Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pau Hana

Mahalo for all your kind words of support, appreciation, praise and encouragement. And most especially, mahalo for reading.

A hui hou.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Musings: Shifting the Status Quo

The sky this morning was black, though from clouds and not from darkness, with just one small puka in the east — an eye of light that closed when the rain roared through and then re-opened to sparkle the drops hanging from the ironwoods, shimmer the sea splashing onto the shore.

Watching Koko and Paele playing on the sand, it struck me that Paele has lost the anxious fear furrows in his forehead. They were so pronounced when I first got him that I thought he must be part Sharpei.

And I reflected on Paele's first vet check two years ago, when he nearly bit Dr. Basko. I wondered aloud if the dog I'd taken in was too traumatized and aggressive to rehabilitate. Dr. Basko replied, “He just needs lots of love and happy experiences.”

Don't we all?

Today is the sixth anniversary of Kauai Eclectic, an event marked statistically by 1,520 posts and 861,475 page views, and intrinsically by my own reflections. As a journalist/blogger, I've covered a lot of issues and dug up a lot of dirt, while personally, I've been growing and healing all that time.

I've changed, and it feels like it's time for the blog to change.

I'm not quite sure if it's possible to bring love and happiness into the toxic milieu of politics, environmental collapse and man's inhumanity to everything, but I do know it's time to shake things up. So I'm going to take a little blog break and figure it out.

Exciting things can happen when the status quo no longer exists.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Musings: Dirty Little Secrets

It's so wonderful to hear the plip-plop of rain again, the roar of a squall arriving like a freight train through the trees, the drip, drip of droplets falling from eaves and leaves. Everything has come alive again, even the dirt.

Did you know that Bill 2491 has a dirty little secret? I kind of hate to bring it up, seeing as how so many people marched on Rice Street because they believed that if they did, it would be passed, and if it was passed, it would bring meaningful change.

The truth is, this bill is very unlikely to ever be enforced. Its sponsor, Councilman Gary Hooser, told me from the start that it would rely on voluntary compliance by the chemical/seed companies. But wait, isn't that what we have now with the state? Isn't voluntary compliance exactly what people believe is inadequate?

Later, when I expressed my dismay to Gary about the polarizing effects of a bill that I saw as essentially meaningless, as in sounds tough but lacks teeth, he tried to ease my concerns.

It doesn't even matter if it's enforced, he told me. All that matters is getting it passed.

I suppose that's true if you're using Bill 2491 to build a political movement or make a statement to the world — hey, we told the chemical companies to piss off.

But if you look at the vacation rental debacle, it's quite clear that if the Administration does not want to implement and enforce a bill, it's not going to happen, unless citizens bring a lawsuit. And do you think for one minute that Mayor Bernard Carvalho and the public works department supports 2491?

I appreciate that Gary has brought this issue into the spotlight, and I respect him for wanting to do something important. That's commendable in anyone, especially a politician.  I also understand why co-sponsor Councilman Tim Bynum — despite so much Abuse Chronicles evidence to the contrary — doesn't want to believe that fraud, incompetence and corruption run through so many county operations, which is how he's justifying minimal money for enforcement.

But I've had a bad feeling in my na'au ever since Bill 2491 was introduced because I know that most of its supporters have no clue about how our county functions, so they aren't in on this dirty little secret. And they really should be, so they can decide if they're OK with voluntary compliance and an Administration that will turn a blind eye, or if they want a meaningful law that will give them the informed sense of safety and security they're seeking.

Did you know the county auditor's office has a dirty little secret? Well, actually, it's got a quite a few, but the biggest is that it's an agency that was set up to fail. When voters approved the position, they no doubt believed it would function as a watchdog, ferreting out corruption. Instead, when it came time to hire an auditor, the Council had three applicants: county insider Ernie Pasion, former county attorney Lani Nakazawa and a CPA who showed up drunk for his interview. Rather than re-post the vacancy, or mo bettah, broaden the search, the Council chose Ernie, with Lani as his assistant.

Unfortunately, neither was a licensed CPA, so they couldn't actually conduct any real audits. But that didn't stop them from earning big salaries. As auditor, Ernie is paid $114,848 annually, while according to a public records request, Lani had been paid the following as of June 19: FY10: $74,061, FY11: $94,189.92, FY12: $102,142.21, FY13: $94,645.76. She was also paid overtime: FY10: $5,430.62; FY11: $6,676.93; FY12: $1,024.50; FY13: $1,749.46

If you look at the auditor's website, you'll see nothing has been since spring of 2012, though a public records request shows that contractors were paid through July 2012.

