Saturday, June 29, 2013

Musings: On Media Relations

“Come on,” I said to the dogs, though they never need urging to go anywhere. “It's gonna be a beautiful sunrise.” And it was, with gauzy clouds turning the color of a blood orange and the ones covering the sun getting that red-gold gilt around the edges and still others forming towering cumulus columns that hovered on the horizon while a double rainbow arched mauka and iwa flew silently overhead.

So started a new day on Kauai, and at The Garden Island, too, where publisher Casey Quel Fitchett was fired yesterday — an event publicly celebrated under the “breaking news” headline: Ding dong, the witch is dead! (Click on image to enlarge.)

The article, which was quickly taken down from the paper's website, sarcastically ridicules the “positives” associated with Oahu Publishing Inc.'s (aka Star-Advertiser media monopoly) purchase of the paper:

You may also have noted we've grown in the number of pages, increasing both outsourced editorial content and ads that help readers save precious dollars without requiring any local investment by the company. For the first time since their accounts were lost to OPI on Quel Fitchett's watch, Kmart and Longs advertising inserts are once again part of your Sunday TGI, because Quel Fitchett losing those contracts to OPI's Midweek is what strengthened OPI while weakening TGI enough to make the purchase possible.

Our foremost goal is to produce a newspaper that makes Kauai proud without actually investing in the product. How are we doing so far?”

I think we all know the answer to that one, sadly.... 

Oh, well, I'm sure OPI can round up somebody from South Dakota who has always wanted to live on Kauai to take Casey's place. Most likely a man, since OPI is such an old boy's club. Yup, owner David Black couldn't find even one wahine to round-out his all-male board of directors. What's up with that?

Meanwhile, OPI's MidWeek Kauai is going through a change as well, with writer Amanda Gregg and her hubby, deputy housing director and former deputy planning director Imai Aiu, headed for Boston. Guess now we'll never know why Imai approved all those vacation rentals even though the owners failed to prove they were eligible for a non-conforming use permit.

But OPI and Obama aren't the only ones worried about and clamping down on whistle-blowers and leaks. Kauai County has issued its own media relations policy that channels everything through the mayor's office. 

Under the First Amendment-stifling directive — approved by County Attorney Al Castillo — all county employees are forbidden to “proactively distribute information or initiate discussions with media representatives concerning County issues without first consulting with the County of Kaua`i Communications Team – and in particular, the Public Information Officer (PIO).” It goes on to state:

Spokespersons, staff, and members are not to give statements “off the record.” Any discussions, whether in an informal or formal setting with media representatives, will be considered on-the-record (even if the media representative says that the discussion is “off the record”).

It doesn't specify what punishment will befall those who deviate from “the process." Perhaps they'll be sentenced to sit through 10 County Council meetings without a smart phone for diversion.

I understand the role and value of a PIO, and in all fairness, the “communications team” — Beth Tokioka, Mary Daubert and Sarah Blane — is efficient and responsive. But surely managers making $100,000+ per year can be trusted to talk the party line to reporters. 

And what of those agencies — county council, auditor, KPD, prosecutor — whose staff are technically county workers, though they're not under the purview of the mayor's office? Does all the information from these departments have to be vetted by the mayor's office, too, even though he's their political enemy?

Whether it's Obama or Bernard, it seems we'd be better off if people focused more on doing the right thing, as opposed to tightly controlling the information that's released to the public. Because it is our government, after all.

While we're talking about doing the right thing,  the Department of Hawaiian Homelands yesterday nixed Eric Knutzen's plan to lease Anahola homelands to harvest and cultivate trees for his wood chip-burning plant. For years homesteaders have been protesting their lands being leased to non-Hawaiian grifters. 

Finally, DHHL listened. Or, rather, five of the eight commissioners did.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Musings: Suspicions

So what really happened out at Polihale last weekend? Though The Garden Island published the account of a woman whose brother was reportedly there, both the police and prosecutor say actual victims and witnesses have been extremely reticent to speak up. Police say this leads them to suspect there's more to the story than has been revealed, such as perhaps the victims weren't entirely blameless, or were engaged in illegal activity themselves.

Though the sister told the paper that cops did not show until 5 a.m., Police Chief Darryl Perry said “we arrived about 20 minutes or so after the call was received because it was in a remote location and checks did not reveal anything to the extent that was reported.”

He said an eight-second video clip had been turned in, but it didn't show much.

The episode got me thinking about Polihale, which I understand to be a leina — a jumping off place for souls. But like so many other sacred spots, it's now been overrun by casual  tourists and yahoos with no respect for the place. Sad.

Also sad was seeing all the folks wearing different-colored tee-shirts to separate themselves from others at yesterday's County Council meeting on the pesticide-GMO bill. It passed on first reading — kudos to the Council for not chickening out — and is headed for a marathon public hearing on July 31. 

Maybe people could wear purple to that session as a reminder that even though we hold different views on this issue, we're all living on this little island together. This debate is going to continue for quite some time, and it would be nice if it didn't completely rip the community apart. Because isn't it ultimately about what's best for Kauai? By which I mean her, Mama Aina.

