Sunday, March 31, 2013

Musings: Getting It

It's Easter, one of those odd church-n-chocolate holidays co-opted from the Pagans. I leave my 60-degree house and stand in the shimmer of sun on surf, clutching bits of beach glass in the pastels of painted eggs, and look down at the sand, where someone has written, He is Risen. And I thought, if you were God, and subscribed to Christian mythology, wouldn't you be kind of pissed that you'd sacrificed your Only Begotten Son — and people still hadn't gotten it, all these years later?

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 1946 tsunami, the one trigged by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands, which created a series of powerful waves that struck the island with a maximum run up of 45 feet, killing at least 14 people in Wainiha-Haena, including many children, and destroying numerous homes. 

As the Star-Bulletin reported at the time:

All bridges at Wainiha (between Hanalei and Haena) were washed out at the same time. [T]he YMCA camp on the flat at Haena was completely destroyed. The tiny village at Wainiha is flat.

Even more telling:

Haena was isolated yesterday from rescue teams.

That very same coastline is now lined with lavish acation rentals that together sleep hundreds of unsuspecting tourists, some of them in illegal ground floor bedrooms in the flood zone. And Haena is still isolated from rescue teams whenever it floods.

I was talking to a friend the other day, a guy who helped build the original Billie Jean King hale, back in the late '70s. He and another worker were surprised to find small concrete pads, steps that went nowhere, when they began clearing the lot and adjacent properties. Puzzled, they questioned an old-timer, a member of the Tai-Hook clan, who told them, “Those steps used to lead into houses; the concrete slabs were their wash rooms. But when they got washed away in the '46 tsunami, all the people moved away from the beach, up Wainiha Valley.”

Today, as I've reported in the Abuse Chronicles, the old King hale is now the King and the Princess, a multi-family TVR with a bedroom, sitting area and full kitchen on the ground floor.

In fact, nearly every permit-challenged TVR profiled in the series — we're at number 10, with more still to come — is located on the same stretch of sand that was scoured clean in '46, and again in the tsunami of 1957. As the Honolulu Advertiser reported after the '57 event:

On North Kauai alone, damage came to the neighborhood of $2 million, more than double the amount of wreckage the 1946 tidal wave caused on the Garden Island.

Some 75 homes were demolished or damaged along the 15 mile strip between Kalihiwai and Haena. An estimated 250 persons were homeless. More than 1,000 were isolated when the Kalihiwai bridge crumbled under the power of the waves.

A survey of the little towns along battered North Kauai was testimony to the power of the waves that rolled down from their Aleutian breeding ground.

Out of 29 homes that once stood at Haena, only four can now be lived in. A YMCA boys' camp, recently repaired from 1946 tidal wave damage, was washed out to sea. Power and telephone lines were down for a mile along Haena flats.

Authorities said it was miraculous that there were no injuries or deaths on the neighbor islands, especially Kauai where it was almost by chance that residents of Hanalei and Haena got warning of the approaching disaster.
Would the same be true if a tsunami hit today? Where would all the tourists go, guided only by the flood inundation maps in telephone books, provided they were lucky enough to get a warning? How much damage would the illegally enclosed structures inflict on the homes of permanent residents? How long would it take for rescue crews to get there, or stage an evacuation? Who would care for the tourists in the meantime?

It took a string of recent visitor drownings to stir some sort of official action, in the form of a water safety video that will be screened for tourists grabbing their luggage in baggage claim.

But nothing is said of the dangers that await the tourists in county-sanctioned vacation rentals that sell an ocean “just steps from the house,” and “secluded beaches” far from lifeguards and hospitals.

Fourteen lives were sacrificed in '46, no doubt some of them only begotten sons. Yet people still haven't gotten it, all these years later.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Musings: Wrong Side of History

A chill wind gusts and the camphor tree rains, on me, who is watching bees already pinging and zinging from their hive as birds greet the dawn with tremolo and trill against the muffled roar of the stream, the shrieking chorus of shackled roosters, and a pink fog plumps ferns greenly clinging to Makaleha, streaked with ivory waterfalls.

Most people have an innate sense of beauty — and justice, which is why the Supreme Court hearing on the Defense of Marriage Act and the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” — a rider anonymously slipped into the federal appropriations bill — are sparking so much discussion.

It simply feels wrong to many folks that people should be denied the rights of marriage — and in the case before the high court, the tax breaks — simply because they're part of a same-sex union. Just like it feels wrong to many folks that the biotech industry has attempted to pre-empt the workings of the court system through legislative action.

I say attempted, because it's still unclear whether the rider — in effect just through the end of the fiscal year — will undermine pending federal court rulings on Monsanto's Roundup-resistant alfalfa and a new strain of Dow-engineered corn that can withstand direct applications of its powerful 2,4-D herbicide.

The reason for the rider is obvious: the biotech companies have been losing in the courts, so they're trying to tie the hands of judges. It's a classic dirty trick from an industry that has sufficient money and power to work its will on Congress, and state and local legislators, too.

