Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Musings: Kilauea Blues

A thin blanket of clouds cast a softening haze over the moon, which is dwindling fast, yet still was bright enough to cast our shadows when Koko and I went walking this morning. Venus, just an arm’s length from the moon, was similarly subdued, and so a plane approaching the Lihue airport assumed the brilliance of a planet.

In the east, the sky shifted from pure dark to pink upon black to scarlet upon gray, and then it faded for a time, gathered strength and returned as a vibrant orange-red, creating a fiery screen behind which the sun could rise.

I happened to travel north recently and noticed the dust screen is down from the new miniature golf course that’s been built along the highway in Kilauea. There it was, its tacky little presence looking even cheesier against the splendor of its mountain backdrop. I’m not sure what bothered me most, the grotesque fake pohaku or the thought that another Kauai landscape has been phony-ized, and thus trivialized. Whatever it was, my heart sank.

Then today in The Garden Island I see an article about how kids were brought over there to install native plants and while it’s always good for kids to get their hands dirty and grow things, I wondered about taking a school field trip to such a place and the message they were receiving. Forget the dry and wet forests, kids, native plants have now been relegated to landscaping materials for a miniature golf course. This is where your futures lie, kids, in something that’s entirely contrived.

It’s billed, in the highly promotional coverage provided by the newspaper article, as “much anticipated” and the community’s “new gathering place,” and I thought of how that community’s gathering places used to be Kahili and Kalihiwai beaches, where they’d help out with a hukilau, and Kilauea School and the dispensary and the neighborhood center.

And now it’s going to be a miniature golf course. Kind of speaks volumes about what’s happened up there, like at nearby Kauapea Beach — oh, excuse me, I mean “Secrets.” I recently went there via the main public access, a place I hadn’t been for a number of years, although for a time, I walked it daily.

The parking lot used to be secluded. Now it’s surrounded by massive houses, all of them vacation rentals and/or second/third/fourth “homes.”

Another monstrosity is under construction, right up next to the trail head.
Stunned, I proceeded down the trail, which hasn’t changed much, except it’s more open now, and arrived at the beach, where I saw the dirt road that had been illegally made, then given an after-the-fact permit for “security and maintenance purposes,” has now been paved in concrete.
I could only imagine how much water must be channeled down that driveway during Kilauea’s legendary heavy rains. But hey, it makes it easier for the gardeners to go down and rake up and bag leaves. Because you surely wouldn’t want any leaves decaying on the beach.

I didn’t want to go south, because I knew I’d get bummed out by Michele Hughes’ scene on the bluff above the beach there, so I went north and soon saw that the landowners had cut down all the ironwood trees along the bluff top. Apparently they want the unobstructed view more than the protective qualities of trees that help stall the erosion that is causing the bluff beneath their lavish homes to fall away in massive chunks that can be seen on the sand and reef.

Then I ran into a trail down the bluff, a trail that I knew to have been made without a conservation permit, a trail that runs right through a shearwater colony and that had been refurbished in the middle of the nesting season. You can see the burrows, some of which still had chicks inside.
At the bottom of the trail lay what appeared to be a dead Newell’s shearwater. Auwe.

I did find joy that day, in the tropic birds that swoop and soar overhead, the ruddy turnstones that take flight in a twittering flash of white, the tiny waterfall formed by waves breaking over a rock, the patterns made by sea upon sand.

But I also felt sad, like I so often do when I see the gentrification of a wild place that I’ve always cherished, and as I walked up the steep trail, I thought about why.

Change happens. It’s a part of life and I generally embrace and accept it.

What bothers me, though, is how we’ve allowed such splendid places to be changed so dramatically by people who don’t even live here, how we’ve allowed public treasures like Kauapea to be marred and altered by people who have a very different definition of treasure, a very different set of values.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Musings: Gaining Control

The moon, though less than half, was still bright, and golden Venus, set against a snakeskin pattern of white clouds, was close on her heels, surrounded by a smattering of stars, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Then suddenly their light was gone and I could hear the rain coming — that muffled, splattering roar of drops upon leaves — long before I felt the first hint of moisture upon my skin.

It passed, I closed the umbrella, Koko shook herself dry and we continued on our way, as did the day, preparing to show itself in a small patch of sky coming alive with streaks of dove gray, yellow and the faintest hint of pink.

I returned to the house to find this email from a friend, which I imagine reflects the view of so many of us trudging back to work after a four-day weekend:

Woke up grumpy and grumbly this am., mainly because weekend was over. Wah. Have been working to turn the attitude around.

I’m wondering how the diplomats and world leaders will turn their own attitudes around now that so many true feelings, assessments, views, agendas and tactics have been revealed by newspapers using the Wikileaks-leaked diplomatic cables. I like this this piece by The Guardian, which gives a good overview and links to international stories. It’s been fascinating to see what the different newspapers highlight, with the overseas publications focusing, not surprisingly, on the snarky stuff the U.S. has said about their countries.

I also liked the coverage by the New York Times’ blog, The Lede, which is following international reaction to the cables.

Their release comes on the heels of a conversation with a friend the other day about how we have entered a whole new era, and once things get out on the Internet, there’s no calling them back. You know, sort of like releasing GMOs into the environment. And certainly nothing is private any more, with The Guardian’s editors noting the distinction between private, which the cables certainly were, and secret, which they weren’t, since some 3 million Americans had security authorization that allowed them access, and now aren’t, since they’ve posted been on the Web.

But I wonder, will anything change because of it? I mean, now that it’s confirmed Karzai is corrupt and Yemen was complicit in U.S. airstrikes within its nation and Saudia Arabia wants the U.S. to attack Iran and the coup against the Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was "illegal and unconstitutional," will any of the leaders be ousted, any of the the strategies and alliances be altered? I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, an international group has filed suit against BP over the Gulf of Mexcio oil spew using Ecuador’s constitution, which recognizes the rights of nature. They aren’t asking for money, “since harm done to nature cannot be compensated for in monetary terms,” according to a post on the COTO Report. Instead, they want BP to release data on the ecological destruction and “refrain from extracting as much oil underground” as was released in the incident.

And here at home, The Garden Island has a good report on citizen reaction to Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro’s parting "gift" to the public. The bill he introduced is supposed to implement the citizen-sponsored charter amendment that voters passed two years ago in an attempt to regulate the growth of tourism accommodations on the island. But those who worked to get the measure on the ballot are crying foul. As the Sierra Club’s Carl Imparato explained:

First: by manipulating the definition of transient accommodation units so that the definition includes every dwelling unit - including primary residences - in the Visitor Destination Areas, the bill artificially and dramatically increases the annual growth limit far beyond the level that was envisioned in the General Plan, the citizen-sponsored Charter amendment, and the County charter.

Second: By exempting a very large number of potential developments from the annual limit (instead of granting those potential developments priorities for allocations under the annual limit), the bill would make the annual limit pretty much meaningless.
This bill needs major revisions to make it legal under the County Charter.

There's one more thing that I want to re-emphasize to you. It's a reminder of why people worked so hard on getting this Charter amendment passed. As you know, there's lots of talk about "sustainability." But the KEY sustainability issue for Kauai is not about banning plastic bags, or driving more electric cars. It is about accepting the fact that the number of tourists, residents, jobs, cars, t-shirt shops, etc. cannot be allowed to grow without bounds. And the key way to control all of the above is to regulate the amount of growth in the number of tourist units on the island. All of the other impacts are roughly proportional to the number of tourists and number of tourist units. So the reason why the citizen-sponsored Charter amendment was so critically important to the future character and sustainability of Kauai was not because it was about controlling tourism per se. It was because it was about gaining control over the future direction and sustainabiity of life on Kauai.

The bill is now in the hands of the Planning Commission, and I'm left recalling some of the comments that Councilmembers made when saying goodbye to Daryl at their last meeting. They talked about how "smart" he is — a characterization that must be one of Kauai's best-kept secrets. I'd say, from looking at the bill (and who knows who really drafted it?) that sly is a more accurate assessment.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Musings: Limited View

The rain came — again — just as Koko and I were about to set out for our walk, and so we waited, Koko pacing, me snuggled under a blanket because the house was down to 68 degrees this morning. Before long, it stopped and so we started, heading off down a glistening black street. Residual rain ricocheted off leaves as the trees shook themselves dry and tendrils of misty clouds floated up around the body of the Giant.

About midway through our walk, the rain came — again — bouncing off my black umbrella and beading on Koko’s coat before it moved on. Later, gazing out over the pasture, I saw it as black fringe over the foothills of Waialeale, a white curtain obscuring Lihue, and I realized how important it is to be able to look out on an open expanse in order to see the full picture, understand what’s really going on.

