Friday, February 27, 2015

Musings: Mirror, Mirror

Does Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser own a mirror?

What prompted me to wonder was an exchange that went down at Wednesday's Council meeting. In testifying on a tax bill, a citizen criticized a former Councilman and the former budget director before concluding:

In my opinion, government is nothing more than a bunch of scum-sucking parasites off the hard-working people of Hawaii.

Councilmembers Ross Kagawa and JoAnn Yukimura both chided the man for his remarks — and he apologized — but Hooser couldn't resist adding his two cents:

You're symbolizing through your remarks, unfortunately, a community dialogue that has been going in the wrong direction in my opinion.

I would appreciate it if you and everyone addressed the issue and not the personality. It doesn't teach our children good lessons when they're talking and trying to get things accomplished. So people are watching this. You know, people's mothers and grandmother's and children and we need to look at examples we set in the community.

So I would hope that our community would get together and have conversations about the issues and respectfully agree or disagree and not call each other names.

I know we all get passionate, we get carried away sometimes, but I think it would be really good for all of us and our community if testifiers would just think a little bit more about the words that they chose because words matter and words can be hurtful.

You mean words like “bite me?” Which Gary uttered not just once, but twice, to Kauai Rep. Jimmy Tokioka in a televised public hearing of the House Agriculture Committee. 

And folks wonder why the anti-GMO activists are so ill-behaved and hypocritical. Shoots, they're just following the example of their leader.

Speaking of anti-GMO activists and their often despicable tactics, Britain’s former Environmental Secretary, Owen Paterson, took them to task this week in his keynote address to the ISAAA media conference in South Africa. After speaking about the current agricultural opportunities for Africa, he said:

This is also a time, however, of great mischief, in which many individuals and even governments are turning their backs on progress. It’s a strange time, really, in which the privileged classes increasingly fetishize their food and seek to turn their personal preferences into policy proscriptions for the rest of us.

Not since the original Luddites smashed cotton mill machinery in early 19th century England, have we seen such an organized, fanatical antagonism to progress and science.

These enemies of the Green Revolution call themselves “progressive,” but their agenda could hardly be more backward‐looking and regressive. They call themselves humanitarians and environmentalists. But their policies would condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment. And their insistence on mandating primitive, inefficient farming techniques would decimate the Earth’s remaining wild spaces, devastate species and biodiversity, and leave our natural ecology poorer as a result.

Unfortunately, few question either its credentials or motives.

Paterson goes on to report that “2014 was the 19th year of successful commercialization of biotech crops,” with some “18 million farmers, of which 90 per cent were small and resource‐poor, planted a record 181 million hectares of biotech crops in 28 countries....For the third year in a row, less developed countries planted more biotech hectares than the entire developed world.”

He also claims that “nearly 100 per cent of all those farmers who plant biotech crops have yet to go back to the old ways. They continue to choose to plant biotech year after year because biotech plants work.”

Paterson offers data to counter the oft-heard claims that GMO is all about selling more pesticides and corporate control of seeds. Monsanto actually donated the technology for a drought resistant maize to Africa, he said, and “by 2013, in fact, almost 70 per cent of all cotton grown in Burkina Faso was Bt, which increased farmers’ yields on average 20 per cent over non‐GMO cotton. It has also dramatically decreased pesticide applications – which in Africa are often done by hand, a 40 to 80 pound backpack filled with older pesticides strapped to one’s back. Bt-cotton has cut those applications from 6 to 2 or fewer and delivers a solution that is eminently more effective.”

In reading his speech, I couldn't help but think of how Vandana Shiva, the Center for Food Safety and Gary Hooser preach “home rule,” yet they would deny African farmers the right to make their own choices about what crops to grow. It's the old “do as I say, not as I do.”

Paterson then debunks the myth about GMO-induced farmer suicides in India — still spouted by Gary and Vandana Shiva — before going on to describe how Greenpeace and other anti-GMO activists have stalled the commercial production of Golden Rice, which is enhanced with vitamin-A-producing beta-carotene. This technology also was donated to the developing world.

Paterson notes:

Vitamin A deficiency is the principal cause of childhood blindness globally, affecting 500,000 children annually of which 50% die within a year or two. Vitamin A deficiency is also a nutritionally acquired immune deficiency syndrome, so common diseases which should be survivable are lethal. Two million young children die as a result every year.

So let’s be clear.  Although these deaths are preventable, 6,000 children alive today will be dead tomorrow. (By comparison Ebola has tragically killed about 9,000 in the last year: about 25 a day.)