Which is why there's public push-back. Or as a man who is very knowledgeable about the issue observed, in explaining the growing uprising against biotech:

It's being shoved down people's throats by powerful corporations with government's blessing.”

Mingled with the outrage toward politicians and agencies believed to be in the pocket of the chemical companies is despair, the sense that the industry is too entrenched to be routed, too strong to be controlled.

It's not. And though I have written previously against using the rhetoric of war against biotech, I am not advocating submission. There is a lot that can be done to address people's concerns, especially on the local level. Some counties in the U.S. have banned the cultivation of genetically engineered crops, though the legalities of banning GE test crops is still unclear.

It also appears there's nothing illegal about counties requiring companies to disclose pesticide use or establishing pesticide-free buffer zones around schools and other institutions — measures that need not apply only to the seed companies. I believe one or more bills along these lines will be introduced at the Council, where they will no doubt generate a lot of debate.

So I urge those who are interested to prepare themselves by getting educated about this complex issue, so you can educate others and speak with credibility. Do your own homework, and dig deeper than Facebook. Focus on facts, on things that are known, whether it's the effects of certain pesticides, or the herbicide-resistant weeds and cross-crop contamination that have been documented in conjunction with GE crops. Avoid demonizing local farmers who grow their crops conventionally, and instead respect the knowledge they've gleaned from decades of actually producing food in this place.

Be realistic, but even more important, propose alternatives. As a high-ranking state official told me the other day, “Tell us what you want, not just what you don't want.”

If you want more local ag, put some energy into supporting initiatives that help farmers, and programs that train new ones. If you want to farm, develop a business plan and get as much hands-on experience as possible.

Recognize that things are changing, agriculture is changing. The trend nationally and locally is toward smaller farms, less mono-cropping, in part due to new EPA regulations on controlling dust. Farmers are extremely receptive to market forces, which is why some Midwestern farmers who have always grown conventionally are now converting to organic because they can earn more for their crops.

And when GE labeling comes, which it will, because some 90 percent of Americans favor it, consumers' purchasing power will prompt even more change. That's when the biotech companies will discover their resistance to giving people a choice has put them on the wrong side of history. Just like those who oppose equal rights for all.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Musings: Growing Evidence

Things are turning lush again after a way-too-dry March. The waterfalls are flowing and the soil is enjoying a thorough soaking as another day dawned under the patter of much welcome rain. It felt good to go out in the moonlit night and hear nothing but the roar of a swelling stream. And then the clouds swirled in and consumed the pale white sphere, which grows to fullness tonight.

A beekeeping friend whose family grows corn in the Midwest sent me a piece from NPR about neonicotinoids — pesticides used to coat the seeds of many agricultural crops, particularly corn. When the seed sprouts, the chemicals spread through the plant and insects that try to munch it get a deadly dose.

These chemicals are used in the seed crops grown on our island and elsewhere in Hawaii. 

Now there's growing evidence that these pesticides — developed by Shell and Bayer — are killing bees, prompting beekeepers and conservation groups to file suit against the EPA to suspend registrations of insecticides identified as highly toxic to honey bees.

The same debate is raging in Europe, where 13 EU nations are calling for a ban on neonics. But Britain is putting up fierce resistance. Though 30 scientific papers have been published in the past three years linking the chemicals to bee harm, the British environmental minister and Bayer are calling for “real-world, not theoretical” studies that pesticide poisoning is to blame for bee declines around the world.

As NPR reports, Purdue University entomologist Christian Krupe tested the dust produced by the machines that are used to plant corn and “found amazing levels of neonic pesticides: 700,000 times more than what it takes to kill a honeybee. That toxic dust lands on nearby flowers, such as dandelions. If bees feed on pollen from those flowers, that dust easily can kill them.”

Other recent (2012) studies show that pesticide dust released at planting time may persist in nearby fields for several years and be taken up into non-target plants, which are then foraged by bees and other insects.

Plants grown from treated seeds produce pollen that contains low levels of neonics. Bees get cumulative exposure when they collect this pollen, which is used to feed their young.

As I mentioned, these pesticides are widely used in Hawaii seed crops. So what is the impact on our wildlife, our bees, the people who live within blowing dust distance of these crops? We don't know, and no one is looking.

But a study by the very mainstream American Cancer Society suggests it's time we started (emphasis added):

A growing number of well-designed epidemiological and molecular studies provide substantial evidence that the pesticides used in agricultural, commercial, and home and garden applications are associated with excess cancer risk. This risk is associated both with those applying the pesticide and, under some conditions, those who are simply bystanders to the application. In this article, the epidemiological, molecular biology, and toxicological evidence emerging from recent literature assessing the link between specific pesticides and several cancers including prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and breast cancer are integrated. Although the review is not exhaustive in its scope or depth, the literature does strongly suggest that the public health problem is real.

