Monday, December 16, 2013

Musings: Oahu is Watching

The moon, on its way to full tonight, had just set, taking its brightness behind the mountain and leaving Jupiter to shine golden in the blackness of a winter morning, when the dogs and I went out walking. The ground was still spongy from yesterday's storm, which arrived with rumbling, crackling, drenching fury. Thunder and lightning used to be a rarity, but we've already had two whopping storms and the month is only half-over. Climate change, anyone?

The Star-Advertiser published a passel of stories yesterday about the changes taking place on Kauai, and how we've come “bouncing back” from Hurricane Iniki and the global recession. The paper has done similar packages profiling the changes on Maui and Hawaii Island.

It was an interesting collection of stories that addressed the conflict over Bill 2491, the seed industry, Coco Palms and the vacation rental debacle. Reporter Timothy Hurley did a much better job of covering these issues than our local newspaper, which seems to have a morbid fear of depth and controversy.

Though many of us tend to think of Kauai as the center of the universe, seeing the stats helped put things in perspective. Yes, we're up to 68,434 residents, but that's just 5 percent of the state's population, which may explain why we don't have much political clout. We also have only 14 percent of the state's agricultural land.

With a median house price of $561,600, it's no surprise that just 13,968 of the homes here are owner-occupied, while 9,271 are in rentals. Another 6,553 are listed as “vacant” — are those the TVRs?

Interestingly, most of the immediate future growth is planned for Lihue, where Grove Farm is planning a 1,500-unit affordable project, and Poipu, where another 1,500 units are planned for Kukuiula. Except lots there range from $1 million to $4 million, and come with perks:

Members-only amenities include an 18-hole Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course and a clubhouse complex with a restaurant, pools and a spa, plus a 6-acre farm and a lake stocked with peacock bass.
Amazing what you can do when you're A&B and control a lot of water.

Or in other words, the division between the super rich and the middle-class/poor will continue unabated.

The richest people live in Koloa and Hanalei — no surprises there — and their wealth skews the island's median household income. The truer story lies in the per capita income, which is just $26,591. Some 10 percent are below poverty level and a third of the households are considered “economically needy.” I know that about 20 percent of the island's residents depend on the Hawaii Foodbank – Kauai Branch for food assistance, which is a lot. But it's understandable when you consider this:

More than 3,500 jobs were lost between early 2008 and early 2010. Since then, less than half of those positions have reappeared.

About 90 percent of the civilian jobs here are in the service industry, and 28 percent are in the visitor industry, with its typically sucky pay. About 500 to 600 people work in the seed industry.

Despite all the recent talk about GMOs and pesticides sickening people and driving off visitors, 81 percent of us are in good health and the tourists are still coming in droves. In fact, on any given day about 25 percent of the people on Kauai are tourists:

More than 1.08 million visitors arrived on Kauai in 2012, up 7.2 percent from 2011. So far this year, visitor numbers are up 4 percent over last year, with tourists arriving on more direct flights from the mainland than ever.

In the story covering the conflict that erupted over Bill 2491, I was disappointed to see Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced the bill, making this statement:

Hooser fingered the biotech companies as largely responsible for dividing the community by painting the bill as a threat to on-island jobs.

And in his blog this weekend, where he was exhorting people to show up for yesterday's anti-GMO march in Haleiwa, Gary claimed:
On Kauai we have learned to speak truth to power, with aloha – and we won.
With aloha? Who is he kidding?
I keep wondering when Gary is going to accept some responsibility for what he unleashed. He set the tone with his “million little fists” bit and he's been fanning that fire ever since.
Why not just own it, instead of trying to distort reality? It also remains to be seen whether “we won” or not.
Despite the allure of professional surfers and the promise of free food and music, the Haleiwa march drew a small crowd — organizers estimate 1,000, which means the actual number was likely closer to 500 — from an island with nearly a million residents. 
Though we were breathlessly told, in the heat of the 2491 battle, that “the whole world is watching,” truth is, it wasn't. Heck, we barely caught the attention of folks on Oahu, and if the Haleiwa march is any indication, they aren't especially interested in the issue.
But the seed/chemical companies are watching, and conducting their telephone surveys to assess public opinion about them and the anti-GMO activists. 
The state Legislature is also watching. Soon, its members will be asked to choose between anti-GMO legislation and bills that strengthen the "right to farm" and pre-empt local regulation. They'll be weighing the views of an island with just 5 percent of the state's population against their hundreds of thousands of constituents on Oahu.
Which is why, at the end of the day, I don't think we are going to emerge winners – at least, not according to Gary's definition. Instead, I think we'll find what has worried me from the start: folks either badly miscalculated the power of this movement, or it was intentionally set up to fail.


Anonymous said...

Gary believes there will be a general uprising and he will lead it. But none of this has passed the acid test of public opinion and I don't think it will lead to political change.