Paterson tells of how Greenpeace has destroyed biotech crop research in the Philippines and Australia, before saying:

The question must be asked, when did so many of our “humanitarian” organizations become so disdainful about the lives of the desperately poor, whom they are supposed to be helping? How long have they been putting ideology over humanity? Do Greenpeace supporters understand that the conduct of the organization that they give to has been truly wicked?

Sadly, the same questions could also be asked about Gary Hooser, Center for Food Safety, SHAKA, Babes Against Biotech, Hawaii Seed, Ohana O Kauai and other anti-GMO groups in Hawaii, which have taken a "screw you" attitude toward seed company field workers, many of them impoverished Filipino immigrants, and advocated moving the "poison-drenched" fields elsewhere — developing nations — because Hawaii is "too pristine." 

If you're at all interested in the GMO issue, I urge you to read Paterson's speech in its entirety. He is no doubt a die-hard cheerleader for the technology, but he also does a good job of refuting the anti-GMO myths and raises many provocative points about the elitism of Westerners who are seeking to impose their own often misinformed ideology on the rest of the world.

It's a good mirror for folks like Gary Hooser, Vandana Shiva and others who have gone on the attack against agriculture in Hawaii while lacking insight into both the bigger biotech picture and their own elitist hypocrisy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Musings: Digging for Dollars

With all the training that Kauai County has been ordered to do on sexual harassment, racial discrimination, whistle-blower retaliation and now age discrimination, county employees should be pretty akamai.

But there must be a cheaper way of getting staff and management up to speed than settling a steady stream of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints.

Because the county is in deep financial trouble — so deep that it's actually surveying Kauai residents on both customer satisfaction and ways of reducing costs.

Folks are being asked what measures they support in order to balance the County budget, with choices like reducing the county workforce, imposing higher property taxes and user fees, increasing the general excise tax and cutting expenditures and services.

And if you choose the cutting one, you're asked what you're willing to live with, and without. 

No cops in schools? Fewer meals served to the elderly? Longer wait for building and planning permits? Longer response time from the police and fire department? Reduced lifeguard services? Cuts in the bus service? 

Giving less money to youth activities, nonprofits that provide social services and “economic stimulus” programs like Kauai Visitors Bureau and agriculture? Shutting down the landfill and transfer stations one day each week?

While there is a blank for “other,” a number of possible cost-savings were noticeably absent from the survey. Like eliminating out-of-state travel. Management pay cuts. Aggressively weeding out dead wood workers. Reducing the vehicle fleet.

And carefully scrutinizing Bernard Carvalho Jr.'s legacy, vision, sacred cow — Holo Holo 2020, which is reportedly off-the-table in all budget discussions. Surely there's a bit of fat in there.

What do you think? How can the county balance its budget and improve its financial health?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Musings: Homies

As the Kauai County Planning Commission prepares to consider a law regulating homestays, a number of red flags are being raised.

First, how can we confidently believe the planning department will properly issue and enforce homestay permits when it absolutely botched implementation of the vacation rental (TVR) law? Yeah, there's a different director, and hopefully the filing system is improved, but they've still got the same inspectors and other staff who screwed up.

And it's still the Carvalho Administration, which let the TVR shit slide until their noses were rubbed in it via the Abuse Chronicles and they couldn't ignore it any more. (Btw, I'm just using that as a figure of speech. Rubbing a dog's nose in its mess is not an effective or recommended method of house-training.)

Given the way illegal TVRs flourished in the wake of the TVR law, will a homestay ordinance similarly open the flood gates for yet another wave of largely unregulated visitor housing?

Second, shouldn't people who have been cited and/or fined for operating illegal TVRs be prohibited from applying for a homestay permit? This is crucial, because they're the first ones coming in, trying to beat the ordinance and pass off their illegal TVRs as homestays, B&Bs or whatever. Two of these after-the-fact permits are now being challenged in contested case proceedings. One involves Eddie Ben Dor, who was ordered to pay civil and criminal fines for running an unpermitted TVR in Hanalei. The other is a Wainiha property, Hale Hoomaha, that has been operating as an illegal multifamily TVR since 2004.

It really grates at my sense of justice to think that scofflaws will once again be rewarded — just like they were when the Council passed the TVR law, which made it possible only for those who had been operating illegally to apply for a permit. At the minimum, these post-citation permit applications should be on hold until the ordinance is approved.

Third, the proposed ordinance prohibits homestays in the agricultural district and requires them to be on an approved septic system. These are both good things. But why aren't TVRs subject to similar requirements? How can you allow a sleeps-14 TVR on the ocean to operate on a cesspool, but not a one-bedroom homestay? It's time to amend the TVR law to require permit holders to convert to a septic system prior to renewal, and get them out of the ag district. A homestay on a working farm, which could help a real farmer pay the mortgage, is far less objectionable than the mansions approved as TVRs on ag land.