So it is not reassuring to learn, as reported in Andy Parx's blog, that Kauai County officials have employed the lobbying services of James Pacopac, who also works as a lobbyist for Syngenta. That's the same company whose agricultural practices were suspected of sickening kids at Waimea Canyon School numerous times, prompting the county to spend $50,000 on a study that came up with no real conclusions.

Surely the county — and KIUC, which also employs Pacopac — could find a lobbyist who isn't affiliated with the chemical companies to represent us in the Legislature, where GMO crops, pesticide registration and related issues were hotly debated this session. And from the agenda item posted for tomorrow's County Council meeting, it appears Pacopac was also representing the Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC) Legislative Packages for 2013.

As the Biblical saying goes, “no man can serve two masters.” And in this case, it's likely the fat pockets of Syngenta inspire greater lobbyist loyalty.

If the county wants to build credibility with its citizens, whose concerns about pesticide exposure from the seed crops are mounting, it needs to start by eliminating the perception that it's already in bed with the chemical companies that grow them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Musings: Abuse Chronicles 10

How does a house that never was a vacation rental — a house that for years got Kauai County property tax deductions for being owner-occupied — still manage to score a TVR permit, making it attractive to Southern California real estate speculators who reaped a cool $355,000 in three months by flipping it in a short sale?

It happened like this. Once upon a time — April 10, 2003, to be exact — Liz and Bruce Farnsworth paid $1.25 million for a house at 7316 Alealea Rd. in Haena.

According to neighbors, the Farnsworths lived fulltime in the house. According to county property tax records, they took a $96,000 annual homeowner's exemption — aka a “Permanent Home Use Credit”— for the years 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

On. Oct. 14, 2008, shortly after the county adopted its TVR ordinance, Liz Farnsworth applied to the county for a nonconforming use certificate (NCU) to operate a TVR. Her file is lean, lacking virtually all of the documentation required by the TVR law. There's no owner affidavit, no record of any rental history, no proof that any general excise or transient accommodation taxes were paid.

Her application claims the TVR use started on May 10, 2000 — predating the house's final building inspection and encompassing the years the couple received permanent home use tax credits. Furthermore, the GE license says the business began Jan. 1, 2008.

Despite the contradictory and missing documents — and the presence of an illegally enclosed room on the ground floor in the flood zone — the county granted Haena Hale an NCU permit on June 22, 2009. The Farnsworths continued to live in the house and never used it as a TVR. Nor did they renew their TVR certificate for the years 2009 or 2010.

It was “all g” for the Farnsworths until 2011, when money troubles hit hard. With foreclosure imminent, they placed the house on the market with Hawaii Life Realtors for $1.7 million. The MLS described it as a “short sale” and notes: “Home is owner-occupied and easy to show.” It also describes the downstairs enclosure:

The ground floor space has been efficiently laid out with an enclosed work space/exercise room complete with a loft - whimsically crafted lava rock outdoor shower is adjacent. A covered space for 1 car is augmented by an enclosed storage space that can also house another vehicle.”

Here's a picture of that enclosed ground floor, which the county apparently missed during the original TVR inspection:

On Sept. 29, 2011, Liz Farnsworth submitted an application to renew her 2011 TVR certificate. She attached a hand-written note explaining she missed the July 31 deadline because “I have been out of the country for six months for work.” Inspector Vil Balisacan approved her late renewal on Oct. 7, and also allowed her to retroactively renew her permits for 2009 and 2010, as evidenced by the sequential numbers on checks paid and receipts given for those applications.

With the TVR permits thus secured,  7316 Alealea Road LLC — a real estate investment company formed by Del Mar Realtor Bill Morgan — bought the house for $875,000 on Dec. 5, 2011. Shortly thereafter, Internet ads began appearing for Hale Hina. Three months later, he flipped the house for $1.23 million, netting $355,000. His company also bought and sold two other TVRs in the area.

Coldwell Banker completed the house's transition from residential to commercial property by assuming the job of renewing the 2012 permit, and providing “professional management.”

Which is how a house that previously was occupied by two fulltime residents came to be a mini-resort that “sleeps 8,” with the promise that even more can be accommodated:

King size beds (1), Queen size Beds (2), Baby Cribs (1) Can be rented and delivered upon request. Pack-n-play available if desired., Sleep Sofa or Futons (1) Day bed.

And though several ads describe it as newly remodeled, no building permits for such work could be found.

Yet another ad proclaims:

You won't see any high rise, timeshare resorts here, just a contrast of multi-million dollar beach homes and tin-roofed island shacks.

With the multi-million dollar beach homes functioning like resorts, and the tin-roofed shacks scant remains of a once vibrant local neighborhood.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Musings: Peace Talks

I was standing there on the bluff, watching big waves breaking on a glassy gray sea, and beyond that, whales breaching, sky-hopping, tail-slapping, spouting, when it came to me, a line from “Apocalypse Now” that so perfectly sums up the GMO/pesticide fervor: “Oh man, the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam you needed wings to stay above it.”