Nor is anything likely to happen because Ron Rawls, the staff CPA, was fired and is suing the county, and his position hasn't been filled.

So why have an auditor, or an auditor's office, or if it's going to be compromised by the same cronyism and incompetence that afflicts so many other county departments? 

That's a question voters might have asked — if they'd known about the dirty little secret from the start.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Musings: Hide and Obscure

Often, when I am walking in the wee hours with the dogs, the sky is clear overhead — Makalii, Triangle, Betelgeuse, Jupiter and the rest shining bold against black. But creeping in from the east, from Lihue side, is the heavy, damp grayness of the cloud bank, ready to obscure, blot out and hide.

So it is with our county government, especially on the transient vacation rental issue. As a story in The Garden Island reports, even our gullible planning commission isn't buying the county attorney's argument that all those hundreds of improperly issued TVR certificates must be allowed to stand:

[Planning Director Mike] Dahilig said the former planning director (Ian Costa stepped out in November 2010) granted permits based on whether there was enough evidence at that time for a nonconforming use. That determination is still valid today, he said.

That doesn’t make sense to me,” Commissioner Hartwell Blake said.

It doesn't make sense to any thinking person who values fairness, honesty, integrity and the rule of law. But so long as the county attorney's office keeps hiding the opinion, and the commission and County Council don't challenge it, the nonsense will continue.

Who actually requested that opinion, and who wrote it? That information, like the opinion itself, remains secret. County Attorney Al Castillo actually claimed to a friend that he didn't even know there was such an opinion. Really, Al?

Perhaps the opinion was issued unbidden to ensure the county never deals with the root of this mess — a mess that was intentionally made when the planning department chose to ignore the law and rubber stamp anything that came across the counter.

It wouldn't be the first time the County Attorney's office took the lead in the TVR issue. Remember “beer gate,” when Mike, then a deputy county attorney, lobbied former Councilman Dickie Chang to gut the TVR bill, remove all those pesky requirements like inspections, and proof that taxes were paid?

Did Mike know then that planning had been ignoring the law? Surely he must have had some inkling that things were amiss, seeing as how he was the attorney advising the planning department and commission.

Though Mike whines in the article that “County inspectors hired to implement TVR laws were not adequately trained or supervised,” he doesn't explain why he's kept those same unskilled inspectors in jobs for which they are not qualified. Nor does he reveal why he brought in Mike Laureta, a former planner who appears to be ethically challenged, to supervise them.

If you really wanted to fix a botched mess, wouldn't you bring in some new, skilled people to deal with it? And by the same token, if you wanted to maintain the status quo, wouldn't you hire the same people who helped make and hide all that dirty laundry?

So is that why Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. usurped the commission's power and appointed Dahilig as planning director? To make sure someone in the know swept it all back under the rug?

Well, the Abuse Chronicles dug it out again, and the Administration is desperately trying to sweep it back under the carpet. And you know what, they're gonna do it — unless the Council or a public spirited attorney intervenes.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the 60-day period in which citizens can appeal TVR renewals approved by the department. Yet it would be virtually impossible for anyone to file such an appeal because planning wants to charge anywhere from $180 to $1,500 to disclose who was approved. It's so obvious from Mike's failure to even create an Excel spread sheet, much less update the on-line TVR log, that this Administration has no interest in TVR transparency.

Like I said, it's all about obscure, blot out, hide.

Ironically, though the planning commission approved numerous flawed TVR applications, with no questions asked, and then promptly fell asleep at the wheel while the TVR law crashed, it's apparently wide awake now, determined no request for a non-conforming use certificate will get past it unchallenged.

That's why commissioners absolutely reamed a lady who sought a permit to made fudge in her kitchen. No on-site sales, no noise, no traffic — not even a stove. Just raw fudge, a few days a week, with the approval of all her neighbors.

Why, we can't be allowing commercial uses to undermine a residential neighborhood, they harrumphed.

No, indeed. But it's apparently OK to turn numerous residential neighborhoods into defacto resorts as the mayor, planning department and county attorney wink and nod their approval.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Musings: One Thing Leads to Another

One question not raised in the discussion on dog license fees is how many more dogs the Kauai Humane Society will end up killing because their owners can't or won't pay the impound fees and penalties.

