Mist crept through the valleys and mynah birds lived dangerously, scavenging road kill from warm asphalt, when the dogs and I went walking this morning. Haze had faded the mountains to pale blue and the sky was slashed with streaks of shell pink that turned gold as the sun smoldered in a bed of red-orange coals.
Though each day begins, and ends, quite differently, it seems that some things never change at all, or in totally unexpected ways — a concept that hit home as I recently pawed through clips representing a quarter-century-plus of my reportage in Hawaii.
Like the August 2004 Honolulu Weekly piece on then-Mayor Bryan Baptiste's plan to turn the Hanapepe dog pound — abandoned as unfit for animals — into a drug rehab center for teens as part of his fight against drug abuse. A decade later, meth use is even more rampant and we're still talking about an adolescent treatment facility. This time, though, it's near the new dump.
I ran across a whole slew of stories I wrote on the Department of Hawaiian Homes, including one published on Feb. 23 1996 in the Star-Bulletin, back when Kali Watson was the chair and all giddy because for the first time in its history, the agency had money. Yes, the Lege had promised to pay DHHL $30 million annually for 20 years for past breaches of the homelands trust, and “we're just accelerating like hell on our housing program,” Watson said.
Yet the waiting list continued to grow.
Fast forward a decade, and Micah Kane was running DHHL. In an August 2006 article for Honolulu Weekly, I reported on his plan to boost revenues by issuing a bunch of commercial leases. He had grand schemes for Kauai, specifically the Wailua corridor, where DHHL was going to build 600 to 700 homes, schools, shops, a Kamehameha Schools preschool and community centers on the mauka side of the highway. To pay for it, Kane wanted to develop 600 to 800 resort units on land it owns around Lydgate Park. Work was supposed to begin by 2009. But Kane got a way better gig as a Bishop Estates trustee and all that stuff got shelved.
Now here we are, eight years later, and the agency is still wildly dysfunctional, still burning through money with little or nothing to show for it, the waiting list is still growing and folks are still dying before they ever get an award. Will DHHL ever be anything but tragic?
I found stories dating back 20 years on the traffic problem in Kapaa, with the businesses there constantly begging for relief, which was supposed to be provided first by the bypass, then by the second bypass, then by widening the highway in front of Coco Palms, then by contra flow, then by widening the Wailua bridge. Now we're told just to suck it up, cuz it's gonna cost way more money to fix than we'll ever get and besides, the state is more interested in the Lihue to Kalaheo corridor now.
Which brings me to a March 2, 2007 article I published in Kauai Island News:
Next time you’re creeping along in Kapaa’s traffic, just remember — it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
Back in 1972, when the island had 21,000 residents and two major employers — sugar cane and pineapple — county planners laid out zoning for the region between Nukolii and the Coconut Marketplace, envisioning a mix of small resorts and commercial centers, with worker housing sprinkled in.
“It was supposed to be like a little Waikiki, kind of low key, not the damn mess we have now,” says Keith Nitta, the county’s long-range planner, who retired last December.
No one anticipated, 35 years ago, that sugar and pine would collapse, gentleman’s estates would sprawl over farmland and beachfront property would fetch outrageous prices. That’s why the parcel across from Safeway was developed into the 190-unit Waipouli Beach timeshare resort, instead of the affordable employee housing envisioned when the land got its apartment zoning, he says.
It’s not the last resort that will be built on the eastside, either. Coco Palms is planning to reopen, while two hotel/condo projects proposed for a vacant parcel north of Coconut Marketplace would add 547 units.
Meanwhile, intensive residential development is proceeding on agricultural lands at Wailua Homesteads and Kealia — another scenario county planners weren’t expecting.
“No one thought Lihue Plantation would go belly up and Amfac would sell all its land,” Nitta says. “And look what we got: Kealia Kai, Kealia mauka, Kulana. Now we’re getting these big giant subdivisions."
I thought, gee, I wonder what we're missing now that's gonna bite folks in the ass 30 years down the road. Failing to account for climate change? Building too close to the ocean? Allowing our ag land to be gentrified?
But hey, at least the Navy stopped bombing Kahoolawe. Now practice war games are held at sea — screw the marine mammals — and amid the depleted uranium at Hawaii Island's Pohakuloa Training Area. Indeed, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has introduced a bill to make PTA "the premier training range" in the region. She wants to "upgrade" PTA with a runway capable of handling C-17 transport planes. And as West Hawaii Today reported:
Additionally, the military would relocate a high-speed vessel to assist with transportation.
Hmmm. Could that be a reference to one of the two Superferry catamarans that so coincidentally, and conveniently, ended up in the Navy's fleet?