The issue was intruding into my thoughts in that spectacuar setting because I'd just gotten off the phone with a friend who felt physically ill — dispirited, I diagnosed — after spending much of the previous day and night in public meetings on the studies into what made kids and teachers sick at Waimea Canyon School.

It wasn't the topic of the meetings, but the tenor, the tone, that got him so down. He's not  the first person to confide that he's depressed, dismayed, by the growing polarization, the posturing and grandstanding on all sides, the ideological rigidity, the violent terminology that now frames so much of the rhetoric on this topic.

As another friend, an activist, asked recently, “Who decided that we were 'at war' with the seed companies? Who declared the Westside 'a battleground'?”

Like most wars, this one is being driven by distinctly different ideologies, from those who truly believe these crops will feed the world to those who truly believe these crops will destroy it. We see the same ideological gap in regard to pesticides. Which is perfectly OK. It's alright to have widely disparate views. But unless you're willing to kill everyone who thinks differently, you have to figure out a way to talk, to find some common ground, to work out some solutions.

Because as this legislative session made clear, the state is not going to label GMOs or even launch a study into how to implement a pesticide registry, much less kick out the seed companies.

That is the current political reality in this state, a reality that is no less real just because some folks refuse to accept it. Which is why all that fury and flash at the Lege came to predictable naught, consuming energy that could have been spent on more fruitful actions. Like actually researching how other states manage pesticide registries, so a thoughtful bill could be drafted. The one that was introduced this year was a joke, a piece of crap like the now defeated labeling bill, yet people did the all out for both, much as America battled for Hamburger Hill.

The enthusiasm of the marchers could have been parlayed into voter registration drives, petition drives supporting specific actions that our Council has the authority to implement, measures that could have some immediate positive effect, like ending the use of pesticides on county parks and roadways, or supporting farmers who want to pursue a different type of agriculture.  Instead, it's being allowed to dissipate into the inevitable disappointment and frustration that will follow being falsely led to believe they could get that stupid labeling bill passed, and that it would actually mean something if they did.

And the Council, rather than waiting six years for the results of a study that any thinking person knew would never implicate pesticides in the Waimea School sicknesses, could have been moving all this time to adopt some meaningful legislation to better protect keiki, like establishing protective buffers between fields and campuses.

Heck, they could have followed up on the study when they didn't get an initial report within the six months required under the contract, instead of waiting five years to whine, as Councilman Tim Bynum did at Wednesday's meeting, “I'm not trusting anymore. I'm verifying.”

Only now, Tim?

We all need to start questioning, verifying, because truth, as they say, is the first casualty of war, and it's under fire from all sides. On the one hand, we've Syngenta publishing a Civil Beat commentary proclaiming its Atrazine is all good, and Rep.Jimmy Tokioka lying in a failed bid to sideline a committee vote on the labeling bill. On the other, we've got activists making unsubstantiated claims about drinking water contamination and clamoring against poisons while spray painting anti-GMO graffiti around the island.

Yes, public awareness of and interest in this issue is steadily growing, which means folks are receptive to education and information. So let's make it accurate and meaningful. Yes, people are genuinely concerned about pesticides and poisons, which means their fears are easily aroused. So let's address those fears, not prey upon them. 

Because most folks, including me, have no stomach for war, especially when it's being waged in their backyard, with the usual unintended fallout and casualties. If it continues, or escalates, as wars tend to do, the die-hards on either side will fortify their positions, and the regular folks will flee, distancing themselves from the conflict. And we'll drift even further from a civil society, the rule of law, community-based solutions.

So can we please take a deep breath, pause for just a moment, and ratchet back the rhetoric a little? It's not helpful to characterize Dept. of Ag personnel as “criminals,” or lecture field workers on how they should “examine their souls” if they've taken a $10/hour job with the seed companies. Nor is it helpful to claim that a pesticide is safe when it's registered for restricted use precisely because it is hazardous, or make like it's all up to the feds, and there's nothing that can be done to regulate seed companies and their associated pesticide use on the local level.

Somehow we need to bridge the gap between a comment made by Councilman Ross Kagawa — “We've gotta have faith these people do care about our lives” — and the sentiment expressed to Jimmy Tokioka by a disgruntled activist, “We have so little faith in you.”

Because we're all on this little island, this little planet, together. And GMOs/pesticides are just one of many critical issues before us.

As Rep. Jessica Wooley, chair of the House agriculture committee noted, “There are differing visions of how we're going to feed the world and how we're going to feed this state. And at the moment we have to learn better how to co-exist with different visions. We don't know where we're going. We're on the precipice of the future and it's up to us to decide. Everybody does have to be at the table.”

So pull up a chair and let's work on this. But please, leave your weapons at the door. To borrow the lyrics of Eddie Grant: 

Everybody seem to be inviting me to a war party, me no wanna go. Heard about the last one so thanks but no thanks....Do you wanna go? Say no...."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Musings: Abuse Chronicles 9

Unlike other vacation rentals profiled in this series, the owners of Hale Ono didn't scheme to avoid flood rules by lowballing construction costs. Instead, they secured vaguely-worded Kauai County building permits to enclose the downstairs in the flood zone. And though county planning inspectors discovered in October 2009 that the ground floor was being used for habitation, no known enforcement action has been taken. Instead, the property has openly operated as a multi-family vacation rental — a violation of the North Shore plan — with no TVR permit.