On a positive note, the homestay ordinance proposes to use a quota system, based on census data, which seems to reflect concerns about the proliferation of TVRs in rural areas. It would allow one homestay per every 300 residences in districts that have a population of at least 1,000 residents. But you could drive a truck through the loophole: homestays approved with a use permit, rather than a zoning permit, are not counted toward the quota. And if the quota is already met, you can simply apply for a use permit.

The proposed ordinance also allows homestays only when the house is the owner's primary residence. The owner must be on-site, and no one else can act as their designee or representative. This is a good thing, though it could prove very difficult to enforce.

The ordinance separates homestays into two categories: minor — no more than two bedrooms — and major — no more than five bedrooms. Five bedrooms seem like a lot in the residential district, especially when separate parking spaces are required for each unit. All of a sudden you could have something very much like a boarding house or mini-resort among single-family homes.

And like the TVR law, the homestay ordinance requires no inspection to ensure the house is properly permitted or safe. It's also mute on whether such uses are allowed in the flood zone.

The draft homestay ordinance, which was slated for a public hearing at yesterday's planning commission, was deferred until April, which is another good thing, since it was flying in well under the radar.

And that leads to another question: why aren't planning staff reports and proposed ordinances posted on line, with the commission agenda, so that people can access them prior to meetings, and without having to drive into town or make a public records request? We know the county's computer system is capable of providing such a service, because it's doing it for the County Council.

The planning commission is the place where robust discussions are supposed to occur, before proposed ordinances are sent to the Council. But this can only happen if people are properly informed and given access to key county documents. It's time for the planning department and commission to improve transparency and accessibility by making more documents available on-line.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Musings: Why, Oh Why?

Why is Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. encouraging Kauai County employees to contribute to an organization that defrauded the state and federal government, inflates the number of people it serves, has no public accountability and engages in business practices that cost it the support of the Kauai United Way?

You'd think he'd be keeping his distance from such dubious folks. Yet there he is, on the front page of The Garden Island, exhorting county workers to pungle up ever more for the Kauai Independent Food Bank:

We encourage 100 percent participation from all employees, and a challenge to each department to increase its contribution by 20 percent from last year.

I exposed and documented the many lies and misdeeds of the KIFB last October, and the mayor was aware of it well before then. So why does Bernard actively and publicly continue to support this sleazy nonprofit — and in his official capacity, while on the public dime, no less?

If county workers — and anyone else — truly want to help the many hungry folks on Kauai, they should be giving their food and money to the fully legit Hawaii Foodbank –Kauai Branch. Like Larry Bowman of Falko Partners did, donating $50,000 upon the recommendation of Shawn Smith.

Curiously, the mayor never showed for a scheduled photo session when HFB-Kauai conducted its county food drive last fall. So why does Bernard use his position to help a corrupt organization, but not a legitimate one?

Why is Gary Hooser lobbying for state legislation using county letterhead, county resources and his official position as a County Councilman? Most recently, he submitted testimony supporting SB 677, which gives Hawaii mayors the authority to fire the police chief. Gary wrote:

My testimony is submitted in my capacity as the Public Safety Committee Chair and as an individual Councilmember on the Kaua'i County Council.

Really? When did the public safety committee vet this bill and decide to support it? What gives Gary the authority to act unilaterally on behalf of the Council?

Chief Darryl Perry didn't use county stationery to submit his testimony, nor did Police Commissioner Charles Iona, and Perry wrote as a private citizen, not as chief.

But then, they obviously have more integrity than Gary, who goes on to write:

As a Councilmember, I am keenly aware and frequently frustrated by the underlying question of "who is in charge?"

Not you, Gary. That much is clear.

As I've previously reported, Gary has used county resources and his official position to lobby on behalf of at least two state bills — HB 1514 and SB 793 — that are also supported by the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, which he heads. Now that is way too cozy.

And in its plug for the Vandana Shiva Home Rule Tour of 2015, Farming 4 Change prominently features a quote from Gary — and a link to his County Council page — that makes it sound like he's speaking on behalf of the Council:

People are literally getting sick from the intensive pesticide spraying. So on Kauai, we started meeting in living rooms, then more and more people got involved. And we started working on this bill and put in before the council. The council voted, we passed it, the mayor vetoed, then we overrode the veto. It came from the heart of the community.

Why aren't there any County Council rules specifically prohibiting such actions, for those with no sense of propriety and ethics to self-regulate their behavior?