Under the bill approved yesterday by the County Council, KHS now has the authority to take your unlicensed dog from your yard, even if you are standing right there, impound it and kill it after 48 hours if you don't come up with the $35 to $80 for a license and associated penalties. If the dog is in jail longer than two days, a $12-per-day boarding fee will be tacked on.

Though many people, including Councilman Ross Kagawa, get a lot of love and comfort from their dogs, others are more ambivalent. While they wouldn't necessarily turn their pets in to the shelter, they will use cost as an excuse for not bailing them out. 

It's unclear how KHS will use its new powers, which have the potential to greatly alienate the public. KHS Director Penny Cistaro  told The Garden Island that they're expecting to raise $100,000 to $120,000 in the next nine months from licensing, board and impound fees:

We will be more proactive,” she said. “We will be sending out renewal notices when licenses expire and we will be more active with how we are getting people to license their animals.”

Let's hope they start with a convenient licensing process, an education campaign and a light touch. Because as a dog-loving friend said recently, what value do I get from a dog license? If it's to support KHS, haven't I done my part already by adopting a stray?

Since we're talking about nonprofits, MidWeek columnist Bob Jones reports that the state Attorney General's office has ordered Kauai Independent Food Bank to repay the state $50,000 for improper use of SNAP (food stamp) funds. This is in addition to the $779,000 that KIFB had to repay the federal government. Though former executive director Judy Lenthall resigned in the wake of the scandal, the same Board of Directors still reigns.

Fortunately, the Hawaii Food Bank opened a Kauai Branch, which now provides virtually all of the food that is distributed to the hungry on this island. Just something to keep in mind during September, which is Hunger Awareness Month. Food donations can be taken to the HFB-Kauai warehouse, which is located in the Puhi Industrial Park, just down the road from Mark's Place. (482-2224) A major need is rice.

Speaking of food, a new study finds the practice of feeding bees high fructose corn syrup could be contributing to colony collapse. Commercial beekeepers typically take all the high-value honey produced by their bees, which are trucked around to pollinate crops, and feed them low-cost corn syrup instead.

Honey is packed with all sorts of good stuff, so corn syrup is obviously not a nutritional equivalent — even though research from the 1970s indicated the practice was safe. Now, however, entomologists are finding the syrup-fed bees appear to have compromised immune systems that inhibit their ability to ward off the toxic effects of pesticides and pathogens:

Specifically, they found that when bees are exposed to the enzyme p-coumaric, their immune system appears stronger—it turns on detoxification genes. P-coumaric is found in pollen walls, not nectar, and makes its way into honey inadvertently via sticking to the legs of bees as they visit flowers.

As a major component of pollen grains, p-coumaric acid is ubiquitous in the natural diet of honey bees and may function as a nutraceutical regulating immune and detoxification processes. The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses.

The study is careful to say corn syrup itself isn't toxic to bees. But most of it is made from Roundup resistant corn and contains glyphosate residue, which is now being implicated in disrupting critical gut bacteria and suppressing detoxification enzymes. So that certainly warrants some looking into.

While we're on the topic of Roundup, House Republications have slipped an extension of the Monsanto Protection Act into the spending bill designed to avert a government shutdown. As the Huffington Post reports:

Since its quiet passage, the Monsanto Protection Act has become a target of intense opposition. The law effectively prevents judges from placing injunctions on genetically modified seeds even if they are deemed unsafe.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley has vowed to oppose it:

"I will fight the House's efforts to extend this special interest loophole that nullifies court orders that are protecting farmers, the environment, and public health."

But Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, said the panel doesn't expect the Senate to balk at the inclusion of the Monsanto provision. "We have received no indication that this is a concern," she said.

Really? None at all?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Musings: Getting It Straight

Let me get this straight. Councilman Gary Hooser introduced Bill 2491 because the state is failing to properly monitor the chemical companies to ensure human and environmental health.

And the state isn't enforcing, according to Gary Gill, state deputy health director, because the Legislature isn't providing sufficient funding.

The Lege isn't allocating funding because so many of its members receive campaign contributions from the biotech industry, support chemical ag, have other priorities, don't think it's a problem, etc.

Bill 2491 would have Kauai County pick up the slack instead.

In response, Council Chair Jay Furfaro says it will cost about $4.4 million the first two years, and an additional $911,000 to monitor annually after that. County Engineer Larry Dill says it will require a staff of eight, and new training for those workers.

Gary Hooser and his co-sponsor, Councilman Tim Bynum say no, we want it done with minimal funding. Two workers should be sufficient.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura wonders if public works can handle it period, “because they have no expertise and the county is unable to even properly regulate things within their proper expertise, like vacation rentals.”

