with one primary purpose: trying to show there are more birds out there than currently estimated, so KIUC can justify its high take.

Speaking of takes, I found it ironic that the St. Regis, whose bright lights kill dozens of endangered seabirds each year, prompting an Earthjustice lawsuit, is the site of today’s Save Our Seas conference.

Over at Civil Beat, reporter Michael Levine had a very thoughtful, thorough article on how efforts to protect the birds are playing out on Kauai. It had Rep. Jimmy Tokioka saying that constituents angry over the end of Friday night football had told him they might now be less inclined to help the birds.

Hmmm. One can only imagine Jimmy’s response: “I understand your frustration, but why blame the birds? After all, their precipitous decline can be directly traced to human activities.”

Nah. Knowing Jimmy, it was more likely along the lines of this: “Yeah, fucking dumb birds. Har-har, yuk- yuk.”

He's such an embarrassment.

When I interviewed Kehau Kekua about Wailua and traditional cultural practices related to the sacred and the profound — you can read the story here— we got to talking a little about the Newell’s shearwaters, or A’o. The traditional name of Wailua includes alio, which is a reference to their cry, since another name for the birds is lio.

She spoke of how Hawaiian burial practices and beliefs parallel the burrowing nesting habits of the birds, which travel the seas, but return each year to make their nests in the same place where they were hatched. So with both the birds and the kupuna, there’s this unending connection. Well, until we disrupt it, anyway:

“It has to do with burying the kupuna strategically along the coastal areas, facing the horizon, so they’re able to continue their own migrations into the spiritual realms, where life continues,” Kekua explained. “The manao [thinking] of politicians and developers is just move the bones, but the mana, the spirit, lives in the bones. It’s not a one-way trip; it’s a cyclical movement, which is why Hawaiians feel obligated to protect the iwi kupuna. When we hala, die, we leave our bodies, but in places like Wailua, that are sacred portals, our ancestors can always come back and we can mingle with our kupuna.”

In other words, as Kehau noted:

“It’s all about movement.”

And the inter-connectedness of everything.

Kehau’s Halau Palaihiwa O Kaipwuai will be performing ancient chants and hula at 4 p.m. today at Church of the Pacific in Princeville. They may still have some tickets at the gate, but it’s too late to get in on the feast that will be prepared by Stacy guys at Waipa. You can check out the halau website for more details.

If you're looking for the real deal, this is it. I know I’ll be there.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Musings: Just Right

A fiery red eye was blinking above the horizon when Koko and I stepped out onto the porch this morning, and I watched it open wide as I put on my shoes. It caused the sky to form a mosaic of pink, gray, orange, blue and white when we set out walking in a world washed fresh by a rain that had departed just minutes before.

The mountains were obscured, the pastures were glistening and so were the trees, adorned as they were in sparkling raindrops. The air was balmy, yet fresh; in short, it was all just right.

Assuming that Paul Curtis’ reportage is right, which is a major assumption, Kauai Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho was dinged by Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe for “prosecutorial misconduct” stemming from her sloppy, unprofessional actions in an incest case. As a result, the judge reluctantly dismissed some of the charges. Shaylene’s been taking quite a few cracks in the courtroom lately, which is no surprise, given the general consensus that she’s “out of control.”

The competency of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. team has taken some unfair cracks over the years from people commenting on this blog, but yesterday it prevailed in a case that went all the way to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The high Court found that Peter Young, former chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, had improperly denied Paulette Kaleikini’s request for a contested case hearing challenging a Burial Treatment Plan (BTP) that called for removing iwi from the General Growth Properties site in Honolulu.

The plan was endorsed by a 6-3 vote of the Oahu Island Burial Council, with Kaleikini contending in her legal filings that some of its members lacked the understanding of Hawaiian cultural practices required to serve on the Board. Not all Burial Council members are Native Hawaiians or cultural practitioners; some members are appointed to represent development interests.

The Court's decision underscores an important point that has been brought up repeatedly by preservationists, and that’s the need for developers to do good archaeological surveys before they design their projects and begin construction.

But even though the state was rapped for arbitrarily denying Kaleikini her right to a contested case hearing, and lower courts were rapped for denying her appeal on the grounds that it was moot, since construction was already under way — the Justices disagreed, saying Hawaiian burial issues are of “great public importance” — it’s not likely to change the disrespectful way that the state and developers handle burials.

As one attorney noted:

This has been the law for years. You think DLNR is going to start following the law now?

Because what it comes down to in this and other cases — including Joe Brescia’s house at Naue, where DLNR also was found by the court to have acted improperly — is that it took four years to get to this point, some of the iwi already have been moved and construction is proceeding.

Delay is an extremely effective tactic.

Besides, as one legal observer noted about the decision:

I really do not see it as significant since all it does is require an administrative hearing the results of which will be clear before it begins....

While we're on the topic of done deals, a reader challenged a comment I’d made in my last post about transient vacation rentals that the new bill “actually opens the door for TVR owners not just in the ag district, but everywhere else who didn’t apply the last time around:"

really? I don't think that is an accurate statement. I thought it said something about 2008 use date?

It's true that applicants do have to provide a sworn affidavit attesting that the use of the residence as a TVR occurred prior to March 7, 2008. What I'm saying is that some people didn't apply when the last TVR bill was adopted because they weren’t in compliance with zoning laws — you know, they were doing stuff like operating multifamily TVRs and putting guests into ground floor units that were illegally enclosed in a flood zone — or knew their structure did not conform with their building permits.