Given some of the Facebook chatter, it seems the meeting was a wake-up call for anti-GMO activists, who were surprised at the strength and intensity of opposition to the bill. It's so easy, when caught up in the Facebook/KKCR echo chamber, to believe that everyone else thinks the way you do. Though the testimony was tedious at times, new information did come to light and everybody got a chance to see that passions run deep on both sides of the issue.

One of my favorite moments was when Councilman Ross Kagawa said he still had faith that some of the state and federal officials “are not corrupt, like those who care about the seals and shearwaters.” Little does he know that the suspicions extend to those folks, too.

Speaking of which, upon checking my Anahola post office box, I found a full color brochure and form letter from Eric Knutzen touting the supposed benefits of leasing Hawaiian Homelands to harvest albezia trees for a woodchip-burning power plant in Koloa. The mailer had lots of pretty pictures, as promotional literature typically does, but failed to address concerns raised by beneficiaries — concerns that no doubt will be raised again at tonight's meeting at Kapaa Elementary School.

The website it refers people to is similarly short on substance. But then, Eric, who runs KCC's Ho`ouluwehi Sustainable Living Institute, has proved evasive and slippery in discussing his Green Energy Team project. After stringing me along for a month when I was working on an article for Honolulu Weekly, he ultimately refused to answer some pretty basic questions:

Some of the concerns raised by Anahola community include possible contamination of the bay due to mud from the cleared lands. What is the scenario for clearing and replanting, and how will you prevent erosion? Will you be chipping on site, or transporting logs? What other improvements are planned, in terms of roads and water lines, and what is the dollar value of these improvements? Do you anticipate the need for irrigation, and if so, where will the water come from? Are you anticipating the acreage (aside from the 267 acres for lots) will be planted or cleared when the lease term ends?

Please explain your feed stock scenario. How many acres total are needed to supply the facility on an ongoing basis? I understand you have an agreement with Hawaiian Mahogany -- how many acres does that include, and how long will that supply the facility? I saw a reference to 2,500 acres of short-rotation biomass -- how long does it take to grow the feedstock you need?

If you don't get the lease with DHHL in Anahola, do you have a back up plan for acreage elsewhere? Have you approached Grove Farm?

What is happening with the 1,037 acres at Kalepa you leased?  Some of the tenants up there have complained that Green Energy initially promised to pay for the improvement and upkeep of roads, but now GE is proposing that those costs be shared. Is this correct?

How did Green Energy get the federal loan guarantee? Does it essentially ensure that the two main partners -- GBC and Green Energy -- won't be left with any financial liabilities if the project fails? Is the project eligible for or receiving any state or federal tax incentives for biofuel projects?

What byproduct, if any, will be generated from burning the feedstock at the plant, and what will be done with this product?

If this project is so fantabulous, why the lack of transparency? After all, it plans to sell power to KIUC at an undisclosed price that we ratepayers will pay, and it's benefitting from a $73 million federal loan guarantee.

Eric also keeps repeating the fiction that this plant will “lower energy prices.” I asked KIUC's Jim Kelly about that claim and got this reply:

Burning wood and not oil will certainly stabilize bills and reduce the whipsawing effect of oil prices. But if the price of oil – which we’re still going to have to buy – is $200 a barrel in 2015 then everyone’s bill is not going to go down.

Eric also likes to claim the project is "carbon neutral," in reference to the amount of fuel oil that KIUC can save. But he has not yet explained how the fuel used by trucking and chipping factors in to the project's overall carbon footprint.

I understand that some are supporting the albezia-clearing as a way to get homesteaders off the waiting list and onto the land, which is laudable. But the overall project looks and smells suspiciously like a boondoggle.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Musings: Little Nuggets

If folks wonder why the chemical/seed industry has been allowed to operate pretty much unchecked in Hawaii, consider this: Laurie Yoshida, formerly Gov. Linda Lingle's rep on Kauai, is now the island spokeswoman for DuPont Pioneer.

In other words, they're all in bed together.

The Garden Island included an interesting comment from Laurie in its article on the pesticide bill coming before the County Council today:

Yoshida also questions the county’s liability should it pass a bill it can’t enforce.

I'd actually love to hear more about that, since the county passed a vacation rental bill it obviously can't enforce and has adopted new zoning rules that define a carport with a refrigerator as a kitchen, which it most certainly can't enforce.

No doubt there are more examples. But where exactly does the liability come in?

In both that TGI article and a piece that ran yesterday in the Star-Advertiser, industry reps never actually came out and said their operations were safe, or that citizens had no cause for concern. No, all their comments were focused on legalities, costs and whether the county should enter a regulatory arena dominated by the state and feds:

Tom Matsuda, pesticides program manager of the state Department of Agriculture, questioned how Kauai County will regulate pesticide use. "We're talking about overregulation," he said.

The Council meeting will most certainly draw a large crowd, but there's one important thing to keep in mind: a great many people will be paid to attend and defend the status quo, while the citizens, as usual, will be present on their own dime, their own time, to advocate for change.  However, my prediction is that the bill will be deferred, no matter how many people show up.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court's decision today likely won't change anyone's mind about the definition of marriage, it did strike down a discriminatory provision in federal law that prevented legally married same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits. It's another step forward in equal rights for all, much to the dismay of some conservatives. I was interested to read this in the Associated Press coverage:

The rulings came 10 years to the day after the court's Lawrence v. Texas decision that struck down state bans on gay sex. In his dissent at the time, [Justice Antonin] Scalia predicted the ruling would lead to same-sex marriage.

