Monday, November 30, 2015

Musings: Home Free

While The Garden Island is busy pimping for Playboy, it's continuing to ignore some big news: the next wave of vacation rentals.

Yeah, Kauai County is calling them homestays.  But in practice, the bill that Councilman Mason Chock will introduce on Wednesday is just like the TVR law, in that allows a whole new batch of visitor accommodations to legally proliferate in the residential district.

Gone is the initial limit of 10 homestay applications per year, proposed so Planning could avoid the mess it made implementing the TVR law, when it rubber-stamped flawed and even fraudulent applications, allowing owners who did not actually qualify to obtain — and retain — the lucrative lifetime permits.

Now there's no limit on how many homestay operators can seek permits, and no limit on how many can be approved. The only restriction is they can't be operated in the agriculture or open districts.

There is no attempt whatsoever to quantify the overall visitor impact on a residential neighborhood, or to prevent the expansion of visitor accommodations in rural areas like Wainiha and Haena.

Folks can rent up to five bedrooms — a mini-hotel — and allow people to stay in a guest house. So even though the owner has to actually live on the property, the "homestay" guest doesn't have to actually stay in the home.

Of course, there's no mechanism to actually ensure that owners are on-site during the stay. All they have to do is show they're getting the homeowner exemption when they apply and renew.

To their small credit, the Planning Department and Commission have decreed that homestays must be on a legit septic system, not cesspools. Many TVRs, including large, oceanfront properties, operate on antiquated cesspools. As Planning Director Mike Dahilig told the Planning Commission:

If you look at someplace like Hanalei Bay, and the amount of wastewater issues that they are having with their water contamination, and that place is virtually 70, 80, possibly 90% transient vacation rental, non-conforming use certificate holders. If that position had been required of them, there’s a strong possibility they would not have the pollution issues that they are having right now in the bay. So the Department does look at that with the TVR ordinance as having been a missed opportunity, and there is no reason that we should possibly. . .because it is incongruous with the TVR ordinance, to say we shouldn’t have it imposed upon the Homestay operations.

So how about they go back and amend the TVR law to impose that requirement and help clean up the Bay?

Homestay permits, like TVR certificates, will run with the property. They'll be renewed without question or scrutiny, so long as folks send in a $750 annual renewal fee and proof of owner-occupancy and general excise and transient accommodation licenses. They do not have to prove they're actually paying the taxes.

And since the homestay bill, like the TVR bill, has no inspection process, the county will have no clear idea what sort of accommodations are being offered. How, then, can it possibly reassure us that this provision will be carried out?

A Use Permit may be granted only if the Planning Commission finds that the establishment, maintenance, or operation of the construction, development, activity, or use in particular case is a compatible use and is not detrimental to health, safety, peace, morals, comfort, and general welfare of persons residing or working the neighborhood of the proposed use, or detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood or to the general welfare of the community, and will not cause any substantial harmful environmental consequences.

If it doesn't inspect, how will the county know if bedrooms are being rented in the ground floor of a flood zone? If kitchens have been illegally installed? If lockout doors have created an illegal multifamily dwelling unit?

Because all of these things happened — and are still happening — under the TVR law. But the county apparently either never learned, or wants to keep its head in the sand, which is why it's repeating so many of the same mistakes when it comes to permitting homestays.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Musings: On the Syrian Refugees

As the eight of us sat around a beautifully-decorated table, our plates heaped with homemade food, our lives all on track — employed, healthy, happy — we spontaneously paused to reflect on our good fortune. Some of it, of course, was due to hard work, but much of it was luck, the well-dealt hand of fate that had spared us so much suffering.

“We could be Syrian refugees,” I said, and everyone laughed, and then grew quiet, as we pondered what it would mean to be traveling the Mediterranean in a small, overcrowded, leaky boat; seeing people drown; awaiting processing in a holding center; sleeping in the streets; homeless, afraid, with a very uncertain future. 

Or worse, being turned back at the border, forced to retrace a long, arduous journey to a war zone that none of us would ever wish to inhabit.
“We are humans, we have feelings, so please help us,” said one young girl on a CNN video, brushing the hair from her eyes.