Now they can come in and apply because, thanks to wording added by Councilman Tim Bynum, there is no longer a mandatory inspection process.

As another reader commented:

And Tim, if the new ordinance didn't open the process back up for more business' to apply, why didn't the new language just address ag?

Good question, especially since this bill was also widely touted as being needed for the sake of "fairness” and to give the poor mistreated ag land TVR operators their right to “due process.”

That was all window-dressing. Instead, the bill re-opens a door that was properly closed and put the burden for decisions on the Planning Commission. Given its past performance, it's unlikely to provide the kind of rigorous review that some Councilmembers imagined would magically occur. So who knows what kind of substandard stuff is going to be rubber stamped, or how many TVRs will be added to the inventory under this bill.

And that's just not right.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Musings: So Junk

Big, bold Jupiter reigned in a brightening sky inhabited by a few stars when Koko and I went out walking this morning. It was so quiet I could hear the cattle chewing, a horse biting an itch, and all the while the crickets sang in harmony.

A band of dark clouds was approaching from the east, settling in around the Giant and promising rain, though likely not before we returned home. The sky over Lihue wore the dull red of urbanization — light pollution, if you will — as it always does. And Waialeale was clearing, though still gathering a white cloak modestly over her summit.

As you may have noticed from the recent dearth of postings, I haven’t been much in the mood to blog lately. Perhaps it was delving deep into depleted uranium munitions — a topic that dominated this past weekend as I worked on an article — and global climate change that wore me down a bit. As one reader noted astutely in a comment left on my last post:

I just read your August 11 post. We're like junkies. We know we're ruining the habitability of the planet but we just can't help ourselves.

Boy, does that say it all. It prompted me to pull Anne Wilson Schaef’s excellent book, “When Society Becomes An Addict,” from the bookshelf, and when I opened it at random, I found this:

The addictive process is so insidious, and dishonesty and denial are so integral to it, that it is difficult to see and know that our system is morally and spiritually bankrupt. The system itself is its own disguise. Add to this the fact that living in it robs us of the clarity to recognize it for what it is, and things become even more confusing.

Must we placidly await the destruction that is the promise of the Addictive System? I do not think so, and again, I am drawing on what I know about the treatment of addicts. It used to be believed that addicts could not begin the recovery process until they had “bottomed out.” Until they had gone as far as they could in their self-destructive downward spiral, they were not ripe for recovery. More recently, some treatment centers have been accepting addicts before they are brought to their knees, and the resulting treatment had been successful. Let us hope that the same holds true for the Addictive System.

Well, that book was written back in 1988 and though celebrities galore have gone through rehab, society as a whole has yet to start the process; indeed, some folks still refuse to admit we’ve got a problem. So hope wears thin.

In the meantime, there’s solace in nature, which seems to be to be the antithesis of the Addictive System, which Schaef describes as having a nonliving orientation. That’s why I also liked a comment that another reader left yesterday:

Nature and all of its glory make politics almost insignificant except when politics impacts the magnificence of nature. Something that is happening all the time.

That alone offers reason enough to get involved, to care, which is probably what prompted a friend to send me this early morning email:

See todays tvr article with the smile of the mayor, does the smile say 'the tvr owners donated so much fucking money my way, I'm stoked to sign this bill?’ or does it say 'fuck you to the rest, i'm happy as a pig ...

Yes, the lei-bedecked mayor, flashing a shaka, was the file photo The Garden Island chose to accompany its article on him signing the newest incarnation of the transient vacation rental bill into law.

Well, it wasn’t actually an article, just a rewrite of the county’s press release. So that’s why it doesn’t mention that even though supporters kept saying it wouldn’t result in any new TVRs, it actually opens the door for TVR owners not just in the ag district, but everywhere else who didn’t apply the last time around.

It does mention that folks will need to submit “plans signed and stamped by a licensed engineer accurately representing the property as it exists today,” thus ensuring work for Jerry Kaluna, Cesar Portugal and other engineers associated with the county. But it doesn’t mention that no inspection is required, so we’ll just be taking their word for it that their representations are legit.

And it doesn’t say a word about what kind of impact this is going to have on the economic viability of agricultural lands for agriculture, or how the county plans to deal with property tax assessments or the deep, underlying concerns about the legality of TVRs on ag land.

Instead, we’re left with the assurance of the politicians that this bill will “stop the bleeding,” make all our problems associated TVRs go away.

Which, I suppose, is to be expected, because denial and wishful thinking are the two hallmarks of addiction.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Musings: Signs of the Season

The kolea are back. I saw my first one yesterday, on a stretch of mowed grass alongside a coastal road, wearing the light-colored feathers that give it the name Pacific Golden Plover. It looked pretty darn chipper, considering it had just flown about 3,000 miles nonstop from its summer home in the Arctic tundra, a trip that took it about 50 hours. They can even reach altitudes of 20,000 feet.

And we think we’re so cool because we invented airplanes.

In reading up on them, I found that historically they were so plentiful that they darkened the skies when they returned, en masse, to winter in the Islands. But hunting, and in more modern times, feral cats, barn owls, habitat loss and collisions with airplanes, have reduced the population.

