Thursday, May 15, 2014

Musings: Dreaming

The moon that I watched rise, pink-orange, from gray seas as I dodged bufo big as boulders on the bike path, chased by rain, but never fully caught, was still up this morning, bold white in the west, having traveled across the sky as I journeyed through a landscape of pleasant dreams.

What is it about rich people that sparks all kinds of dreams among we common folk about benevolence and charity and hand-outs to fund the dreamers' dreams?

I first became aware of that dynamic when I managed the multi-million-dollar Kalihiwai estate and watched people's eyes light up as they visited the property and invariably got to thinking about how they might grab a piece of that action.

Except, as Pink Floyd would sing, “But if you ask for a rise it's no surprise that they're giving none away.....”

I bring it up because I recently came across an article I'd written for the April 2001 issue of Hawaii Investor, after AOL/Time Warner billionaire Steve Case spent $26 million to buy Grove Farm, one of the largest private landholdings on Kauai.

The editors — not I — titled it “Kauai's Bright Light,” because it was still a time when, as I wrote:

The island's most active minds are spinning scenarios on how he might raise Grove Farm from the dead and maybe spread a little of his wealth. Some are hoping Case will develop a high-tech educational center on his new property. Others want him to carve out 2,900 acres at Mahaulepu as a wilderness preserve. Still others are eagerly anticipating an increase in Grove Farm's philanthropy.

Much of the optimism was predicated on Case's family ties to Kauai, with former Planning Director Dee Crowell and Beryl Blaich, director of Malama Mahaulepu, believing he would have “some sensitivity to Kauai and the Kauai lifestyle,” as Dee phrased it.

All along, though, longtime Grove Farm President David Pratt cautioned that the expectations might not be warranted, saying the firm was unlikely to veer from the course it had set years ago, which included a resort development on at Mahauelepu:

[I]t's a very important and valuable piece of our property,” Pratt says. “We would like to do something with that property besides just giving it away. Somewhere out there is a workable compromise where everybody gets something, including Grove Farm.”

Ron Kouchi, then Council chair, was the only one to see the writing on the wall:

We were already blipping on the radar screens in terms of people coming here and bying land. All over Hawaii, that's where the big money has been coming from — the dot.coms. That's why it's important for us to have our dreams out there, to be clear in articulating what we need and want, so we can make sure the people who buy share our values and care about Kauai in the long haul.

So what has been the reality in the14 years since Case bought Grove Farm? Well, nostalgia certainly hasn't been a factor, considering how Steve never even fixed up the family home, which is falling apart over near Kukui Grove.

Then there was the way they evicted all those longtime families from Koloa Camp in order to build affordable homes, rushing everybody to get out for a project that has since lagged.

And let's not forget the big sale of raw land at Kipu to another billionaire, tobacco magnate Brad Kelley.

Which was followed by leasing the important ag lands in Mahaulepu valley to Hawaii Dairy Farms, a quasi-philanthropic venture financed by yet another billionaire, Pierre Omidyar. That proposal has quickly built up a solid block of mostly NIMBY opponents.

Ironically, a dairy would have been one of the dreams articulated back in 2001, when we valued agriculture on this island and realized the choice was between growing crops and growing mostly upscape homes and resorts. That was before activists opposed to the seed/chem companies decried all agriculture as toxic, evil, industrial and unsustainable, aside from a handful of equally unsustainable organic farms that depend on the mainland for cheap "woofer" labor, fertilizers and inputs.

Back then, the county had also just adopted a two-year moratorium on ag subdivisions, while it supposedly “fixed” the law. But not before numerous fake ag subdivisions were approved, leading to the gentrification of ag land and the proliferation of high-end vacation rentals — most of them now grandfathered in, courtesy of Councilmen like Jay Furfaro and Tim Bynum.

So what are our dreams now? And are they any more real, or likely to be realized, than the pipe dreams we had about Steve Case and his benevolence?

Meanwhile, The Garden Island, in its warm, fuzzy, cloaked-in-aloha editorial on the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance's most recent report on community indicators, serves us just the tiniest hint of reality. Though curiously, it never actually reports on any of these issues:

The income gap increased on Kauai, resulting in a growing poverty rate of 12.9 percent. The number of children living in poverty increased to 18.3 percent.

Child abuse and neglect cases increased sharply and the number of medically uninsured jumped.

Somehow, we’re not meeting the needs of the lowest economic sector of our population,” [KPAA director Diane Zachary] said. “A lot of people still have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, so they have less time with their families.”

In other words, real life is getting harder for many locals on this island as mainlanders spin new dreams about pristine Kauai leading the global fight against GMOs, and everyone living happily ever after sustained solely by a "yarden."  

As a friend, a local boy now dead from ice and a broken heart, used to say:

All the newcomers have one dream about what Kauai should be. And the locals just mourn what was.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps if you posted all the lyrics to "Money" more people would understand why people will do just about anything to have. "Money it's hit ...don't give me that goody good bullshit"

Anonymous said...