Why does the “visions and goals” section of the South Kauai Community Plan contain bullshit like:

Poipu will be a world-class, sustainable resort destination, serving reidents and visitors alike, developed responsibly, with clean, healthy beaches and ocean environments, welcoming parks, and preserved heritage resources, all well-connected and accessible to everyone

when it obviously already isn't that, and never will be? Sustainable? Hahahaha. Responsible development that has already been wiped out by two hurricanes, and rebuilt? Preserved heritage resources? You mean, like the stuff in the Hyatt lobby? The sacred sites covered with condos? The iwi dug up with the sand used to make concrete for more hotels?

Considering the mess with vacation rentals, why hasn't The Garden Island given any coverage to a bill regulating home stays, which is up for a public hearing before the planning commission agenda today? 

And why doesn't the online version of the Planning Commission agenda link to documents, as the Council agenda does, so that people can know wtf is going on? 

Why, oh why? Just wondering.... 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Musings: Be Afraid

Kauai is getting so, well, weird.

Or as a friend aptly described the creepy vibe:

The level of hysteria that buzzes like EMF around this rock.

Take the folks in Wailua Rise, who are already convinced a heinous neighbor is deliberately poisoning pets although Penny Cistaro, the Kauai Humane Society director, says:

“The thing with antifreeze is it doesn’t need to be intentional,” she said.

Vehicles leaking antifreeze are as deadly to pets as someone leaving it out in bowls to kill unwanted animals. Older vehicles that haven’t flushed the cooling systems are especially dangerous, she said.

Sure hope they don't string up a neighbor only to discover it's one of their own cars doing the deadly leak.

But that's Kauai. Jump to the worst possible conclusions first, then maybe ask questions and possibly even gather some evidence way later, after everybody is all freaked out.

And be sure to blame someone else, rather than take any personal responsibility, like keeping an eye on your cats, instead of letting them just roam.

Another example is the dairy at Mahaulepu, with a fear-frenzy fueled by Chris D'Angelo's lazy reporting and a steady stream of misinformation that opponents shovel out like the manure that has them terrified. Meanwhile, they continue to gobble dairy products produced elsewhere. Hello!

If you believe the increasingly frantic letters to the editor, the manure is now not only going to "destroy the reef" and "poison the groundwater," but contaminate food for miles around with E.coli — even food eaten from containers, because a toxic fly might land on it, ya know — and sicken the children.

Which leads us to the laughable quote of the week, written by Beverly Ellu, who is currently living in San Jose and about to grace us with her fulltime presence in a Poipu condo, which she and her husband bought because they believe Kauai is still the “true Hawaii:”

Everyone needs to push to stop this and keep the Poipu area pristine and ensure an ongoing economy in tourism.

I hate to break the news, Bev, but Poipu is not pristine, even compared to a shit hole like San Jose. And "pristine" and "tourism" are contradictory terms.

But agriculture is the new bogeyman and your neighbor is for sure out to get you and your pets and especially your kids, whether it's with fireplace smoke or Roundup or antifreeze or stink eye.

So be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Musings: Open Wide

Rep. Richard Onishi, vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, released this statement regarding Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser's unseemly outburst at yesterday's legislative hearing, which I reported in a blog post earlier today:

After Councilmember Hooser testified in front of the House Agriculture Committee (AGR) he stepped out of the hearing. Subsequently, Rep. Tokioka asked Chair Tsuji if it was possible to accommodate Neighbor Island testifiers as they may have flights to catch back home. He also asked if it was possible to have testifiers who had already testified vacate their seats in the hearing room to make room for those who had not yet testified. Those who had already testified and wished to monitor the hearing could do so via the closed-circuit television located immediately outside of the conference room.

The Chair gladly accepted the recommendation as he too realized that there was a multitude of individuals inside and outside of the conference room, some who had already testified and some who had not.

At the same time, from the doorway of the conference room, Councilmember Hooser instructed the Chair to allow neighbor islanders to testify first. Rep. Tokioka responded saying, “don’t worry Gary, we got it,” to which the Councilmember responded, “Bite me Jimmy, bite me.”

This prompted the AGR committee staffers Mr. Timothy Coughlin and Mr. Isaac Goya to take action and intervene as to maintain decorum in the committee hearing. The House Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms had also stepped in to assist in this effort.

Musings: Believe It or Not

As the Hawaii Lege diddles, the state continues to export $4 billion annually to buy energy and another $3.13 billion for food — much of it to power the totally unsustainable tourism industry.

Add them both together, and you can see why the state is broke.