Yet so much of what we get nowadays is the limited view — the sights, sounds and images fed to us by a government and media that have a vested interest in dictating how we think, feel, live. I thought about that as I checked my Yahoo email account yesterday and glanced at the fare that website offered as news.

It included stories about how to deal with indigestion and bloat, which I didn’t read, though I doubt they offered this simple suggestion: don’t stuff your face with crappy food. Then there were the inevitable retail stories, which are impossible to avoid during the shopping season, when folks will buy more stuff they don’t need, get further behind on their bills and find, in the aftermath of ripped gift wrap and discarded ribbon, they don’t feel any happier, more content or secure.

Today there was the “terror” story about the Somali teenager arrested for a thwarted car bomb plot in Portland after the FBI fed his fantasy of jihad and helped set him up to commit a crime. The incident also provided an opportunity to sow fear among the populace and position the FBI as our protectors:

"This defendant's chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people -- even here in Oregon -- who are determined to kill Americans," said Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton. "The good work of law enforcement protected Oregonians in this case -- and we have no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case."

Wow. Even Oregon. Things must be getting pretty bad. Indeed they are, the Associated Press assures us:

"The threat was very real. Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale," said Arthur Balizan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon.

At the same time, I want to reassure the people of this community that, at every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack."

Whew. I’m so glad they didn’t supply him with real explosives.

I’m not denying that there are terrorists in the world, although as the song lyrics go, “one man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist.” And I’m not denying that some folks — both in the country and out of it — would like to see America go down.

But what I’m wondering is, how far would Mohamed Osman Mohamud have gone if he wasn't aided and abetted by the feds? Supposedly, he hadn't been able to obtain explosives or even make email contact with an "unindicted associate overseas," to whom he had allegedly been referred by another "unindicted associate who is believed to be involved in terrorist activities," according to a press release from the Department of Justice. Is this part of the new “proactive” FBI approach, outlined in the November 2010 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin?

Law enforcement training academies and continuing professional development opportunities throughout this nation do an excellent job of emphasizing and teaching the skills needed to both interview and develop a quality human source base identified by solid investigative work… However, law enforcement organizations need to shift their focus by emphasizing a more proactive approach to source development. Instead of employing a reactive mentality, they must look for sources of information before crimes occur.

And how many of the Americans now gearing up to hate and fear another group of Muslims, the Somalis, have any clue of our long involvement in that nation, which has included military force and air strikes condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon? You know, ye olde terror begets terror, an eye for an eye, that kind of stuff.

Instead, all they see is the extremely limited view, as provided by the aforementioned press release and comments from an anonymous law enforcement officer, that another one of them bad Muslims is trying to kill good Americans — at a Christmas tree lighting, no less. The only thing more outrageous would have been an attempted attack at Walmart during the Black Friday sale.

So don't be resisting those TSA gropes and the radiation-delivering scanner and the profiling and the abrogation of civil liberties. Cuz terror lurks around every corner, ya know. Even in Oregon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Musings: End of an Era

It was a sad day yesterday at the Council. It looked and sounded like a party, what with all the lei and dignitaries — or elected officials, anyway — and gifts and laughter and applause.

But there was an underlying tension, and Chairman Kaipo Asing, even as the subject of so many earnest accolades, was obviously dejected and glum. What should have been a landmark day for him as many paid tribute to his 28 years of service to the people of Kauai and Niihau was marred by the hulking presence of the elephant in the room.

Former Rep. Ezra Kanoho, Kaipo’s longtime friend, was the only speaker to acknowledge it when he noted that the Chair was “deeply hurt by some of the accusations surfacing lately. That deep hurt can only be healed, as well as the lingering scars, by apologies and forgiveness. I can only hope that some of the documents stating the truth will be uncovered.”

The perpetrators of those accusations — Councilman Tim Bynum and the fortunately now former Councilwoman Lani Kawahara — were also in the room. Lani, bedecked in lei and receiving more tempered tributes, wore a weird smirk as Kaipo stood at a podium and spoke to both those present and the TV camera.

He had asked for agenda time to “address significant issues & concerns raised during the 2008-2010 Council term, such as: • Policies, procedures, and protocol relating to changes to the County Council website; • Distribution of Council Services documents in an equitable and timely manner; and • Sexual harassment & workplace violence policies; follow-up to discussion held on October 13, 2010, regarding Communication No. C 2010-283” and he moved that item right up to the top of the agenda as he delivered what he said was “probably my last public statement.”

The Garden Island’s editor, Nathan Eagle, did a very good job of reporting Kaipo’s final comments, so I won’t repeat them all here.

However, I found it interesting that Kaipo early on made this remark, which seemed to indicate he hasn’t entirely closed the door on politics: “It is hard to believe after 28 years I may now be standing before you for the final time as your Chair and as a member of the Council.”

But that aside, Kaipo touched on some of his many accomplishments as a Councilman — accomplishments that other speakers, like Barbara Robeson, Ezra, Rep. Mina Morita and Mayor Bernard Carvalho, had also addressed. Their recitation spoke to a history of environmental and political activism that dated back to the protests against a resort at Nukolii in the late 1970s and continued on with efforts to protect the North Shore from resort development, including the proliferation of vacation rentals and gentleman's estates that have so dramatically and disgustingly changed the communities and landscape there.

Kaipo also noted that he was known for “doing my homework… along with being honest and truthful, treating everyone with courtesy and respect….Both my integrity and my word are, have been and will always be good as gold.”

And as I listened, I thought of those who had sided with Lani and Tim and made Kaipo out to be a bad guy, a menace, an enemy of the people, an obstructionist and, most laughingly, a member of the old guard. Foremost among them were malihini who were still living on the Mainland when Kaipo was busting his butt to preserve the Kauai that they later visited, fell in love with, bought up and now claim as their own — people who had absolutely no sense of who Kaipo is or what he had done, people who obviously didn’t know that for years Kaipo was the lone independent voice speaking out against development.

Because of that smoldering negativity, which Lani conflagrated with her crocodile tears and claim of harassment levied just two weeks before the election — and 14 months after it allegedly happened — Kaipo got edged out.

Yesterday, he could have answered Tim and Lani, who spent the last two years on the attack to further their own political agendas and glossify their own images, and as Kaipo told us, up until just three days prior, he was prepared to do exactly that.

He said he’d written a seven-page speech that laid it all out because “I deeply value my reputation…. However, very recently, as all of you are aware of, that highly valued reputation has been unjustly damaged by false accusations.”

“In deep hurt, much more than anyone can possibly imagine, in a very deep emotional hurt and anger felt by me, my wife, family members, close friends, most of us felt absolutely and positively that the truth, the absolute truth, needed to be told in this meeting. That is what I very strongly felt and intended to do.

“I have decided not to delve into those sordid details today nor do I think it will be necessary for me to do so in the future. And why? Because I feel absolutely confident that the truth, the whole truth, will surface one day. More important, I wish not to taint or leave a negative image in the minds of all of you here and those who I nobly serve.”

After acknoweldging by name the staff who currently work for the Council, starting with “Number 1 driver and most competent County Clerk Peter Nakamura,” as well as some of the former clerks, Kaipo thanked his wife, Patsy, “for all the love, aloha and sacrifices she so willingly made so I could fulfill my responsibilities.”

“Aloha and mahalo,” he said.

As the crowd rose in a standing ovation, Kaipo left the room and was gone, leaving Vice Chairman Jay Furfaro to pick up the reins and those who had besmirched his reputation unnamed and untarnished by the public disclosure of "the absolute truth."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Musings: Wednesday's Warblings

It was a gray kind of morning, with no color save for that provided by the grass and flowering shrubs, when Koko and I went out walking. Masses of dark clouds moved across the moon and Venus, with the promise of rain to come.

We hadn’t walked far when we ran into Farmer Jerry, just back from Oahu, where he and the other Board of Agriculture members approved quarantine zones on the Big Island to prevent the spread of the coffee berry borer pest — a story that Mike Levine at Civil Beat reported far more competently than Brand X.

We got to talking about airport security, since he’s been spending a lot of time flying, and Jerry said he’s noticing a lot more pat downs, some of them quite intrusive — up the thighs and into the butt crack and crotch — and some of them meeting resistance from passengers.

“If they’re going this far now, what’s gonna happen when we get to red?” he asked, in reference to the color-coded security alert system that Homeland Security now wants to change.

As the song lyrics go, "Babylon makes the rules whereby people suffer..."

We also got to talking about the homelessness on Oahu, with Jerry saying the gray and blue tarps are everywhere on that island.

“It’s a sign of decay,” he said, “like bad teeth. It’s out there for everyone to see.”

