Friday, May 29, 2015

Musings: The Big Hotel

No homestays will be allowed on agricultural land or in guest houses under an ordinance that moves to the full Kauai County Council next week.

The Council's planning committee also endorsed language that requires homeowners to live on site, and imposed a cap that limits the planning department to reviewing 10 applications for 2015 and 2016. 

But many more will be considered initially because planners said they already have “30 [applications] at our door.” 

We'll start counting new applications once that law takes effect,” Planning Director Mike Dahilig said. Property owners with applications already in the works will be given the choice of whether they want to be reviewed under the old or new law, he said.

Is that legal?” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura asked.

It's a blend of law and policy – remember you make the law,” said Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung, noting the Council can specify in the ordinance when things take effect.

Deputy Planning Director Kaaina Hull said planners will be recommending the planning commission deny applications that are actually TVRs. But they still have the right to apply under the current law. The new law would stop many of them from applying, though likely not completely weed out the scammers.

We've seen a lot of fakes, and people are creative,” Mike said. “This is a reaction to the creative thinking of people that we have enforced on. This will help us in our enforcement of shutting down these illegal TVRs from cheating the system once and for all.”

Councilman Mel Rapozo said the ordinance needs to honor current laws that prohibit homestays and lock out units on ag land. “We pretend those state laws don't exist, and we worry about the financial hardships” of the operators, he said.

Under the bill approved by the committee, property owners will have to seek a special permit to operate a home stay on ag land, as required by state law.

Only Councilman Gary Hooser voted against the bill, including the amendment that prohibited visitors from staying in guest houses. Mel, however, said the operations should be "self-contained. We don't want to see these multiple structures." Mike supported the amendment, saying the county had experienced problems with TVR owners renting out guest houses separately from the main house, creating a multifamily dwelling.

Gary also argued that the county should be “minimizing or eliminating the financial damage” to people who were running illegal homestays/B&Bs for years and are now shut down pending permit approval. 

But Mike said the county can't legally allow longtime operators to remain open while shutting down those that just opened.

And in response to a question from Councilman KipuKai Kualii about lessons learned from the county's vacation rental law, community advocate Caren Diamond noted, “I think the TVR bill is kind of the laughing stock of the state because we're the only county who took people who were doing illegal uses and gave them priority. And that's exactly opposite how other counties want to do it, and how the state Legislature recommends doing it and we really don't want to see that happen with homestays.”

Councilman Ross Kagawa asked how long homestay permits are valid.

They run with the land,” Mike said.

Forever?” asked Ross.

Yes, forever, just like the TVR permits. They're an extremely valuable entitlement that can significantly increase the value of a property. And have no doubts, many of these are extremely lucrative businesses.

Mel said he checked out one homestay on line, and based on its reservation schedule, it's making $22,000 per month. John Friedman said the six-unit operation next door to him in Waipake has been grossing $40,000 monthly over the last eight years, while operating without a permit. The county's attempt to shut it down has resulted in a protracted legal process.

Gary also contended that the county had given operators “implicit authority to continue just by looking the other way,” and was treating homestay owners differently than TVR owners, who were allowed to keep operating while the county hashed out a law and permitting process.

Mike said the county had considered that, but the reality is “the very first application that came through was a TVR that got shut down.” In other words, taking Gary's approach would allow illegal TVRs to remain open, too.

Mike also disputed claims that the planning department had told homestay operators they didn't need a permit, attributing it to confusion that arose in the wake of the TVR law, where both finance and planning were reviewing applications

We have always been consistent in saying homestays require a use permit,” Mike said, noting that some people may have been told they didn't need to go through the TVR nonconforming use process , and interpreted that as they didn't need any permit.

Kaaina also explained how the department came up with a cap of 10 applications, saying the commission typically reviews about 20 use permits per year, so 10 homestay use permits seemed about the maximum that could be handled without overwhelming commissioners or the department.