Besides seeing the kolea, I’ve noticed other indications that fall is on its way, like darker mornings, the subtle shift in the afternoon light, a certain limu smell coming up from the ocean, budding guava, hard-shelled lilikoi lying where it dropped from the vine.

Oh, yeah, and political signs. Great jumbles and masses and thickets of them. They’re such a blight, and are they even effective?

A friend was telling me about two big Carvalho signs he saw on a corner lot in Kapahi where hundreds of roosters are staked out next to their little A-frames. And if you look in between the signs, he said, you can see the ring where chicken fights are regularly staged.

“So what kind of message are they sending with that?” he asked. “That chicken fighters support Bernard? That Bernard supports chicken fights?”

And what kind of message is the County Council sending voters with its constant squabbling? A friend who is not a Council watcher had to attend the last Council meeting and said it really bugged him that he had to sit there and “watch them fight for a couple of hours. What a waste of time.”

Problem is that the public suffers, not only from the ineffectiveness of a dysfunctional Council, but also because we the people must endure the torture of sitting through these dramas while waiting to testify on an agenda item. It’s a very effective way to discourage citizen participation.

One campaign feature I like is Civil Beat's “fact check,” where they scrutinize the political hyperbole that candidates like to spew this time of year to see if it’s actually true. What a concept! Just imagine, taking the time to verify political speak, rather than repeating it unquestioned, like the Starvertiser and TV guys do while raking in all that advertising money from the candidates.

Maybe I can get my colleague over Got Windmills? to work with me on something similar for Kauai’s candidates. That is, once they actually start saying something.

Anyway, Civil Beat’s (formerly TGI’s) Michael Levine did a piece on how Mufi Hannemann claimed — falsely, it turned out — that he alone had attended public school. Later, his campaign spokeswoman clarified that Mufi was referring to public schools in Hawaii through the sixth grade. Oh, I see.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care where a gubernatorial candidate went to grade school — although I do care whether they sent their kids to public school. And I do care that in issuing such statements, Mufi is trying to make it clear that he’s “local” and Neil Abercrombie is not. Because being local doesn’t say anything about a person’s ability to lead, although it can speak volumes about their attachment to a certain way of doing things, an indebtedness to a particular system.

Of course, Linda Lingle wasn’t local, and she got elected, so it may not make so much difference in the governor’s race as it seems to here on Kauai, where it's tough for non-locals to break into the political scene, in large part because, well, they aren't local.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Musings: One Little Hiccup

Koko and I went out in the night to look for meteors, and although the clouds weren’t cooperating, I didn’t mind because it was still an opportunity to marvel at bright and winking Jupiter and the amount of light produced by stars, even when they’re blanketed.

Waking again, hours later, to the glow of orange on the horizon, we went out walking in the finest misty rain, a chill wind blowing from the east, the mountains buried in mounds of white fleece.

“This is some very strange weather we’re having,” said Farmer Jerry, when we encountered him along the road. “It’s like the seasons have been flipped. I guess this is the change, although when you look at it, the climate has actually been changing for the last 20,000 years.”

We talked about global implications of climate change: the fires in Russia, calling out the army to avert water riots in Manilla, the prospect of farming on the steppes of Alaska.

“When you consider that 90 percent of the species that ever existed on Earth have gone extinct, it doesn’t really look good for us,” he said with a laugh. “Just one little hiccup and we’ll be gone.”

“Thanks for putting things in perspective for me,” I said, and we parted ways and I walked on, past horses nuzzling one another in a pasture while sheets of rain blew across Haupu, back to my house, where yellow light was streaming through the thicket of trees, causing the raindrops on their leaves to glint and sparkle while all the birds were singing.

Thus fortified, I merged onto the information highway, where I was struck by a comment in an article about the Council voting to ease the affordable housing condition placed on A&B for its massive Kukuiula project:

Councilman Derek Kawakami said the developers, besides meeting housing requirements, have given a lot to the community, including a 20-acre community park, the development of another park at Kukui‘ula Bay, plus several beach accesses and other concessions.

Yes, and in return they got the privilege of turning agricultural land into an extremely lucrative luxury resort project that will radically transform the southside — unless the economy remains stalled. The kinds of concessions required of developers on this island are manini compared to what is extracted elsewhere in the nation and still they whine and try to weasel out.

And the Council goes along, allowing A&B to sell the homes on the open market if no buyers are found after a 14-month sales period.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see how another Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is responding to the same-sex union issue. While our guv won’t even sign off on civil unions, Arnold and the California AG Jerry Brown have filed legal motions asking for same-sex marriages to resume immediately in the wake of a judge’s ruling that the ban on them was unconstitutional.

In the more creepy crap headed for your dinner table department, they’re now using the cells of dead animals to clone cattle with desirable characteristics for breeding stock.

According to its [Whole Foods] global vice-president, Margaret Wittenberg, although meat and milk from cloned animals has been allowed to go on sale in the US, most Americans have never heard of it.

"A lot of customers in the United States are oblivious of it," she said.

"You don't hear about it in the media. And when you do tell people about it they look at you and say 'you're kidding! They're not doing that are they? Why would they?'"

What else do you suppose you don’t know about the food in the grocery store? Just another good reason to eat organic and buy local.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Musings: Heating Up

Outside last evening in the blue twilight, looking up at Venus twinkling mightily as pink wisps circled the cinder cone, then back out a little later, when the sky was all black and she could be seen again, with Saturn to her right and Mars to her left, creating a beautiful triangle of planets. Mercury was part of the picture, too, but had either just set, or was a little too low to be easily seen.