Indeed, numerous Internet ads for Hale Ono boldly showcase its zoning violations as amenities: (emphasis added):

The downstairs includes 2 bedrooms/1 bath and has its own separate entrance. This would be ideal for the in-laws or nanny. The lower level is very simply decorated.
Rental options: You can rent the upstairs and downstairs separately. The rates start from $2200 - $4000/week depending on season.

Another ad includes photos of “some of the fine appoinments [sic] of the downstairs living area:” 
 It also proclaims (emphasis added):

This completely remodeled home with exotic Balinese carvings/furniture has 2 bd/rms, 2 full baths/jacuzzi tub, ocean/mt. lanais, soothing pool/spa, outside hot shower, barbeque, cable TV/VCR, surround sound, fax/tele, WIFI Internet, W/Dryer, Dishwasher, & queen sleeper sofa. An additional downstairs space is also available for bigger groups. This includes another large living area, plus two bedrooms and two baths. It is located 25 steps to the OCEAN.

Two Bedrooms, Two Baths, $2100-$2500/wk, $750 deposit, $200 outclean.
Four Bedrooms, Four Baths, $3000-$3500/wk, $1000 deposit, $375 outclean

Now that we know what it currently is, let's look at how it started out.

The house was built in 1991 as an additional dwelling unit (ADU) on the Nishimoto parcel, which is located on the makai side of Kuhio Highway, just before the Hanalei Colony Resort. It was elevated, with an open downstairs, in compliance with flood laws, as you can clearly see in the photo below:
In 2004, the old Nishimoto house was substantially renovated and turned into the Hale Haena TVR, a process detailed in Abuse Chronicles 7. The lot was subdivided, and the ADU was assigned its own TMK and sold.

The owner is a Nevada-based foreign limited liability company known as Alta Management Services LLC. According to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs website, This business is not in good standing.Toni Sutherland is listed as the agent.

In September 2005, Sutherland applied for a $37,200 building permit to “enclose new storage.” The submitted plans showed an enclosure of the entire ground floor and the application claimed, “The bottom floor will be enclosed and used for storage (non-habitable area). Breakaway construction shall be used.” The permit was cleared by county flood engineer Glenn Okamoto and planning inspector Vil Balisacan.

On April 12, 2006, Sutherland applied for another permit, valued at $37,200, to alter the two-bedroom, two-bath house. Though the scope of work was vague — “Ground floor= Add Sto [sic], add 550 under residence.” — the permit was approved on Aug. 16, 2006.

On April 19, 2006, Sutherland applied for two more permits, both of which were approved. One was for a 2,352-square-foot ADU valued at $285,200. The status of this structure is unclear, as there is no record of any inspection after Mervin Rapozo approved the foundation on Dec. 31, 2008.

The other permit added another 852 square feet, at a cost of $65,000, to the existing house, which is described as a “dwelling/lodge.” Mario Antonio, previously a flood inspector with the county's engineering division, commented on the permit: “No habitable space allowed below BFE permitted.” Specifically, federal flood laws state that any ground floor use, such as storage, must be unfinished, with break-away walls and no windows or electricity. Yet as these pictures show, that is clearly not the case at Hale Ono:
In 2009, Sutherland applied for two vacation rental certificates for Hale Ono. One was for “5709A KUHIO AV MASTER;” the other for “5-7094 A Kuhio Hwy.” The applications prompted a site visit by planning inspector Bambi Emayo, who sent the following inquiry to Antonio on Oct. 29, 2009:

We have a single family dwelling with a lower floor enclosed and used as habitable space (dwelling or some kind or studio) have you given out a permit for both the enclosure and the habitable use?”

The next day, Antonio replied:

Bambi, there is not supposed to be any living space or equipment servicing the house below BFE [below flood elevation].”

According to the county TVR log, both applications were “withdrawn” and there is no record of any non-conforming use permits being issued for Hale Ono. Yet county tax records classify the property as a vacation rental. Tax records also describe the property as two bedrooms and one bath, with a total living area of 2,016 square feet.

Meanwhile, numerous Internet ads reveal Hale Ono offering its services as a four-bedroom, four-bath “bed and breakfast” that sleeps 10-13.

One ad includes this description (emphasis added):

This new completely remodeled custom home with exotic Balinese carvings and furniture has 2 bedrooms and 2 Master Bathrooms upstairs and 3 rooms and 2 Master Bathrooms downstairs. Room for up to 12 people.