Which is why Honolulu’s new mayor, Peter Carlisle, is so determined that no one will see the island’s poverty-stricken, displaced underside during the upcoming APEC conference, which all kinda big wigs from business and government will be attending. Especially troubling was Carlisle’s take on homelessness, as also reported by Civil Beat:

"Homelessness," he concluded. "It's just like the common cold or people who are alcoholics."

That’s the same sort of sensitivity he showed when treating drug addiction as a crime, rather than a disease. Which just goes to show you can take the man out of the prosecutor’s office, but you can’t take the prosecutor out of the man.

Hard to believe Honolulu elected him mayor, but when things get tough, folks seem to like to get tough on the down-and-outers. Oh, btw, according to a report on Democracy Now! today:

New government data show U.S. corporations made record profits in the third quarter, earning at an annual rate of more than $1.6 trillion. That’s the highest figure since the government began keeping track 60 years ago. Overall corporate earnings are up 28 percent from the same time last year. Companies, however, have not been using the record profits to hire more workers. The Federal Reserve is predicting that the nation’s official unemployment rate will remain over 9 percent for at least another year.

But hey, get some great “Black Friday” deals over at Walmart...

Closer to home, the planning commission accepted Planning Director Ian Costa’s resignation, which was expected, since they do whatever they’re told. Still, it was surprising that the mayor himself showed up.

In the county’s way of putting people into jobs for which they’re eminently qualified, Ian’s going to be shuffled over to Parks and Rec, where he’ll serve as deputy director, as had been the scuttlebutt. That way he can keep doing his architectural work on the side. Still, Ian didn’t go out on any kind of ethics violation, though an ethics complaint was filed against him for recommending approval of four vacation rental applications that he’d worked on. The mayor just wanted to get rid of Costa, and all the negativity associated with him, so he could put in someone new. Who could then start attracting their own negative reactions from the public....

The commission also accepted the mayor’s proposal to make Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig acting planning director, and I’m sure that when the mayor has his new director lined up, the commission will accept that person, too. Yes, it’s supposedly up to the commission to hire the director, but if anyone thinks that’s done without the full involvement of the mayor, they’re living in dreamland.

While Mike appears to lack the qualifications for the job, of greater concern for the public is Mike’s willingness to direct the commission where he wants it to go. If he did that as the commission’s attorney, one can only imagine how much influence he’ll wield as director.

Which kind of undermines the whole purpose of a citizen body…..

Finally, blogger Charley Foster, in writing about Ian and Mike, noted:

Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig, allegedly (correctly) advised Council member Dicky [sic] Chang prior to passage of Ordinance 904 that failure to grandfather pre-existing TVRs would lead to a raft of expensive lawsuits against the county. (It's true. Dozens of appeals of denials of non-conforming use cert applications were filed prior to passage of 904. Had 904 not passed and those appeals been denied, many would have been filed in the courts).

And it struck me as rather odd that the county is busy passing laws to protect itself from the potential threat of lawsuits even as it fails to avoid actions that result in actual lawsuits. You know, like killing protected species and sexual harassment.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Musings: Taking a Look

The road was dark but the sky was brightening when Koko and I went out walking, so I looked up — up at the big moon playing hide and seek with patchy clouds, up at Waialeale, topped with soft wisps of white, up at the coconut palm fronds framing Venus, glowing dark yellow above streaks that shifted from gray to soft pink to scarlet orange.

I especially like to look up when I’m feeling a bit down, as I was after witnessing a bit of sausage making in Lihue yesterday. In a nod to “transparency and open government” — words rendered as meaningless as pristine and sustainability — the new County Council did its organizing for the first time in public, so I and a few other hardy souls stopped by to have a look.

It wasn’t nearly so pretty and inspiring as the sunrise, but it did mark the dawn of a new day. Not an especially bright, warm or sunny day, but a new day.

Let’s start at the beginning. First, JoAnn kept everyone waiting while she talked on her phone out in the lobby. Then they had Pastor Tom Iannucci give his blessing, which asked “Father” — I wasn’t sure if that was a reference to God or Council patriarch Jay Furfaro — to help keep the peace and level heads, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Then JoAnn had to tell everyone how privileged she felt to sit among them and how excited she was about the future before she going on to say that she wants the Council to be as open and user-friendly as possible, which for those of us with limited time might include starting meetings punctually and eliminating unnecessary chatter and the expression of platitudes.

Next came her plug to have the Council complete the Seven Habits or some such thing to help everyone “get along better.” By then I was starting to feel an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.

After that, Tim said he was expecting Councilmembers to have “equal and equitable access to the key documents that are theirs” before going on to say he wants to structure the Council so that decisions made in Executive Session are made public. That way, you see, he won’t have to risk violating executive privilege by leaking them to a certain blogger.

Tim said he also wants more decorum, with no one else allowed to interject a comment when a member has the floor, noting that all other government bodies follow such rules. I guess he’s never heard of the British Parliament.

An hour into the meeting, they finally got around to choosing Jay as chair, with much fawning by certain members. Then things got interesting. Jay said he’d like to see Derek Kawakami — the top vote getter — serve as vice chair, in part because it would give the Council a chance to “invest in some continuity,” since Jay is 62 and his tenure on the Council will be the first to expire.

Derek was all good to go when JoAnn piped up with, “I’m interested, but I won’t nominate myself.” So Tim did — I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of their “teamwork” — and then Derek said he was “willing to serve on one condition: it’s unanimous support. I don’t want to start this thing off polarized.” He went on to say it was important for everyone to “put aside personal feelings and agendas and work together for the people” before removing his name from discussion.

That was JoAnn’s cue to back off, but of course she didn’t, because JoAnn wants what she wants. She did urge Derek to reconsider, but he wasn’t gonna go there. “Nah, no need,” he said. “I will work and get things done. You have my support.”

So now JoAnn is vice chair.

Next came the committee assignments, with Jay passing out his plan.

“I have something I put together last night,” JoAnn said. “Do you want to hear it?”

The other Councilmembers demurred, saying they wanted to first consider their newly elected Chair’s proposal, which had Nadine Nakamura, a real live trained planner, in charge of planning/environmental services; JoAnn heading housing & transportation; Dickie Chang chairing economic development and energy; Mel Rapozo leading public safety & public facilities; Derek chairing intergovernmental affairs; Jay heading up committee of the whole/annual budget, and Tim leading finance.

Dickie and Mel and Derek were fine with it, Nadine said that while she could see the connection, planning and environmental services seemed like a lot for one committee to handle, and JoAnn, after expressing her interest in planning, housing, transportation, budget and energy, had ideas on how to reorganize everything.

This prompted Derek to say to Jay: “We elected you as chair and with that role comes some acceptance of your leadership. I accept your slate. If we starting cutting this thing up seven different ways, we’re gonna end up nowhere real quick. If I don’t get everything I want, I’m OK. That’s no big deal.”

But it was for Tim, who said he didn’t want finance if it didn’t include the budget and he wanted to take parks and rec from Mel.

About that time Jay suggested they take a break before saying, “let me summarize….”

I’ll do it for him: Tim is there to do battle. JoAnn wants to run the show. Derek will blow this petty pop stand for the big time. Mel is trying hard to get along, but he’ll snap under Tim's whining and JoAnn's pushiness. Nadine needs to change her seat so she’s not sitting between Tim and JoAnn. And Dickie’s gonna be the guy to watch — now that’s a scary thought — as the swing vote.

In the end, Tim got what he wanted in terms of committee assignments, and so did JoAnn. The question now is whether they’ll also get something else they want — an executive search firm to find a new County Clerk. Mel and Derek said they like current Clerk Peter Nakamura and Nadine had to recuse herself because he’s her brother-in-law.

I know why Tim doesn’t like Peter, but I’m not sure what JoAnn has against him. I’m pretty sure he had to go through Seven Habits when he was her planning director.....

Monday, November 22, 2010

Musings: Monday Morning Morsels

In the west, a moon just past full drifted in and out of a mass of swirls and streaks, some white, others charcoal, that rose up out of the mountains and stretched toward the east, where Arcturus shone bold and Venus was twinkling just below Saturn, which I wasn’t entirely certain I was seeing, though later the handy sky chart assured me it was there and gave me a name, Crow, for a distinctive boxy constellation that lacked any resemblance to the bird.

In between, where Koko and I went walking, were the Big Dipper and stars I did not know and cool air fragrant with the scent of hinano, mock orange and angel’s trumpet and clumps of aptly-named snow bush gleaming in the bright silver-white light cast by planets, moon and stars.

For me, it was a three-day weekend of work, punctuated with a few memorable highlights, like a glorious morning at the beach, lying face down on wet sand and breathing in the smell of limu, and a sunset/moonrise at the beach, feasting on laulau purchased from roadside vendors in Kapahi and Anahola and swimming in the shallow waters of a super low tide as Koko ventured far out on the reef, trying to stay close to me.