For that reason alone, the United States needs to do much more to assist and accommodate the Syrian refugees. Yes, I know what people are afraid terrorists will slip in, but do you let that fear stop you from doing what is right by millions more? Haven't the terrorists won if we allow them to strip us of our compassion and humanity?

Consider this: 50% of the 7.6 million people displaced within Syria are children. They clearly aren't terrorists. They're innocent kids.
Others say we should “take care of our own first,” though I don't see any measures being set forth to do that in lieu of taking in refugees. Besides, we can do both. We're one of the wealthiest nations in the world, our luxurious standard of living supported in part by our number one export — the weapons that have wreaked so much havoc in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Our policies and practices have contributed to the strife in Syria, the chaos in Iraq, the instability of the entire region. We bear responsibility for cleaning up the mess. Under Bush, we sent some $12 billion in cash to Iraq, with much of it pilfered and unaccounted for. Surely we can now kick down some super serious kala to help the largest migration of people in Europe since WWII.

Some American veterans, in a Facebook post, said the young men fleeing Syria should be ashamed of themselves, and return home to fight for their country. Yeah, that sounds great on principle, but exactly which of the estimated 1,000 opposition groups do you join? Who is the good guy in that fight? Can you blame people for sending their sons away to avoid having them senselessly slaughtered in this conflict? And maybe some of them already have fought, and managed to escape with their lives.
According to the White House website:

Since 2011, almost 12 million people, equivalent to half of the Syrian population, have been displaced by the conflict, including 7.6 million displaced inside Syria. Their homes and schools have been bombed out of existence by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's merciless regime. Their lives have been imperiled by ISIL and terrorism. Many have been forced to flee to other parts of Syria or seek refuge in neighboring countries.

It is as if every student in the 45 largest U.S. school districts -- including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles -- had been uprooted by violence, hunger, or disease all at once.

It's hard to even fathom such a plight.

Though America toots its own horn — the U.S. is currently the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance in the world; in this fiscal year alone, the U.S. expects to admit 70,000 refugees from all over the world; the President has asked his team to make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year — we can do more as a nation, and as individuals.
This page offers a few ideas and suggestions on how we can help, and I'm sure there are many more opportunities to assist.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday now upon us, it's a great time to think about what we who have so much can do without, so that those who have nothing might get at least a little something.

A Facebook friend dared me to blog my opinion of the Syrian refugees, and then commented, "Strap your helmet on."

OK. Here it is. Call me naive, but there shouldn't be any flak associated with calling upon people to do what is just and right. And humanizing and helping others in great need is both.

Photos by David Maurice Smith from a Mother Jones photo essay.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Musings: Something Creepy

Something creepy is going on. And I'm using the word in both its literal and figurative sense.

What's creepy is the growing intolerance; the determined efforts to narrow choices and options; the suppression of certain Constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, by PC police and other extremists. It's a troubling mindset that's creeping into so many different arenas, fueled by ignorance and self-righteousness.

Take, for example, news that the University of Ottawa has banned yoga classes — including one offered for free to both disabled and able-bodied students. As the Ottawa Sun reports

“Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced," and which cultures those practices "are being taken from."

The centre [for Students with Disabilities] official argues since many of those cultures "have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy ... we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga."

While cultural appropriation can be a real concern, this particular ban ignores the fact that Indian yogis have traveled the world teaching this discipline to non-Indians. Some Indian masters have specifically adapted yoga to Western students because they want us to practice it.

But mostly, this ban smacks of totalitarianism, with a certain select few determining what is appropriate and then imposing that belief on others, thus denying them access and reducing their choices. Worse, these busy-bodies are coming from a place of moral self-righteousness that ignores their own unconsciousness and hypocrisy.

Another example can be found in the reaction of anti-GMO groups to the AquaBounty salmon, the first GE animal approved for human consumption. As Slate journalist William Saletan noted:

In the context of GE crops, the “right to know” argument is often used simply to stigmatize the GE product. By slapping a label on the fish, anti-GMO activists can scare away all the ill-informed people who say they wouldn’t eat such a thing. In the case of GE salmon, the activists are going further. Friends of the Earth says:

To avoid confusion in the marketplace, and ensure the consumer’s right to know, we are asking grocery stores, seafood restaurants, chefs and seafood companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainably produced seafood and consumer choice by joining our Pledge for GE-Free Seafood, a commitment to not knowingly purchase or sell genetically engineered salmon or other genetically engineered seafood should it come to market.

