Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Musings: Preserving What's Left

As I drove into Hanalei Valley late yesterday afternoon, past the methodical dismantling of the cliff face, which feels sacrilegious and never ceases to pain me, I heard a guy from the Natural Resources Defense Council say on the radio, “We're turning nature into garbage.”

His comment stuck me with as I walked along the glassy waters of Hanalei Bay, beneath clouds that carried rainbows, shot out silvery beams of light, trying not to look at all the mansions that are now squeezed in along its shore, before I squeezed into the biggest crowd I'd ever seen at the Hanalei School cafeteria.

The official topic was a plan by Ohana Real Estate Investors — whose principal investor is billioniare Pierre Omidyar — to develop an uberluxe 86-room resort in Princeville and 34 house sites along the the Hanalei River ridge.

But the real story was the pervasive sense of grief carried by so many lifetime/longtime residents of the Hanalei-to-Haena community, which has long fought — often unsuccessfully — to keep development, commercialism and tourism from destroying their lifestyle and the area's natural beauty.

For many, the idea of looking up from Hanalei Bay and seeing mansions lining the ridge above the iconic river is just too much to bear.

“It would break the hearts of thousands of people who live here,” said Hayley Ham Young-Giorgio, who spoke of her family's long roots in the region. She said she had talked about the project with her grandmother, Aunty Kalehua HamYoung, who said: “Enough already. Makes me sad. We've already got too much in Hanalei.”

To which Hayley added, to huge applause from the hundreds of people present: “We've got to preserve what's left.”

Among those in attendance were Kepa Kruse, just back from volunteering to help storm victims in New York. He's still hurting from the way Grove Farm evicted his family, and others, from Koloa Camp for a project that has yet to pull permits. And now Hanalei, the other place that figured so prominently in his youth, is under attack, he said.

His sentiments were shared by the many young people who showed up, some with their own keiki in tow, to express their often tearful fears that something special would be irretrievably lost if the project moves forward as planned.

Though the development team spent 42 minutes talking about “breathing new life” into the old Hanalei Plantation resort, “hotel structures that touch the earth lightly,” humility, sustainability, cultural sensitivity, educational opportunities, “architecture that blends into nature” and how “it's a passion of ours to do projects that really mean something in the communities,” the crowd wasn't buying it.

“We've been fooled before,” said former Hanalei School Principal Nick Beck, who has worked to protect the ridges around Hanalei from the visual impact of development. He went on to point out that design guidelines intended to make the houses less obtrusive mean nothing because they aren't enforced.

“You cannot hide a quarter-million square feet of development on that slope,” noted Carl Imparto.

Even John Ferry, whose Bali Hai Realty has fostered much of the region's growth, was aghast. “We just can't overbuild anymore,” he said. “We have to put an end to it.”

As lifetime resident Bobo Ham Young began to speak, his voice cracked with tears. “Excuse me, I get all jam up,” he said, before going on to say there's a reason why three developers had been unable to make a go of a resort project on the site. “The place is kolohe. That's all I can say. Have the iwis (bones) over there that kind of shut things down.”

“The night marchers are still there,” said Louise Sausen, who fought to keep Joe Brescia from building a house over iwi at Naue. “They still walk up that road. That area is significant, and not just that area, but the whole of Hanalei.”

She spoke for many when she referenced the dramatic changes to the region, “the pain my kupuna are suffering,” and asked, “What else do we have to give up?”

And why, people wanted to know, did they have to give it up for Omidyar, who is already one of the world's richest men. “What does Pierre think?” one woman asked. “Where's Pierre?” some folks called out.

According to the development reps, Eric Crispin and Michelle Swartman, Pierre focuses on his charitable projects and is not involved in the day-to-day operations of Ohana Realty. Decisions are made by the management team and board of directors, and Pierre serves on neither.

Or in other words, Pierre likes to be publicly affiliated with his philanthropic endeavors, while leaving to others the dirty business of turning his money into more money through unpopular development projects.

As the night wore on, a few people wanted to know why the developer was pursuing the project when so many residents are opposed.