This was a scene from what Andrew Cooper calls The Great Planetary Conjunction of 2010, with tomorrow night promising a particularly pretty sight as a crescent moon joins the group. It’s also the height of the Perseid meteor shower, although viewing should be good tonight, too, if you can escape the clouds.

It’s hard to believe a lot of people can’t see the night sky, and even harder to believe that they don’t mind. How have humans gotten to the place where they’re willing to sever their own personal encounters with the heavens, forego something that has been such an integral and enduring part of the human experience?

Meanwhile, giant wake up calls related to climate change are happening all over the planet: floods in Pakistan, a huge ice island breaking off from Greenland, landslides in China and fires raging in heat-ravaged Moscow, where attention is now focusing on the release of radioactive material as forests heavily contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster burn.

As a journalist friend who specializes in writing about radioactive noted in an email:

The fire is releasing the same thing as four Chernobyls right now, maybe as high as seven. I'm trying to work up an equivalent of Hiroshima bombs, that will take a little time. The numbers are simply immense.

Russia and the EU are fucked. The stuff is very low in the troposphere, but, the chances of it going world wide in the next year are good.

Some of the fires in the contaminated area were ignited in June, but officials denied it until just recently, which also raises doubts about their current claims that it’s “no problem," which is what a lot of folks have been saying about global climate change.

Yet as meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters noted in a Democracy Now! report:

Well, the entire world, if you look at the past six months, has experienced its warmest year on record, going back to the late 1800s when we first started making measurements. And so, it’s not a surprise that we might be seeing record heat waves and record high temperatures being set. In fact, there are seventeen countries in the world that have set their extreme all-time heat record this year. And that’s the most we’ve ever seen. The previous time was back in 2007, when fifteen countries set their all-time heat record. And those heat records this year include a 128-degree Fahrenheit reading in Pakistan, which is the highest temperature ever reliably recorded in the entire continent of Asia. So there’s been heat all over the globe. The ocean temperatures have been at record warm levels this year, and including in the Tropical Atlantic, where we’re expecting a severe hurricane season. So, it’s heat, heat, heat, is the name of the game this year on planet earth.

And over at Raising Islands, Jan TenBruggencate has an interesting post on how climate change may be affecting ocean productivity:

Phytoplankton, the tiny forms of plantlife that are base of the marine food web, have declined 40 percent in the past 60 years, according to a new study.

Of course, that's not the only issue facing us, or the only one that people are denying. We've also got Time Magazine and people like Rush Limbaugh trying to make the claim that the environmental impacts from BP’s oil well spew are being “overblown.” Yet a recent workshop hosted by the Institute of Medicine made it clear that no one really knows how it will all play out:

"The potential physical, psychological, and socioeconomic impacts of the Gulf oil spill and clean-up response on the short- and long-term health of individuals in the affected region--including land- and sea-based clean-up workers, fishermen, and other commercial workers, residents, visitors, and communities as a whole--are unknown," reads the report.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Musings: Human Folly

The sky had no color, save for fringing, swirling, streaking grey, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The light was vague and the street showed proof of an earlier light rain that would return before we reached home, making me glad I’d brought an umbrella, although I never mind a bit of watering.

Ran into Farmer Jerry along the road and we got to talking about how we were glad that little-big things could make us happy, like rain, which fell delightfully much of yesterday morning. As Jerry noted, you can irrigate crops all you want, but there’s nothing they like more than rain.

Somehow we got on the topic of the massive Kukuiula project, and I shared a report from a friend in the trades that A&B is in a heavy push to finish its golf course clubhous and a few really huge mansions have already been built.

“That was some of the better ag land on the island,” Jerry noted.

Now it’s going to be growing luxury homes and golf courses and shopping centers.

And that got me thinking about Walter Lewis’ commentary in The Garden Island the other day on the new vacation rental the mayor intends to sign, and the legislation that preceded it:

According to the 2006 Bill 2204, some 45 percent of residential units constructed between 1990 and 2000 were for seasonal rental use and from 2000 to 2005 the percentage for the transient-vacation-rental market was 52 percent, far exceeding units built for local families to rent or to own. Many of these new units were built in the non-VDA zone.

So if those kinds of uses aren’t going to be allowed anymore, just how do county officials intend to feed the construction industry?

One thing is clear: if Mufi Hannemann is elected, he’ll be pushing hard for development — as well as trying to entice private investors to bring back the Superferry, which shows he’s not the sharpest tool in the box. As Civil Beat reports today — you can buy a one-day pass to the site, which will give you a lot more value than spending the equivalent at TGI or Starvertiser — Mufi is getting a lot of his funding from donors in construction, banking, architecture and the like, while Neil Abercrombie’s campaign money is coming from small businesses, professors, attorneys and national PACS.

Andy Parx had a helpful wrap up on the Kauai campaign filing reports, which shows newcomer Nadine Nakamura as a top fundraiser. Meanwhile, Bernard Carvalho has amassed a whopping quarter-million even though he’s running essentially uncontested. Just goes to show that some folks love to throw good money after bad.

While we’re on the topic of human folly, here’s a link to a report from BBC about a study that shows genetically modified plants are indeed becoming established in the wild, and some GMO strains are even cross-breeding with one another:

This is thought to be the first time that communities of GM plants have been identified growing in the wild in the US.