As the old saying goes, you can't stop progress.

new study conducted by Friends of the Earth International tested the shishi of 182 city-dwellers living in 18 different European cities and found glyphosate — Roundup — in 44% of the samples. As reported by a Wall Street Journal blog:

This weed killer is being widely overused,” said Adrian Bebb, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth International. And that’s even though hardly any genetically modified crops are grown in Europe. Doing so on a grand scale would increase the use of Roundup around eight-fold, according to Greenpeace.

I wonder what we might find if we tested American pee — especially farm workers and people living in agricultural areas.

Just when you despair that women are losing their right to choose, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, backed by the "boisterous chanting" of a crowd mobilized in part by social media, managed to filibuster a bill aimed at restricting access to abortion in that state.  The Republican Lt. Governor blamed "an unruly mob...using Occupy Wall Street tactics" for his losing control of proceedings.

As the not-so-old saying goes: You can't keep a good woman down.

And finally, I loved this little nugget: Hong Kong didn't send whistle-blower/leaker Edward Snowden back to America because there were errors in the extradition paperwork, as in a wrong middle name and no inclusion of his passport number. So much for the intelligence service....

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Musings: Tooty Fruity

Though a lot of folks complain about the chickens, and I've got two fighting rooster farms within earshot, it's remarkable how the joyful warbling of the shama thrushes drowns them right out. Perched in trees on all sides of the house, their intricate melodies offer dawn-to-dusk entertainment, a constant reminder to stop, look, listen, appreciate, slow down, enjoy.

Lately I've been enjoying longan, golfball-sized lychee, lilikoi, papaya, mango and purple cainito, which the neighbor who supplies me calls cream apples. It seems to be a bumper year for fruit.

And fruity ideas. Like the proposed bill that would allow the Kauai Humane Society to seize any dog without a license and take it to the shelter — even if you are right there with it, and even in your own yard, if it's unfenced.

That seems like a pretty heavy-handed approach. Presumably they're already picking up dogs that are cruising without humans. So why try to nab people's pets when they could just sell them a license on the spot? If you want us to pay more for licenses, that's one thing, but don't be grabbing more power in the process.

KHS, which has long had a strained relationship with hunters, also appears ready to burn those bridges completely with its new license fee schedule, which would hit hunters with packs the hardest. Sure, some of them are irresponsible, but not all, so it feels unfair to ding them as a group. I understand KHS is trying to encourage people to get their pets fixed, which is great, but how are people supposed to prove their female is spayed if they've lost the paper from the vet?

Meanwhile, cats get a totally free ride and are allowed to roam with impunity, even though feral cat control is a significant cost for the shelter, one that dog owners are now being asked to subsidize. If dog owners must buy a license, shouldn't cat owners be held to a similar requirement?

Another fruity proposal has already been adopted by the county, and that's an administrative rule change that expands upon the definition of a “kitchen.” Now you can be busted for a zoning violation if you have a microwave, hot plate, toaster oven, mini-fridge, electric griddle, deep-fryer and yes, even a rice cooker, in any room other than a kitchen. Like, say, the carport or family room. But get this — only if it's plugged in. Or if you don't pay a suitable bribe to the inspector.

And finally, the state Agribusiness Development Corp. has been operating under the fruity notion that its lessees don't have to pay property taxes. As in the three chemical/seed companies leasing some 6,000 acres on Kauai — most of it so-called “ceded” lands. Not so, says Councilman Gary Hooser, who notes that private users of public lands must pay property taxes. As a result of his inquiries, the county has sent out notices to the three affected companies assessing them for two years of taxes, with penalties and interest kicking in if they don't pay within 30 days. The back taxes total about $140,000 — enough to help fund Gary's pesticide disclosure/GMO moratorium bill.

State law also requires those who lease public lands to comply with all environmental laws, including Chapter 343. As Gary notes, there are just three ways to comply with 343: an exemption, an environmental assessment or an EIS. The ADC has required none of the above from the seed companies. Though it's too late to go after them now, any new leases will be scrutinized to ensure compliance.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Musings: Here and There

Super moon, hidden all night by a blanket of gray fleece, emerges just before dawn to show her full, cool whiteness, lighting the way as the dogs and I walk along a ribbon of black road. And then she is engulfed again by clouds that later bring a rainbow and part long enough to reveal two thick waterfalls streaking down the green face of Makaleha.

If you think that genetically modified foods are safe just because the Food and Drug Administration says so, think again. FDA-approved ingredients used in up to 80% of all American convenience food have been banned by other countries, according to a new book “Rich Food, Poor Food.”

We're talking about stuff like brominated vegetable oil, a substance found in Mountain Dew, but banned in more than 100 countries because it has been linked to thyroid disease. And the dyes yellow #5 and yellow #6 — derived from coal tar – that makes Kraft mac & cheese so cheerily bright. Then there's asthma-inducing azodicarbonamide, a bleaching agent that is common in many processed American foods, but banned in most European countries. In Singapore, its use carries a $500,00 fine and prison term of up to 15 years.