That’s not a campaign to label the salmon. It’s a campaign to deny you access to the salmon.

Fundamentally, it's no different than the campaigns aimed at limiting access to abortion. Though most anti-GMO activists would consider themselves far too progressive to deny a woman's right to choose, they have no problem denying a consumer's right to eat. And they're just as fervent in their beliefs, and tactics, as the anti-abortion groups.

I can't help but think this growing intolerance is directly related to what one recent commenter so aptly described as “arrogant ignorance.” I see it expressed in comments that make all sorts of wild claims, followed by the challenge, “Prove I'm wrong.” These folks apparently feel no need to be informed about a topic before weighing in, and instead place the burden on others to disabuse them of their stupidity.

Sometimes, the ignorance and intolerance is due to commercial self-interests. I saw this in a recent email from anti-GMO fanatic Jeffrey Smith, who wrote:

I've been asked hundreds of times: What can I do to heal from the effects of eating GMOs?

I will host a brief conference call interviewing Dr. Zach Bush who will reveal new laboratory research showing how glyphosate--the active ingredient in Roundup and a big part of the danger from GMOs--can open the tight junctions between intestinal cells.  He will also show how a supplement called RESTORE can close those junctions--or even prevent them from opening in the first place.

Now Jeffrey Smith isn't a doctor, or even a scientist. But even as he blasts the FDA for approving an “untested, unsafe” salmon, he's hawking an unregulated supplement that supposedly solves a problem he invented and promoted.

And sometimes the ignorance can be attributed to self-promotion, shoddy media practices and plain old delusional thinking. A recent case in point is The Garden Island's “much ado about nothing” article. It all started when repeat visitor Jeff Pignona wrote a letter to the editor, wondering why the sculpture of an overseer on a horse was no longer part of the sugar industry memorial by the old Koloa mill stack.

TGI then ran a story headlined “Repairs Needed” that included statements from Teddy Blake, who said he’d visited the monument just the week before and everything was in place. After claiming he was single-handedly trying to raise money for repairs, Teddy elaborates:

We can’t figure out how this came about. But the separation is natural. We’re still trying to figure out the phenomenon which caused it to pop off the concrete. And, we still need to come up with the cost of repair.

Huh? Come to find out that sculpture was never even installed. Indeed, the space has been empty for 30 years. 

So WTF are TGI and Blake talking about? And why?

Those are questions we need start to asking more asking often as misinformed people attempt to impose their beliefs, world view, morality, ideology and delusions on the rest of us.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Musings: Reframing the Debate

With yesterday's approval of the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon — the first genetically-engineered animal for human consumption — the door has opened for other GE livestock to enter the market.

And that means anti-GMO groups, which like to portray themselves as both green and kind, will be forced to reconcile their opposition with projects that have clear animal welfare and environmental benefits.

Because it's not just about Monsanto and RoundUp Ready corn any more. It's about livestock developed by public institutions — as opposed to easily-vilified chemical corporations — with traits that are hard to hate.

Like cows born that are born hornless, eliminating the de-horning process that both dairy farmers and animal activists hate. Cattle resistant to sleeping sickness, a disease that kills some 3 million animals annually in Africa, and requires large doses of drugs to cure. Poultry resistant to avian flu, which wiped out millions of chickens and turkeys in the U.S. this year. Pigs that can produce enough milk to successfully nurse their full litter, reducing piglet mortality. Cows and pigs that more efficiently utilize feed, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and frees up land for other purposes.

As these “public good” projects start coming forward, the biotech debate will necessarily be reframed. Is it any wonder that the anti-GMO groups are desperate to stop them? They don't want to lose their cash cow — the fear-mongering, anti-corporate campaigns that keep donations flowing to their coffers.

Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch wasted no time in soliciting donations to wage a legal battle against the FDA, which approved the salmon after a 20-year review that cost AquaBounty some $80 million.

Heck, even Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has taken a few tips from her pals at Center for Food Safety, adopting the group's strategy of creating and exploiting fears about GMOs as a fundraising tool. In an email sent to constituents this week, Tulsi ominously warns:

huge agribusiness corporations hide their use of GMOs and keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.

It was followed by the big red CONTRIBUTE button to “Help Tulsi Win.”

