Thursday, March 19, 2015

Musings: Fantasy Island

Big changes are under way on Kauai, and curiously, some folks who profess to love the island just as it is are helping to hasten that transition.

Let's start with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who's worth about $32 billion. Last year he bought the 357-acre Kahuaina parcel at Waipake and the 393-acre piece on the coast at Pilaa, for well over $100 million.

Now Zuckerberg is buying up all the kuleana lots in Pilaa. Rick and Amy Marvin sold out for a reported $17 million, and Rick's brother did, too. Zuckerberg is now working on acquiring the Huddy piece, and word has it he's scouring other titles for weak links that will give him an in. The goal is to create his own private playground, though Gary Stewart of Melange International in Denver has a 10% interest in the Pilaa property.

Meanwhile, Barron's is talking about an overheated second-home market, and the appeal of the North Shore:

After the median price fell 4.2% on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, we have made Hanalei our top resort of the year.

Uh, except Hanalei was never supposed to be a resort — until the county let the vacation rental industry explode.

Barron's goes on to say:

HAENA IS LOCATED SIX MILES down a winding road past Hanalei Bay in Kauai, among the lushest islands of Hawaii. This north-shore outpost of 450 residents has one mediocre restaurant, a day spa run by angry hippies, a bare-bones motel without televisions in the rooms, and a “last chance” general store. And yet, you will be hard pressed to find anything to rival Haena for unadulterated natural beauty.

The immediate backdrop is the soaring rain-forest-covered mountains and waterfalls of the rugged Na Pali Coast. Tucked in a mountain fold is Limahuli Garden and Preserve, a national botanical garden that conserves tropical plants and trees, such as shampoo ginger and coral trees. Opposite sits the Haena State Park, and the Ke’e and Tunnels beaches with their maze of underwater lava tunnels and reef funnels -- considered to be one of the finest diving spots in all of Hawaii, but remarkably empty of tourists.

So it’s no surprise that behind Haena’s hedges, the seriously famous restore themselves with the area’s low-key privacy and solitude: Julia Roberts, Pierce Brosnan, Bette Midler, Craig T. Nelson, Charo, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and Sandra Tillotson, the co-founder of Nu Skin Enterprises.

Kaonohi Point is found down one of Haena’s dirt roads. At one time, Sylvester Stallone wanted to build a celebrity camp on this spit of land. His plans fell through, but eventually a small clutch of houses were built. One of them, Kaonohi Point, offers a 150-foot entrance to a white sand beach and a snorkeling paradise around the bay’s reef.

The three-bed, three-bath bottle-green home offers a modest 2,355 square feet of living space, the interior crafted from fir and limestone and mounted on pillars so that a storm-thrashed sea can sweep underneath. A small media room and a gourmet’s compact kitchen are easy to maintain; a bathtub, seemingly floating in the treetops, offers breathtaking views of pristine beach, rolling waves, rugged coast.

We walked through the landscaped gardens and down to the beach, where rare monk seals regularly shuffle up and sun themselves. Pierce Brosnan lives directly opposite the scalloped bay; Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is Kaonohi Point’s immediate neighbor. Michael R. Schmidt, of Coldwell Banker Bali Hai Realty, representing many desirable properties in the area, pointed at the turquoise water. “Lot of lobster in that bay,” he said. The only downside: Three or four bathers might sit on the public beach directly in front of the house, shaded by the property’s beach heliotrope trees.

Priced at $5.5 million, Kaonohi Point is good value for the money compared with the beachfront properties down the road in Hanalei. The rain-washed town was made famous by the film The Descendants, and many of the beach properties are still owned by a couple of old Kauai families and their trusts. The flip-flop-wearing landed gentry and hardcore surfers get hammered on beer and Mai Tais at the Tahiti Nui bar, or eat grilled Opakapaka, a crimson snapper, at the Dolphin Restaurant, where the sound system plays Santana and a shark’s bleached jaws hang from the wall.

Right on Hanalei Bay beach, in walking distance from town, sits 4914 Weke Rd. The three-bedroom, two-bath cottage -- with a two-bed, one-bath vacation rental at the gate -- looks promising at first blush, but a look inside reveals a dark, cramped, suburban 1998 interpretation of an Arts and Crafts cottage. The $11.4 million asking price seems inflated.

At 5514 Weke Rd. stands a handsome 3,125-square-foot contemporary home, all in yellow, with a 1,051-square-foot guest cottage. The master bedroom -- behind glass walls that open for plein-air living -- faces the town’s state park and beach. A public picnic table is just feet from the master bed and means there’s little privacy for the $11 million asking price.