And I thought of what a gift it is to have free, 24-hour access to the coastline, an expanse of public space that is still wild in many places.

But work caused me to miss Saturday morning’s commemoration of last year’s `Aha Ho`ano — the 24-hour vigil held to bring attention to the sacredness of Wailuanuiaho`ano — which I really wanted to attend, and the Important Ag Lands meeting, which I also really wanted to attend. When I called a friend to tell him I wouldn’t be joining him there after all, he said, “believe me, you’re not missing anything, just a bunch of special interests beefing it out to figure out who wins.”

And it struck me how that describes so well so many of our civic and political processes.

The new County Council will be meeting this morning to organize itself, and word has it that Jay Furfaro will be chair. That’s no big surprise. The really interesting meeting promises to be Wednesday, the last time the current Council will meet. There’s an intriguing communication on the agenda that was added at the last minute:

C 2010-310 Communication (11/18/2010) from Council Chair Asing, requesting to address significant issues & concerns raised during the 2008-2010 Council term, such as:
• Policies, procedures, and protocol relating to changes to the County Council website;
• Distribution of Council Services documents in an equitable and timely manner; and
• Sexual harassment & workplace violence policies; follow-up to discussion held on October 13, 2010, regarding Communication No. C 2010-283.

Hooboy. Is this Kaipo’s chance to finally set the record straight, publicly answer his critics who have been so public in making numerous damaging and unsubstantiated accusations?

I had to laugh when I read Councilman Dickie Chang’s comments in The Garden Island’s ode to Kaipo:

Chang said during council deliberations for his two-year term beginning Dec. 1, he will oftentimes think to himself, “what would Kaipo do?” or “what would Kaipo think?”

Ha ha. So much for those who voted for Dickie in hopes of keeping Kaipo off.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Musings: Cha Cha Cha Changes

I imagine more than a few people will be rejoicing at the news that Ian Costa has tendered his resignation to the Planning Commission — a development that was brought to my attention in the comments section of today’s earlier post.

Just the other day, a friend was wondering whether Ian, a holdover from the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste, would be out now that Mayor Bernard Carvalho has appointed enough Planning Commissioners to wield the ax. So perhaps the man who has been described to me by more than one person as “thuggish” saw the writing on the wall.Or maybe Ian decided his job would be untenable with JoAnn Yukimura back on the County Council.

The question now is whether they've found another job for Ian in the county, or if he'll end up at Grove Farm....

Interestingly, Bernard suggested the Commission appoint Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig, who was assigned to planning, land use and public works issues, as interim planning director, rather than Imai Aiu, the deputy planning director.

According to Mike's bio on the UH Board of Regents website — he started as a student Regent and was appointed to the at-large position in 2009 — he “has completed coursework for Manoa’s master’s in urban and regional planning.” His JD is in environmental law.

Still, he's only 11 years out of school — high school, that is. (He's a Punahou grad.) And it does not appear he has ever actually worked as a planner. Or a manager.

Mike's appointment is intriguing in light of the role that he played in the "Wala`au with Dickie" episode. It seems to confirm reports I heard that Bernard was the one pushing hard for the ag TVR bill.

And now, if the Commission goes along with approving his appointment, Mike will be in charge of implementing that ordinance.

Should be interesting.

Musings; The Rest of the Story Part 2

As I noted in yesterday’s post, there’s more to my recent article on how the county dealt with — or more accurately, didn’t deal with — its longstanding problem of Newell’s shearwaters, or `A`o, being attracted to the lights at county stadiums, tennis courts and ball fields.

So today I’ll finish telling the rest of that story.

While the county certainly had at least an inkling for some time that its lights were killing and injuring the `A`o, some relatively simple solutions were clearly pointed out in 1995 with publication of a report by the world’s foremost seabird experts.

In the section devoted to resorts and the county, the report recommended:

All unnecessary lighting should be reduced to a minimum in October and early November. Tennis courts and other recreation facilities should be lighted only when actively being used. Stickers could be printed and adhered to switches that say, “Save Our Shearwaters, Please turn off lights when finished.” Large signs, with drawings of shearwaters, could be put on fences of these facilities.

Activities that require additional very-bright lighting should be scheduled for periods outside the peak fallout. For example, sporting events and use of port facilities (Port Allen, Nawiliwili).

Yet by 2004, the scientists reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, virtually none of these measures had been implemented.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said other easy suggestions were proposed to the county, such as putting lock boxes on the lights at the Kilauea sports field so people couldn’t switch them on at will, and waiting until morning to clean up after a football game — or using smaller, directed lights — rather than leaving the stadium lights blazing for hours.

“Their response was pretty limp,” he said. “These were small ticket items that could have and should have been implemented if they were taking their responsibilities seriously.”

In 2005, the state began pressing the county and other entities to deal with their lights in order to avoid a lawsuit. It advised the county to shield the stadium lights and join the state-led process of developing Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that would cover numerous entities, including KIUC and some resorts, that were killing and injuring protected species.

“No one on our staff ever told them they should shut their lights off or stop their games,” said Scott Fretz, director of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “We absolutely refused to get into that level of detail about what they should do. We only gave them advice about shielding their lights. We told them to enroll in the HCP and from there we’d work out the specifics. We knew about the sensitivity of the football games and did not advise that.”

The county acknowledges that it received information about the county-wide HCP in December 2006. Yet it decided to go its own way, according to an email response to a list of questions that I posed for the article:

After much evaluation, however, the County determined that an individual HCP would best suit the county’s interests; the County was hoping to obtain an HCP permit at the earliest practicable time and working with multiple parties with little guidance seemed to be contrary to that goal. The county administration sought and received monies in the FY 2007-2008 budget to obtain a planning consultant who would draft the county’s individual HCP application. After the official procurement process, which is dictated by state law, a contract was awarded in January 2008 and work product was generated, which included a preliminary inventory of lights.

In 2008, the County was advised by its consultant that shifting to the state’s programmatic HCP program was beginning to reveal itself as a better solution for the County.

Fretz, however, said the state never expected the county to develop its own HCP because mitigation efforts are expensive and it makes sense for numerous entities to instead pool their monies to be more effective.

In 2007, the county did ask the Legislature for money to shield the lights, with Council Chairman Kaipo Asing, long a friend of the environment, testifying on behalf of the proposal. Here’s an excerpt from my exchange with the county about this issue:

Me: What is the status of shielding the stadium lights? What is the cost, and does the county have the money? It’s my understanding the county did have the money several years ago, but never spent it for that purpose. Is that true, and if so, why wasn’t the money used for light shielding?

County: Due to changes in scope and design, state and county monies were reappropriated in this past year's capital improvements budget for light shielding. The Department of Parks and Recreation is close to awarding the contract, and expects shielding at six facilities to be in place by next year's fall sports season. The Department also has a long-term plan for shielding at more county facilities, and will employ interim operational changes at those facilities until physical improvements are made.

Me: What is the cost? And when did the county previously secure funding for the lighting, and what happened to those funds?

County: The total amount currently budgeted is $5,167,000. State funding was secured during the 2007 legislative session in the amount of $1,210,000. That funding was released by Governor Lingle in October 2008. The balance of $3,957,000 has been obtained through a bond fund. A $1,900,000 contract was recently awarded for light shielding at Vidinha and Hanapēpē stadiums, $321,700 and $202,000 respectively, with the balance of the work to be done at Peter Rayno and Isenberg parks and the Līhu'e tennis courts. This project is set to begin later this month. An additional $120,000 was spent on design work for these light shielding projects. Future light shielding projects for other county park facilities are in the planning stages and the balance of the total amount budgeted will be used for design and construction of these projects.

Me: Other than securing funding for lighting retrofits (and when was that, see first question) did the county do anything in response to warnings about its lights issued five years ago?

County: Funding for lighting retrofits were approved at the interdepartmental level, however, being that the county's budget is approved on an annual basis and is incumbent upon real property tax revenues in any given year, the request for lighting retrofits for FY 2006-2007 ultimately got denied due to restrictions in the budget.

Or in other words, it simply wasn’t a priority — even though it involved complying with federal laws that county officials are sworn to uphold.

The county continues to maintain that “shielding the lights or constructing lighting retrofits is not a cure-all and does not immunize the County from prosecution under the MBTA (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) or the ESA (Endangered Species Act); shielded lights still hold the possibility of attracting and distracting endangered birds, though the possibility is reduced.”

But even after filing criminal charges against the county for its unauthorized “takes,” Department of Justice officials said that during discussions about the county’s plea agreement, they never pressed to have the stadium lights completely turned off. They said the language about canceling the games through the 2010 football season came from the county.

So clearly, neither the state nor the feds were telling the county it had to turn off the lights to comply with the law.