And that giant screw up happened even when the Council was willing to give planning as much money and staff as was needed to properly implement the law.

So if we give public works just a quarter of what it says is needed, aren't we setting the law up for failure from the start? Won't that pave the way for the Administration to return to Council one day in the near future, when people are pissed because nothing has been done, and say, hey, we couldn't implement/enforce because we didn't have the funding?

Meanwhile, the chemical companies keep digging their hole deeper, playing the clam-up, no compromises game. They're apparently putting all their faith in their lawyers to kill anything that gets passed.

But the Dow Agrosciences manager did make an interesting revelation in response to questioning from JoAnn. It seems Dow only farms downwind of its “legacy village” — it took me a few minutes to realize that's the new euphemism for plantation camp — and it maintains windbreaks to protect camp residents from drift and dust. “We don't farm where there are houses,” Dow's Keith Horton said, noting that fields around the camp are intentionally not cultivated or sprayed.

OK, so if Dow is actively working to keep its camp residents from being dusted and dosed, don't the folks living around the Syngenta and DuPont-Pioneer fields deserve the same consideration?

Kirby Kester of BASF also admitted the chem companies were talking about possibly using drift monitors or sensor strips to determine when, where and how drift is occurring, though Syngenta's Mark Phillipson didn't seem too keen on that idea.

That sounds like a pretty cheap and easy place to start if you truly do “want to determine if it [drift] is in fact occurring,” as Pioneer's Cindy Goldstein claimed.

Cindy also acknowledged that vegetative buffers “could work,” while saying the company had taken down at least one row of trees in response to complaints from residents about lost views. Kirby said dust screens were another possible option.

All four chemical companies flat out denied growing biopharmaceutical crops now or in the past 10 years.

Though it's hard to believe them, especially when trust is in such scarce supply these days.

On another note, Dr. Don Huber, the internationally recognized plant pathologist who apparently was flown in by GMO Free Kauai, spoke about the dangerous effect of glyphosate (Roudup) on both people and the soil. Part of the problem lies in the fact that it is “indiscriminately used,” he said.

We've noticed. That's why some of us wanted 2491 to address Roundup use, especially by the county, which sprays it in areas that are heavily used by the public and children, including parks, sports fields, roadsides and the coastal Path, and especially by the chemical companies, which are primarily growing crops resistant to the stuff.

But that fight has been postponed for another day.

Meanwhile, as Huber noted: “It's not what we do [know] as much as what we don't know, and that's why the precautionary principle becomes critical.” 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Musings: Systemic Poisoning

Golden shafts shooting from the sea announce the imminent arrival of the sun, a pumpkin-colored sphere that rises half obscured, gilding the clouds electric orange. Wind ruffles the heliotrope trees, birds dive for fish and this fish plunges in, rewarded with an infusion of joy.

The "mana marchers" yesterday were rewarded with a good turnout and the presence of Mayor Bernard Carvalho, appropriately dressed in purple, though I've got a hunch he's a blue shirt guy at heart. It's great that he showed up to see the growing number of folks dismayed about  pesticide use on lands stretching from Lihue to Mana.

The striking absence of the three Councilmembers needed to get Bill 2491 out of committee — Nadine Nakamura, Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa — does not bode well for the bill's success today.

Meanwhile, another sort of poisoning, a systemic poisoning continues.....

I walked into a room yesterday where a group of women were discussing the delays associated with obtaining a building permit. You have to get in good with the guys in the building department, says one. Like how? asks the one who is waiting for approvals. Give them stuff, says another. Money? asks the one. That would work, says another. They like food, volunteers another. Do I just buy something and go over there and put it on the counter? asks the one. Or do I give it to someone special? Our builder did it, because he knows all those guys, a woman explains. He just dropped off lunches one day and right after that we got our permit.

I opened a copy of The Week and read a blurb about a new survey by Yahoo that found the most common terms searched by the 18-to-35-year-old crowd are how to twerk, how to boil an egg, what is molly, what is hummus and what is a synonym.

A friend told me she was in the store when a young woman approached her, distraught, asking for suggestions on what she should take to counteract the radiation, by which she presumably meant that which is being released by Fukushima. I share your despair, my friend said, and suggested seaweed. “And then I got home and looked at my seaweed and it's all from Japan,” my friend lamented.