“This is a business,” Crispin said. “We are a development company. That said, we define development differently. We are trying to find a balance between what's financially feasible and what's good for the environment. We know you would rather have nothing, but to us, that's not viable or reasonable.”

And then came the clincher, although the ground had laid been laid earlier in the night, when the project architect spoke of the 600 units that could be allowed under the zoning, and “entitlements” to the 204 units approved back in the 1980s, when Bruce Stark tried to develop a resort there.

“If not us, others would do it,” Crispin said.


Anonymous said...

And is it true that the parcels overlooking Hanalei Valley, inland from the old Princeville Stables, have been approved for building too? What happened to plans to move the Hanalei Valley overlook to that site?

Kaua`i needs a building moratorium!

Anonymous said...

I was in line at the checkout in Times on Saturday, and this lady visiting from Los Angeles said that she was disappointed with the resort culture she experienced in Hanalei. I had to agree with her. Photographs and videos have done a disservice to Kauai. It's no longer what it was.

Dawson said...

For islands on the sea or islands on the land, tourism is a venereal disease. Read Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West by Hal K. Rothman.

Anonymous said...

Wonder who will want a McMansion right on the banks of the sewage outfall (Hanalei River).

This development team has been out trying to buy support with beer and cookies -- what a joke.

What load from John Ferry. I guess he didn't get a check from this one.

Anonymous said...

This is the comment that speared me:
"Even John Ferry, whose Bali Hai Realty has fostered much of the region's growth, was aghast. “We just can't overbuild anymore,” he said. “We have to put an end to it.”

I would rather see no testimony than someone like this with the audacity to open his mouth. And probably against it for competitive reasons. Now that he got away with his development atrocity, he wants it all to stop.

People like John Ferry are reprehensible. Somebody should have told him to shut the f up.

A moratorium sounds like a good call to bring up again.

Good job on this,Joan.

Anonymous said...

Big money wins over the little people, culture and bones.

The dirty work the rich pay others to perform.

Vampires have landed again to such sustenance from the aina.

Light attracts the dark! Lets bring back the garlic leis

Dr Shibai

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Kauai needs to organize a commission against corruption. Think about it, if we had this commission 4 years ago. Would Shay have gotten away with all of her abuse? Would the coroners office rubber stamp KPD covered up murders? Would gas theft, airport badge payment theft, would ATM thefts, home robberies, drug fronts, lihue post office fast and furious gun dealer, ag vacation rentals, planning commission pay to approve, all the sexual harassments, nepotism, racism, militias, corrupt cops, judges, attorneys, dirty people in office, and many more crimes get away like how they do on Kauai at this moment. We have to take a stand and fight for Justice or We will continue to live in fear of retaliation by the Powers. Ainofea Ainosked Aikea!

Anonymous said...

On Oahu, home burglaries were orchestrated for 10 years by an HPD sergeant.
He told the burglars which homes to hit because he knew when they╩╗d be out of town.
Ha what a scam. Took 10 years to figure it out/or come clean.

Anonymous said...

Hypocrisy: the "traditional American" value! Rape is good for America because it is America's business! And let's all remember that American bromide: just lie there and enjoy it! USA USA USA

Anonymous said...

If you check campaign contributions, Eric Crispin spread some cash around.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor just came and told me the sad news, knowing I am a Hanalei person. I was completely shattered.

Bobo was my calabash brother, as was the entire ohana, as I used to live with all of them, so we were all very close. Back then, in the day, the entire town was just like one big ohana, from anahola to Ke'e, but especially from Ke'e to Hanalei. I mean everyone was related in some way. We never really thought we were separate people, we all just belonged to the same big ohana.

So, Bobo and the rest were just like my older brothers. Their mom was my mom. I mean all of the women there were all of our moms. We all slept at each others houses, we were like a huge school of fish.

He is with Auntie kaleihua (his mom) now, and I know that he will always be with us, who remember him,

RIP my braddah cuz.

Mahalo for putting this up Joan, that was very nice of you.