Ironically, even as America feeds its citizens the kind of crappy food that makes them sick, it makes health care prohibitively expensive and attacks every effort to even explore a single-payer system..

Meanwhile, we've also seen other nations move to prohibit and restrict genetically modified crops and products — or at least require labeling — and ban certain pesticides that are allowed here.

So why is the U.S. so out of step? What is so different about here and there? Surely there can't be that much debate about the science. What seems far more likely is the regulators in America are in bed with industry.

Just something to keep in mind when the County Council takes up Gary Hooser's pesticide disclosure, buffer zone and GMO moratorium bill on Wednesday. No doubt the chemical/seed companies will make their usual argument: our operations are already regulated by the state and the feds.

It's true, they are. But that doesn't mean the regulations in place are sufficient to keep us and the land and water healthy and safe.

If you'd like to weigh in on the proposed bill, send emails to 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Musings: Insider-Outsiders

Councilman Gary Hooser got his pesticide disclosure/GMO moratorium bill off to a strong start, with a well-written article in The Garden Island and support from the national Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which has put up a flash Stop Poisoning Paradise website and is doing media outreach.

Now we'll see whether the rest of the Council — Tim Bynum is a co-sponsor — goes along next Wednesday. A majority must approve Bill 2491 on first reading, which then gets it a committee assignment.

It's a bold bill, and I give Gary a lot of credit for introducing it. Especially since we do not have a bold county government. 

Gary reportedly asked Chair Jay Furfaro for at least 90 minutes of meeting time as folks from the Center for Food Safety are flying in give the Council a presentation on pesticides and GMOs. But Jay allocated just 20 minutes.

And the bill hadn't been out an hour before I started hearing a buzz from official quarters that the GMO moratorium part is most likely illegal. The chemical/seed industry, which has some of the best lawyers that money can buy, will no doubt do everything in its power to stoke the fear of a monumental lawsuit. Unfortunately, such tactics are frequently successful with Kauai County, which is terrified of being sued.

Already we are hearing Jay and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. say that pesticide regulation is really a state function, which is not very secret code for "we don't want to touch it."

In its press release, PAN notes  "this all-volunteer, citizens’ effort expects a lot of opposition from pesticide-GE seed corporations." That's true, although watch for significant opposition as well from farmers, ranchers, pest control companies, golf course owners and all the myriad people who use and sell pesticides, as well as those with economic and job concerns. Oh, and let's not forget the powerful landowners: A&B, Grove Farm, Kamehemeha Schools, Gay & Robinson, the state. None of them want to lose lessees willing to pay top dollar for land.

And I'm not sure it truly qualifies as "an all-volunteer, citizens' effort" if PAN and Center for Food Safety are involved. That doesn't bother me personally, as both groups do a lot of good and the local movement needed direction.  However, this is provincial little Kauai, which tends to circle the wagons when it thinks outsiders are trying to come in and run things.

Of course, the chemical companies are also outsiders, but they're the outsiders that the state has courted and supported, which makes them insider-outsiders, especially since they're spending money.  

I believe there is a lot of community interest in the pesticide issue, though this bill addresses only restricted use pesticides applied by companies that purchase more than five pounds or 15 gallons annually. Or in other words, Kauai Coffee and the seed companies. 

State records show these companies use a lot of gnarly stuff, in sizable quantities, including atrazine, Dursban, Lorsban and other proprietary chemicals. According to court documents filed in the pesticide dust lawsuit against Pioneer, that company applied pesticides to its West Kauai fields on 67 percent of the days in a year.

And when they're controlling some 12,000 acres from Lihue to Mana, the impact is going to be significant. People have both the desire and the right to know what these companies are spraying, as well as when and where. Experimental pesticides are another serious concern, as these haven't gone through the full federal regulatory process.

I worry, however, that the pesticide issue — which is very quantifiable, with lots of scientific data showing impacts — will be overshadowed by the GMO issue, which isn't quite so cut and dried, at least in terms of scientific studies.  I would have preferred to see separate bills, though it can be a political strategy to drop the sticky part of proposed ordinance to get approval on the rest.

I also think it's questionable to have Kauai County conduct an EIS to ascertain the impacts of growing genetically modified crops on the island. Typically that burden and those costs are borne by those who are proposing a use. The language in the bill relating to an EIS is also really broad, including testing human volunteers for pesticide residues. I'm not an attorney — as some commenters like to remind me — but I think it would be tough to prove that a person's pesticide burden can be directly linked to the cultivation of GE crops. 

But my biggest concern about the bill is how it gives permitting oversight and other responsibilities to the Department of Public Works — the same guys who were approving vacation rentals with enclosed downstairs in the flood zone, the same guys who now spray Roundup on county parks and roadsides.

Let's face it. The county totally sucks at enforcement.  I've already heard that the anticipated enforcement for this bill will be self-regulation by the industry. 

First, though, it has to pass, and while I'm a perennial optimistic, I'm also a pragmatist. The seed companies have deep pockets and years of experience running propaganda campaigns. More important, they hold the all-powerful westside employment card.  And when it comes to choosing between money and the environment and human health, well, we know which one has always won in Hawaii.