A few months ago, it was widely reported Mark Zuckerberg spent over $100 million purchasing 700 acres farther down the coast. At the same time, anonymous limited liability companies were spending $35 million buying up unassuming shacks on five lots sitting on a peninsula jutting into Hanalei Bay, along the Waoli River. When we drove into the property, a small army of workmen were busy clearing dead trees and brush. Insiders were convinced that it was Zuckerberg’s handiwork, and that he was going to turn the peninsula into his beachfront hangout, but the broker involved has lately dampened speculation that Zuckerberg was also behind these purchases.

FOR $1 MILLION TO $3 MILLION, says Elite Pacific Properties broker Sean Ahearn, you can get a decent second home in Princeville, the 9,000-acre centrally planned community on the bluffs overlooking Hanalei Bay.

Seacliff Plantation is just down the coast. Surrounded by a national park and bird sanctuary, with unrestricted views of the lava-ragged coast, its 48 lots max out at 10 acres apiece. A garish Las Vegas castle, complete with bridge over the pool and koi fish swimming through the house’s interior floors, is offered at $10.9 million; actor Will Smith and his family rented the place over the holidays.

We preferred Kahakai, a three-bedroom home in a secluded valley that created an elegant modernist sanctuary of 3,000 square feet from glass walls, Italian furniture, and Balinese wood. The asking price is $3.5 million; taxes run $1,000 a month. We thought the view of the coast -- which can’t be tampered with due to the surrounding park -- was alone worth well over $1 million.

Meanwhile, as Barron's and Hollywood continue to extol the virtues of fantasy island, folks like Christine Queen of Kapaa are advocating for an idealized, unrealistic approach to farming that is destined to further hasten the collapse of ag on this island.

In her letter to the editor today she writes:

I don’t think many of us are against having a dairy farm or two on the island. It would certainly help in our efforts toward sustainability, but the proposed dairy at Mahaulepu is a factory farm. I drove by a small version of such a farm back in Michigan on a regular basis. It stank, and I’d estimate it only housed 200 cows. We should encourage and support smaller, locally owned dairies in suitable locations around the island.

So if even 200 cows is too many, what is a suitably-sized diary that won't incur the wrath and litigation of neighbors who have bought on or near ag land? And has Christine or any of her allies stopped to think about whether 10 or 15 or 50 cows could be economically viable, considering the many health and environmental regulations a dairy must meet?

Currently, the only dairy I know of is the Wooten's goat farm, and they're just selling very expensive goat cheese. Why? Because that's the only way to make money. Though some would love the pastoral ideal of Bossie and her calf grazing in a meadow, that is not an economically viable model, and it's not going to feed folks — especially those who can't afford pricey artisanal food.

There's so much fantasy and make-believe going on about agriculture on Kauai right now, including the Poipu folks who are primarily worried about their property values but professing their devotion to malama aina. Among them are Bridget Hammersmith, who is leading the fight against the Mahaulepu dairy. Though she claims to be motivated solely by her deep love for the aina, she threw a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona — not a greenie by any stretch — at her ritzy southside house last year.

As a farmer friend wrote in an email today after flying on Hawaiian Airlines and reading its inflight magazine:

It illustrates perfectly your comment about the "brand used to promote the ever escalating tourism industry." If I see one more article about farming in Hawaii featuring a malo clad, tattooed actor harvesting a pathetic ten feet by ten foot lo'i kalo, I'll have to use the barf bag in the seat pocket...if they still have them. I know what I'm saying is politically incorrect and there's nothing wrong with doing reenactments, just don't confuse it with production agriculture.

But “production agriculture” — farming that actually makes money — is now a dirty word, reframed as “industrial agriculture.” So instead of actually helping farmers survive, folks like Christine Queen are raising money to fight the "industrial" dairy.

In the end, the reality is this: If ag dies, high-end development is going to take its place. And soon the farming foes will be crying over “paradise lost” — never dreaming they helped in its demise.


Anonymous said...

From DR Housing bubble, and while it referes directly to LA and OC,its not a stretch to see how the observations on "rents" relates to Kauai:

Anonymous said...

Pollution Agriculture vs Non-Pollution Agriculture...that is the question.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be impossible to stem the tide of birkenstock billionaires from coming here. The dream is over for those baby boomers that remember the good old days. These will become the good old days when compared to the future. The gate is open. Best to embrace the change and manage it rather than fight it. Fistees fighting industrial ag, dairies and development only push big land owners to sell off sooner.