Similar findings have been made in Canada, while in Japan, a study in 2008 found substantial amounts of transgenic rape - a close relative of canola - around port areas where GM varieties had been imported.

What surprised the Arkansas team was how ubiquitous the GM varieties were in the wild.

"We found the highest densities of plants near agricultural fields and along major freeways," Professor Sagers told BBC News.
"But we were also finding plants in the middle of nowhere - and there's a lot of nowhere in North Dakota."

So what do you suppose might be growing here on Kauai? Not, of course, that anyone is going to look.... Ain't no way of putting that genie back in the bottle.

Finally, this marks the week, 65 years ago, that the U.S. dropped the big ones on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 220,000 people outright, and Democracy Now! has some compelling pieces that include the stories of survivors and journalist George Weller, who went to great lengths to report the story, only to see his articles killed by military censors.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Musings: The Sacred and the Profane

We’re in the height of summer now, with mangoes ripening on the table, yellow ginger blooming in the yard and the sun rising progressively later, which means that when Koko and I go out walking in the morning, the light is murky, as it was today.

A few pink-edged white clouds floated among splotches of gray in a sky that was neither black nor blue, dark nor light. And then the sun nosed up over the horizon and the world quickly turned golden and bright.

Not so bright is Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s decision to sign the new transient vacation rental (TVR) bill, according to a “media statement” posted on the county’s website at 5:30 p.m. yesterday — the evening before a furlough Friday, when all the county folks will be conveniently out of their offices and so won’t have to deal with calls from the pesky pissed-off public.

It’s no surprise he doesn’t have the political courage to veto the bill, which will give an untold number of people the golden opportunity to legitimize a use that is illegal under state law and thus add as much as 40 percent to the value of their property. Heck, he may not even understand the legal ramifications. However, there's no excuse for packaging his support with disingenuous language:

It allows the facts to be entered into the record and for the Planning Commission to make a decision based on those facts including whether they had a bona fide farming operation prior to March 2008.

Unfortunately, since Councilman Tim Bynum watered down the bill by removing mandatory inspections of the properties, we won’t really have all the facts about an application. And thanks to a loophole introduced by Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro, the Commission can — and no doubt will, given their past actions — approve TVRs on ag land without any farm operation.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a follow up on Tuesday’s post about the dubious legacy of Michele and Justin Hughes, whom I sure will be among those bellying up to the bar to get their own high-end fake farm TVRs approved. They’ve asked for a 180-day extension to the requirement that they either remediate the illegal coastal trail they made above Kauapea Beach, or apply for an after-the-fact Conservation District Use Permit.

The six-month extension, which the BLNR will consider at its Aug. 12 meeting, ostensibly will give the Hugheses “time to complete a thorough Environmental Assessment to accompany the application.” Or sell the property, which is being aggressively marketed.

However, I noticed a discrepancy in the documents. According to minutes from the March 11 BLNR meeting, the Board voted to levy a $7,500 fine against the Hugheses and give them four months or 120 days to remediate or apply — double the time recommended by staff. Yet the staff submittal on the extension request states the Board gave them 160 days to comply. I’m not sure what’s up with that.

But one thing is clear: these landowners are masters at dragging stuff out to suit their purposes. The investigation into this matter began back in March 2007, and this extension will take them up to March 2011, with no guarantee that even then it will be resolved, or that the Hugheses will still be the landowners.

To borrow some lyrics from Steve Miller: “go on, take the money and run. They got the money, yeah, you know they got away.”

I can’t leave you on that bitter note, though, so I’m going to direct you to the Honolulu Weekly piece I wrote about Kehau Kekua. She discusses the role of the sacred and the profound in land use discussions, as opposed to the usual just plain profane, and offers insight into traditional Hawaiian belief systems and practices, including the importance of place and the reasons why burials need to be preserved in place.

You just might learn a thing or two. I know I did.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Musings: Noticeable

A day off — or more accurately, hours off in a day — and Koko and I are heading to the water, dodging cars on the bumpy back roads, traveling through rain, the mountains gray, mysterious looking. But it’s blue on the horizon, where we’re going, with waters that are white-tipped, roughened by a wind swell.

At the beach, into the clear greenness of the sea, iwa cruising high, over the land, nene flying low, directly overhead, squall forming on the horizon, blowing north, missing us, another forming and not, and so drenching us, but I don't mind because I am wet already.

Returning home, I run a roadside gauntlet of tiny home-made wooden figures painted in fluorescent yellow-orange and warning, in bold black letters, KIDS AT PLAY and SLOW 4 KIDS and so I do and in the process notice that I am noticing them, and am aware that I don’t always, even though they’re relatively new to that spot, and glaring.

A number of things have caught my attention recently, caused me to slow down and take notice , like the troubling piece in Time Magazine about how the cops are starting to go after people who videotape them:

Even if these cases do not hold up in court, the police can do a lot of damage just by threatening to arrest and prosecute people. "We see a fair amount of intimidation - police saying, 'You can't do that. It's illegal,'" says Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer with the ACLU's Washington office. It discourages people from filming, he says, even when they have the right to film.