Anonymous said...

Tim Bynam and Gary Hooser must be pleased with average home prices at 550K plus. Only mainlanders can afford to buy and these two job-haters will increase their voting base. The mainlanders love to tell the island born people what to do, where to do it and why they do it.
If anyone thinks Local/Howlee is not part of the new Kauai political landscape, I can sell you shares in the Superferry.

Aunty Pono said...

In your final statement...or was it intentionally set up to fail... has crossed my mind many times.
Why, just yesterday, I learned that A Lawyer for the Seed Companies is CEO at KVMH, the Westside Hospital, the boss of the Doctors ect. Is this the same for Wilcox as well??? Collusion???
Again keep up the good work Joan, you ARE appreciated. Aunty Pono

Andy Parx said...

So I guess it's not about how the chemical companies are poisoning our kids and families, rivers and ocean and `aina- it's about how rude we've been in objecting to it.

Anonymous said...

Evere one is complaning about GMO. Why Dont they go after the land owner robinson!!!! Look at all the run off from his property. All the red dirt which already dammaged the reef for years with all sorts of chemicels, not only now but from sugar cane as well.
You people can go after Fluger but not robinson? Who is the county or state protecting? Tim Bynam and Gary Hooser, are you only concernd with the North side
of our Island?

Anonymous said...

Oh Andy, you just don't seem to gt it. The bill that passed fails at protecting children. Look at the details and remember children are impacted and affected by pesticides period. Having to meet the threshold of RUP first is nonsense for protecting children. So if the clamoring crowd had paid attention, maybe the bill wouldn't be so lax towards kids health.

Anonymous said...

With aloha" and “million little fists” are not mutually exclusive.

I counted the people, it was 700 at the start of the March and as the rain stopped during the march another 300 joined in for a crowd of about 1000 at the park. That is what it was. You can watch the video at:

Anonymous said...

In case you missed it, Fern and Babe got on TV!

Anonymous said...

2:16 and 5:57 are right. Just because it's not a RUP doesn't mean kids shouldn't be exposed to pesticides.

Anonymous said...

Good observation about the "whole world is watching" complex.

Narcissism Island.

Anonymous said...

7:14 -- That video is a hoot! Who could ever take those two seriously? Oahu is watching and they look like idiots.

Andy Parx said...

Ordinance 960 is what it is 5:57 PM (I'll assume you are genuinely asking and not just trolling). We'd all like to have seen a stronger, more comprehensive bill but good policy (and politics for that matter) doesn't sacrifice the best possible for the perfect. If you want more, run for council, draft a bill and get the support from the other six councilmembers and pass it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Andy i disagree with you and am not a troll but a thinking person. When you say" good policy (and politics for that matter) doesn't sacrifice the best possible for the perfect."
Why was this the best possible? Admit it, it was the version that came out 3 in the morning, could have been deferred like most bills and continued to work on to improve and to get the needed protections for the kids.
Don't know about you, but i think the red shirts were played. You have followed politics long enough to know good things don't happen in the council chambers in the middle of the night. I never believe you should give up the good for the perfect, but I'm not deluded into thinking 2491 or the EPHIS study accomplishes what you think it does. Seems like a pile of shit.

Andy Parx said...

It is exactly what was "possible" by definition- it is what seven people came up with. Different people, maybe a different result but is wasn't different people. It wasn't going to change much whether at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. By the way I've sat there until 3 on other occasions. Sometimes it just allows a "we're going to sit here until we have a vote and a final bill" to happen after weeks of committee meetings where people want to leave instead of acting. The votes at 3 a.m. were the same, on the same amendments (which were essentially in place all day). It is what it is and no matter how long they had waited it would have essentially been the same bill although with Mason instead of Nadine it might have come out with the EIS not the EPHIS because JoAnn used Nadine to force it through. But you can't assume any of those events would have happened.

Anonymous said...

Andy both you and bolo head have it wrong. While Hooser is a stupid, arrogant and self absorbed fool, he is also shrewd and calculating. He knew 2491 was dieing on the vine. He knew the governor, the mayor and the seed companies were all coming together and the voluntary program combined with the holidays and the loss of Nadine were all about to come crashing down together and any deferral would have been a permenant one. So Hooser pulled one of his political games out of his pocket and figured passing any Bill was better than passing no
Bill at all. And because Nadine had extended the effective date 9 months out, he also knew he could amend the Bill further to make up for the shit Yukimura put in there. Watch what happens now. With Mason on board Hooser and Bynum no longer need Yukimura. But as shrewd and politically skilled as Hooser may think he is, his ultimate self absorbtion is his downfall. He will play all these games and our Mayor thankfully will just ignore the Bill, delay the rules and work with the governor to ensure preemption does in fact occur. In the end, Hooser will be the looser.