Yet the Lege is still afraid to make marijuana legal, even though a status report on the first year of legalization in Colorado shows “tax revenue from retail marijuana sales amounted to $40.9 million between January 2014 and October 2014, not including revenue from medical marijuana and licenses and fees.” It also saved millions by not prosecuting folks for marijuana possession and cultivation. Traffic fatalities and violent crime continued to decrease, and some 16,000 people were licensed to work in the industry.

Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee, whose members include Kauai Reps. Derek Kawakami and Jimmy Tokioka, has deferred HB 1514 requiring pesticide disclosure and buffer zones around schools and other “sensitive areas.”

The Center for Food Safety denounced the action under one of its usual sensationalistic headlines, which are always intended to foment fear and raise cash: “House Agriculture Committee Jeopardizes Public Health by Delaying Action on Pesticide Buffer Zone Bill.

They're further upping the fear ante with the new Protect Our Keiki website, which includes graphics like these:
But at least they've backpedaled to “potentially impacted,” since even pesticide drift tests conducted on Kauai by the anti-GMO Hawaii Seed didn't find anything of note.

These bills — Senate versions are still alive — are clearly an attack on agriculture. Though supporters claim it's all about pesticides — and now all about keiki and kupuna — they're written in a way that applies only to the biotech seed companies.

Curiously, everybody is always mum about the pest control and termite treatment guys. Like they aren't applying restricted use pesticides inside buildings, near schools and within residential neighborhoods.

Folks may not like the seed companies, but they're far and away the biggest sector of Hawaii agriculture. Until something better comes along — like those organic communes that some people dream of — they're the only thing standing in the way of more development.

Yet Sen. Laura Thielen, who supported the anti-ag SB 793, showed just how clueless most lawmakers are when she exclaimed, “I had no idea that the island had gotten to that point,” after learning that only 67,000 acres on Oahu, or 17.5 percent of the land, is classified as usable ag. The rest has been developed.

Pretty shocking for someone who used to be head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and now chairs the Senate Water and Land Committee. Wake up, gurl.

Also shocking was this report on Councilman Gary Hooser's behavior at the House committee meeting, which was left last night on a comment on a recent post, and confirmed this morning:

at today's pesticide buffer zone bill hearing before the house ag committee, hooser rudely directs ag chair tsuji to let the neighbor island guys outside the conference room to testify. ag committee member tokioka goes on to tell hooser, "relax gary we got this." hooser replied, "BITE ME!" in amazement tokioka asks "what did u say?" hooser replies, "BITE ME, JIMMY!" damn, that hooser lost his marbles

Wow. Such wildly inappropriate behavior, especially when Gary is presenting himself as a representative of the Kauai County Council.
Joni Kamiya-Rose, on her Hawaii Farmer's Daughter blog, wrote of her experience in attending the hearing:

As I pushed my baby of 8 weeks in his stroller towards the handicap ramp, I noticed a slender, dark haired guy walking up also. He carried his backpack slung over his shoulder and leisurely puffing on a cigarette as he walked. As I got closer, he stopped at a nearby planter to put out his cigarette. I recognized him as Dustin Barca, the former Kauai Mayoral [anti-GMO, anti-pesticide] candidate.

The best part of the hearing was hearing Dustin Barca go on about toxins and the horrible corporations. He even talked about the cigarette companies and their evils. It’s weird because I just saw him smoking some corporate grown tobacco and inhaling toxins. I had to scratch my head thinking about that.

Which leads us to an interesting piece from PBS Newshour on why people's beliefs aren't influenced by science. It includes interviews with Pew researcher Cary Funk and Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach, who wrote the March National Geographic cover story on GMOs, vaccines and climate change.

Achenbach: Everything is contested now.

I think one of the differences today is just the Internet. It has changed the whole information universe. It’s democratized, small-D, information out there. There are fewer sort of gatekeepers of knowledge.

Instead, people go out and seek information, and they often find what they’re looking for that reinforces their belief. The Internet, you know, it doesn’t facilitate consensus, as anyone has noticed who’s gone on the Internet. Instead, it creates these sort of filter bubbles, these rabbit holes, these echo chambers. And these communities of sort of alternative knowledge develop that are often in opposition to the scientific mainstream.

I think that there are people who are demagogues in the media world that benefit from, you know, dividing and conquering. They want to have people who — they want to say, trust only me on this issue.

I think the stakes are large for all of us in this more technological, engineered world, where we need to get this stuff right....

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Musings: Private Nuisance

State Department of Health officials told the Kauai County Council yesterday that the agency doesn't regulate fireplaces because it receives so few complaints about the smoke they generate.