Anti-GMO groups like Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety can win even when they lose if they sue federal agencies, because they can recover legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

In one case, Earthjustice successfully argued that it obtained "excellent results" — despite failing to secure the permanent injunctive relief it sought — and was therefore entitled to a "fully compensable fee." According to court documents, Earthjustice has submitted bills that included time spent on spent on clerical tasks, public relations, press releases, soliciting clients and other matters unrelated to litigation.

In some cases, legal fees in excess of $2 million have been awarded. 

If they file in expensive places like the San Francisco Bay Area, they get to charge fees that are the going rate for that market. Earthjustice's Achitoff, for example, gets to charge $400 an hour more in the Bay Area than he does in Hawaii. 

In one case, Earthjustice and CFS sought these “enhanced” hourly rates for counsel: Paul Achitoff, $650; Andrew Kimbrell, $650; Will Rostov, $575; Isaac Moriwake, $525; Greg Loarie, $450; George Kimbrell, $410; Kevin Golden, $410; Paige Tomaselli, $385; Kateryna Rakowsky, $350; and law clerks, $150. 

And we'll never know just how much these supposed nonprofits bring in from public donations to these legal campaigns, because they don't have to disclose.

Though it's generally accepted that corporations should be required to disclose everything, it's apparently OK to keep consumers and taxpayers in the dark about how much self-serving opposition is actually costing them in terms of higher food prices and government expenses.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Musings: Doing Good and Better

My last night in Manhattan was spent dining and clubbing — it's been a very long time since I danced in the strobe of a disco ball — in the old meatpacking district of Manhattan. My escort/friend, who grew up in NYC, said it was an area filled with criminals and danger when he was a kid. Now it's gentrified, trendy and expensive, as is so much of the city. 

Like so many others in so many places, he's been economically displaced from the place he once called home.
Earlier, I'd walked city streets lined with shops selling designer goods — luggage, crystal, clothes, shoes, jewelry, hats, handbags, chocolate. You name it, they've got it. But few of the stores had any customers, their clerks and doormen standing idle and bored. I'm sure some people must buy, or they wouldn't remain in business. Still, I couldn't help wondering who does support this ultra-abundance of luxury. Is there really that much big money floating around?
I cruised through the Frick Collection, an art gallery set in what was once a private mansion facing Central Park. It now displays works by Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, El Greco and other European masters. Many of their subjects were nobility opulently decked out in pearls, gold, silks and jewels. It's been 400 years since some of these pieces were painted, and still we have not lost our fascination with finery.
Speaking of big money, a friend sent a link to a New York Times article featuring houses that cost more than $1 million — one of which is located in Haena. The 1,524-square-foot house sits on two-thirds of an acre across from “Tunnels.” It's one of the most beautiful coastlines in the Islands, and almost entirely devoted to vacation rentals these days.

I got a giggle from the line, “It consists of one residential level, elevated from the ground for treetop views.” That's got to be the best euphemism yet for flood zone compliance. What caught my eye, though, was the mention of a “yurt next to a seasonal stream.” Hmmm. Guess you're never too rich to turn down the income from an illegal vacation rental.

And so goes Haena, yet another place in Hawaii where the locals are being steadily squeezed out by new big money.

Though I've often heard that New Yorkers are surly and rude, everyone I encountered was friendly and polite — right down to the TSA staff at La Guardia. 

After the security officer checked my ID, he looked me in the eye, and said, "Now I want you to promise me you'll do something amazing today."

"Well, I did give the cab driver a big tip," I said, and he laughed. "But I'll try to do better."

"Good," he replied. "Now you have a wonderful day." 

I went on my way, warmed and cheered, despite the news that my flight is delayed.

Money is useful, and necessary, and it can do good. Still, it's no substitute for the kindness and humanity that springs from an open, loving heart.

Promise me you'll do something amazing today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Musings: Continental Drift

I'm here in New York City – my first time ever. I'd always been a bit intimidated by the prospect of Manhattan, but it's so easy to get around, and people are very friendly.

I've been walking, walking, walking since I arrived last night, carried along in a sea of humanity, traversing streets that are an iconic part of the American culture — Park Ave, Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street — cruising through Grand Central Station, looking up at the glittering Chrysler Building.