Checked the news and thought, how can the United States be ready to attack Syria for using chemical weapons when we supplied Iraq with chemical weapons to use on Iran, dumped Agent Orange on Cambodia and Vietnam, dosing our own troops in the process, and used bullets and bombs filled with  depleted uranium in Bosnia and Iraq, again dosing our own troops, and leaving the land contaminated with low-level radiation?

A woman sent me an email, told me she has a legally permitted vacation rental, pays all her taxes, jumps through the hoops, and it pisses her off that other people are operating TVRs totally illegally, and with impunity, even after I exposed it all in my blog. What is the next step? she asked.

I have absolutely no idea, but I replied to her email: I do understand your frustration and disappointment. It is also mine, except mine is compounded by being aware of the corruption and incompetence as it extends into every aspect of county government, not just the TVRs.

I sit on my porch and breathe deeply, watch the clouds drape the green peaks of Makaleha and eat eggs laid by my neighbor's chickens, a gift given in exchange for my gift of overripe papayas for her goat and horse, and dried papaya for her. 

It may not be an antidote, but I feel better.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Musings: Significantly Insignificant

The new moon night was choked with stars, the Milky Way offering a fuzzy path through our galaxy, reminding me of my interconnectedness, as well as my insignificance.

Though Kauai has been significant to the outside world primarily as a tourist destination and Navy base, it's gaining some national attention due to Bill 2491, the GMO-pesticide measure that goes before the Council again on Monday.

Over at, writer Adam Skolnick has a interesting piece, reporting that a Waimea resident has been petitioning Pioneer since 2000 to install windbreaks and mitigate dust. One has to wonder why Pioneer kept stalling, if it's the "good neighbor" it professes to be.

Skolnick also reported, (emphasis added):

In the days leading up to public testimony, the chemical companies flooded local media with ads, and flew in experts who spoke at town hall sessions and testified before the council. One of their experts, Dr. Steve Savage, a former DuPont employee and professor at Colorado State University, presented a graph that compares per-acre RUP use on Kauai to 17 states – including the entire corn belt.

At first glance, it appears that Kauai uses less than half the pesticides of the heaviest user, Kentucky. But read the fine print and you’ll discover that while other state measurements represent annual usage, tiny Kauai’s is calculated for a single growing season. And we know that there are at least two, and often three growing seasons in Hawaii, which means the amount of RUPs sprayed per acre on this small island dwarfs that of all 17 states during their biggest ever pesticide usage years. That is misinformation at its most egregious, but may explain why the companies are so dead set against disclosure.

Skolnick ended with this:

As for the suspected cancer cluster, whispers from local surgeons, radiologists and oncologists who have been concerned about a possible elevated cancer rate on Kauai for years finally reached the state Department of Health in June who asked the Hawaii Tumor Registry for a statistical analysis. The results can be found in a trim, one-page report that suggests there is no cancer spike on Kauai.

Anecdotal evidence can be relevant,” said [Dr. Brenda] Hernandez, “because that’s the front line of disease occurrence.” According to Hernandez, the only way to determine if there is a cancer cluster in Lower Waimea is to conduct a focused epidemiological study, which would cost upward of $250,000, and could be part of an EIS were 2491 to pass. “If I lived there,” she added, “it would concern me.”

If there's reason for concern, shouldn't such a study be conducted in lower Waimea whether 2491 passes or not? I mean, $250,000 is only half the amount that's been blown defending the county against Councilman Tim Bynum's civil rights lawsuit — and just a quarter of the sum the state kicked down to resurface the Mana racetrack. Surely the county and/or state can scrounge up some cash for a health study.

Meanwhile, Forbes published something more akin to a hit piece that describes how “an impressionable anti-GMO mob mentality has been carefully cultivated in Hawaii by slick and well-financed outsiders.” It states:

Although they claim their opposition to the innovative technology is home grown, a Genetic Literacy Project investigation, still in its infancy, suggests that the opposition is flush with cash, getting hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from mainland anti-GMO organic organizations that have an ideological stake in blocking new farming technologies.

It also alleges that Walter Ritte, a board member of Hawaii Seed, may have violated election financing and disclosure laws in his 2012 run for OHA.

Walter will be back on Kauai again this weekend to rally the troops at the “mana march.” While it's great that people are finally waking up about this issue, I don't understand the political strategy behind holding a march on Sunday, when Lihue is essentially a ghost town. It seems a troubling metaphor for the 2491 campaign, which has both sides trapped in their respective echo chambers.