About 100 homestays/B&Bs were identified in the state Department of Business and Economic Development census, planners said. But no one knows how many are actually operating on Kauai, where some websites advertise up to 1,700 home-based visitor accommodations, most of them unpermitted.

Though planners said a law is needed now to stymie the flood of illegal TVRs trying to game the system, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she thought it was “problematic” to “give permanent rights” without a more comprehensive law in place. Planners are viewing the ordinance before the Council as an interim measure, while it works out additional regulations. 

Both Gary and JoAnn questioned whether B&Bs were a nuisance, with JoAnn saying the burden was on planners to show that people had complained about these uses.

Kristin Zimmerman told the Council that it needed to think about how the mushrooming home stay/TVR industry is affecting longterm housing for young people on the island, many of whom are living at home because they can't find rentals.

"We are basically Kauai the big hotel," she said. "Open your eyes to it. Thank goodness he's [Dahilig] giving some cease and desist orders."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Musings: Imaginary Crisis

All of a sudden, I'm seeing a lot of pro-biotech media coverage.

Like the USA Today editorial that asserted GMO food bans, like the one adopted by the Chipotle chain, are “validating ignorance and hysteria.” In discussing the consumer call for labeling, it notes:

Much of this is a result of anti-GMO crusaders' exploitation of mistrust about how foods are genetically modified.

And businesses, including Chipotle, have been quick to capitalize on that sentiment for marketing purposes, even when it's stretched to a ludicrous degree. I'm frequently astounded to see products like canned anchovies labeled “No GMOs.” If people aren't akamai enough to know that anchovies never were genetically modified, should we really indulge their unfounded fears with more labeling?
Then there was the Newsweek cover story, which focused on CRISPR-Cas9, a new tool for genetic modification, and hopes that it will fuel a second Green Revolution. Its virtues appear to be specificity and speed. Developing a new variety of wheat, say, previously took two decades through traditional selection methods. With CRISPR-Cas9, that process can be compressed to a few days or weeks.

Obviously this has tremendous implications for a timely response to rapidly changing climatic conditions. It can also dramatically cut costs, which could allow smaller companies and public sector institutions to successfully compete with the multinational corporations. And isn't that a good thing?

Other coverage has been more oblique. I'm thinking of an editorial in the ultra liberal Santa Fe New Mexican that discussed the President's plan to help honeybees and the concurrent debate over neonicotinoid pesticides, before concluding:

In the end, that balance might be best achieved with new biotechnology: compounds and plants that target unwanted species while leaving others alone. As with many vexing environmental and resource challenges, governments and the public must be open to the promise of these sorts of innovations to improve both the environment and human welfare.

As an aside here, I was interested to read a USDA report on Hawaii honey production:

Hawaii’s 2014 honey production of 1.4 million pounds was roughly 29% higher than 2013. There were 15,000 honey producing colonies in 2014, 2,000 more than in 2013 and the most since at least 1987. The yield per colony averaged 93.0 pounds per colony, an increase of 12% from last year’s 83.0 pounds per colony and the highest yield since 2009. Hawaii’s yield is the second-highest in the country behind only Mississippi. Hawaii’s value of production of $3.18 million exceeds last year’s value of $2.13 million and is the highest value of production since at least 1987. This is due primarily to an increased yield and a price per pound of $2.28, an increase from last year’s $1.97 per pound.

Not bad for a state that activists like to describe as “ground zero” for pesticide use and GMOs.

Returning to the biotech-friendly coverage, much of it also has touched on the disconnect between science and society. While a recent Pew study found that 88 percent of U.S. scientists think GMO technology is harmless, only 33 percent of the public agrees.

Perhaps that desire to embrace science explains why some of these media outlets have begun giving biotech better play.

Of course, the anti-GMO movement has its own take on why these articles and editorials are seeing the light of day: The all-powerful biotech companies have manipulated mainstream media into doing their bidding.

Typical responses include the one by Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association:

The mainstream media's complicity is a failure of the institution of journalism.