To use an agricultural idiom, getting this bill through the County Council is gonna be a tough row to hoe.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Solstice Sun

Leap! With faith and one great cackling whoop, enter the waxing dark. — Marian Spadone, We'Moon

Musings: Castillo's Spending Spree

Honolulu law firms are benefitting heavily from Kauai County Attorney Al Castillo, who has requested more than $421,864 to hire special counsel just since January.

Al's office has spent $631,509.13 on special counsel to date for fiscal year 2013, according to documents from the finance office. This has him handily beating his previous record of  $525,478.94, set in FY 2010.

Special counsel is brought in when the county attorney lacks the skills to handle a case or has a conflict of interest. Sometimes it's due to laziness, or because his staff has other priorities, such as cursing citizen whistle-blowers and making up power points to justify their crappy legal advice on the vacation rental issue. Other times, it's because the county attorney and/or his boss — Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. — make really bad decisions that result in extensive and/or protracted litigation.

In Al Castillo's case, it's all of the above.

So where is all that money going?

To find out, I submitted a public records request to the County Attorney's office for all the special counsel funding sought from the Council since January 2013. I know the records exist in electronic form. But rather than email me PDF files, Al insisted I pay $7 to have his staff make photocopies of 18 pieces of paper, which I would then have to review at his office in Lihue.

I'm not sure whether Al was trying to pull a petty power play or throw up a roadblock or both. But I got the information for free elsewhere, and it speaks volumes about the sad state of this county.

The biggest chunk — a whopping $211,000 this year alone — is due to Al's handling of Councilman Tim Bynum's case against the county, which could have been resolved long ago. But Al is weak, and afraid to face the political fallout of a settlement. So instead he has sought $111,000 to defend former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, $50,000 to represent planning supervisor Sheilah Miyake and $50,000 to lawyer up the county.

When you add the $211,000 for the first six months of this year to the $75,000 requested last fall — $25,000 for each defendant — the tab for special counsel in that case is now up to $286,000. Must be getting close to the county's insurance deductible.

Let's see, what else? There was $15,000 to keep fighting the sex discrimination case filed by Kathleen M. Ah Quin against the county bus back when the agency was run by the mayor's gal Janine Rapozo, who was transferred — go figger — to the human resources office.

Then there was $20,000 for the police commission to challenge the mayor's decision to suspend Police Chief Darryl Perry and Assistant Chiefs Roy Asher and Ale Quibilan — in addition to the $45,000 requested last year.

And let's not forget $25,000 to represent Officer Chris Calio, the cop who shot an unarmed man on his roof when the police department was essentially leaderless, with the top brass on mayor-ordered suspension.

Another $44,944 was sought to represent the County Council in the hostile workplace claim filed by Ron Rawls against County Auditor Ernie Pasion “and related matters.” With the $15,000 from last year, that brings us to nearly $60,000 in legal fees for that office.

Al also requested $61,000 so far this year to represent the county in Jeffery Sampoang vs. Harvey Brothers, LLC: et al.; $36,000 in Ricky L. Ball vs. Kaua'i Lagoons Resort Company, Ltd. (in addition to $25,000 last fall), and $8,920 in Wayne R. Daniel v. Kodani and Associates, Inc., et al., on top of $54,680 for that case from last fall. 

Unfortunately, most if not all of these cases remain unresolved, so the meter is still running and the settlements have yet to be paid.

While digging around, I was amused to find this reference in a Dec. 1, 2010 story on the Council's 6-1 vote — with Councilman Mel Rapozo opposed — to reconfirm the mayor's appointment of Al as county attorney:

County Attorney Al Castillo will also keep his job. Castillo got the job in March 2009, and since then the County Attorney’s Office has relied less on outside counsel, a practice that can easily drain hundreds of thousands of dollars from county coffers in a single litigation, he said.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Musings: Ode to a Swarm

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon. – Old proverb

It was by sheer chance — or maybe fate or intuition-followed — that I was out in the yard and got the idea to check the bees, which is why I was standing there when tens of thousands of them streamed out of the hive like a funnel cloud and exploded above me into a swirling, whirling, buzzing swarm.

They were moving so fast that I could see little tracers behind them — tiny chem trails, if you will — which made them seem as large as dragonflies. Darting here and there, in a seeming frenzy, yet never colliding, they hovered in a whirring cloud about eight feet above the dirt driveway that runs alongside my fence.

Transfixed, I watched, wondering how long they would stay there, curious about what they would do next, hoping no one would soon need to use the driveway. I felt sure they would head for the inviting thickets of albezia trees in mad flower.

But to my surprise, they began moving back into my yard, just inside the property line. I lost visual, but not not audio contact, and followed the buzz to a mango tree. Neck craned, I searched, spotted them covering a high branch like rough creeping bark. Cool.

A mango fell past my face. I reached out and caught it. First of the season. Perfect. Wow. Mahalo.

Eager to understand, I retreated to Google. I quickly learned what I might have done wrong: waited too long to add a honey super, let the brood box get too full, failed to destroy the swarm cell — a peanut-shaped piece of comb that produces the queen that sparks the split. Either the old queen goes with the swarm, or they fly off with a virgin queen. I wonder which scenario just took place in my hive, how they decided who stayed and who went.