Anonymous said...

@9:52, what defines Pollution Agriculture versus Non-Pollution Agriculture? That is the real question.

Anonymous said...

19-9:52 AM, That's only the question among people like you who don't know the business end of a hoe from the search button on Google. It's the smart-ass smugness of someone unable to grab their buttocks with both hands let alone dig into a complex subject. At some point, maybe in the late '70s' to early '80's, Kilauea was going to be the bread basket of Kauai. Now it's a civic basket case inhabited, in the main, by people without much connection beyond purchase power to this place, it's history, culture and local ethos- and certainly to agriculture. You like to paraphrase quotes; here's one from Oliver Cromwell's dismissal of the Rump Parliament: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!" Either farm or shut up.

Anonymous said...

And did anyone tell those purchasers of million-dollar structures in Hanalei and Haena that they are in the Tsunami Evacuation Zone? We are "overdue" for a tsunami. Do those buyers and tourists know that the 1946 and 1957 tsunami heights in the Haena area were between 30 and 45 feet? This is becoming a safety issue for those living in and visiting the area.

Unknown said...

Lol simplistic farmers got their land taken away because they couldn't deal with the talk. Talk that the corporations leak to big land owners and arrives sooner than the talk given by small farmers. I'm an indian who got his land taken away because settlers sided with big business because they got talked to first. Not talking or shutting up and just farming leaves you wide open for someone to place a kick-me sign right there as you farm. I hope it isn't too late but if it is then you missed the debate about non-pollution vs pollution sometime a while back. It looks like small farmers are gonna go the way of the indian.

Anonymous said...

Joan, been reading your wonderful blog now for nearly 5 years and I don't think I have ever disagreed with your thinking except for now. The Dairy it self is not a bad idea. Its not the size or any of their proposed methods. Its the location. I know its dedicated AG land, so lets grow some GMO on it, anything, but not hundreds of cows pooping and peeing on clay soil running into one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. There are certainly other AG lands better suited for this kind of "sustainable agriculture". Thanks for all you do!

Anonymous said...

Here is Christine Queenʻs entire letter to the editor. It contains more that needs to be considered in addition to what was posted here in todayʻs blog. >"Support effort to block dairy

I don’t think many of us are against having a dairy farm or two on the island. It would certainly help in our efforts toward sustainability, but the proposed dairy at Mahaulepu is a factory farm. That is where the objection arises. Too many cows, on too few acres, on land that is not absorbent = air and water pollution.

I drove by a small version of such a farm back in Michigan on a regular basis. It stank, and I’d estimate it only housed 200 cows. How far will the fumes from this large herd of cattle extend? The South Shore will be damaged just by the stench alone. Then there’s the runoff, which will have to go makai, and we should already know the effect that it will have on the reefs and beaches. Tunnels, Anini and Hanalei Bay should be enough examples of what pollution from rivers and streams can do to reefs.

The best fish habitat we have left around the island, except perhaps for Na Pali, is the South Shore. It is definitely the best snorkeling that’s easily accessible for locals and visitors alike. The ponds at Lydgate on the Eastside are great right now, but we all know what flood waters from the Wailua River can do to those vulnerable spots. They serve as another example of why it’s important to keep runoff from reaching the ocean.

Will this huge dairy really provide us lower cost, local milk, or will this highly processed milk be exported, leaving us with all the damage and no benefit at all? Or, as one interesting letter suggested, is this just a planned failure and future tax write-off for the wealthy owners? There are far too many questions and risks for this project to move forward. Popular support certainly isn’t there.

We should encourage and support smaller, locally owned dairies in suitable locations around the island. For now, let’s support Malama Mahaulepu’s lawsuit to block this factory farm. To donate, go to and give what you can. Credit cards and PayPal are accepted. If you’d rather send a check, the address is: Malama Mahaulepu, PO Box 658, Koloa, HI, 96756

Christine Queen, Kapaa"<

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to start talking about polution tourism vs non-pollution tourism. For instance why not have tourist arrive here on ships rather than polluting the statosphere with jet exaust. Hey we can go one step further and make that wooden ships with sails and they can sleep out in the oppen when they get here. Sounds ridiculous? Then why expect farmers to take a giant technological step backwards when no one else is willing to do the same.

Anonymous said...