In short, it's another version of the “shill” charge that is invariably levied against anyone who is't a die-hard anti-GMOer.

Meanwhile, the anti-GMO folks are busy doing their own shilling. Most recently I saw a piece by Mike Ludwig on the Truthout website — as in, the truth is so often left out of these pieces — about Hawaiian activists venturing into the “belly of the beast” — Basel, Switzerland — to “confront Syngenta on its home turf.”

This is one of many pieces — we also saw articles in the Cascadian Times and Earth Island Journal — funded by the Food Integrity Campaign and Media Consortium. These two anti-biotech organizations launched a two-year project to swamp “progressive” publications and websites with stories about the Hawaii pesticide/GMO debate.

Though the articles have been short on facts and quick to report the discredited claims of people like Gary Hooser and Fern Rosenstiel, they've been quite effective in defining the discussion. I've seen bogus stats on seed company pesticide use from the Cascadian Times reprinted in Acres USA and other publications, even though the article's speculative figures were disproven when the seed companies disclosed their actual pesticide use.

And that's how it works when you're peddling propaganda and fear. Which brings to mind this strip from the Non Sequitur cartoon:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Musings: We Be Scammin'

The kooky chick who dropped the F-bomb in last week's Kauai County Council meeting was apparently trying to scam people with a fake long-term rental after county planners shut down her illegal Anahola homestay.

An alert on Craigslist warned prospective tenants:

So who is behind the Treehouse? None other than Sean — aka "Crazy Suzy” Brown, aka “the fuck girl at the B&B hearing,” as one reader described her — Tesla. Perhaps this will help the Council understand why Sean/Suzy was evicted, and it's not because of those big bad meanies at the planning department.

On the website — it boasts some 1,701 vacation rentals on Kauai, though just 455 legal TVR certificates have been issued — Sean identifies herself as the “very cool hostess” of the Treehouse in a long-winded spiel that asserts:

Sometimes people stay elsewhere, but they hang with me : -) because I take them to cool places and local happenings. I also have some local friends who offer private hikes that aren't open to the public and private surf lessons in uncrowded places, and the list goes on and on...

No matter what, I assure you that staying with me on Kauai will be a most memorable vacation for you and your loved one or guests.

No doubt. Especially if you get on her bad side. As the reader who tipped me noted:

After being shut down by planning , this piece of shit person is now trying to fleece long term renters. She's continuing on her scammer path and is a great example of why the county cannot let the visitor industry be run by individual in-house rentals.


I recall Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, telling me once that most of the complaints she gets involve TVRs, an accommodation over which she – and apparently the county — has no control.

Which is why we've got people offering vacation rentals like this in Wainiha:



Returning to Sue, though she was pummeled a bit in comments recently, I've had several people tell me that she is one of the few influential people on the island, and perhaps the only person in the visitor industry, who is openly talking about carrying capacity and setting limits.

But ya know, that is a message that so many folks in government and tourism just do not want to hear. As one commenter so astutely noted:

Tourism, including TVRs, B&Bs, hotels, timeshares, airlines, car rentals, guidebooks, restaurants, helicopter companies, tour boats, and on and on, is our economic oxy. Real estate, which depends on tourism to feed its demand, is our economic meth. We're hooked and we'll keep taking more and more until we OD.

And sadly, there's still no residential treatment center on-island.

Before her meltdown, Sean/Suzy/Scammer told the Council:

And I implore you to look at how the County of San Francisco is handling this on a bigger scale.

This caught my eye, because I recently saw San Francisco being touted as a model for controlling vacation rentals in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Business Insider estimates that 23 percent of San Francisco's available rentals were removed from the longterm rental market by owners using Airbnb. In some neighborhoods, 40 percent of the homes are occupied by Airbnb tourists on any given day. In response, San Francisco may limit property owners to just 60 days of short term rentals per year, which would reduce their profitability and encourage some landlords to rent the units longterm to city residents.