I also learned that it's a perfectly natural event, a way to ensure vibrant genetic diversity, the sign of a healthy hive, and some hives will swarm no matter what you do. Some people think of a bee colony as a single organism — it certainly functions like one — so if you look at it like that, a swarm is like having a baby.

And now the vulnerable baby was looking for a home. Though swarms can seem spooky, they're typically not dangerous because the bees have no brood or honey to defend. They depart with nothing more than a good meal in their bellies and each other, which, given their industry and ingenuity, is all anyone would ever need.

I also learned that once they swarm they tend to cluster, typically near their hive, and from there deploy scouts who will check out new homes, sometimes a mile and a half away. As they find suitable domains, they return to show other scouts, waggling fast to convey enthusiasm. The scouts must reach consensus on the prospective hive, a process that can take hours, or days.

Hmmm. If only I had a swarm trap, I thought.

Wait, I do, or at least something that will work just as well: a nuc-box, a mini-hive that looks kind of like a bird house. I put a couple of frames with drawn honey comb inside to give it that reassuring homey smell, and placed the box atop a ladder directly beneath the swarm. For good measure, I rubbed a bit of honey onto the landing board, adding that alluring scent.

Though the box was immediately noticed, their decision was not hasty. The scouts were dutifully doing their rounds. I caught them checking out a shed in the backyard and shooed them away, wondering what else looked appealing. Hopefully nothing at a neighbor's house.

I spotted my nearest neighbors in their yard, told them to keep a look out for a swarm. They were not afraid; in fact, they'd seen it when it was in the driveway, the husband alerted by the distinctive sound. So beautiful, said the wife. The husband said he'd seen a black cloud of bees race across the sky from the west a few days before.

Tis the swarming season.

I told them I was hoping the bees would be attracted to the box. Let's think positive, the wife said.

Through the afternoon I made regular trips to the box, watching as more bees arrived to inspect it. Some cruised the interior, a few did a vigorous waggle dance. Still others came and did the bobbing bit in front, which is how they orient themselves to the hive, set their GPS coordinates, so to speak. It all seemed positive, yet the swarm stayed put.

Toward dusk, I spotted another neighbor, showed him the treed swarm. I've got a 24-foot extension ladder if you want to try and get them before dark, he offered. I dismissed the idea as dangerous and doomed to fail. I preferred to wait, see what they wanted to do.

At dark, the swarm had not moved, though a few scouts seemed to be sleeping over inside the box. I slept, too, in my own much larger box. Before dawn, it rained hard, though not for long. I worried briefly about the bees, reminded myself that they're wild animals, know now to handle the elements.

At first light I checked and the activity level was already brisk. I was pretty sure they'd made the decision to move in.

I had to be gone for most of the morning, but as soon as I returned, I made a beeline for the box. I heard the buzz well before I saw them massing on the landing board, hanging from the entrance in a behavior known as bearding.
Over the course of a couple hours they slowly fitted themselves into the box, in their thoughtful, orderly, efficient way. Immediately they were busily darting in and out, collecting nectar and protein-rich pollen, building the stores that will support their new life.

The next day, the foraging activity had quickened, a good sign. I carefully opened the box, and it was pretty solidly packed with bees. They'd already begun drawing comb on the frames. I slid in two more frames, and another one that had been in the freezer, still smeared with honey from last year's extraction. Just the ticket for a hungry hive that's all about new life.

I saw my neighbor in her chicken coop, called out the good news: The bees went in the box, and I'm pretty sure they're here to stay.

She beamed. “Oh, now see what happens when we just think positive.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Musings: Still Waiting

Though Planning Director Mike Dahilig feigned surprise to find his department's files in disarray and the vacation rental process a shambles, it's all an act. As the July 14 and July 28, 2009, planning commission minutes reveal, problems documented by the Abuse Chronicles were raised way back then. And Mike was sitting right there, advising the commission as deputy county attorney.

At both meetings, residents of Hanalei, Wainiha and Haena pointed out that many of the 33 TVRs up for approval on those dates had enclosed the ground floor in the flood zone, gotten homeowner tax-exemptions for the years they claimed to vacation rental, and were operating illegal multi-family dwellings. Yet the citizens were totally stonewalled, and all the permits were approved.

If you live in a flood zone and your downstairs has been enclosed and advertised as a vacation rental are you going to be considered for a permit?” asked Mary Lucas. “Can someone answer those questions for me?”

Dick Parks said that he had met with former planning director Ian Costa and his deputy, Imai Aiu, “twice, privately, behind the walls” and had come away with the impression “that you fellows felt that you didn't like this kind of thing [zoning violations] going on. And it is going on. So I find it strange that now we are in a meeting where you are going to blanket rubber stamp all these through. Some I think deserve to go through, others I know darn well do not and I find it strange that your recommendation is that they be accepted. I would like to know why, if you can answer that, why the change of tune all of a sudden about accepting these?”

Replied Chair Jimmy Nishida: “We wouldn't be answering questions today. We are only accepting public testimony.”

Councilman Mel Rapozo objected to Mike, Ian and Imai asking the Commission to issue permits with the caveat that approval doesn't mean the applicant is in compliance with zoning and land use laws.