The plea agreement also specified:

The County shall conduct public outreach or provide signage in a mutually agreeable form and manner, at all County facilities including near any light control devices accessible by the public and in association with all facility use approvals or authorizations, from September 1 through December 15 of each year covered by the period of probation. The outreach shall communicate, at minimum, the cultural and ecological importance of Kauai's unique seabirds and articulate the actions taken by the County to protect and conserve Kauai's seabirds.

When I asked the county what it planned to do to satisfy that requirement, I got this response:

Signage, that was approved by the USFWS by the Sept. 1 deadline as stated in the plea agreement, is currently located at county facilities. Due to the quick turn-around required under the plea agreement, the signage is not permanent and is often subject to vandalism. The County is constantly putting forth effort to replace those signs while it completes the necessary process to acquire more permanent signs. There is also an outreach message read at every game.

However, several parents of football players who attend every game said they have never heard an announcement read. Andrea Erichsen, who is heading up the state’s HCP effort, said the state has asked the county to do more public education and outreach, “but they don’t seem very receptive to it. They haven’t been very positive about our ideas about outreach, like having the keiki paint a seabird mural at the park.

State wildlife employees felt the county should do more positive public outreach since its decision to cancel the football games resulted in a backlash against the birds.

“It’s really hard to undo the damage,” Erichsen said.

Especially when the county doesn’t make the effort.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Musings: The Rest of the Story

Sometimes, but not often, Koko wakes me in the night to go out, and I’m invariably glad she did. Otherwise, I’d miss such spectacles as a white and growing moon hovering close to brilliant Jupiter in a swirling sea of pearlescent clouds.

By morning, they’d both set in the west, where Makaleha had lost her summit to a pile up of gray fleece. Venus was riding high in the eastern sky atop quilted, mustard-colored stripes that slowly shifted to pink and gray as the sun edged up over the horizon.

After edging out Kalaheo, Kauai High’s Red Raiders will be heading to Oahu on Saturday to play Iolani. Kick-off is 2:30 p.m., but I haven’t heard one complaint yet about the poor boys having to endure the heat. Apparently it’s only a problem on the home field, and for the big boys. In all the bitching and moaning about moving the Friday night games to Saturday afternoons, everyone seemed to forget the young kids in Pop Warner always played in mid-day.

But then, the outcry over the end of Friday Night Lights was never based in reason or reality. Otherwise, people would have been calling for Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s head. Because as leader of the county, and former director of Parks and Recreation, he’s the one responsible for the decision to end the games.

And make no mistake, it was a calculated decision, a diversionary tactic intended to take the heat off the county and instead, as one friend noted, “make people want to stomp the birds and the Sierra Clubbers.”

The state also unfairly took the heat, even though it had been working for years to try and convince the county to do something about its lights and avoid a lawsuit.

I was reminded anew of all this when I received an email in response to the article I did for Honolulu Weekly on the conflict that the county created between Friday Night Lights and the `A`o, or Newell’s shearwaters. The writer was disappointed, as was I, in the subhead that asked, "did the state drop the ball?" The answer is no. The county did.

The writer, who has been close to the action, noted:

It has been very disheartening to see the county just flat out stonewall the state and the feds on this issue over the years. The state folks you talked to were very diplomatic in how they spoke about the county but I know some of the conversations that went on and the county was less than kind in their dealings with state personnel.

The writer then went on to say:

Also, one thing you failed to mention was that the county did not have to go to this extreme in shutting off all the lights and canceling night football games. They could have focused on other areas such as Kilauea, and other games such as night soccer or tennis courts. The county cut the Friday night games to spite the state and the feds and to turn public sentiment against the birds. It's absolutely disgusting the way they handled it and what they did and I think your article should have been tougher on them.

Yes, it should have been tougher. And yes, what the county did was absolutely disgusting and despicable. The county turned people against the `A`o simply to cover its own ass. Or let’s be more precise here: to cover Bernard’s sorry ass.

In writing the article, I sent questions to the county. They sent me back some limp responses, and I followed up with more questions. Here’s what transpired on the issue of “tell me who, who responsible?”

Me: State and federal officials advised the county five years ago that its lights were resulting in unauthorized takes of protected seabirds and the issue needed to be addressed. What actions were taken in response to this warning, and when were they taken? If no actions were taken, why weren’t they? Who was charged with making decisions about county lighting when the state issued its warning?

County: The County has taken this matter very seriously throughout the years of discussion with state and federal officials. In response to the warning, we secured funding for lighting retrofits and actions we’ve taken has resulted in the recent plea agreement.

Me: Who was charged with making decisions about county lighting when the state issued its warning? Wasn’t Bernard Carvalho in charges of Parks and Rec at that time?

County: The current mayor was the Director of Parks and Recreation from 2007-2008. However, the issue at hand, i.e. exterior lighting, has always required, and continues to require, numerous departments throughout the County, as all county facilities have external lighting. It is not simply a matter solely bearing on the Department of Parks and Recreation, but requires a major collaborative effort on the part of all agencies since every county facility is subject to the ESA.

Can you believe that crock? The lights in question were ALL under Parks and Rec, and as we’ve seen, Bernard’s successor, Lenny Rapozo, is similarly disdainful of the `A`o. The attitude from Parks and Rec has been, essentially, to flip regulators the bird, which is why the feds finally came down on the county with criminal charges, something that is very rarely done.

Then in total chicken shit fashion, the county had KIF make the announcement when it released its 2010-11 sports schedule. The county weighed in with this canned comment:

“We have been working with state and federal agencies and the KIF to explore all possible scheduling options for football games in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and at this point in time, this appears to be the appropriate plan of action,” said Beth Tokioka, executive assistant to Kaua‘i mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.

Of course, the county can get front page coverage of the mayor on the Path, and on the bus and at the community garden, etc., etc., but somehow it couldn’t manage to get any coverage of the mayor speaking out for the birds or explaining what really went down. And why? Because it wanted people to direct their fury at the birds instead of the mayor, who just happened to be running for re-election.

The mayor himself didn’t speak up until eight days after KIF made the announcement. That’s when the paper printed his wimpy letter to the editor in which Bernard made it seem like those big bad regulators came down on the poor little county after it had been trying so hard to be good. There wasn’t one peep about protecting Hawaii’s native heritage or one of its rare birds. It was all about fines and unacceptable risks — to the county, that is, not the birds.

I almost gagged on his closing remarks:

As a former football player myself, I understand the frustration of many and feel for our keiki and their families. However, I ask myself “what kind of role model would I be if I ignored my duties to uphold the law in this instance or any other?” It is my hope that we will come together as a community to continue to seek the best possible solutions that will serve the best interests of all.

Well, Bernard, it’s very clear what kind of role model you are because you did ignore your duty to uphold the law until the feds and their criminal charges held your feet to the fire, and then you threw the birds under the bus to take attention off your own lack of leadership.

And if you really wanted the community to seek solutions you would have consulted them. I heard one of the football coaches on the radio come up with some very good ideas, and some of the folks in the football booster clubs said they were very upset that they never had a chance to weigh in or come up with alternatives.

Why? Because you wanted a “solution” that served your best interests: getting elected.

Yes, I should have put more of that in that article, and given more space, I would have. But it’s never too late to tell the rest of the story.

Tomorrow I'll have part two.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Musings: Disturbing

You don’t have to get up very early to see the stars at this day-dwindling, night-lengthening time of the year, and there were plenty to be viewed when Koko and I went out walking this morning. A patchwork of clouds made it hard to discern some of the constellations, which, like incomplete jigsaw puzzles, were missing pieces, but there was no mistaking the twinkling light of Venus in the east.

And there’s no mistaking that the holiday season is now upon us. It’s the time of the year when Americans are urged to consume, consume, consume, be it stuff, food, sports or alcohol, so for more than a week the mainstream media have been carrying “news” stories about all the huge sales planned for “Black Friday,” even though it’s not yet even Thanksgiving. As a result of all this pump priming, a phone survey shows that 49 percent of all Americans plan to shop that day, up from 40 percent last year.

“It’ll be a madhouse, like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” [C. Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group] said.

Oh, joy. To the world, of course….

Meanwhile, the number of Americans seeking emergency food aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, and the number of households experiencing food insecurity is at its highest since statistics were first kept in 1995. And that’s despite getting more folks on SNAP (formerly known as food stamps).

That disturbing story got little mainstream media coverage in the U.S. — I picked it up from Democracy Now! and Times of India — because we like to pretend that hunger is something that happens in Third World nations.

I’ve seen the shortages at the Food Bank, where every month our food pantry’s allotment of the free staples provided by USDA shrinks a little more, even though the number of folks coming in for food steadily expands. In fact, it doubled in just the last month.