More to the point, why isn't the march being held in Waimea, the epicenter of the real action? By which I mean the place where the dirty deeds are going down, as opposed to where the political theater is staged.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Musings: Tricked

It seems like we got tricked, actually,” said Councilman Ross Kagawa at yesterday's planning committee meeting. 

Ross was referencing the really crappy public access that the planning commission accepted in approving Falko Properties' uberluxe Kahuaina Plantation Subdivision on the North Shore, and his recognition that once again a developer has scammed the county, pretending its gentleman's estates are actually an agricultural subdivision.

“It's like, OK, this is ag, this is going to be good for our community, we're gonna grow food and what not, you know," Ross said. "It turns out it's a subdivision, a residential subdivision that's gonna sell for a lot of money where our locals can't afford to probably rent it. And now not to have the access, the recognition of the ala loa [historical coastal trail], I feel like we got tricked.”

We did. And how many times has it been now? Yet the planning commission and planning department just keep going merrily along, prompting Councilman Gary Hooser to ask Planning Director Mike Dahilig why his department accepted a coastal access that favored the developer, but was the worst option for the public. As in walk a long ways and end up on the rocks.

Mike replied that there was no legal requirement for planners to advocate for the public. Which apparently is why they, and other "public servants," so rarely do.

Non-farming ag subdivisions aren't the only tricks being played on the public. We also have the vacation rental sham. As Councilman Mel Rapozo noted yesterday, Councilmembers who supported the TVR bill “honestly believed it would reduce the number of vacation rentals outside the VDA.”

Instead, through failed implementation and non-existent enforcement, there's been wholesale licensing of properties that never qualified for the permit, and a proliferation of totally illegal vacation rentals.

What's more, it's become clear that nothing is going to be done about it.

We were all tricked into believing the TVR law would solve the problem. If anything, it's made it worse.

So that's one reason why I've had a hard time mustering enthusiasm for Bill 2491. It seems so many people believe it will be the answer to the pesticide pollution on the westside, a way to dislodge the seed companies.

But if you have a mayor and an administration that is not interested in enforcing a bill, then it goes the way of agricultural subdivisions and TVRs — laws on the books that mean nothing. 

Nothing except citizen frustration among those of us who believe laws are passed for a reason and government officials are bound to uphold them.

I spoke today with a westsider who didn't want to be named in my blog, but reminded me of the real people who are being impacted by the dust and pesticides being sprayed by the chemical/seed companies. The caller shared the despair they feel, their abject unhappiness.

Those westside residents are the reason why we need buffers between fields and public areas, why we need to know what the companies are spraying, how much and where.

So when I think about them, it's a no-brainer. Yes, we need to pass 2491.

Then I recall how often we have been tricked into thinking legislation, public demonstrations, evidence, even mountains of evidence, can make a difference. 

And I wonder, aren't we just tricking ourselves, with the belief that an inherently broken, corrupt system does work, ever even can work? 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Musings: Scraps

What could be more stunning than Waialeale, totally free of clouds, a navy blue hulk against a shell pink sky? Well, maybe purple cumulus clouds edged in orange neon rising from a sea that looked like smoky glass, and felt like warm silk when I dove in.

I really don't want to dive into covering murders, but I did a bit of checking around after reading the comments left on my recent post about the jail term handed down to ex-cop Joseph Genaro Bonachita. He broke into South Park creator Trey Parker's Kauai home while stalking Lauren Kagawa. She was found dead in her driveway on Aug. 17, 2009.

I learned the Office of Prosecuting Attorney's “cold case unit” is continuing to investigate her  death. Sources also confirm the 27-year-old woman showed no signs of being beaten or choked, as some commenters alleged.

KPD closed the case in March 2010, with Assistant Chief Roy Asher saying an autopsy and toxicology report attributed her death to a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. Still, her body was dumped in her driveway, just one month after she had secured a restraining order against ex-boyfriend Bonachita, saying he had choked and sexually assaulted her, and she feared for her life. Back in 2010, Asher said the cops didn't know who left her there, so apparently a few stones remain unturned.

Who knows. Maybe one day we'll find out what really happened. Meanwhile, the OPA's cold case investigators are still working on the island's other unsolved murders.

On a brighter note, Forbes has named Kapaa one of the prettiest towns in America. Yes, you heard me. Our scruffy little Kapaa, in the national limelight. I loved the description by National Geographic Traveler writer Andrew Evans, who apparently was wowed after Kamika Smith of Smith's Tropical Paradise took him on a tour:

It’s a very Hawaiian town with traditional ukulele makers and fish taco trucks parked under the palm trees,

Yup, nothing says Hawaiian quite like a fish taco truck. 