That's not a bad approach – especially compared to Kauai, where folks get a vacation rental permit for life, so long as they send in the annual registration.  

But again, enforcement and political will are the key. And on Kauai, both are so frequently lacking.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Musings: Neighbors

Over at a friend's house, TV on, some show called “House Hunting” has an Aussie couple with an oh-so-original dream of living off the land and on the beach — he catching fish for dinner, working an odd job here and there; she mostly worrying about their two young kids and no hospital.

But he's the dominate one, so they go house-hunting on a remote Fijian island, where they find a Canadian who got tired of the winters back home and now looks well-fed selling real estate to the JOJs. He takes them first to some fab oceanfront place that would cost well over $1 million in Hawaii, but is just $270,000 there. Still, it's beyond the reach of rural islanders, and stretches the budget of the Aussie, who admits he hasn't saved as much as he would like.

So the Canadian shows them someplace cheaper, away from the beach, off the grid, no views. They're stoked with the indoor privvy. But then, through the bush, they spot a cluster of houses where Fijians live, with their tin roofs and chickens and pigs.

“Oh,” says the wife, clearly crestfallen. “My vision of paradise didn't include neighbors.”

“Turn if off,” I implored. “I can't stand it any longer.”

I've always hated reruns. And Fiji, it seems, is the new Costa Rica or Kauai.

Next up: The Aussies start a B&B to pay the mortgage on their Fijian fantasy.

And a Kauai guy puts on a grim reaper mask because “I want the people on the Westside to know that I’m fighting for their children.”

Gosh, I can't imagine a more effective approach.

Which brings us to another re-run: anti-GMO folks at the airport intersection, protesting. This time, it's against Monsanto, which doesn't even have a facility on Kauai. But who can blame them for being confused? Even their leader Gary Hooser can't make up his mind.

First he tells us:

Saturday’s rally isn’t about being for or against GMO.

So just ignore all those anti-GMO signs, OK?

Then he tells us:

It’s not about science.

Uh, we gathered that a long time ago, but good to hear you admit it.

Then Gary tells us:

Tons of pesticides are used. It’s about the impacts.

OK. Then how come nobody is protesting the termite treatment guys, who actually use more restricted use pesticides on Kauai than the seed companies?

After all that, Gary comes out with this Facebook post, telling us it's actually none of the above:

Yup. He's got that right. It's about money.

Which is why anti-GMO activist Fern Rosenstiel denounces seed company workers as “poisoners” even as she, in her job as bartender/cocktail waitress, serves up a known poison that has killed countless people, destroyed innumerable lives.

And it must be why Gary doesn't pay higher prices for organic food — he confesses “I eat GMO products everyday” — and instead supports companies whose business practices he abhors.

Ah, yes. I do wish Gary would hold up a mirror, and not just before he goes on camera in those atrocious shirts.

No, I mean when he says stuff like, “So long as the agrochemical companies remain in denial and attack mode, we will get nowhere.” And bitches at Syngenta's Josh Uyehara for “[calling] me out in our local newspaper rather than meet with me personally to discuss issues and differences he might have” after Gary went all the way to Switzerland to talk shit about Syngenta.

Gary took a trip financed by undisclosed donors — yup, there's that money thang again — to attend the Syngenta shareholders meeting in Switzerland, where he gave a short, and largely erroneous spiel — what he termed “a simple ask of our good neighbor:”

We asked them to withdraw from their lawsuit against Kauai County, to honor and follow our laws as passed by our local government.

Even if they've been thrown out of court as illegal.

Which is why Council Chair Mel Rapozo sent a letter to Syngenta CEO Michael Mack, clarifying that Gary's visit was neither officially directed nor sanctioned by the Council, and all wrong about the law-breaking stuff. In his reply, Mack thanked Mel for affirming that Syngenta “is operating in accordance with the law on the island of Kauai.”

Mack went on to say Syngenta has been on Kauai for 40 years — jbu,  that's longer than Hooser — and takes its role as “a good corporate citizen seriously,” which is why it voluntarily participates in the state's good neighbor program.