Christine Queenʻs entire, this person IS lolo!
"...why it’s important to keep runoff from reaching the ocean.."
How is that done, again?.
"For now, let’s support Malama Mahaulepu’s lawsuit to block this factory farm". Factory farm...really? Right now, there IS no dairy farm there...HELLO! So where in the world is the current bacteria count coming from? Hopefully, some fair minded judge will throw out this frivolous lawsuit: more NIMBY unsupported by fact or science scare tactics!

Anonymous said...

There is a reason Haena was not developed and its for real.
" A survey of the little towns along battered North Kauai was testimony to the power of the waves that rolled down from their Aleutian breeding ground.

Out of 29 homes that once stood at Haena, only four can now be lived in. A YMCA boys' camp, recently repaired from 1946 tidal wave damage, was washed out to sea. "

Anonymous said...

Barons and Michael Schmidt from Caldwell Banker are forgetting to mention that beautiful house on Kaonohi point is a burial ground with 32 identified women and children buried there,there are all under the house. It may be lovely, but it's haunted and a monument to one mans greed. Do you think they are disclosing the burials to potential buyers?

Anonymous said...

The Kaonohi Point house featured is the shameful brescia house that was build on the Iwi kupuna.When the number of Iwi that were found in the archeology surveys is multiplied by the % of the lot surveyed, it was postulated that there are probably more than 300 Iwi buried beneath the house.

Anonymous said...

Joan- You have a talent...a real talent with words. Thank you.
Zuckerberg will not influence anything on Kauai. He will have bodyguards patrolling, but he just wants to be left alone.
Holy Facebook Batman-we already know how much Zuckerberg has crawled into our lives.
Listening to the whining about the good days is sickening. Today, will be the good old days, soon.
Big Land could do whatever they want. It is their land and all the Fistees, JoAnns, MAsons, Garys and other f^ckin' Commie types will never penetrate Land and Power.
We are lucky that A&B, G&R and GF have not flexed their muscles.
But as Gary, Joann and their l'il Boy-san, Mason continue to bust Big Lands chops and try to tax them out of existence..the time will come when the owners will be forced to sell or develop.
All land changes hands. The County is an actual partner in all land ownership via it's property tax lien powers.
Get used to the big boys coming to Kauai. Get used to the locals being bought out and living in generational housing.
Soon the locals will find that the only affordable housing will be in government financed apartments. It is sickening.
If the County went to big land and agreed to a leniency formula in thethe County/JoAnn housing extortion...we would have some nice reasonably priced residences.
But, JoAnn et al and the Fisteef*ckers are intent on "tree lined, walking friendly, yoga inspiring, oh so sweet development" criteria that a simple little house will always be put of the reach of the working man...the working man/woman who just wants a dry, safe well lit house to raise their kids and live their life.
I may hit on JoAnn a little hard...but it is she (and now the Baboon Hooser and Twinky Mason) who put the fear of God into developers and made Housing an near unobtainable goal for locals.
But the rich will always come and Goat Cheese will never be a staple.

Anonymous said...

"Uh, except Hanalei was never supposed to be a resort — until the county let the vacation rental industry explode."

Even without vacation rentals, these would be $$$homes. When you have a beach town that hosts one of the top five\ten beaches in the world, it's not going to stay undiscovered by those wanting 2nd homes for long. Vacation rental or not, it's going to be a resort town.

Anonymous said...

"Best to embrace the change rather than fight it."

10:22 and the last blogger (7:05) are either realtors or TVR owners.
In other words, neither one of them has a damned clue...

Anonymous said...

4:23 really show how crazy he is today

Anonymous said...

"Best to embrace the change and manage it rather than fight it"

8:10 - This is actually the complete quote. But in any case you're right; TVR owners and realtors really don't have a damn clue.

Anonymous said...

Have heard many Kauai folks grumbling about the crowded conditions wrought by too many tourists and these so-called "part-time residents" of our island. And their suggestion is usually "what this island needs is another hurricane".

Anonymous said...

8:10, try criticizing the merits of the argument instead of attacking the person putting forth the argument. As I wrote, Haena and Hanalei would still primarily consist of very high priced second homes, and would be a place that tourists want to visit, even without vacation rentals. Like any town with a stunning world-class beach, It isn't going to become affordable workforce housing under any circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Funny Maui was the chosen resort for the rich a few years ago, now over developed, they have moved on to develop Kauai for the rich and not so famous and once commercialized they move on to despoil the next place. Kauai deserves better planning.

Anonymous said...