And disturbing accounts of the way the U.S. government and others are stepping up attacks on Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Larry Geller has a good wrap up at Disappeared News, while Democracy Now! broadcast an interview with Assange, in which he responded to calls that the American government should hunt him down by any means:

What [Marc] Thiessen is saying is that US forces would enter European territory without—illegally and conduct an illegal act, like they did in Italy, kidnapping some al-Qaeda. But disturbing to me is to see these references to deal with journalists that were previously done to al-Qaeda.

A friend noticed an article on a new study showing that high fructose corn syrup helps feed cancer cells. Pepsi (or almost any processed food), anyone?

And I took note of a thoughtful New Yorker piece that exposed a lot of the scaremongering about illegal immigration for exactly what it is.

I also noticed a lot of stuff while writing yesterday’s post on the Kauapea capers of Justin and Michele Hughes, like how often the same names pop up in accounts of land misdoings on Kauai, and how long it takes to finally bring an enforcement action to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, and the kind of utter bullshit that’s fed to the enforcement officers, and what manini fines violators get, especially in light of the tremendous value gained, and how people always think that developers just do what they want and pay the fines, but in reality, they just do what they want and fight the fines.

All the while I kept recalling the words that a local friend spoke more than two decades ago in explaining why he had such disdain for people like the Hugheses: “They take up space, use up resources and move on.” To which I might add, and really fuck things up while they’re at it.

Which leads us to the vacation rental ordinance, Bill 2364 which today was sent over to the mayor, who has 10 days to act. Meanwhile, signatures are being added to an on-line petition urging him to veto. Will he? I’ve had some folks say he wants this bill, and others say he wants to distance himself from it. Time will tell.

I did notice a lot of local names on the petition, and that’s a good thing, because in Kauai politics, just in case you haven’t noticed, the opinion of 10 haoles carries the same weight as one local.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Musings: A Legacy of "Aloha"

Orange-edged clouds floated above a burnt-orange disc that was edging its way over the horizon into an otherwise gray sky when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The streets were wet, thanks to a recent shower, and I noticed that the guava trees are fruiting.

We passed a neighbor, whose dog still bore the wounds of a recent backyard encounter with a pig, and stopped to chat with one of the men who works at the end of the road. I see him going to and from work, at the bookends of the day, and we always exchange friendly waves, or in his case, a toot of his truck horn.

“You sure do put in long hours,” I said. “Like 12 hours a day, six days a week.”

“And sometimes more,” he said. “I gotta.”

As local people, regular people, work long hard hours to survive on Kauai, others come in and skim the cream off the top through activities that, when not downright illegal, are nefarious, questionable.

I’m not talking about the ice dealers, but the land dealers, and today, one couple in particular, Justin and Michele Hughes. (Click on the about MHC link for a photo).

As their own website proclaims:

With conscience and sensitivity to time, place and legacy, The Michele Hughes Company successfully embodies the unprecedented vision for design and build experiences while consistently adding generous value to real estate projects in high end resort areas such as Kauai, Aspen, Tiburon and Cabo San Lucas.

Here on Kauai, part of their “legacy” is Kealia Kai, former sugar land that they and Thomas McCloskey bought for a song and then spun into a gated luxury “agricultural subdivision,” with the kind assistance of then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka and then-Councilman (and later, the late mayor) Bryan Baptiste. I can still recall seeing Kusaka’s top aide, Wally Rezentes Sr., sheepishly retrieving Michele’s purse from the Council Chambers during a public hearing on the project.

Like so many other “ag” subdivisions on Kauai, Kealia Kai has been chopped up into CPR lots, and these are now for sale at prices far out of reach of any but coca and marijuana farmers. Perhaps that explains why there is no true farming on the land, only lines of palms planted for the lower ag property tax rate.

But that is not the only example of “conscience and sensitivity to time, place and legacy” that mark the Hughes’ lucrative tenure on Kauai. They also have developed agricultural land into an LLC of high-end transient vacation rentals — their website calls them “farm dwellings” — above Kauapea, which they refer to by the bastardized name of “Secret Beach.”

To quote again from their website:

Every tree and flower on the lushly landscaped and very steep terrain has been planted by the owners, Michele and Justin Hughes. 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.

On March 11th of this year, those efforts came before the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) as an enforcement action after the Office of Conservation and Coastal lands (OCCL) conducted an investigation “that led us to conclude that the landowner has engaged in unauthorized landscaping in violation of Conservation District Rules,” according to the staff submittal to the Board.

The document then goes on to recount complaints dating back to March 2007 that ironwood trees had been cut on the Hughes’ property and dumped over the pali toward the beach. Although evidence of the violation was found, Justin claimed he had not authorized the work and was unaware of it. A neighboring landowner, Mr. Hass, claimed he had contracted with an unknown man who happened to be walking down the street with a chainsaw to do the work, and was unaware of either the man's name, or his property lines.

As a result, OCCL decided not to pursue enforcement at that time and left the case open pending removal of debris. But it did review conservation district rules with representatives of both landowners.

From September 2008 to July 2009, OOCL received more complaints about tree removal on the Hughes’ property and construction of a lateral trail to the beach.

OCCL re-opened its investigation which “revealed the Hughes or their contractors had begun construction of a modern trail traversing most of the property. Community members state that they had witnessed the Hughes leading prospective buyers along the new trail.”

Attorney Lorna Nishimitsu, who represents the Hughes' Secret Beach Properties LLC, claimed in a Sept. 15, 2008 letter that her clients had contracted with Paradise Grounds Care, which had opened the trail only to reach dumped greenwaste, extended the trail only after additional greenwaste was discovered further down the pali and installed “safety fencing” along the trail only out of liability concerns.