The numbers tell the story: In 2012 — considered a “spike year” because it was so high— there were 98 smoke complaints on Kauai. Three were for open burning, eight were for agriculture, seven were for cooking, seven were for water heaters and 73 were for fireplaces — 72 of them on Molo Street.

And last year, DOH-Kauai got just 19 smoke complaints. Two were for fireplaces — both on Molo Street — four were for cooking fires and 13 were for open burning, both permitted and non-permitted. The rest of its air quality complaints were for odors, mist and dust.

In fact, the only places on the mainland that regulate fireplaces are those that aren't meeting federal clean air standards, and Hawaii air standards are “well below federal health-based standards,” said Nolan Hirai, director of the state Clean Air Branch. “It's not a widespread issue. We rarely receive complaints.”

So why, pray tell, is the Council still wasting time on Councilman Gary Hooser's Bill 2573, which is clearly not needed, and intended to address the concerns of a few people on one street?  Yes, that stupid bill is still alive, kicked down the road to the next committee meeting.

Because there's nothing more important for the Council to do, right?

In previous Council sessions, both Gary and Chair Mel Rapozo bashed the state for not doing its job. But as Hirai noted, there's nothing to enforce because fireplaces are exempt from DOH rules. And yes, he said, DOH could amend its rules to ban fireplaces — and BBQs and a number of other things — “but I'm not sure we've concluded that's the position where the state should go.”

The state, with its trained personnel, banned backyard burning because it was so hard to regulate, Hirai said. Yet some Councilmembers seem to think that KPD will be able to regulate fireplaces — and determine that the smoke is harming someone's health.

Gary, continuing his mad backpedal, watered down the bill to address only smoke, soot and poisonous gases coming from a flue, chimney or smokestack originating within a residence, in neighborhoods zoned R-4 (quarter-acre lots or smaller). It specifically excludes cooking fires and incense, and changes it from a petty misdemeanor to a violation punishable by a wrist slap $200 fine.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura introduced an amendment saying fireplaces cannot be operated unless they're certified by the EPA or burn pellets. She based it on an area in Sedona, Ariz., that doesn't meet federal clean air standards.

But Councilman KipuKai Kualii said he thought the law, even amended, could be used by others to prevent wood fires used for cooking.

Prosecutor Justin Kollar again spoke of the difficulties his deputies would face in trying to prove that a person's alleged health problems were caused by the smoke from a specific fireplace, especially if they have an underlying illness. 

“That is a daunting prospect,” he said. It can be done, but there's cost and time involved “for a very limited arena of cases.” And though the law was modeled after a Maui ordinance, his cohorts there said they'd never been called upon to prosecute anyone under it.

“If this was my neighbor, I probably would've sued them fire years ago,” Justin said. “If I really want the situation to stop, I'm gonna go to court, I'm gonna file for a restraining order, I'm going to file for an injunction against harassment, I'm going to file a tort claim that says hey, you're damaging my property, you're damaging my health.”

So there is a already a process in place to resolve this “private nuisance” — a civil remedy that would likely be far more satisfying and meaningful than a new county law. But for some inexplicable reason, the affected citizens aren't going there, and Gary and JoAnn Yukimura just can't let go of their desire to pass some sort of new law.

Meanwhile, the anti-dairy contingent will have a chance to beat on the Hawaii Dairy Farm folks at an open meeting tonight. To prime the pump, the Friends of Mahaulepu/Enemies of Agriculture continue their drumbeat of fear and suspicion in a guest editorial today. 

The group repeatedly refers to the dairy as “industrial,” by which is meant what, exactly? That they plan to use automated milking machines? Computer chips that continually monitor the animals' health? Automated sprinklers to spread the liquid effluent? 

They also gripe about HDF calling its dairy “grass-raised,” when they plan to — gasp — give the cows grain while they're being milked. 

After bitching that HDF changed its plans in response to concerns raised by citizens and DOH — mmm, isn't that the purpose of a project review? — Bridget Hammerquist and Steve Lauryn write:

Kauai has a cherished history of small, sustainable businesses. It should be no different with agriculture. Sustainable, environmentally sound, akamai — these are the hallmarks to which we aspire, whether it be in energy, tourism, development or ag.

Really?  What could be less sustainable and environmentally sound than a steady influx of tourists and mainland transplants who do nothing but consume imported food, fuel and goods, and produce trash that is buried at Kekaha?

I've got an idea. Give these “Friends” exactly what they want. Ditch the dairy, forget that dirty agriculture on ag land and build a “small, sustainable business” — say, another hotel like the 600-room Grand Hyatt that's already out there — at Mahaulepu instead.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Musings: Step Forward

Sometimes it takes a bit of humor to put things in perspective.