And there we are, right back where we started, with bucolic paradisiacal fantasies crashing headlong into the reality of neighbors.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Musings: Hit and Myth

Testimony at Tuesday's homestay/B&B hearing exposed as myth the idea that small farms can be self-supporting on Kauai.

One self-described farmer after another said they can't make a go of agriculture without income from their visitor accommodations.

Bruce Ferhring, a former Realtor who previously owned a TVR, first said he would have a difficult time keeping his “farm” afloat without income from his guest cottage. Then he urged the Council “to help us to continue to create local food security on Kauai.”

But if that “food security” is dependent on tourism, is it truly secure?

Larry Ruddell said it probably costs $30 to produce a dozen eggs that he can sell for $6, while his wife, Mervyn, said they're trying to grow coconut trees to sell, but it will be a while before they can show revenue.

Others said their ag land was unusable. In short, many of those operating accommodations on ag land can't really show any significant farm income.

Which prompted Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura to note: “We're trying to distinguish commercial ag versus ag that's for a homestead.”

Farmer Jerry Ornellas urged caution in allowing B&Bs on ag land. He spoke of the disparity between income derived from farming and tourism — on a good week, he clears $500 while B&Bs can make $2,000 — and said a proliferation of these uses will cause problems for farmers. “These are the guys that are gonna complain when I start my tractor at 7 o'clock in the morning.”

Jerry also reminded the Council about the farm dwelling agreement, noting that the last time he brought it up at a meeting, one of the Councilmembers “laughed out loud.” The agreement requires any house built on ag land to be occupied by a family who derives income from ag activity.

“That's pretty straight-forward,” Jerry said.

Yeah, it is. But the Council decided to ignore it completely when they allowed vacation rentals on ag land.

“The county has chosen to ignore enforcement of this, which is a state law, as have other counties in the state,” Jerry continued. “I think we're seeing the results of that today.”

Indeed. Which is why we've got a lady saying her neighbor from California got a TVR permit for his five-bedroom mansion on ag land, so she's quite rightly wondering why she, as a resident, can't get a B&B permit.

We warned the Council about opening that can of worms. But JoAnn, former Councilman Tim Bynum and others just ignored us and pushed ahead. And now we're seeing the ramifications of those ill-conceived actions.

Another woman testified that planning inspector Bambi Emayo told her that the County Council had made the department write the cease and desist letters.  It's true. Rather than investigate the department after it bungled the TVRs, the Council told the department to go after the low-hanging fruit, e.g., those without any permits at all.

So that's what's going down. And yes, B&Bs were caught in the net along with illegal TVRs, since it's really hard to tell some of them apart.

The testimony also exposed as myth the claim that locals are doing B&Bs to keep their homes. Though I guess it depends on how you define that term, with Bruce Fehring declaring: “I consider myself both a local and a kamaaina.” 

Based on those who spoke, the homestay/B&B gig, like TVRs, is largely a haole thing. Pretty much the only locals who testified in support are working for the ag homestays.

As Kukuiula resident Julie Souza observed of the B&B owners: “Most are just trying to pay their mortgages. Do you see our local families trying to do this? I don't think so.”

Giving haoles a bad name was Sean Tesla — aka “crazy” Suzy Brown— who claimed that as a tenant, she'd been running a TVR in Anahola until she was shut down, and is now facing eviction at the behest of the planning department. Though upon questioning by the Council, she didn't think she actually had anything in writing.

“There is nowhere more — pardon my French — fucked up on this planet than the Kauai County planning department,” Sean/Suzy barked.

The testimony also provided insight into how some of these places operate. Lorna Hoff, whose kids CPRd the 10-acre family parcel, was renting out five bedrooms, each with a separate entrance, and a room she described as “like a closet,” until the planning department told her it was functioning as a hotel, prompting her to stop renting the closet. Since they were renting all the bedrooms, she and her husband sleep in the kitchen.