The upstairs is private and is accessed by a stairway overlooking the ocean. It is not connected to the downstairs which provides secluded separation. The new downstairs area is accessed through the main front door to the right of the Antique Balinese gate/pool area; and also independently through custom teak/screened sliders from each room below to the pool area. The fourth exit is through a tall, glass/screen slider that looks out over the ocean (downstairs in the large Flat Screen media room) that steps out onto another lanai (great for lounging/reading/etc. This leads directly to the secluded beach which is on the property about 30 steps away.

Though the ad describes Hale Ono as a “BED AND BREAKFAST ONLY for FAMILY AND FAMILY FRIENDS,” it's clear from comments left by guests that this is an active commercial enterprise. As a couple who rented the downstairs on Jan. 23, 2013 noted:

Nothing about this rental is what the owners have posted. Once arriving you feel that the mgmt/owners would of said anything to rent out this unit. They noted my wife would be able to access the lower unit with 2-3 steps. This was very important since they were told she still uses a walker and wheelchair, their were no less then 5-6 steps. The pool was broken down,no heat and the jets were broken. The house fans barely worked and there were a lot of wiring problems with the unit. We put up with construction workers that left nails all over the lawn causing us a flat tire. We even repaired the downstairs toilet seat. The mgmt/owner made no effort to apologize for our inconveniences. Instead they changed there listing to "no handicaps". A very callous and insensitive move.

To which the “owner” (Sutherland?) replied, while simultaneously acknowledging the property's longstanding use as an unpermitted TVR:

Our family at Hale Ono do our absolute best with excellent service to help all who have stayed and have only received 5 STAR RATINGS over the last 9-10 years at Hale Ono on the beach in paradise.

Another guest, who rented the property on Sept. 9, 2012 for her “dream beach wedding,” revealed additional construction was under way:

We drove up the driveway, parked in the yard next to the most perfect little Balinese tiki hut being built for future renters

The “hut” is described in the same ad as:

There is a small Hale Bali with ocean view, barbeque, Tahitian hot/cold shower; micro wave; refrigerator; wet bar; bathroom, etc. near the home that also may be available. It accomodates [sic] two for sleeping in the loft and a futon/sofa on the lower floor and is completely enclosed by bamboo/teakwood fencing for privacy, etc. Pricing: $245 per night + cleaning, etc. and may be rented separately or with the main home.

It's unclear whether this property, which can now apparently accommodate 16 persons, exceeds its wastewater system, which is limited to 800 gallons per day, according to the state Department of Health.

It's also unclear how an ADU could become what Bali Hai Realty's Michael Schmit described as:

The property includes both units of the two-unit CPR. With one beach house already built and another that could be built next door (the home may be purchased separately).

Or how Schmidt can treat the enclosed downstairs as a selling point, when it's a blatant violation of federal flood laws:

This Tropical Balinese home has two bedrooms and one bath upstairs and as well as three rooms downstairs along with two full baths, totaling more than 2,000 square feet of living area.

What is clear, however, is the tremendous impact of these apparently fraudulent activities on the community and its fragile resources. What began as a residential lot with two small houses, each occupied by one longterm renter, has become a commercial resort with three vacation rentals that together sleep 26 people. The guests, meanwhile, are allowed to sleep in the flood zone and hold weddings on the beach. They are also directed for recreation to Kee, which is described as a “long calm bathtub protected by a long reef,” and told the rough, reefy shoreline in front of the property is "ideal for children" and "great for snorkeling."

As a Hale Ono ad chortles:

JUST BECAUSE is the phrase for HALE ONO and our beloved beach neighbors.

But just because the county lets you get away with something doesn't mean it's right.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Musings: Benign, and Not

Prosecutor Justin Kollar has declined to prosecute Jim Alalem and Ray Catania on obstruction charges stemming from their Feb. 6 arrest at Wailua Beach. The two men were protecting a stone ahu that has since been dismantled by crews building the concrete Path along the beach.

[I] don't like putting people on trial for their beliefs, as long as they're nonviolent,” Justin responded when asked why he wasn't pursuing prosecution of the petty misdemeanor charges.

In other news, the House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a bill decriminalizing adult possession of small amounts of cannabis. Senate Bill 472 has already passed through the Senate, where the penalty for possession was raised to $1,000. The House Judiciary committee revised it down to a $100 penalty for 20 grams (an ounce is 28 grams). The measure now moves to the Finance Committee.

Though Justin has not submitted testimony in opposition to any of the cannabis bills, Police Chief Darryl Perry submitted “reefer madness” testimony against SB 472, in which he claimed cannabis was linked to schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and anxiety. He ended with this dramatic line:

The negative personal and social costs would be long-lasting, and the family nit as we know it today would be a thing of the past; memories viewed only through home-made videos.

It's so bizarre how law enforcement officials and state legislators are totally freaked out about cannabis, yet ho-hum about GMO crops and their associated poisons.