Tonight the Cornell Alliance for Science has its big event at the United Nations, where some of the 25 global Fellows will tell their own stories. Joni Kamiya, whose father's farm was saved by the creation of the transgenic Rainbow papaya, is one of them. It's been a real pleasure to meet Joni and her family, and to see the positive, inspirational impact she's had on the other Fellows.

It's been fascinating to meet people from various nations in Africa, as well as the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and the mainland U.S., all committed to doing what they can to end the hunger and malnutrition that plague so many on this planet.

Last night we walked over to the U.N. to check out the venue, and I was awed by the amazing view.
While taking the bus down from Cornell University yesterday, through the rural farmlands of upstate New York and Pennsylvania, cruising along past the office parks of New Jersey, I interspersed my sightseeing with a bit of web surfing. 

I was interested to read a piece in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Sen. Josh Green, one of those who has been so outspoken in opposition to biotech crops and ag pesticides, was all pissed off because the Department of Health wasn't doing enough — as in spraying and medical check-ups — to stave off dengue.

And why? Because it would be so bad for tourism if dengue gets established.

Interesting, how people change their tune about pesticide use when they've got something at stake. I haven't heard Hawaii Center for Food Safety screaming about the DOH spraying pesticides to control mosquitoes in residential communities on the Big Island.

I wonder how Green and CFS would feel about using transgenic mosquitoes, developed by Oxitech, to help eradicate dengue. When the transgenic males mate with wild females, their so-called self-limiting gene is passed on to their offspring, and the larvae die before they can transmit disease.

When I was at the Transgenic Animal Conference in Tahoe last summer — yes, mosquitoes are animals — I interviewed a Brazilian researcher who had experienced excellent results in field trials done there to control dengue.

While residents in the test areas were initially concerned, the researchers did extensive outreach, and addressed people's worries and fears. And when folks saw the positive results, they started asking for more releases, because they had experienced a direct benefit: people weren't getting sick..

The Oxitech mosquitoes were more effective at controlling dengue than pesticide applications alone — tests in Brazil and the Cayman Islands reported an 80 percent suppression rate of dengue.

Meanwhile, Jan TenBruggencate has an interesting piece in Civil Beat about the stinkiness of stinkweed, which can cause people to experience headaches, nausea, clamminess and other ill effects. His piece is aptly titled “The Malodorous Shrub That Launched Kauai’s Pesticide Wars.” As Jan points out:

In November 2006, students and staff at Waimea Canyon Middle School complained of a bad smell that made them nauseous and left them with throat irritation, watery eyes and dizziness. Many attributed it to agricultural spraying on a field next to the school.

The incident continues to be attributed by opponents of Hawaii’s seed industry to pesticide spraying, even though the initial field investigations by police, fire and independent botanical experts said it was stinkweed, a finding that was confirmed by a University of Hawaii study.
Photo by Jan TenBruggencate
This is one of the lies repeatedly told by Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser, Center for Food Safety and crappy journalists like Paul Koberstein and Chris Pala — that Waimea school kids got sick from ag pesticides, when in fact, Syngenta hadn't even sprayed those fields when the incident occurred.

Through their intentional misrepresentations, driven by their desire to stick it to the seed companies, they've drilled that bit of folklore into people's heads.

In reality, there has never been one case in the entire state of seed company pesticides causing school kids to get sick or be evacuated.

Though Jan's well-written and well-researched piece should help to set the record straight, as we all know, it's so much harder to dispel bullshit than it is to spread it.

And on that note, I'll leave you with this photo of contrails — not chemtrails — taken one chilly dusk at Cornell.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Musings: "Glamping" in Anahola

Can it be mere coincidence that The Garden Island has a glowing article on Kumu Camp today — just as the project goes before the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands?

Though the Anahola homelands project is marking its third year of operation, it's only recently completed an after-the-fact Environmental Assessment (EA), with DHHL planners recommending the Board today accept a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).

Aside from issues concerning burials and archaeological sites, it appears the project has insufficient facilities for what is essentially an unpermitted, oceanfront multifamily vacation rental that can serve dozens of people — in the flood zone.
As a Trip Advisor reviewer noted five days ago:

There is a little red truck with a stove and kitchen supplies where you can cook food and eat meals. Each unit has it's [sic] own shower, however the bathrooms are shared with the entire campground. There is only 1 toilet per side, but generally it was never crowded. There is one unit where they offer Massage and Acupuncture. There are weddings, classes and events that happen here all the time.