Which leads us to testimony from Tina Sakamoto, who said the permit should include annual “inspections for health and safety.”

Joann Allen objected to the requirement that owners must live in the unit, “which means they can never expand to the property next door.” Uh, that's the idea. To discourage these things from growing like the Blob and devouring all in their wake.

She thinks the 10-per-year limit on applications is the  planning department's “tactic used to wean out those pre-judged as violators”

Yes, it is, and that's good, because some of them are clearly illegal vacation rentals.

Sam Lee, whose Poipu neighborhood has been consumed by TVRs, urged the Council to stick with the 10, saying it represented “a compromise under very difficult circumstances.”

Barbara Robeson and Caren Diamond testified against granting any of the 10 permits in the Hanalei district, which extends all the way to Kee. They said it already has nearly the same percentage of TVRs/B&Bs — many of them illegal — as the visitor destination area.

I do feel a tiny bit sorry for the Cowerns. They've been operating for 25 years and as Bill noted, their first guest was the former planning director and his wife, who stayed for two months. It's true, as he said, that nobody used to care abut B&Bs/TVRs. And now we do, because they got out of control. But still, why did Cathy tell JoAnn she only has two units, when her website (now taken down) advertised five?

And is it really appropriate for JoAnn to publicly apologize to Cathy, but no one else, “for what you've had to go through?”

I wish the Council good luck in unraveling this mess.

Meanwhile, a bit of real ag died yesterday when Pioneer closed down its Kekaha parent seed facility, which has been in business there for 47 years. No doubt all the anti-GMO TVR-owning faux-farming folks in Kilauea, which advertises some 39 tourist properties on VRBO alone (with 1,012 – yikes— on the North Shore), will be celebrating this blow against their foe. Sadly, 34 people lost their jobs.  

The Garden Island inexplicably failed to report this bit of important news, though it gives front page coverage to any press release issued by the anti-dairy folks. I guess it was too busy covering a T-ball tournament or KIFB fundraiser.

Pioneer's Waimea facility, which employs about 100 residents — far more than those working for the ag TVRs — will remain open.

And no, the closure didn't have anything to do with the dust lawsuit. Pioneer, like other ag operations, is tightening its belt in the wake of softening corn prices by consolidating parent seed activities at its Waialua facility on Oahu, where it owns the land.

Maybe it should plead hardship to the county, and put up some B&Bs/TVRs to help subsidize its Kauai operations before they go belly up, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Musings: Chasing the Green

You'd think everyone who cares about bees, bats and butterflies would cheer President Obama's plan to bolster their food supply and habitat, while imposing new restrictions on pesticides.

Scientists and other bee experts were certainly thrilled that the President is prioritizing pollinators, pouring millions of dollars into restoring 7 million acres of land over the next five years – an action that likely will also benefit other species and even entire ecosystems. As The Washington Post reports:

I have to say that it is mighty darn lovely having the White House acknowledge the indigenous, unpaid and invisible workforce that somehow has managed to sustain all terrestrial life without health-care subsidies, or a single COLA, for that past 250 million years,” said Sam Droege, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and one of the country’s foremost experts on native bee identification.

But rather than welcome this long-needed protection for pollinators as at least a pretty good start, environmental groups immediately went on the attack, criticizing the plan because it doesn't “go far enough.” By which they mean ban neonicotinoids, and preferably all pesticides.
The Environmental Protection Agency has already issued a moratorium on approving any new use permits for neonics, and is speeding up its review of their impacts. It's also going to impose new restrictions on the pesticides farmers can use when commercial bees are pollinating crops.

The problems facing pollinators are multi-pronged, and pesticides are just one part. But groups like Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council make money only by fighting and opposing, which means they have to identify one simple enemy. And voila, a complex issue suddenly becomes only and all about neonics.

I can't count how many appeals I've gotten from groups using the plight of the honey bees to raise money. Not one of them proposed restoring habitat, offering farmers subsidies for pollinator zones, reducing the practice of trucking bees all over the nation to pollinate crops or educating people not to fear bats and bees.