“What do you think’s gonna happen when people can't get food?” I asked a friend, after telling him that even the government can't kick down enough food to meet demand.

“Revolution,” he said.

Yeah, this is America, damn it. We’ve got a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happy Meals. Besides, haven’t you heard? The recession is over so get out there and shop.

If you keep telling people stuff long enough, they believe it — until something smacks them into reality. Or not. Like the way we kept hearing “there are no burials at Wailua” from the folks who want to jam The Path, a wider road and a bigger bridge through there without doing a full archaeological inventory. Until the state ran into some burials while fixing the bathrooms by the river in Wailua State Park.

The state also disturbed burials at Kalalau and other locales in Napali Coast State Wilderness Park while doing work in there.

But since those burials were discovered “inadvertently,” the state decides what to do with them and the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council just gets an update at its meeting tomorrow. Yes, that's how the system has been working under the Lingle Administration. You avoid doing an archaeological survey, so when you run into the burials, you don't have to bother with those pesky Burial Council consultations.

It's bad enough when private developers pull that stunt, but the state really has no excuse for disturbing burials. Other than it just doesn't give a rip about preserving and protecting the Hawaiian culture.

For some strange reason, the Burial Council agenda is not posted on the State Historic Preservation Division website, even though agendas for other island meetings are.

But thanks to the professional services generously donated by Roger of DataSpace Industries, I am now able to post PDF documents, like the Burial Council agenda.

Mahalo nui, Roger, for helping me to make primary documents more available to my readers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Musings: On Mourning and Freedom

The still, warm humidity of night gave way near dawn to gusty winds that caused the trees to shudder and creak and sent sticks, seeds and who knows what all ricocheting off the skylights, like incoming rounds, which caused Koko to tremble and draw a little nearer.

So we got up and went out in the darkness of a late-rising sun dampened further by clouds that were moving fast across the heavens, revealing a blinking star here, a patch of blue there. And all the while the roosters crowed and the doves made their mournful little repetitive cries.

I hear thousands of people went to Hanalei yesterday to mourn the passing of surfing legend Andy Irons, while closer to home, a neighbor was mourning the death of her little dog, a Benji look-alike named Bear. He was a sweet little dog, and Koko always used to whine as we walked past their fenced and gated yard, hoping that Bear would come up to the fence to say hello.

I didn’t know that Bear had died until this morning, when his owners approached me to offer a warning as I walked past their yard. It seemed that the dog owned by the neighbor who lives between us had killed Bear, and they were worried that she might come after Koko next.

I knew exactly what dog they were talking about, because it was the same one that had helped kill my cat Poochie last April. I told them that, and they related that Bear was the third animal of theirs that the dog had killed, having previously dispatched one of their cats and their Papillon. It had been so devastating that when the woman asked her youngest daughter whether she wanted to go to Disneyland or put a fence around the property, the child had chosen the fence. But even that hadn’t kept the neighbor’s dog from getting in and killing Bear in his own yard.

Poochie also was killed in her own yard by a pack — the neighbor’s dog and two dogs owned by his son-in-law and daughter. After her death, the son-in-law had sent me an email saying he would keep his dog confined because he never wanted it to kill another pet. But that didn’t last, and soon both of his dogs were again running loose. My neighbor never exhibited a similar attack of conscience. He felt like dogs should be allowed to be dogs, to run free and chase stuff, form packs, even deadly ones.

But I didn’t report any of them to the Humane Society, because I wanted to keep the peace.

Still, Poochie’s murder put a strain on our friendship, and when I encountered this neighbor on my morning walks, I cringed when I saw him letting his dog run unleashed, cruising into other people’s yards, as I was always afraid I’d see another animal get killed. But again, I didn’t say anything, because he was my neighbor, and also because I didn’t think it would do any good. After all, the dog had already lost its tail from being hit by a car, and that hadn't prompted by neighbor to keep it confined.

I'd also made a few comments, here and there, which hadn't been well-received. Indeed, my neighbor had sent me an email saying he didn’t like the way I laid a guilt trip on him for letting his dog run free.

So this morning, when the ladies told me of Bear’s death, I remembered those unpleasant times and we all agreed that we should have turned him in to the Humane Society, because maybe that would have kept Bear from being killed. But we hadn’t, we said, because he was our neighbor, and besides, we all agreed, the three of us whose pets had been killed by his dog, that he was such a nice guy.

Such a nice guy, except for that irresponsible, seriously selfish streak.

The two ladies had the unenviable task of going to my neighbor's house at 7 this morning and telling him that they wanted him to put the dog down. The vet that had tended Bear said that when dogs kill other dogs, they move on to people next, and since the neighbor has grandkids, did he want to take that risk? The vet had phrased it somewhat more strongly, saying I want to meet the grandfather who would let this dog go near his grandkids.

The neighbor agreed to put his dog down, and we all felt bad, because we know he loves that dog, and who wants to see another pet die?

Yet through the sadness, the anger, the resentment, my own guilt for not having reported the neighbor back when Poochie was killed, I was also struck by the irony. My neighbor never wanted to do anything to restrict his dog’s freedom, and because of that, his dog lost all its freedom.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Musings: Not Rational

It was quite telling that, according to The Garden Island, neither the County nor KIUC sent a representative to Wednesday night’s for the Newell’s shearwater habitat conservation plan — a plan the state is developing because the county and KIUC, among others, have been so slow in developing their own. It’s the plan that will allow KIUC, the county and others to kill or injure `A`o in the course of their operations, so you’d think they would show face to support it.

Correction: I just talked to two people who were at the meeting and KIUC did indeed have two staff members and two Board members at the meeting.

And Beth Tokioka tells me that there were two HCP scoping meetings on Wednesday. At the first meeting, the county's Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation, Kylan Dela Cruz, was in attendance. At the second, Ken Teshima, Department of Public Works, Andrea Suzuki, Deputy County Attorney, and representatives from the county's consulting firm, Plan Solutions, were present.

Once again, I'm reminded that I cannot trust TGI's reporting. What's weird is that TGI just went and deleted all those inaccurate references from the article posted on-line...

Anyway, for more than a decade private businesses and the county haven't really stepped up to the plate in regard to mitigating threats to the A`o, reflecting an indifference that has contributed to the rapid decline of yet another one of Hawaii’s native bird species.

I outline it quite clearly in this week’s Honolulu Weekly cover story, “Fatal Attraction.” I did cringe a little at the subhead — “In birds vs. sports, did the state drop the ball?” — because in that particular conflict, it’s clearly the county that dropped the ball.

Still, I wasn’t trying to pin blame on anyone with that story. I just wanted to make it clear that, as Earthjustice attorney David Henkin pointed out, “Blaming the birds is not rational.”

But then, so much of what we do as a species isn’t.

Which is why we’re spending trillions on war and allowing a species that has been around for millions of years — a species that has long played a critical role in the ecological health of the native forests that comprise our watershed — to edge uncomfortably close to the brink of extinction.

Over and over, as a species, we choose death and destruction over life and creation.

And if that's not irrational, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Musings: Random Observations

Last night it was all about the moon, a little crescent, at first white in a pink-stained sky, then growing golden, exposing the whole it held as it slipped lower, becoming a celestial scoop of ice cream.

In the morning, out before dawn, Makalii a fuzzy cluster headed toward Waialeale, Orion almost overhead, and then I turned to see bright and sparkling Venus, peeking up over the treetops, heralding the approach of the sun.

Just about that time I thought, gee, I haven’t seen Farmer Jerry in a while, and then some headlights swung around the curve and there he was, fresh back from Honolulu, as he so often seems to be. He was talking about the quality of the produce in Chinatown – the really fresh, crisp stuff that they grow on Oahu and bring in from all the other islands.

And we talked of how here, unless you have the time and stamina to brave the sunshine markets, or know someone who grows, you’re hard-pressed to find any local fruits and veggies. It sure ain’t in the grocery stores; it’s even scarce in the health food stores. What’s wrong with this picture?

Frankly, it’s a lot easier these days to buy locally grown cannabis than a sunrise papaya. In fact, a friend told me there’s currently a glut of da crip because so many people have gotten the medical marijuana card and are growing their own. It’s put a damper on weed sales, especially imports.

That reminds me of my radio show the other day, when we were talking about California’s failed bid to legalize marijuana. A reader had asked me to question Council members about whether they’d support an initiative to stop “green harvest,” so I quizzed Mel Rapozo, who had expressed an interest in the Public Safety Committee. He punted to the mayor, saying he administers the federal grants that support it, but then Councilman Jay Furfaro noted that the Council does have to approve the budget and its expenditures.

So sounds like both the mayor and Council would need to be lobbied hard to put an end to the intrusive flyovers. Hmmmm. It might just be easier to get a medical marijuana card. People always find a way around a repressive system.