Speaking of which, the World Wildlife Fund and Mexican government have issued the results of a survey that shows a 59 percent decline in migrating butterflies. The primary cause is an "explosive increase" in the use of glyphosate (Roundup) on crops genetically engineered to withstand direct applications of the herbicide, which kills milkweed, the monarchs' essential food. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

In key U.S. states where the butterfly feeds and breeds — Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, parts of Ohio and the eastern Dakotas — farmers have planted more than 120 million acres of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist the herbicide, [Chip Taylor, director of the research group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas] said.

Taylor said the decrease in the monarch population is more than a philosophical or aesthetic conundrum. The loss of pollinating creatures like butterflies and bees — whose populations are also collapsing because of habitat loss — can result in a loss of plant diversity across the continent, he said.
"The fruits, nuts, seeds and foliage that everything else feeds on," he said. "If we pull the monarchs out of the system, we're really pulling the rug out from under a whole lot of other species."

Hello! Wake up, people! These crops and their associated pesticides are not benign.

On a brighter note, HB 154 yesterday passed one of its two Senate committees. The measure, which Rep. Derek Kawakami co-sponsored, authorizes a two-year pilot program to test hemp's efficacy in soil remediation, as in removing the chemicals deposited by more than a century of industrial agriculture in the islands. It will also test its viability as a biofuel feed stock.

And finally, remember to vote for the KIUC board of directors. Voting ends March 25. I cast one of my three votes for Jonathan Jay, an intelligent, creative guy who promises to be a breath of fresh air on the board. One thing I really like about Jonathan, besides his wicked sense of humor, is his emphasis on reducing demand rather than figuring out new ways to constantly increase the supply.

Because non of the so-called renewable energy sources are truly green — they all have impacts. That's also true of biomass projects, especially when the feedstock is trees that are trucked for miles and chipped, a process that requires a helluva lot of fossil fuel. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Musings: Home Rule

Update: Deferred until March 21, so still time to submit testimony.

SB 727 is a dangerous bill that needs to be stopped. It revokes each county's power to protect the health and life of its inhabitants.

Introduced by Sen. Donovan “Mr. PLDC” Delacruz, it's an apparent bid by the biotech industry to pre-empt county controls over pesticide use.

The measure is scheduled for a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee at 2 p.m. Friday. To submit testimony go to this page and enter SB727. Or email it to

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Musings: Currying Favor

As GMO opponents take to the streets, the biotech industry is snuggling up with lawmakers on the Senate floor.

Just two days after 1,000-plus Kauai residents marched in the rain to denounce GMOs and demand a hearing on a labeling bill, the state Senate honored mainland farmers who grow GMO crops and the man who invented Hawaii's GMO papaya.

Monday's presentation on the Senate floor was a full-on public relations ploy staged by the biotech-based Hawaii Crop Improvement Association and Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, with the assistance of Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chair of the agriculture committee.

Which explains why Nishihara hasn't scheduled a hearing on HB 174, the only GMO labeling law that is still alive, though a dozen or so good ones were introduced. It's a measly little crumb — or more accurately, a dingleberry — that the House has thrown to the vast majority of Hawaii residents who support labeling.

And even that crappy law is stalling in the Senate because Nishihara is tight with the biotech industry, which doesn't want any labeling at all.  

On Monday, Kauai Sen. Ron Kouchi, vice chair of the of ag committee, joined his colleagues as the Senate recessed to “meet and greet our honored guests.”
The "honored guests" were farmers from Illinois, Oregon, Illinois, North Dakota and Washington who had won an essay contest. As I reported in both the Honolulu Weekly and this blog last November, the biotech industry invited mainland farmers to write about how they'd benefitted from genetically modified seed. 

The prize: a free trip to Hawaii. The catch: they had to be shills for the biotech industry, sharing their stories with legislators and media.

That's what went down on the Senate floor on Monday, with Nishihara reading a speech — you can watch the video here — that expressed unqualified support for the biotech industry:

In trying to reach our state's goal of a secure, sustainable and affordable food supply, the agriculture industry will need to utilize all farming methods and technologies available, whether it's organic, conventional or biotech.

Nishihara went on to say:

There are over 5 million farmers on 1 million acres of land across the nation that grow GE crops such as corn and soybeans. Many of these crops can trace their origin back to Hawaii-produced seeds and farmers across the U.S. appreciate and acknowledge that Hawaii plays a vital role in production of seed for the entire world.

Nishihara then introduced the five winners, saying:

These outstanding farmers benefit from the use of seed crops developed and grown here in Hawaii. They successfully grow organic, conventional and biotech crops under family-owned farms and they traveled to Hawaii to share their stories about how biotechnology is helping real farmers deal with real agricultural challenges to ensure an affordable food supply.

The “story” got picked by KITV, which did a Tuesday morning segment that devoted 1.5 minutes to the anti-GMO message — photos of the Kauai march and an awkward pro-labeling comment from a Babes Against Biotech spokeswoman — and 3 minutes to the essay contest. It included an interview with a Washington farmer who grows Bt corn on his otherwise mostly organic farm, and spoke against labeling.