Nope. It was all about we gotta ban neonics, so send us the money to do it. And now that the Prez has come out with a comprehensive plan, they can't embrace it because that cuts into their fundraising. 

It's so disheartening to see so many “green” groups use this strategy, which undermines any sort of compromise or cooperation.

Sadly, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has taken her cue from these groups, sending out an email asking her constituents to oppose a bill that would prohibit state and local governments from adopting GMO labeling requirements. Oh, and while you're at it, kick in a little dough for a campaign contribution, OK? Because even though I'm your elected official, with generous perks and salary, I won't do anything on your behalf unless you make it worth my while.

On a related note, I was interested to read an Associated Press article about how states — often at the behest of business — are increasingly stepping in to stop cities and counties from adopting laws that regulate industry, such as plastic bag bans, anti-GMO bills, sugary drink prohibitions and health care and minimum wage requirements.

Businesses argue that they need predictability, while municipal governments argue for local rule. In the end, as is so typical of patriarchal societies, it's all about who gets to wield the power and control.

As the AP article noted:

"The fights over economic policy have overwhelmingly shifted to the states" away from the federal government, said Gordon Lafer, a political scientist at the University of Oregon who studies state labor laws. He added: "There's kind of a race going on, which is can local ordinances be passed faster than influence at the state level can pre-empt them?"

We certainly saw mainland anti-GMO groups sponsor that race in Hawaii, with divisive and ugly results. The Kauai and Hawaii county laws regulating GMOs and pesticides were struck down on state pre-emption grounds. The Maui voter initiative is likely to meet the same fate since state legislators took no action to specifically give counties that power. 

So who actually won again, after all this expenditure of time, angst and taxpayer cash? I mean, besides the anti groups like Center for Food Safety that are still using it to raise money.

Now County Councilman Gary Hooser, who helped Kauai lose the race with a badly written bill, is now taking on the minimum wage. Only this time, he thinks Honolulu should take the lead. As he wrote in a Facebook post:

The trend is County and City governments raising minimum wage because state governments are too slow and too timid. Each County would have to pass something, since Honolulu is largest County it seems to make sense to start there. IMHO.

But for some reason, it didn't make sense to start the pesticide-GMO movement there. Perhaps because Hooser knew it wouldn't get any traction in an urban area where folks couldn't so easily be misled through fear tactics and “community radio” propaganda. Or maybe he just wanted the glory of leading the parade.

The post prompted this exchange between Hooser and Allan Parachini:

Parachini: Mr. Hooser, you could yourself introduce such a measure for Kauai County. Why are you focusing on Honolulu? Another thought about a way you might actually pursue a solution is to get the County Council to ask the County Attorney if Kauai County could pass a minimum wage ordinance. That way, whether such an ordinance came from legislation or an initiative, there could be a realistic sense of whether such an ordinance would get past the courts.

Hooser: I addressed my reasons earlier in this thread Alan.

Parachini: Yes, but just because Honolulu is biggest does not mean it has to be first. Why not just take the initiative, or at least start a line of inquiry on whether the county has the authority to do this.

Hooser: And Allan, how do you know I have not done so? And yes, from a strategic perspective Honolulu would be the natural and best place to start. If Oahu did this it is certain that other Counties and or the State would follow.

Allan. Please. I am done with this conversation with you. You do not approach these conversations with a positive intent but rather with a "gotcha" attitude. Please take it elsewhere. "Churlish" is the word I was looking for.

Parachini: I figured if you'd done anything, you'd have said so. I view my comments to you on this matter as entirely constructive. It's a shame you are so resistant to simple common sense. BTW, I have taken the conversation elsewhere.

Because you can't really have a conversation with Hooser unless you're willing to nod, smile and always agree.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Musings: Say No

As the Kauai County Council takes up the contentious homestay/B&B issue this afternoon, the planning commission has already denied one application.