Speaking of things "Hawaiian," Civil Beach and Huffington Post launched their HuffPost Hawaii site today. If you check out the blog roll on the left, you'll find a post by me: Truth a Casualty in Kauai GMO-Pesticide Debate.

Because nothing quite says Kauai like a good feisty scrap.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Musings: I Wonder

Vacation rentals are back on tomorrow's County Council agenda, with Planning Director Mike Dahilig scheduled to give us yet another boondoggle update — this time, on the renewals, and any administrative or court proceedings involving TVRs.

I wonder, will Mike reveal to the Council that it's currently impossible for a citizen to find out who is operating a legal TVR on this island without submitting a public records request and paying $182.50? That kind of throws a wrench into the citizen complaints upon which TVR “enforcement” is hinged, and it makes it awfully hard for folks to challenge improperly approved renewals within the 60-day period.

But then, maybe that's the intent.

I wonder, will the Council get into the core issue behind the renewals? By which I mean the county attorney's determination that people can keep TVR certificates they were never entitled to have, simply because the county — through corruption, incompetence or both — approved them back in 2009. Has the Council seen that opinion? Does it accept it? Has it thought of hiring Special Counsel, someone who is more experienced in land use law than Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung, someone like Jim Bickerton, to review and possibly challenge it?

I wonder, will the public ever be allowed to know the rationale behind that opinion, or even who it was prepared for? Or will we all be left hanging, wondering why it is that some people were given the huge gift of a life-of-the-property TVR certificate, while other folks were totally screwed because they didn't even apply, never dreaming they, too, could have scammed the system?

I wonder, how long will the Council let itself be suckered into the stall and delay game, as Mike trots out shady numbers to prove he's making “progress” — infinitesimal though it may be — when we could have a functioning data base able to spit out accurate numbers if he'd used a couple of the 90-day hires the Council has repeatedly offered him?

Speaking of the stall game, I've been trying for a week to look again at the files of the 20 properties featured in the Abuse Chronicles. Now planning is telling me it will be at least another week before they can even tell me how much it will cost me for that peek. Seems they have just one employee who can figure it out, and s/he's on vacation.

I wonder when the Council might start considering some changes to the TVR ordinance. A good place to start would be Maui's law, which you can read here. Though Ian Jung has told the Council at least twice in public session that Kauai's TVR fiasco is not exceptional, even Maui has thrown up its hands, a chat with Maui planners revealed his assertion to be untrue.

Maui has a good TVR law, one that its planning department properly implemented and actively enforces. Whereas our county attorney claimed we had to wholesale legalize TVRs on ag land or risk a dreaded “takings” lawsuit, Maui requires TVRs in the ag district to obtain a State special use permit.

Maui also sets quotas for how many TVRs can be allowed in a community.  For example, Hana: 48; Kihei-Makena: 100 (provided that, there are no more than five permitted short-term rental homes in the subdivision commonly known as Maui Meadows); Makawao-Pukalani-Kula: 40; Paia-Haiku: 88; Wailuku-Kahului: 36, and West Maui: 88.

Compare that to Kauai, where there are a few hundred in Hanalei-Haena alone.

The Maui law also requires all advertising to contain a valid TVR certificate number, which sure makes enforcement and citizen review a lot simpler, while allowing visitors to ensure they are picking legal rentals.

And whereas we just gave away the fricking store by giving people life-of-the-property permits, Maui wisely imposed limits:

Initial short-term rental home permits shall be valid for a maximum period of one year with an extension of two years if there are no recorded complaints; shorter extension periods may be required by the director to mitigate adverse impacts based on the department's investigation of recorded complaints. Subsequent permit renewals may be granted by the director for terms of up to five years on Lanai and Maui and up to one year on Molokai.

Oh, and check this out, (emphasis added):

Verification of appropriate State and County tax filings shall be submitted by June 30 of each year for the prior calendar year. No permit shall be renewed without written verification of appropriate State and County tax filings. No permit shall be renewed if the operation of the short-term rental home has created adverse impacts or has caused the loss of the character to the neighborhood in which it is situated.

The most recent gutting of our law, the one orchestrated by the mayor and Councilman Tim Bynum, eliminated any such requirements for renewals. You just send in your money on time and that's it.