As an aside, Paradise Grounds Care is owned by Bruce Laymon, the same man who is attempting to install a cattle fence on Waioli’s land at Larsen’s (Lepeuli/Ka`aka`aniu) Beach and last year was cited by OCCL for unauthorized clearing in the conservation district there.

Returning to our story, OCCL termed Nishimitsu’s argument “disingenuous,” as evidenced by the fact that healthy trees had been removed, and the trail had been cut and graded, with PVC drainage pipes laid beneath it and fencing and trail borders installed. “We take this as evidence that the trail was intended to be a permanent feature of the land, and not a temporary measure designed for the one-time clean-up of debris.”

Since such work requires a Conservation District Use Permit, which the Hugheses did not have, OCCL sent them a notice of violation. According to its report to the BLNR:

OCCL’s main concern with this case is the willful nature of the alleged violations, rather than with any significant resource damage. The design and durability of the trail indicates that this was intended to be a permanent addition to the land, and one which would increase it’s [sic] value to prospective investors for the subject and neighboring parcels.

State rules allow for a maximum fine of $15,000 in such cases. OCCL recommended a minimum fine of $7,500, along with assessing administrative fees of $1,500, saying that “OCCL is concerned that a lower fine would establish a potentially dangerous precedence that Conservation District Rules can be violated at will.” OCCL further recommended that the Hughes must restore the land to its original state or apply for an after-the-fact CDUP within 60 days of the Board’s action, with any further unauthorized work garnering fines of $2,000 per day.

If you go to the link for the staff submittal and scroll down to page 26, you will see a copy of the real estate ad for a 3.55-acre portion of the property we’re discussing. For $6.25 million, it offers an ocean bluff home site and “rare Secret Beach vehicular and pedestrian access:”

The only private road on Kauai down to a very Secret Beach runs parallel to one side of the property providing exclusive, quick and easy vehicular access to the stunning beach below. A walking trail can also be easily created from home-site through property to the beach.

I can recall when that “private road” was cut down to the beach for a previous landowner, who later went and got an after-the-fact permit for the unauthorized access. It was granted with the condition that it was to be used only for maintenance and security purposes. Yet Bruce Laymon, who managed the property, frequently opened it to his friends, especially during fishing contests. And now, it seems, the Hugheses have packaged it as a private beach road for a luxury home site.

There’s also an ad for another portion of the property a question, a 4.02-acre parcel with a 3,104-square-foot home that includes, for the $8.7 million asking price, “a coveted beach access on a private manicured trail leading to world renowned Secret Beach.”

So what ever happened to the Hugheses — I mean, aside from the fact that Michele recently appeared before the County Council and claimed she has so much aloha for this place and developed her vacation rentals on ag land under the assurance from her attorneys that they were totally legal and is now trying to sell her 40-acre “Secret Beach” holdings for $40 million, according to an ad that a friend spotted this past weekend in the Springfield, Ill., newspaper?

Well, according to a PDF of the March 11 BLNR minutes, which I don’t know how to post, but would be happy to email to anyone interested, Lorna was there, along with Justin and Michele. Lorna repeated the tale of how the Hugheses hadn’t cut the trees that launched the initial investigation and “old hippy [sic] trails from the 1960Ss or 1970s” were fixed up so workers could remove the trees that had been thrown over the edge and when more dead trees were spotted further along the pali, the Hugheses had “created a horizontal trail to see what was there" and it is used only for maintenance purposes and so the owners can fully ccess their property to ensure no one is cutting down trees illegally.

Lorna further stated that “she doesn’t think there was disingenuous behavior on the part of her clients to violate rules” and the $7,500 is “excessive” and they want to “continue the clean-up work to protect them and the State from any injuries and welcome DOCARE’s involvement,” and they need four months rather than 60 days to apply for an after-the-fact-permit “because of the mapping of the trails on a 24-acre parcel.”

Michele then got up and testified that they needed the trails to protect their land from trespassers and from adjacent property owners “who had opened up the Hugheses property for their own use, having discovered sod, irrigation, rock walls, etc.,” and that since they control access to the beach, “there may be some ill will by the owners on the bluff.”

This was followed by the representative of adjacent landowners Bill and Sandi Strong, who pointed out that the Hugheses are developers and so should know the rules and be required to take out the trail, which they had built to increase the value of the property, and remediate the land and further, that "trespassing has increased" because of the trail.

And then Ron Agor, Kauai’s representative on the BLNR, made a motion to cut the fine to $3,500 and give the Hugheses four months to apply for a permit, saying they never would have needed to go into that part of their property if other neighbors hadn’t cut trees that then required removal. But members Rob Pacheco and Sam Gon weren’t buying it, saying the trail was way too flash to be temporary in nature, and even though Ron and two other members voted for it, the motion failed.

Another motion was made leaving the fine at $7,500, and requiring the Hugheses to either remediate the trail or apply for an after-the-fact CDUP within 120 days. It was approved, with only Ron Agor opposed.

We’ve now passed the 120-day mark. I sent an email to OCCL asking if the Hugheses had submitted an application for the permit, and forwarded a copy of their most recent real estate ad.