The commission voted last week to reject an application for a Hanalei B&B submitted by Eddie and Joan Ben-Dor. As I previously reported, the Ben-Dors were the first to try and pass off their illegal Transient Vacation Rental (TVR) as a B&B after it was shut down for operating without a permit. Ben-Dor ultimately was ordered to pay civil and criminal fines for his zoning violation.

The planning department initially — and quite properly — rejected his TVR-cum-B&B application. He then appealed to the commission, which also turned him down since he wouldn't be living on-site. That's because — doh! — it's a TVR, not a B&B or homestay.

It's that requirement — the owner living on-site, and declaring the homeowner's exemption — that distinguishes a B&B/homestay from a vacation rental under the ordinance that was approved by the commission, and is now before the Council.

Though the commission did tell Ben-Dor he could come back in six months, an observer noted:

at least planning commission has learned a new word, one hardly ever even whispered there, one every little kid needs to learn: NO.

But what about the Council? Will it be able to say “NO” when all the illegal TVR owners and B&B operators come before them, begging for a quick permit, a loosening of the language in the ordinance, by virtue of “economic hardship?”

As in, if they aren't allowed to offer visitor accommodations, they might have to — gasp — leave the island. You know, like all the kanaka who already moved to Las Vegas because they couldn't afford real estate prices that have been driven up, in part, by the still largely uncontrolled business of house-based tourist rentals.

If the county is going to start using economic hardship as a basis for zoning decisions and granting special use permits, it had better prepared for dealing with a can full of writhing worms.

And what about the question of homestays/B&Bs on ag land? The ordinance says nothing, but since that's where many of these operations can be found, it's a pertinent issue. It's especially relevant because some of these units began life as a farm building, or shed, and have been illegally converted into dwelling units.

Oh, and let's not forget how former Councilman Tim Bynum promised, when pushing through the ordinance allowing TVRs on ag land, that they would be the last visitor accommodations allowed in the ag district. Yet here we are....

Right now, the ordinance says the visitor(s) must share a house with the homeowner or occupy “a guest house.” As in singular, one.

So what about Hale Kua, which is owned by Bill and Cathy Cowern? It advertises five “self-catering” accommodations, all private and completely self-contained, each with occupancy for four, except one, which can take six guests. In other words, four guest houses, one of which is split into two. Isn't that a multi-family dwelling? Those were not allowed under the TVR ordinance, so will they be permitted under the B&B/homestay bill?

I've got nothing against the Cowerns, but he already managed to get the Council to pass an ordinance exempting tree farms from property taxes until they're cut down. How many more subsidies should one person get? 

And if you can't make it farming without multiple TVRs/homestays/B&Bs, is that actually taking us any closer to the “sustainable ag” that so many idealize?

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura has noted several times that she has a problem with allowing just 10 homestay/B&B applications per year, as the ordinance proposes. But before the Council starts meddling with that number it needs to consider how expanding this use will impact the longterm rental market, which is already tight, and whether the department can process more than 10 per year without resorting to the mass rubber-stamping of applications that allowed so many unqualified TVRs to get lifetime permits.

The Council also needs to remember that homestays/B&Bs are a special use — a perk given to landowners. No one is entitled to such a permit, and the county is under no obligation to hand them out enmasse or quickly. Folks still have the option of using their dwelling units (provided they're legal) for longterm rentals, so they can continue to derive income while their permits are processed.

And who's to say 10 isn't a reasonable number? If the planning department has issued just 93 cease and desist orders, and estimates just 10-15 are bonafide homestays, then 10 per year sounds like enough.

Though some folks have made me out to be anti-homestays, I'm not. I think they're appropriate in limited numbers in residential neighborhoods. But they need to be regulated, and the ordinance before the Council is a good place to start.

I realize it's hard for the Council to stand firm when they've got all those folks a-cryin' and a-whinin' and a-beggin' them to open the door wider than the ordinance allows.

But sometimes, like the planning commission, they just have to say no.