Another friend, a Hawaiian born and raised on the North Shore, was telling me how depressed he was by what’s happened to the Kalalau trail – the beginning part, to Hanakapiai, that just went through a million-dollar face lift administered by Thomas Noyes, aka Mr. Path, and the Kauai Action and Planning Alliance, which has its fingers in so many cash-filled pies. He said they took the approach of “we don’t know when we might get money again, so let’s go gangbusters” and cut down mature ohia and hala trees, pushed rocks over the pali and opened the trail up wide.

“It’s like a fucking freeway now,” he said. “And they actually made it more dangerous because now there’s nothing along the trail to hang on to when it rains and gets slippery.” He said the ultimate irony was seeing a sign at Hanakapiai advising people to care for Hawaii’s natural resources. It was posted on the stump of a hala tree that was recently cut down.

I was talking to another friend, a political observer, who was telling me about the reorganization at the Lege and how our own Ron Kouchi had sided with Sen. Shan Tsutsui to deny Big Island Sen. Russell Kokubun leadership. “I was kind of surprised, because you know, Russell, he’s an environmentalist, he’s always supported farming,” my friend said. It doesn’t surprise me. The only thing green about Ron is the color of his campaign signs and the money in his wallet.

Finally, I found it amusing that Councilman Tim Bynum blamed his zoning problems on a vendetta by Councilman Mel Rapozo and Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho — as if they’re his only enemies in the county. And used to be folks would get upset if the planning department failed to go after a Councilman. Now we’ve got people crying that they’re being too hard on poor old Tim....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Musings: Fibbing and Fudging

Dawn came too soon, but there was no denying it had come, so I stumbled out of bed and Koko and I headed out into the half-light of night morphing into day. As we walked, I looked back to see the beginning of morning. Long, thin bands of gold appeared in the east, above the Giant, and great swirls and swaths of pink overlapped floating puffs of gray as they stretched across the sky to touch the interior mountains.

Before us, where the night was rapidly receding, I was struck by how even common things can take on the appearance of something else — a rooster on the road appearing as a cat with its tail raised, for instance — when distorted by darkness.

And sometimes the distortions are intentional, as in Councilman Tim Bynum’s recent denials and clams regarding his current difficulties with the county Planning Department, which I reported on Oct. 27.

When I read what Tim said in Andy Parx's blog, it didn’t ring true with what I had learned in my investigations — which, by the way, were not informed in any way by either newly elected Councilman Mel Rapozo or County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, as Tim and Andy claim. So yesterday I went down to the planning department and got the documentation that refutes it.

In August 2005, Tim filed a zoning permit application to build a “new nursery/family room, bedroom, bathroom, deck – addition” to his home at 5935 Kololia Place, Unit 1, which is a CPR ag lot in the Homesteads. The plans called for adding 699 square feet of living space and 213 square feet of deck. Copies of the plan show the addition could be accessed through sliding glass doors on the deck, as well as through the laundry room off the garage. Plans also showed a “wet bar” with a 12x12-inch sink centered in a 10-foot corner of the family room. No appliances are shown on the plans.

The application was approved, and on Aug. 24, 2005, Tim signed a use agreement in which he confirmed the subject premises would be utilized only for a single family residence and that no changes would be made to intensify its use without permission from the department. He also agreed “to allow periodic inspection of the premises and structure(s) by the Planning Department.”

Planning inspector Patrick Henriques said that agreement allows inspectors to go on the property without being charged with trespassing. On April 14, Patrick and inspector Shiela Miyake went to the property to investigate a complaint. Complaints are not part of the public record, so I was unable to review it. However, contrary to what Parx claimed, the planning department, just like the police department and state conservation enforcement office, routinely accepts anonymous complaints.

As a result of that visit, Henriques sent Bynum a certified letter on April 15, 2010. Copies also were sent to the other two owners in the CPR. It stated that the department had done a site inspection on the subject property on April 14 “and found the following violations of the zoning code:

a. Conversion of the Single Familu Dwelling into a Multi Family Dwelling without proper permits constitutes a violation.
Conversion of the Family Room into a Dwelling Unit without proper permits constitutes a violation.

b. Violation of the USE AGREEMENT executed between the owner (Unit 1) and the County of Kauai.

Pursuant to Chapter 8, Kauai County Code, you are directed to comply with the following requirements immediately:

a. Cease and desist use of above noted conversions as a dwelling unit and remove all illegal gas and/or electric service supplies along with cooking facilities.

b. Submit plans and applications along with filing fees for review by the Department for all illegal construction, additions and alterations. Such construction, additions and alterations without proper approval shall be demolished and removed.

Please be advised that the State Department of Health have specific wastewater management requirements that will have to be addressed with regard to the kitchen that exists within the illegal Dwelling Unit.

Failure to contact the Planning Department within 15 calendar days upon receipt of this letter to provide a written acceptable plan for compliance provides us with no other alternative but to refer this matter to the Prosecutor’s Office.

Certified mail receipts show Tim signed for the letter.

In talking with Patrick and reviewing the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, it became clear that a kitchen is not determined solely by the presence of a stove, as Parx claimed. Rather, the CZO defines a kitchen as any room used, intended or designed to be used for preparing food. Intent can be determined by such things as installed appliances or a space in a countertop. Under the CZO, a dwelling unit is described as a unit used for cooking, eating, sleeping. So seeing a rice cooker in a “family room” that also contained a sink and a refrigerator — which is what Tim is claiming a "trespasser" saw — could very well be considered a kitchen use under the CZO. And as Patrick noted, “His permit is for an addition, which is different than a dwelling unit.”

According to the “exclusive interview” that Tim gave Parx:

When Bynum received the violation notice he says he contacted planning officials by phone and they agreed that the violation notice based on the rice cooker complaint was bogus and said they would send him a letter requesting an inspection, which Bynum says he has yet to receive.

It seems the Planning Department had a very different understanding of those phone calls, based on a July 26 letter to Tim entitled “Request Permission to Entry.” It states:

Pursuant to our telephone conversations on June 4, 2010, June 10, 2010 and July 1, 2010, the Planning Department’s continuance request for an interior inspection of the subject premises and a timeline for compliance have been denied.

Therefore, the department is hereby formally requesting that an interior inspection of the subject premises in your presence be conducted to verify the uses as permitted. A timely response regarding this matter will be greatly appreciated.

It then advises Tim to contract Patrick to schedule an on-site inspection and gives a telephone number. Certified mail receipts show that Tim signed for that letter on 7/27/10.

Parx went on to write:

The planning department originally sent Bynum a notice of violation based upon the “trespassing and looking though the window and seeing a rice cooker” incident but, he says, he immediately called and was told that the notice was in error and that a rice cooker did not constitute a stove according to county code. At that point he was told that a notice requesting an inspection would be forthcoming which, he says, he will be happy to comply with when it arrives.

And as I’ve pointed out, that notice arrived three months ago.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Musings: On `A`o

The sun was already well up, casting the rain replenished landscape in a soft green-gold glow, when Koko and I went walking this morning. I’d actually risen hours before, at 4 a.m., to be exact, to put my sleep-refreshed mind to work polishing a story on Newell’s shearwaters that I knew the Honolulu Weekly editors wanted to see first thing.

I’d been working on the story all weekend, and part of the week and weekend before that, because it’s complicated and I wanted to make sure it was accurate and conveyed the bigger picture. Mostly, I wanted to make sure it was understandable to people who aren’t so familiar with the bird, the Endangered Species Act and wildlife management — stuff I’ve been writing about for well over 20 years.

So the `A`o, to use its Hawaiian name, has been much on my mind, especially since it is fledging season, the time when humans are most apt to encounter young birds as they make their maiden flight from their mountainside nesting burrows to the sea.

I thought about them when Koko and I reached the end of the road and I saw the tall poles, strung with numerous wires, that span Moalepe Valley. Just the day before I’d read a report by seabird experts urging Kauai Electric, as the utility company used to be known, to underground or re-route its wires — or at the very least, shorten its poles and plant some rows of trees to hide the lines — there and at four other key nesting valleys: Wailua, Hanalei, Lawai and Waimea.

That was 15 years ago, and none of that was done. Instead, some orange balls were strung on the wires, an act that seabird biologists said is totally ineffective in preventing collisions.

I also thought about them at 5:53 a.m., when I received an email from Caren Diamond telling me her kids had found another Newell’s fledgling, this time on the highway, near the street light at Wainiha, where it was almost run over by a car — a not uncommon demise for today’s seabirds. They had contacted Kathy Valier, who was prompted to volunteer for the Save Our Shearwaters program after becoming aware of the animosity directed toward the birds by football fans angry over the cancellation of night games.