They are basically asking you folks to condone the illegal activity or the unlawful activity,” said Mel, who went on to discuss the Council's rationale in passing the 2008 TVR law. “The intent was simply to make sure that these people were in compliance before we issue the registration certificate, that is the intent of the legislation. So this is basically a non-enforcement agreement, again, we have seen this coming out of the Planning Department. I think if you are not in compliance you deal with the non-compliance, you don't allow them to continue while you sort it out.”

Yet here we are, four years later, and not only are they still operating, but the planning department and commission still have not sorted it out.

As for those problematic files, people on both sides of the issue pointed out four years ago that key information was missing.

When I inspected the few files that were available there were no inspection reports in those files, there was nothing in that file to indicate approval,” said Caren Diamond. “The files were really bare.”

Avery Youn, a former county planning director who now works with landowners, expressed concerns on behalf of TVR owners charged with violations. “Well what we have been doing is we have been going into old files and trying to find the original permits that were issued just to prove that the as-built plans submitted at time of the vacation rentals were legal. However, we are finding a lot of the files are missing so it is difficult to prove these.”

Planning Commissioners, however, chose to follow the department's recommendation and approve all the permits, while putting the onus on the public to rat out the perps.  As Vice Chair (and former County Attorney) Hartwell Blake intoned (emphasis added):

"To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, [the quote is actually Thomas Jefferson's] he said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance so the price of tranquility and the peace and quiet enjoyment of your home is eternal vigilance also. We can't realistically expect the government to take care of everything.... So it takes all of us to, especially the people in the neighborhoods and the people being immediately, personally adversely impacted to keep track of what is going on and to help us to help each other. And so if something is happening then report it and report it in detail and take it upon yourself to police your own neighborhood to ensure the tranquility and peaceful enjoyment of your own home. I think that is absolutely necessary and it is not a shifting of responsibility from the County to the homeowner because once we are informed of what is happening and given enough information to act upon so that it is not all personal manao because you happen not to like your neighbor, then certainly the responsibility falls upon the County to take enforcement action."

Well, Hartwell, we've been vigilant like you and Thomas Jefferson said, and we've given the county extensive information for years now, culminating in the 19-part-and-counting Abuse Chronicles. And we're still waiting for the County to exercise its responsibility to take enforcement action. So I'm sorry Councilmembers Nadine Nakamura, JoAnn Yukimura, Ross Kagawa and Jay Furfaro, but giving planning another 90 days to come up with one enforcement action just isn't gonna cut it.

As Leilani Josselin astutely noted:

“And we've had these Aunties coming for up for how many years already trying to let you guys know where you guys are wrong, where we might be wrong, where those people might be wrong and still we just want to give them more time, more time, more time and enough is enough. And that is it.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

Musings: On a Monday

When the rain stopped, and the dogs and I went walking, wispy cloud tendrils clung to the sky like a vast pink spider web, reminding me that this is the last week of the super early dawns. Come Friday's solstice, we start losing light in the morning. Aw shucks.

It's officially pollinators' week in Hawaii, the time to honor all the creatures that provide this critical function. Though most of the attention is on honey bees, because people like honey, the work is also performed by butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, bats and carpenter, sweat, leafcutter, mason and native bees. If you're interested in native and introduced plants that appeal to pollinators in Hawaii, check out this handy guide.

I've got my eye on a swarm that landed high up in the mango tree in my yard. I'm trying to lure it into a box, using some drawn comb as attractant. Scout bees are busy checking it out, so I hope they come to the consensus that it's the best choice for their new home.

Moving on to the birds, a recent study of the Hawaiian petrel, an endangered seabird, “documented a dramatic and unprecedented shift in foraging habits that is likely linked to industrial fishing in the Pacific." The study shows the birds are moving down the food chain to smaller fish because the larger prey they'd consumed in prior centuries is no longer available. Because seabirds “forage over such wide expanses of the Pacific, changes in their foraging habits have the potential to reflect widespread changes in food chain dynamics.”

As in going, going, gone.....

Speaking of the Pacific, in yet another story missed by The Garden Island, NASA plans to use PMRF for supersonic parachute testing:

Next summer, NASA plans to send a saucer-shaped Mars entry vehicle aloft by balloon from Kauai, boost it from 120,000 feet to as high as 180,000 feet by rocket, then, as it hurtles through the thin air at 2,600 mph, deploy a speed-reducing inflatable doughnut around the craft, followed by a big parachute, until it plops into the water for pickup. It will be refitted and re-fired three more times through the summer of 2015.

Apparently they can't do it anywhere on the mainland because of people, but here they plan to shoot it out over the water, because nothing and no one is using the ocean off PMRF, right?

As a friend observed, in explaining TGI's coverage: 

illegally turning the tsunami district into a resort with no zoning change and not following the requirements of the law, no story, put a lei on and sing, now that's a story

Meanwhile, as we seek to understand if there's life on Mars, we're busily trying to end it on Earth:

A new study from the International Energy Agency says emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels rose to record levels last year. Global emissions increased by 1.4 percent, putting the world on pace for a temperature hike of up to 5.3 degrees Celsius, or 9 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than double the 2-degree-Celsius target set by world leaders. The agency’s chief economist called that scenario a "disaster for all countries."