The capper? The farmer had brought in a plate of food that the TV hostess spun around on the table, as the cameras did a closeup. After saying that "a lot of GMO products are grown locally, too," which is not true, the hostess described the entree as  sesame-crusted grilled ahi steak topped with a salsa made from pineapple and GMO papaya.

“It looks delicious and I'm sure it tastes good, too,” she gushed. “I'll be getting to that during the break.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Musings: Abuse Chronicles 8

When Nick Michaels added 3,090 square feet to a beachfront bungalow under the guise of “unsubstantial improvements,” he created the super-luxe Blue Lagoon vacation rental — his modern-day version of a traditional cultural site:

If privacy is desired, the property is enclosed by lava rock walls, a Hawaiian method called "hand stacking." The Lava rocks create the ultimate ambiance and privacy. This is our own “heiau [hei' (y) au’]” or special place of worship.

So states Michaels in a “word from the owner” on an Internet ad for his sleeps 10 mini-resort. Michaels goes on to reveal a little more about how he made his place posh:

We incorporated only the best materials available.  Cedar exterior, Brazilian marble counter tops, and bathrooms, interior Jacuzzi bathtubs in both oceanfront suites, Brazilian mahogany floors, spacious Ipe decks...

Pricey stuff. Yet the county building permit for the work is based on construction costs of just $50 per square-foot.

Though the work was supposed to entail minor improvements and repairs, Michaels tells us in his ad what really went down (emphasis added):

This place is the real “Blue Orchid”, a newly built home on the North Shore of Kauai, Hawaii.  This home was built in the heart of a dreamer... upon fruition, with much love and gratitude. 

Yes, Michaels is a dreamer. More specifically, he's the one who dreamed up the scam of turning tiny old homes into palatial vacation rentals by characterizing the work as an “unsubstantial improvement.” In that way, he avoids the expense of elevating the house to comply with federal flood laws. And no doubt he's grateful that the county went along — and gave him a vacation rental permit to boot.

But let's dial back to 2003, with a look at the original house — a 1,080-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath structure that was built in 1957 and had an assessed value of $54,500.
This is what he bought and turned into the Blue Lagoon: a four-bedroom, four-bath, 4,171-square-foot structure with an assessed value of $1.594 million.

All with a building permit valued at just $122,300.

Here's how he pulled it off:

First, Michaels hired an appraiser who pegged the value of the original structure at $252,000, based on a replacement cost of $250 per-square-foot for the house, and $50 per-square-foot for the decks. Then Michaels submitted a building permit for upgrades based on construction costs of just $50 per-square-foot for everything.

Using this lopsided formula, the proposed work was determined to be less than 50 percent of the structure's value. The county building department, under Doug Haigh, issued a permit for “unsubstantial improvements.” That's when Callahan Construction began building, a process that would last nearly two years, quadrupling the square-footage and adding another level to the house.

Since the house is close to the ocean, Michaels began cultivating a vegetative seawall. Naupaka was planted on the public beach, fertilized and regularly watered.  

That's Nick, with the hose, back when he first began armoring the shoreline.

It wasn't long before his vegetation had sprawled well onto the public beach, where it continues to flourish.

In times of high surf, the public is in fact precluded from actually traversing the shoreline because of his extensive plantings. 

This helps Michaels achieve his advertising promise:

If you're wondering, "is there going to be a crowd?”  The beach directly in front of the property is mostly a private beach. People have to know how to find the beach and beach access is limited

Yes, it's limited by such ploys as blocking the public beach access parking with planted vegetation and TVR trash cans.

In 2008, Michaels applied for a non-conforming use certificate to operate a TVR. In his application, he claimed that he began its TVR use on Jan. 1, 2001 — 20 months before he actually purchased the property.

Michaels also failed to provide a reservation log, or proof he'd paid general excise and tranist accommodation taxes, which were required by county ordinance. But the planning department issued him the certificate, anyway, on March 27, 2009. There is no record of its required annual renewal, yet it continues to operate. 

When county tax assessors recently did their first on-site inspection since the renovation, they found the house had expanded 3,090 square feet from the original — nearly double the 1,626-square-feet allowed under his building permit. Even using the super lowball $50-per- square-foot figure, Michaels made changes valued at $159,500, which is more than 50 percent of the inflated $252,000 appraised value of the house. Quite simply, this "newly built home" — to use Michaels' own words — is a substantial improvement that should be in compliance with flood laws. 

Instead we have a vacation rental with bedrooms on the ground floor, in the flood zone, where unsuspecting guests are invited to "Wake up in the morning to the sounds of the ocean lapping on the shore." And it's a very exclusive, gated vacation rental, with its own miniature golf course and spa — just like the mini-resort that it is — on a spectacular white sand beach. 

As Michaels acknowledges in his “word from the owner:”

Locals know this place as a very special place.

Some might even say the most special and beautiful place on the island. But that was before dreamers schemers like Nick Michaels usurped it, and it changed it into something else —what he describes as:

This is how the rich and famous live, this is how people with big dreams live and this can be a place where you can create memories that will last a life time.