Kathy, in turn, would take the bird into the recovery center run by the Kauai Humane Society, which now manages SOS using money donated by KIUC and, thanks to a recently negotiated plea agreement with the Department of Justice, Kauai County. That’s how it works, you see. The entities that kill birds are expected to fund efforts to prevent their extinction, like education, habitat restoration and SOS.

I hoped this little bird wouldn’t meet the same fate as the one she and her kids had rescued last Thursday and dutifully taken down to the aid station at Hanalei Liquor, one of numerous such sites set up all around the island. Caren didn’t like the idea of leaving the bird in that cold, wet little cage all night, so she’d called SOS (632-0610) and they had called Kathy, who drove down from her home in Wainiha to pick up the bird. She’d put the bird on a heating pad to warm it overnight, then taken it to the recovery room the next morning.

On Friday night, she sent Caren a photo — the bird is sporting a little “beard” of downy feathers — with this email:

I thought you might like this picture. (S)he had a temperature of 99 degrees last night (a good temp for a bird is 104 degrees), but it was 102.2 today. (S)he is very emaciated, and we did give her three rounds of electrolyte solution today. Dehydration is the biggest hurdle in stabilizing them. I am guessing it took off because it was so hungry and made it as far as your place. I understand that their parents leave them unattended for the last ten days. Hell of a way to begin life. They are such sweet beings. I wanted you to know how things had gone and send you a picture, since you hadn't taken one. I am sorry it isn't a better picture, but we were slammed. It seems like they are all fledging at once this year and the rehab room was full.

I asked Kathy if I could use the email and photo, and she said sure, but yesterday, she called me with an update: the little bird hadn’t made it. Apparently it weighed only about half what a chick should if it’s to survive at sea.

It’s hard to know why that particular bird was so emaciated. One of its parents might have been killed, and the fishing efforts of both are required to bring a chick to maturity. Or its parents might not have been able to find enough food; we don’t really know what’s going on out there at sea. Or it could just be the workings of nature. Life is tough for a seabird, and mortality is high among chicks under even the best circumstances.

Thomas Ka`iukapu, the state wildlife biologist on Kauai, confirmed in an email that the number of seabirds collected by SOS is slightly down this year from last. But it’s likely not because angry football fans are turning their backs on downed birds.

We anticipated the decrease in fallout this year, a part of it has to do with this year's El Nino event. There are scientific information that show that some species of seabirds do not breed or not return to their nesting grounds if conditions are not right. More research is needed to fully understand this phenomenon.

Other factors that have reduced the fallout numbers are less lighting on Kauai during the SOS season. There have been voluntary compliance from the Kauai community to turn off unnecessary lights during the SOS season. The people of Kauai have played an instrumental role in this endeavor to support the Save Our Shearwater program. We continue to work with local businesses, County and State agencies through the Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Planning office. As you know, the County of Kauai decided not to run the KIF night football games this year. This has, in my opinion helped reduce some of the seabird fallout this season.

I understand the disappointment over the cancelled night games. One of my friends was telling me about the impact. His wife missed many of their son’s games because she has to work on Saturdays, and a shortage of referees has wreaked havoc with scheduling games for the other football teams. As a result, some of the younger kids — we’re talking 8 and 9 years old — are waking up at 5 am. on Sundays so they can get to the field for a 6 a.m. weigh-in and 7 a.m. game. The Saturday high school games draw smaller crowds than Friday Night Lights, and this has meant less revenue for the KIF and the clubs that man the food booths, and so less money to support school sports.

He believes that birds and people can co-exist, but he’s frustrated that things reached the point of canceling the football games. He should be. As I found in doing my research, specific measures to prevent the decline of the `A`o were identified and clearly spelled out 15 years ago.

While some entities, like the Hyatt, responded by installing seabird-friendly lighting, others, like the county and some private businesses, directed their money and effort into other things. And that continued until this year, when the feds, and Earthjustice, stepped in and held their feet to the fire. The St. Regis — the largest single source of light-attraction bird deaths on Kauai — paid up and agreed to fix its lights. So did the county. KIUC is still fighting its federal criminal charges, and trial is set for Dec. 7.

And in the way of human beings, some people donned “buck the firds” T-shirts and others put `A’o chicks on heating pads.

"It keeps me from feeling totally helpless and hopeless about the situation," Kathy told me yesterday. "You just do what you can do."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Musings: Keep to the High Road

It rained all night, or at least it was raining every time I woke up, and also this morning, although it broke just about the time Koko and I went out walking. Behind us, the Giant had a scarlet aura, which was transformed into a blast of golden-pink light by the sunrise, while before us, thick, creamy-white falls flowed down the face of Makaleha. Mist clouds blew through the pastures and the trees shook off their drops and the water flowed downhill, forming rivulets and ponds alongside the street.

“Now this is the kind of rain we need,” I enthused to my neighbor Andy, when Koko and I encountered him on the road. He agreed, and said that even with the recent deep rains, the stream below his house was not yet flowing. After this long dry spell, it takes a while for the `aina to restore itself, recharge.

With a new mix of members, the County Council has a chance to shake off its negativity, restore its dignity and emerge recharged as a panel of elected officials prepared to serve the people and strengthen our community.

And from the comments that Councilmembers Jay Furfaro, Mel Rapozo, Nadine Nakamura, Derek Kawakami and Dickie Chang made when they called into my radio show last Thursday, it seems they’re all ready to work together and keep things on a higher plane. I asked all of them what sort of tone they expected on the Council this term, and they all agreed they thought they could work together well, in a respectful and civil manner. Only Councilman Tim Bynum hedged his response, saying that he would have to wait and see.

Derek talked about the need for members to check their egos at the door, and become better listeners, not just talkers. He also said good qualities in a Chairman include fairness and the ability to remain focused, and I think we can all agree with that.

Derek also made it clear he doesn’t want to be Chair, even though he was the top vote-getter, saying that as the youngest child in a big family, he’s learned to wait his turn.

More telling was his comment that he is “happy to serve at the national level” representing Kauai as a member of the State and National Association of Counties. From the first time I met Derek, I felt he had the potential to serve in Congress, and perhaps that’s where his career will take him.

By taking himself out of the running, that pretty much paves the way for Jay, who often played the role of Council peacemaker, to serve as Chair. That is, unless JoAnn Yukimura, who declined to call in because she was taking some off to rest, recharge and reflect following the election, decides she wants to run the show.

The Councilmembers also were in agreement that the main issues facing the County this next term are land use and economic development. Newcomer Nadine brings some special expertise in both areas, seeing as how she's been involved in the Important Ag Land process and just completed work on the Kauai economic development plan, which looks to go beyond tourism and build capacity in health and wellness, science and technology, culture and the arts, food and agriculture and sustainability practices.

So after hearing the Councilmembers talk about cooperation and shared goals and respectful civility, I was feeling pretty optimistic, or at least hopeful that we might not see a repeat of the negativity and divisiveness that turned off so many Councilwatchers this past term. In fact, it put me in such a benevolent mood that I even told Tim Bynum that I knew I’d been hard on him, but I was granting everyone amnesty, giving them all a chance to start with a clean slate.

His lasted less than 24 hours, ending with the publication of a blog post yesterday that relayed, without question or substantiation, Tim’s assertion that his current problems with the county planning department have absolutely no merit and instead were a political dirty trick orchestrated by County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and Councilman Mel Rapozo.

Blogger Andy Parx, breathless over he termed an “exclusive interview” with Tim, writes:

Bynum declined to say how he knew of Iseri and Rapozo’s involvement.

Yet we’re supposed to believe it, just because Tim and Andy say so. So much for Tim's supposed devotion to accountability and transparency.

Shaylene, in a comment left on Andy’s blog, writes, in part:

Mr. Parx,
 Your statements are completely erroneous. It is very irresponsible to print matters that have no factual basis. A simple phone call to me could easily have corrected your inaccurate information. I hope in the future, you do your due diligence to verify information before misleading the public for the purpose of tainting my character.

I can’t help but wonder at the timing of it all, most notably, why Tim didn’t speak up before the election, if what he is saying is indeed true. I gave him the opportunity to make a comment well before I first wrote about the incident, but perhaps he’s found Andy to be a more unquestioning channel.

But the really sad thing is how Tim consciously chose to start the Council term on a nasty, negative note by levying some pretty serious charges against Mel and Shay, a former Councilwoman, without providing any proof.

As I’ve mentioned before, Tim likes to play the victim, but he is the one who engages in polarizing actions. And in this case, his decision to deliberately pick a very public fight with Mel speak volumes.

One can only hope that the other members of the Council will, by taking the high road themselves, isolate Tim in his dysfunctional, even paranoiac antics.