I have not yet received a reply.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Musings: Catch-Up

The moon, still bright, though waning, peeked through the skylight in the wee hours of the night, tricking me into thinking it was time to get up, but I managed to fall back asleep until the real dawn arrived, with soft pink clouds on the horizon and a brisk breeze that made the ironwoods wave and sigh.

I was sighing a bit myself, seeing as how I’d worked all weekend on a story and now here it was, time to get up and go again, but it had been a pleasure to write about Kehau Kekua and the sacred and the profound and the sun was creating a golden haze in the trees and Koko was her usual ecstatically sniffing self and so my own buoyancy soon was restored.

The article I’d been writing on Kehau got me thinking about the construction activity at Wailua again, which reminded me that I’d run into John Kruse at the Lihue post office the other day. He’s been temporarily returned to the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council because the newest member, James W. Fujita, had to resign due to a conflict of interest.

Which got me wondering why they hadn’t put John back on when his term expired last year and instead left the Burial Council without a quorum so it conveniently couldn’t meet on the Burial Treatment Plan for Joe Brescia’s house at Naue as he meanwhile proceeded to quickly complete it.

But that irritation was tempered by the good news that Nancy McMahon, the state archaeologist whose misdeeds created the Bresica boondoggle – to quote Judge Watanabe: ““The heart of this case is the failure of the state to follow procedures put in place to protect cultural practitioners, the general public and the rights of landowners.” — has been placed on indefinite administrative leave without pay. Her suspension followed a National Park Services inquiry into and state legislative hearings on the screwed up mess that is the State Historic Preservation Division.

Which offers a perfect segue into the screwed up mess of vacation rentals, which continued to be a source of comments over the weekend and discussion this morning when Koko and I ran into my neighbor Andy when we were almost finished with our walk. He noted with some disappointment that no one had picked up the story about the beer summit with the county attorneys and Dickie Chang, and we agreed that it likely would be swept under the rug, just business as usual on Kauai.

The paper did run an editorial yesterday on the subject of ag TVRs that was so poorly written I thought maybe it had been penned by the publisher, but what really got me was that even though it pointed out the inanities of the bill, it still supported it:

There’s [sic] also some lines in the legislation that you just can’t think too hard about. For example, “The owner, operator, or proprietor shall have the burden of proof in establishing that the use is properly nonconforming...” So, the county wants to make sure you’re definitely not operating as was intended?

Actually, those are exactly the kinds of lines you should think hard about because poorly written bills get the county into trouble over and over and over again.

And then it just glossed over the point that provides an opening for a successful intervention on this bill:

For instance, the law says that single-family vacation rental owners can apply for a non-conforming use certificate if they were operating lawfully prior to the effective date of this ordinance. So, the county is going to legalize an activity that’s already legal? And if you don’t obtain such a certificate, then you can’t legally run your lawful vacation rental?

Councilman Derek Kawakami touched on this at the meeting when he asked Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig if lawful and legal mean the same thing and Mike waffled and said yes, essentially, although he’d probably use them in different contexts. So as Derek pointed out:

“Of course the bill doesn’t legalize it [ag TVR use] because it claims it was always legal, but how could it be legal without a special use permit?”

To which Mike responded that although the AG’s opinion had stated it could find no justification under Chapter 205 for allowing TVRs on ag land “it doesn’t make a definitive statement that it’s not allowed.”

What kind of crap is that? As Anonymous 8:18 a.m. noted back on ”This is Almost Crazy” post:

Private citizens have standing to enforce Chapter 205. If you are a neighbor, co-unit owner in a cpr, or someone whose property or economic interests are going to be adversely affected by a TVR operation, you may intervene before the Planning Commission. Even neighborhood associations have been granted standing. Stand up for your rights. Represent yourself, you don't need a lawyer. Get a copy of the Planning Commission Rules and laws off the internet and have at it.

If nothing else, you should get the Planning Commission to include mitigative measures and educate them about the issues. Otherwise, it's just the applicant telling his side of the story. You know there are some rich dickheads who believe they're superior but who will go to the Planning Commission telling them how much aloha he has for the local people -- so much so that he pays 'em three hours of work in cash a week for yard work or housekeeping. You get to question these assholes (or the asshole's representative) and ask 'em about how much money they make (as it impacts the affordability of ag land) or whether they're willing to help the taro farmer who got screwed by that "ag" subdivision, or why they can't farm but can landscape the shit out of 25 acres. Really?

I always appreciate readers who do a little research, share their informed manao or otherwise make a substantive contribution to comments, like the person who tipped me to a DLNR enforcement action against the very same folks who claim “they can't farm but can landscape the shit out of 25 acres,” which I will write about tomorrow.

I also appreciate those who direct me to items of interest, such as the reader who left the comment,
”Here's one I thought you might like, Joan,” along with a link to this story about yet another person who is running an illegal business — in this case, stamping advertisements in the sand on public beaches — but justifying it with the claim that he’s employing local people.

Fortunately, the Outdoor Circle is pushing back against entrepreneur Bobby Godwin, who wants to offer such “harmless” services as this:

A real estate agent trying to sell a $12 million home on the beach might want to stamp the sand in front of it with an image of the house and their contact information, he said.

Yes, I imagine they just might. And with guys like Godwin already honing in on a possible opening in the state permit process, that kind of ugliness could be a reality.

And finally, I'd to extend a big mahalo to those who offered support and praise for Kauai Electic last week ☺ Positive feedback means a lot.