Grove Farm 2.0 was also able to Sell the Shopping Center for $63M, Costco lot for $6M, Home Depot lot for $4M, New Safeway lot $11M, Poipu Bay Golf Course for $8M, Village West Servco lots for $4.5M, not to mention other Village West lots and the Puako Phase II and Pikake subdivision lots.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, it the wealthy newcomers who cause development pressure on Kauai's open lands yet it is the working and middle-class newcomers who have caused the shortage of affordable housing in our existing communities.

Anonymous said...

How is that interesting ?

Anonymous said...

Definition of a happy local: Someone who arrived in Kauai with more money than the local who was there before them.

Definition of an angry (ex) local: A local who was displaced by someone with more money.

Example: The Taylor camp crew were once happy locals, then became angry locals once hippies and surfers with the ability to make a few bucks came along and displaced them.

Point: This process has been going on for about 150 years on Kauai, and for 10,000 years in the rest of the world. The "locals" are often just the last group to have arrived, but of course, insist on the right to preclude anyone with more means to come along and raise real estate prices - exactly what they themselves did when they arrived a generation earlier, because every newcomer creates more demand for housing. The character of neighborhoods and communities all over the world has been in constant flux for thousands of years - and most attempts to "freeze" them from being subject to change usually leads to far worse, artificial outcomes.

Anonymous said...

Did the Indians stop people moving West? Nope! Hawaii is next! Its not a fact now...but it will be!! People will try to slow it down .. but the rush will be overwhelming .. the galloping horses are full on coming around the corner

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment about "middle class newcomers who have caused the shortage of affordable housing...."

That's one way of looking at it. Always a scape goat in everyone's predicament. Could people locally afford a middle class type of home rental as in Princeville? Would they want to live there paying 2,100 bucks or more a month?

IF we all could live in grass shacks, we would. But they are not permitted. The old plantation shacks for sugar cane workers be better? They are not built to code.

Scape goat:
The TVR have taken many rentals away from us middle class people too and killed communities like Hanalei and the North shore.

The super rich are always investing in new money making opportunities with no consideration to impacts, and donate money to charitable organizations because ...they need the tax right offs.

If you haven't by now, its ALWAYS about making money, and the dream of making even more.

Or perhaps, we would have a new way of dealing with waste,sustainable energy, pollution and have a landfill without problems, a drug rehabilitation facility for our island kids and teenagers, more beach access, better education on island so that the lower class could elevate themselves to the disappearing middle class.

People in service of other people do not think that way. We just want to be able to pay our bills and survive, and have some time to enjoy the island.

Perhaps we should all move back to the mainland, make some money and come to enjoy the TVRs?

Dreams are best enjoyed in bed.

Dr Shibai

Anonymous said...

joan if you do some digging.. you will find grove farms making some really strange decisions. they haven't followed through with any of their so called projects like the koloa camp homes… never even got the permit.. what about wainani development? the walkable sports/city center right off the airport… oh yeah thats corn field… heard GF is about to kick out the nursery in lihue along the highway. shame. looks like they are good at selling… or selling out. who's in charge over there? id certainly like to know who is making these decisions.

Anonymous said...

"The TVR have taken many rentals away from us middle class people too and killed communities like Hanalei and the North shore."

You're joking, right?? The middle class can't even afford the NON-tvr homes in Hanalie-Haena, which sell for big $$$ even without being TVR's.. Even if you eliminated every TVR on the island, Kauai real estate prices in many communities would still be far higher than the middle class can afford. Take away every vacation rental in Malibu and Aspen, and you're still going to have very wealthy people buying up those properties.

Anonymous said...

gigantic cash will continue to want their peice of Kauai. Although soulless and bent on profits over community concerns, they will not stop. GF Case is class example of promises to do good, slowly backtracking non fulfilling. Ohana realty promising to be "good stewards" and"eco" of hanalei ridge they salivate over developing all the while struggling to prove Pierre is an authentic giver. All commodities. zero humanity. Been in the midst with Chinese billionaire lately and Russian ex polit bureau billionaire wanting in here. many sucking up to the rich to catch their drippings. again, they will not stop.

Anonymous said...

The real problem is the Council.
A developer who can find suitable land for "middle income" working folks has years of BS, nam by pamby Bynum types that question every motive. Why would any one put their money and dreams in the hands of these obvious hypocrites.
We as citizens are responsible for our government.
Be wary of of anyone who does not put the people of Kauai first.
Oh By the way, Jackpot Timmy, most of Kauai's working people rent. Your self centered "tax raises" will raise rents.
Time to get to basics. Make homes easy to build for the young folks.
Before you vote, look at the personal history of our "leaders", where they got their money and who their backers are.
A vote for Jackpot Bynum or ANY of the babeezes who gifted him his half mill and cost the County another mill is a vote for 'let's cheat the Kauai citizen. This includes the former locals, Jay and Joann, developer Gary and "oh gee? What do I do now" , Chock.
What a cast of players.