Only a few under the house. most are in the back yard.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:10 you are so right, but some only see it the way the want to see it rather than the reality of the situation. Everyone wants someone to blame, and vacation rentals are the escape goat. But your right the cost of housing is a result of our beauty and desire to be here. Kauai was less attractive when it was hard to get here, and not much to offer once you arrived (other than the beauty and we were considered off the beaten path). Now that direct flights are constant, there are two service agencies to cater to private jets, we offer world class resorts, golf courses, great surf, and fine dinning, and the internet makes it easy for everything else. We are just like any other place in the world, except we have the beauty to offer as well along with great weather and waterfalls. Thats whats driving our prices, not vacation rentals.

Anonymous said...

Suckerberg - I love liberals. They love to tell the masses how to live but his own beliefs that he wants to force on us don't apply to him.

Anonymous said...

Oh really 7:17 ?

Then how come every other residence in Hanalei and all the best spots along the coast to Ke'e are vacation rentals? Speaking about realities and using TVRs as a scapegoat. The for real reality is, the zoning is residential !! You know - the law of the land.

Anonymous said...

10:22 and 7:05 are correct. Money will trump everything when it comes to property ownership on Kauai’s best properties. If you think otherwise, you are sadly delusional or just plain oblivious. There are so many wealthy people out there in the world; not just America, that are discovering Kauai. It’s happened everywhere in the U.S. where it’s a desirable place to live or own. The wealthy will bid up prices to levels only they can afford. Not that I condone this; it’s just reality. Please show me why this won’t happen here. It’s already happening and it isn’t over yet.

Anonymous said...

PS - With the growing influx of wealthy property buyers, vacation rentals may become the only way, less financially endowed folks will be able to experience living the beach life. Moderate income residents won't be able to buy (or rent long term) these luxury properties.

Anonymous said...

The point is that even if TVR's were eliminated, there are so many wealthy people who want to own homes here, regular folks would be priced-out regardless. Individual lots in the old neighborhoods would slowly be sold and redeveloped for or by higher end owners. If you want to blame someone, you can blame all those local residents who have cashed-in their former homes.

Anonymous said...

to 7:01, the iwi are under the steps, under the bedroom, under the house, under the landscaping...everywhere there at Naue. He was forced by the Supreme Court decision to setback the house properly and in doing so the 31 known burials that would have been built over changed to 7. No respect at all.Ask him why the footings of the house are so shallow?

Anonymous said...

7:17 - The reason every other home in haeena and hanalei is a vacation rental is because that is how their owners can offset some of the cost of these homes. And if they were no longer TVR's, these homes would simply be sold to an even wealthier group of 2nd home purchasers who wouldn't even NEED the income from TVR's. The result would be is no GET\TAT revenue,a lower property tax base, far fewer tourists spending money in the Hanalei are, and about 500-1000 more unemployed workers statewide - and probably not a single home made more affordable for the local workforce - a very high price to pay for satisfying the local anti-TVR bloodlust.

Anonymous said...

Com'n 12:18

Stop side stepping the issue. Trying to justify the presence of TVRs in neighborhoods, except for those previously given non conforming status, is hogwash. There is NO justification for breaking the law. Even for the almighty dollar.

Anonymous said...

Every property along that coast contains cultural material.

Anonymous said...

If the homes are purchased by the well heeled who don't need vacation rental income, then there'd be less tourists and more empty homes along the coast, hence less pollution from leaching cesspools and septic systems.

Anonymous said...

amen, 4:01

Anonymous said...

So Joan, the photos from your trip are wonderful-but I don't see any of other visitors like yourself. Are you a minority there? or are there lots more and you just choose not to take pics of them. Just curious if visitors provide a portion of their income there like they do for residents of Kauai and if so do they allow homestays and vacation homes in India?

Joan Conrow said...

I have seen very few foreigners, even in the big cities. Maybe 12 tops. but I do believe tourism is a part of their economy. not sure about homestays but most foreigners would probably prefer the nice hotels

Anonymous said...

The first "missionaries" of old arrived here to do good AND THEY DID VERY WELL. The new "missionaries" of today arrive because they saw the beauty of our Islands while on a week holiday plan and said "Honey, we just have to go back home, sell the farm and move over here to help these poor LOCALS make changes because the roads are too narrow and need freeways - the mom and pop stores only have local goods and badly in need of mega shopping malls with BIG BOX stores - Local families live in nice homes with large yards and in need of multi level super dwellings so their families will have a place to live - on and on and on. Had enough preaching!!!