That occurred to me last night while watching Jon Stewart puzzle out the intense conflict over on the Keystone XL Pipeline on “The Daily Show.”

Why has that particular project created such divisiveness? As Stewart points out, as only he can, it's not the first pipeline to cross the U.S.—Canadian border. Nor is it the first to penetrate into the depths of the nation — others already carry crude to Colorado, Montana and other states — or the first to transport tar sands oil.

And it's not like delaying the pipeline is stalling the excavation of tar sands, or preventing the shipment of dirty crude to and through America. It's being moved right now, on barges, trucks and trains — sometimes with environmentally tragic results.
But it's become a battleground because environmental activists have turned it into a symbol — and politicians have been quick to pile on with the kind of rhetoric that only they can espouse. Republicans: “Economic security from the threat of terrorism.” Democrats: “Billowing black clouds have contaminated our children.”

As Stewart notes:

The truth is, this country already has Mario Bros. levels of pipeiness. Adding the Keystone XL to the mix would be like farting inside of a manure factory. But it's a lesson for activists. If even in a relatively zero sum fight, you can tap into our country's vast outrage reserves, you can take a fight that should've lasted one day and miraculously make it last eighteen hundred.

We're seeing a similar sort of divisiveness — and rhetoric — as activists tap into those same “vast outrage reserves” to fuel a fight over agriculture. But only the “industrial” kind, by which is apparently meant any farm that is larger than a few acres, employs technology and/or incorporates genetically modified crops, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizer.

This fight is playing out locally, causing some Kauai folks to reject out of hand a dairy that wants to reduce milk imports by using a rotational pasture system that also reduces the need for imported feed.

It's caused people to go absolutely nuts over the seed fields, classifying every acre under production as a toxic waste site where heinous experiments are taking place.
It's caused a serious rift between commercial farmers, who know the economic and practical challenges of growing food in Hawaii, and some citizens, who adhere to an idealistic, simplistic food ideology that often doesn't translate well into reality.
And it's prompted opportunistic politicians to use rhetorical excess to fan the flames of divisiveness and further confuse voters while feeding their own giant egos.
Meanwhile, as folks put incredible amounts of energy into fighting this largely symbolic battle in Hawaii, agricultural land is steadily being developed, food imports keep increasing, irrigation systems are falling into disrepair, good land lies fallow and farmer morale is plunging.
Turning “industrial” ag into a symbol of all that is wrong with the food supply hasn't actually stopped, or even slowed, its production anywhere in the world. People are still consuming it in vast quantities, just like we're consuming vast amounts of oil. Yeah, some folks have switched to GMO-free or organic, just like some have converted to solar energy.

But overall, nothing has really changed because of these fights. The bigger, deeper, underlying questions and issues remain unanswered, unaddressed, while folks scrap over symbols.

We need to talk about our energy addiction, just like we need to talk about our food supply. But when we try to have that discussion behind lines that are not just drawn, but heavily fortified, we're not gonna talk, we're just gonna fight.

So maybe, thanks to people like Jon Stewart, we can start to see how ludicrous, how utterly nonsensical, these symbolic pitched battles really are. And once we start laughing at ourselves, perhaps we can let down our defenses and take a step forward, to that place in the middle where the best solutions reside.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Musings: Oddities and Ends

A visitor suing over a fall that caused serious knee injuries was staying at an Anini vacation rental that is permitted by the county despite being a prohibited multi-family dwelling with other violations.

As The Garden Island reports today:

While a guest at 3948 Anini Beach Road in Kilauea, [Jack] Kasarjian slipped and fell on the exterior lanai tile outside of the master bedroom on Aug. 19, 2013. The suit alleges the exterior lanai tile was not slip resistant when wet and that certain areas lack railings. It claims the defendants did not take appropriate measures to mitigate risks, such as posting warnings or training employees to take reasonable precautions to guard against injury from unsafe conditions in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes concerning vacation rental agreements.

The house is owned by Gary Stice and billed as Menehune Hale. A vacation rental ad confirms that it has sleeping quarters in the flood zone and functions as a multi-family rental, both of which are prohibited:

The owners have also completed an additional private suite downstairs with a Queen canopy bed, wet bar, and full bathroom (attached to the main house, but with a separate entry).

For larger groups Ku'u Home O' Wanini is built on the same lot. Rent both and get a discount!

Guest comments speak to other hazards and unpermitted activities (emphasis added):

As you swim out towards the reef (which my 5 and 7 year olds did comfortably) you encounter more and more see creatures. Just down the beach is where the sea turtles hang out.... at least in February which is when we went.