Anonymous said...

More money on the island is a good thing.
Most rich folks live and let live.
It is the fringe newbies, first born of rich haloes and Nimbys that are killing the island.
Big land owners will Not have public interest in their plans, as long as the public blames big land guys for our ills.
Big land owners have been taking care of their land for a long time and they will continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

the crush of an ever-increasing cost of living on kaua`i has been driving out local families for quite some time, and it is truly a shame. it would be wonderful to be able to tackle this issue, and begin to turn the corner on it, but the complexity is great, and agreeing to genuine answers that can be implemented as effective policy is not so simple.

tectonic shifts like this don't happen for just one or two reasons, but are the result of a multitude of factors that align in their cumulative impact. So untangling this has proven most difficult, and it is not readily apparent that anyone is even trying.

take housing for example. i suppose all housing is affordable to someone, but the great bulk of housing is not affordable to local working class families, nor is it intended to be. Instead, the market - from the builders, to the real-estate agents, to the county caters to an affluent global market, because of the increased opportunity for profit.

TVR's jack up the price of existing rental housing stock, pricing local families out of their homes again becuase of the increased amount of money the home owner can make w/vacation rentals to tourists.

Local government, which could play an important role in buffering market forces that are in direct conflict w/local community's needs proves ineffective, perhaps in part because as property values are driven up, the tax base grows.

And so it goes. Everyone is a winner - "we all love the natural beauty of Kaua`i" - except most of the people who have lived here for generations, and can hardly afford to maintain pace with the ever rising costs just to live here.

Much more can be said about this, but i will close with this - cudos joan for writing about this critical issue.

Anonymous said...

In my immediate neighborhood in "the house lots" I know of 4 vacant houses owned by local families that will not rent to any one no local or newbie. Those house have sat vacant for years.
So, many land owners share the blame for the lack of and cost of housing.
No telling how many more houses or ohana units in this subdivision are vacant.

Anonymous said...

This topic has been bouncing around in my head for a long time, and Joan nails it with the title Dreaming. Are we really trying to live here, or are we (the transplants, a majority of the readers I assume) just dreaming of doing good, doing right? How can you tell?

I just went for a walk to Papa'a bay, and it's clear there are a lot of rich dreamers owning property around there, and not just the Tara estate.

That childhood poverty number, if accurate, is appalling. Or are those my mainland standards? I see not rich local kids having fun at the beach (NOT Papa'a bay, though), with smiles full of false teeth, but I also see a lot of homeless with snotty kids--and they're not going to remember those as the hanabata days.

As a transplant myself, I remain unsettled.

There's a good companion piece over at IslandBreath:

Anonymous said...

This article rally toes together all the various topics driving change on Kauai: the landowners, the sellouts, the dreamers, the marketing, the (self-)deception, the rent-seekers, and the ruthless takers.

Does anyone dare to dream about real independence? Not the Polynesian Kingdom style, more like the Bahamas (a little Commonwealth influence might be a welcome thing). Near as I can tell, that's the only way to get real control of the land back--to remove it from the US system of greed. What would the constitution say, how would it guarantee the rights of the Hawaiians (and what exactly would those rights be)? How would it prevent corruption and greed? Could an independent Kauai reach a stable and not destitute financial and social balance?

Anonymous said...

Being born on Kauai does not give anyone the right to own a house . Th w world/society owes you nothing for being born in a particular place . Like it or not Money gets you a house.

Anonymous said...

People take pride in things they had no hand in. Redeculous.

People who want extra credit for where they were born usually have not accomplished anything of significance.

Until the rules change, it takes money to buy a house and being born on Kauai is not even a part of the loan application.

Anonymous said...

No it's part of the BS that happened here, where the visitor destination area was allowed to creep into communities and turn into resorts no local people can afford. How nice of you to tell us to fuck off now.

Anonymous said...

however, in a piece that rightly elevates the issue of an impoverishment of experience by longstanding families of modest means here on Kaua`i, the conclusion could not be more off-base in identifying the primary causes of this state of affairs.

it is perversely laughable to assert: "dreams about pristine Kauai leading the global fight against GMOs, and everyone living happily ever after sustained solely by a "yarden." are somehow plausibly the main causes of economic assault.

a smart cookie like you ought to know better, and i suspect you do.

Joan Conrow said...

2:02. Except it wasn't my assertion at all that that was a cause, but rather that the dreaminess and fixation on GMOs and sustainability were doing nothing to address the economic and social woes.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but what was that prosecutor smoking?

Anonymous said...

"Change is the law of life. And those who only look at the past or present are certain to miss the future" JFK