Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Musings: Loving Life

I spent a little time in my chilly, windswept garden, surveying leaves made ragged by Sunday's torrential rains, beet seedlings pounded back into the soil. Yet the weeds were remarkably unscathed, as was the taro, which was loving life after that big drink of water.

Police Chief Darryl Perry can't be loving life, seeing as how his badge, gun and computer are still in lock down and he relies on the goodwill of KPD staffers to let him into Babylon, since his swipe card for the cop shop door hasn't been returned, either. But now that Mayor Bernard Carvalho is back from the Oscars — and apparently it was he who pushed for the county/KVB “Descendants” reception that gave him an excuse, and funding, to go — he and the chief finally had a sit down on Monday night, though to what end is unknown.

One (more) thing that struck me as very odd in this whole power play debacle is the way Michael Contrades was named Acting Chief in Perry's “absence,” even though he isn't on-island. Seems Contrades has been at the FBI National Academy since January and is due back in March. In the meantime, he's reportedly running the cop shop by phone, although Acting Deputy Chief Mark Begley is apparently taking his orders from the mayor/county attorney, which is why he refused to issue the chief's equipment when the Police Commission voted unanimously that Perry should return to work.

Councilman Tim Bynum can't be loving life, either, seeing as how he's facing an expensive trial on an alleged zoning violation, and a possible hefty fine and jail time if he's convicted.

The last time this matter was in court, I recall asking Deputy Prosecutor Jake Delaplane if Tim had been singled out for prosecution and he said no, some 40 persons accused of CZO violations were arraigned the same day as Tim. “Overall, we're taking a stronger stance with these violations because they haven't been enforced in the past,” Jake said.

That “stronger stance” is apparently an approach taken unilaterally by the prosecutor's office. When I met with Planning Director Mike Dahilig not long ago, I specifically asked him about the Bynum case: Had planning pushed the prosecutor to go after Tim or the other alleged CZO violators?

“We do not affirmatively ask the prosecutor to prosecute anything,” Mike said. And while “the philosophy is to be cooperative,” he said, planning never asked the prosecutor's office to start going after CZO violations and hasn't similarly stepped up enforcement on its side. However, he added diplomatically, “The prosecutor's office has the independent right to do their investigation and enforce as they see appropriate.”

Off-island owners of transient vacation rentals aren't loving life, either, not with the Lege pushing ahead on bills that would require them to hire local property managers. Realtors backing the bills say it would ensure that owners are paying all their taxes, though it's more likely an interest in increasing their own revenues that is driving this. Owners, meanwhile, view it as a money grab.

It probably is, but so what? Our impoverished state has gotta grab money from somewhere — you know, so it can finance stuff like trials against people who are protesting burial desecrations — and better to grab it from the folks who don't live here than those of us who do.

Because truthfully, when you see so many Hawaii folks struggling to pay rent and buy houses, it's kind of hard to feel sympathy for off-island TVR owners who have helped to drive up real estate prices. Like Alaska residents Meera Kohler and Marilyn Leland, who told Civil Beat they bought a Maui property three years ago that they occupy two months each year.

After factoring in association dues, lease fees, GET and TAT, housekeeping, utilities, repair and renovation, Kohler said she and Leland effectively break even.

"If we had to have an agency, the going fees are 25 percent to 45 percent," she said. "We would be operating in the red big time. Our stance is that these bills would basically put us out of business, which means we would have to sell the property."

Waaah. Of course, they've also been getting those two months of “free rent” each year, plus the equity they're building in the condo.

And you know that if the property management and real estate folks are gonna get a cut, they'll sniff out all the vacation rentals, so some of the illegal operators will be brought into compliance.

Finally, the Kauai Independent Food Bank can't be loving life, what with its shelves essentially bare and all the grocery stores now donating solely to the Kauai branch of the Hawaii Food Bank, save for Costco, which only gives away outdated baked goods and shockingly throws everything else in the dumpster.

Yet still KIFB presses on, with The Garden Island reporting for the second time in a week that it's trying to collect 100,000 pounds of food and $100,000. I'd be really curious to know how much of that 100 grand would actually be used to feed the hungry, as opposed to paying off KIFB's debts and ongoing operating expenses. Maybe it's time to give up the ghost, guys, and face reality: Hawaii Food Bank is doing what you used to, only better.


Anonymous said...

"Stronger stance" is a start but we need even stronger enforcement!

Non-resident owners have been skirting the law, have not been paying taxes, and have driven up the price of real estate for those who have no other choice to live here.

I don't like the idea of only realtors making money off this scheme. It should be opened up to other types of management firms.

Anonymous said...

Joan, with all due kindness and respect:

I do not understand the bitterness against "Off Island" home owners. (of which I am one).

The real estate market in all of Hawaii is expensive because it is in a highly desireable part of the world. Location, location, location, is the Real Estate Mantra.

Hawaii's real estate is always going to be expensive, it is the law of suppply and demand. Hawaii/Kauai's RE Market is no different than any other highly desireable RE market in the world, island or not. Look at Paris, London, Rome, New york,the US Virgin Islands, etc.

Only Hawaii is punishing non-resident owners, they do not do so in any other areas/islands/countries (of which I am aware). (In fact there could be an argument made that forcing non on-island owners to pay more for RE-taxes is a violation of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution and even equal protection rights).

I already pay more in RE taxes than island residents. I am already forced by law to have a long term on island rental agency.(I do not rent short term; less than 6 months). I do not bitch about it, until requested to pay more.

The fact of the matter is that I bought my island home to retire in my golden age. The market was so low that it made sense to buy now than many years from now when it will be outrageous again. I am not rich, but did not get caught up in the RE fiasco of recent years. Tha is why I could buy at this time.

I would live on Kauai now, but for the fact that my career here on the mainland is not something I could do on Kauai. I look forward to the time that I can come home to Kauai full time.

I preceive a hatred towards tourists. I also perceive an eliteism towards on-ialand residents. It seems silly.

My story and my dream is no different than yours, right?

So why so much disdain?

Your loyal reader

Anonymous said...

The disdain comes from the reality that locals who have lived here for generations can't even afford one home let alone two and speculation has driven the cost of real estate through the roof.

The native culture looks at land from a different perspective, as our family, as that which nurtures our bodies and souls, not as "real estate" in a capitalistic system where money is the motivating force that drives it. Different culture, different values. If you choose to move here, understand the history and culture of this place from a non-haole point of view.

Anonymous said...

Prosecuting the burial protester and the guy who cooked rice in the wrong room is not a good use of a prosecutors resources or top attorneys.
Making the off island owners get a property manager sounds good if it's legal. It's easy to hate the rentals but not so easy when it's my friend who lives here and is trying to make ends meet renting out space.

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Jeremy,
Thanks for your loyal readership. I do not feel universal bitterness toward off-island homeowners, as I happen to rent from one. It sounds like you rent out your property long-term, so you would not be affected by the proposed legislation.

Vacation rentals are a different story, as they do have a greater impact on neighborhoods and they clearly have driven up land/housing prices by introducing a very high value use to property. And unfortunately they are often associated with speculators and investment consortiums, whose only dreams and stories are making $$.

Anon. 10:42 offers good insight on the dynamics at work here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to you both. I do understand and respect what you are saying.