As the world's ecosystems are being degraded, so too are Americans' civil liberties.  For example, the Supreme Court ruled today that you can't just remain silent under police questioning, you have to actually declare you're invoking your Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination:

It all seems sort of almost ridiculously terrifying, this new idea that in order to claim your Fifth Amendment, you need to know how to call the on-the-fly legal equivalent of "safesies." Your right to remain silent just got more complicated, and it will require potential criminals to be more informed about their protections and the linguistic details on how to invoke them. "But does it really mean that the suspect must use the exact words 'Fifth Amendment'? How can an individual who is not a lawyer know that these particular words are legally magic?" [Justice Stephen] Breyer wrote

Precisely, my dear Watson. Gotta count on the missteps of the accused to keep those private prisons filled.

I was also interested to follow the Justices' discussion on the Arizona voting law, in which Justice Antonin Scalia commented that swearing under oath that one is a citizen “is not proof at all. It’s just a statement.” To which an attorney representing those trying to change the restrictive voting law countered:

Statements under oath in a criminal case are proof beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases that result in execution.

So where, exactly, does a notarized affidavit fit into all this? I'm wondering, because I can't help but think of all those people who signed such statements in order to get vacation rental permits, even though the "facts" they were swearing to where untrue. Perjury? Fraud? Or just, yawn, whatevahs......

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Musings: Reality Shows

I don't have a TV and I've always eschewed reality shows, but I totally get their addictive quality as I sit glued to the computer, watching the County Council go at it on that little 2.5x3-inch silverlight webcast screen, 5:30:24 into the meeting. The dogs paw at my legs, whine to go out, but I shush them, tell them to wait.

Will the Council actually approve an investigation, chaired by Mel Rapozo, into the vacation rental sham-scam flimflam?

The drama builds. A 10-minute recess is called.  Happy dogs. Quick romp outside. Back to the tiny screen. Tempers spark.

Mel, frustrated, lays it on the line. “You're afraid that I'm gonna go nuts, and we've set it up so I can't go nuts. If it's a trust issue, state it.”

Councilman Gary Hooser offers more reassurance. “The full Council will have full control, total oversight over the conduct here.”

Still, the Council waffles. Amendments are introduced, motions are made.

Chair Jay Furfaro detonates a little mine planted by the Administration's disinformation campaign: We'd better not do an investigation because that would “freeze” all the planning department's records. To which Mel replies (though not in these words), WTH? That's crap. Who told you that?

Who else but County Attorney Al Castillo? And as he mealy-mouths around, muddling, muddying, deflecting, derailing, the thought occurs to me: Shay was right about this guy all along. Truly, he should be reported to whoever it is that slaps lawyer's hands when they're totally conflicted.

Councilman Ross Kagawa shares the anguish of sleepless nights, agonizing over how to vote on this, his biggest decision so far. Oh, gawd, should I please my pal Mel, or HGEA, which gave me that big endorsement? EZ. HGEA all da way.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura throws up one roadblock after another. I flash on how she thanked me profusely for doing all these investigations, but now is refusing to do one of her own. Oh, wait, I get it. She won't be in charge. Mel will. No way is she going for that. Or maybe she doesn't want to admit how badly she blew it when drafting the 2008 TVR bill.

Whatever her motivations, she's pushing the mayor's party line. “We already got them to move,” she says of planning. “Yeah,” replies Mel scornfully, “they made a power point.”

And don't forget the promises, promises, vague, vague promises.

Councilman Tim Bynum is like, hey you guys, this is a public safety issue — words also uttered by Mel, in a rare meeting of those two minds. We've got people sleeping in the flood zone and one guy already died, remember? “We need fresh, independent, thoughtful, talented eyes to look at this situation.”

Which fully explains why planning has re-hired ye good olde boy Mike Laureta, this time as Supervisory Vacation Rental and Special Management Area Planner.

Mel says he's over it, he's tired of it. If the vote fails, come Friday, he'll be making a formal request to have the FBI come in.

Gary gives it another go, reminding his colleagues about all the dirt uncovered in the Abuse Chronicles – findings the Administration has never refuted, though repeatedly asked to say it ain't so. Notes Tim: “All we get are blank stares.”

It's about equity, Gary says, it's about trust. “We've given a huge economic benefit to people who might have committed fraud.” Don't you want to know how this happened, he asks his colleagues, or why? Don't you want to curb creeping cynicism, “restore people's faith in the county?”

Nope, say Ross, JoAnn, Nadine, and Jay, who casts the deciding vote to defer the matter until Oct. 9, to give the Administration time, always more time. It seems they actually believe the Administration's promise, as trustingly echoed by Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura: “By Sept. 25, we'll have a total picture of where we're at.”

Just to be sure, Jay's gonna send a letter over to the Planning Commission, an official one, from the Council chair, to “let them know the failures here.”

Ohhhh, scarrrry.

Of course, when the Planning Commission gets it they'll be like, uh, duh, Mike tell us how we should feel about this.

And Mike Dahilig will whisper, like Ian Jung to the Council, Shhhh, we got it covered. Go back to sleep.

To be continued. And continued and continued....