My point is, we got a really crappy TVR law based on advice from County Attorney Al Castillo and his deputies — the very same guys who are now advising the Council on how to respond to its failure, the same guys who were supposed to be advising planning on how to implement it all this time.

So mostly I wonder, will the Council let Mayor Benard Carvalho Jr. and his attorneys keep thumbing their noses at them and the law they passed? And if he can do it with TVRs, what will stop him from doing it with other bills the Council passes? 

Like I said, maybe it's time for the Council to hire itself a good attorney — one that hopefully will represent the public's interest, and not the mayor's — and see what its legal options are for cleaning up this mess at its source.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Musings: Monday Miscellany

The day began with a wedge of cheese moon in a butterscotch sky, and beneath it, a mouse, or maybe it was a rat. It's hard to be certain with cloud shapes. But there's no doubt the kolea are back, and the ruddy turnstones, evidence that summer is departing, despite the hot temps and warm seas.

The Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition (HFACT), an advocacy organization for some 3,000 small boat commercial fishermen who catch much of the fish sold locally, believes there's evidence to show the humpback whale is sufficiently recovered to warrant its removal from the endangered species list.

The group has filed a petition to identify the North Pacific population of humpback whales a distinct population segment that should be delisted. A similar strategy is being employed to delist the green sea turtle, though HFACT President Phil Fernandez said the whale petition is not connected to the honu petition and the group is independent of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Wespac).

In explaining the group's rationale, Fernandez wrote:

International rules banning the take of large whales have been in place for almost 50 years, we support these rules.  Additionally, the Marine Mammal Protection Act will continue to protect whales.  HFACT simply feels that the application of the ESA , which Congress identified as the "protection of last resort" is not longer necessary.

The petition is also an attempt to sideline current efforts to expand the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. A draft management plan is due out in early 2014. Fishers have consistently complained that the NOAA Sanctuary Division is not listening to them or considering their concerns, so they created HFACT and submitted the petition.

In publishing a 90-day finding, the National Marine Fisheries Service noted:

We find that the petition viewed in the context of information readily available in our files presents substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.

To determine whether it is warranted, the agency is “soliciting scientific and commercial information pertaining to this population from any interested party.” Comments are due by Oct. 28. You can view this document for more details on the petition and how to submit comments.

A petition of another sort seeks to prevent President Obama from issuing an executive order to accomplish what the Akaka Bill, OHA and the Kanaiolowalu (Hawaiian roll call) have all failed to do— give kanaka maoli federal recognition. The petition reads:

The Kana’iolowalu Roll Commission thwarts the legal context and spirit of self-determination. We are not tribal, nor of tribes. Attempting to transform our Hawaiian identity is an unconstitutional, race-based action; a clear breach and violation of our perfect right denying our due process under law.

We, the Kanaka Maoli, have been misrepresented through materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements implemented through the use of false writings/documents. We oppose federal recognition of our people and reject Kana’iolowalu.
We ask that you respect the U.S. Constitution and comply with international laws, Laws of Nations and the U.N. Declaration you signed in 2010 based on the right to self-determination and self-governance.

You can sign if you agree with that sentiment, even if you aren't kanaka maoli.

I see the county is looking to transform Kawaihau Road to make it more “pedestrian friendly.” Why? Of all the roads in Kapahi-Wailua, it's already the friendliest because it has that little path that runs almost its entire length, as well as crosswalks by the schools and the still-closed spur to the coastal Path. But since the money is tied to schools, attention will be focused on Kawaiahau Road, rather than where it's actually needed, like the pedestrian death traps of Kaapuni Road in Kapahi and Hoolako Street in Lihue.

Speaking of pedestrian routes, Councilmembers Nadine Nakamura and Mel Rapozo are seeking more info at Wednesday's meeting about a public easement that Falko Properties plans to dedicate as part of its super luxe Kahuaina Plantation, which will turn more prime ag land into upscale gentleman's estates between Moloaa and Kilauea. I do not understand why people who claim to care about the future of agriculture on Kauai, as evidenced by their interest in pesticide-GMO Bill 2491, don't seem bothered a bit by gentrification. 

At any rate, Mel wants to know how the easement will impact the location and establishment of the alaloa, a traditional coastal trail, while Nadine wants to know more about the subdivision's approval process and the easement, “including the parking area’s distance to the shoreline, the number of parking stalls and responsibility for the maintenance of the approximately one mile long public access.”

Mahalo Mel and Nadine for being concerned about public access.