Most of the fire detectors are missing. Also, we had to crawl under the house (literally) to switch the [hot] tub on after it would turn off. The price was right, layout perfect for three families units, and location perfect for kids. My main suggestion is that the fire detectors all be replaced and the hot tub issue (ease of use) be addressed.

And since the water at that beach is surrounded by so much coral there are no waves. It is the perfect place for kids to play and you do not worry about them at all.

The best part of my trip was my wedding, which was held at this location.

We had a wedding there, usually frowned on by the locals, but 30 people couldn't disturb the neighbors or the people in the park next door.

So how, and why, does the county allow a mini-resort to operate with bedrooms on the ground floor in the flood zone, and without fire inspections?

Speaking of fires, the proposed anti-burning bill will be back before the Kauai County Council's public safety committee tomorrow.

Bill 2573 — introduced by Councilman Gary Hooser, who also chairs the committee — would make it illegal:

“[F]or any person, firm, or corporation in the County of Kaua’i to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause, permit, or allow to escape into the open air, smoke, soot, poisonous gases, dirt, dust, or debris of any kind from any smokestack, chimney, flue, or incinerator, or any opening of any building, or from any smoldering or open fires under the person’s, firm’s, or corporation’s charge or control, in such a manner or in such a place as to cause injury to the health of persons or damage to property.

Officials from the state Department of Health, which has been vilified by county politicians as failing to do its job, will be on hand to give their side of the story.

The overly broad bill got considerable blow-back at last week's public hearing, where Gary said he was inclined to amend the language to restrict it to residential neighborhoods and ensure that no cooking fires are included.

This bill was written for a very small number of people, who acknowledge they have not yet sought to resolve their dispute through civil litigation or mediation. That is the proper forum for their problem, not a new county law criminalizing numerous activities and wood-burning fireplaces.The Prosecutor's office and police and fire departments have pointed out significant obstacles, which are not easily overcome, to enforcing and successfully prosecuting the law.

Rather than amend, the Council should stop wasting time on this divisive issue, listen to public testimony, which was overwhelmingly opposed, and kill the bill once and for all.

Meanwhile, Civil Beat has a commentary today denouncing the nasty tactics of Babes Against Biotech and other anti-GMO groups, which are now focusing their vitriol on Lynn DeCoite, a candidate for Rep. Mele Carroll's House seat.

As the commentary notes:

No doubt most Maui County environmentalists are too young to remember the witch-hunts of the 1950s, when thousands of loyal and hard-working people were publicly slandered and blacklisted on the basis or rumor, innuendo and guilt-by-association. Or perhaps it would be therapeutic to look all the way back to medieval Europe, where, historians tell us, it was common practice to deal with a passing epidemic by accusing the Jews of poisoning the wells and launching a mob-attack on the ghetto.

It's great to see more citizens speaking out against the despicable mob tactics employed by groups possessed with anti-GMO fervor. And as the author so astutely notes, their actions are actually undermining environmental and progressive causes.

Over at the Capitol, the Senate committee on Public Safety has passed SB677, which gives Hawaii mayors the authority to fire a police chief for an undefined "good and just cause." Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry submitted testimony against the bill. 

But unlike Councilmen Gary Hooser and Mason Chock, who have used their titles, council staff and county letterhead to improperly advance testimony not approved by the Council, Perry wrote on plain paper and clearly stated that his views were his own.

The chief, who was suspended by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. in an action now being challenged in court, wrote:  

I am strongly opposed to SB 677 as a citizen and someone who was directly impacted with what I know to be an abuse of power. This bill proposes to advance that ideology because it violates the very principle on which this government was founded — that of having an independent judicious oversight body to control unrestrained power.

Currently, the Kauai County Charter gives the police commission the power to fire the chief.  It seems rather heavy-handed to have the Lege come in and overrule a county's charter — especially as we hear the cry for "home rule" uttered in regard to controlling agriculture.

And on that note, three Senate committees passed Senate Bill 793, which imposes pesticide disclosure requirements and buffer zones around schools — but only on agricultural companies. The Civil Beat, in its odd coverage, couldn't seem to understand that Gov. Ige could support the concept of buffer zones, even as his agricultural director, Scott Enright, opposed the bill's wording:

As written, the bill lacks a science-based assessment of the potential risks referred to and fails to show that the mandatory restrictions it would impose on a certain class of pesticide users is necessary or would achieve the bill’s intended purpose."

But at least one Senator got it, with Gil Riviere expressing concern about the proposal’s selective focus on the seed industry. 

Because what is more bizarre than allowing DOE to spray restricted use pesticides right in the classrooms, while prohibiting farms from using them in nearby fields?