To hear the newspaper tell it, Kumu Camp, with its 10 “high end” tentalows, two yurts,15 campsites and “mobile certified kitchen,” is all groovy. But that's because it quotes only representatives of its creator, the Anahola Hawaiian Homestead Association (AHHA).

Not everyone is so keen, including nearby homeowner Pat Hunter-Williams, who disputes both the FONSI designation and references to “Kumu Camp.” She asked the DHHL to use the area's correct name: the Anahola Sand Dune Burial site. In a letter to EA consultants, Pat wrote:

It's a shame the former Chair of DHHL broke the law when not requiring an EA Report as part of the application process and BEFORE any development took place. Because this was an after-the-fact EA Report, there was a GREATER need for the State Historic Preservation Office and Burial Council to have been consulted DURING the preparation of the Report and not relegated to comments at the conclusion.  The last sentence in your first paragraph intimates that HAD the EA Report been prepared BEFORE development, the Burial Council would have been consulted during preparation of the Report.

The Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council did ask to be consulted while the EA was being produced, but its request was declined.  

Hmmm. We've seen developers take an after-the-fact approach to skirt the Burial Council, but this could be the first time that Native Hawaiians busted that same move.
Pat also questioned why DHHL beneficiaries, such as her husband, were not consulted prior to the project moving forward, and why construction of an above-ground waste water system was begun without permits, especially since one of the developers is Kauai Councilman KipuKai Kualii. The wastewater project has been capped since receiving a cease and desist order from the state Department of Health. I'm not sure when that occurred, but in March, a Trip Advisor reviewer noted:

What was important to us when booking was close to the beach, hot water and running toilets. We had all of the above. We were able to make our own food with their kitchen.

A January guest reported:

They were nice flushing toilets, but the women's was only cleaned once in the two weeks we were there and the men's about the same. The main restroom and showers drain into a septic tank, and men are asked to use the portapotty. Toward the end of our stay, the septic tank was nearly full and the camp managers warned us they were locking the bathroom doors to keep non-campers out, and were concerned that the tank would overflow.  

As Pat noted in her letter:

[T]he fact remains that the history of these developers is one of NOT following the rules of the lease - as documented over and over again in correspondence to HCDC from DHHL - and what could be characterized as a pattern of seeking permits / approvals / permission after-the-fact - when forced -  which does not engender much confidence that they can be held to their assurances [to cease operations and consult the State Historic Preservation Division and burial council should an iwi disturbance occur.]

Hawaiian Community Development Corporation (HCDC) is an Anahola-based financing conduit created and managed by Robin Danner. HCDC is the fiscal sponsor for AHHA. Robin also serves as vice-president of AHHA, and KipuKai is its president.

The project's website states:

All of the proceeds to Kumu Camp by the general public are designated to our nonprofit operation and hosting of Youth Camps throughout the year and the operation of our Internship Program.

Though TGI played up the youth camps, which sound like a good thing, how much of the revenue actually goes there, as opposed to”our nonprofit operation?” And not even youth camps negate the need to follow the law.

Pat argued in her comments on the EA that there is sufficient reason to require an EIS. As she wrote to planners following the FONSI determination:

The majority of the community was neither informed nor consulted prior to this development commencing and, I might add, prior to the DHHL permits being finalized.  I have repeatedly asked, since becoming aware of this development in early 2014, for copies of the Minutes of meetings held which community members attended. To date, I have received nothing.

Other concerns have been raised about plans to offer SUP and kayak rentals, and possible boat tours on the Anahola River. The website offers “surfing lessons & water activities” and catering by “our nonprofit Anahola CafĂ© & Saimin Stand.”

As Pat concluded:

[T]he use of the word 'pono' is definitely not appropriately - or accurately - used in ANY discussion of this development.

Others seem to agree.

As a September guest wrote on Trip Advisor: 

when we turned the sheets back we found stains and hair on the sheets and pillow cases and upon further investigation mattress cover and mattress were absolutely filthy!! The entire tent a low was filthy as well as the shower and sink with a left over filthy sponge for washing. Outside eating table unwashed and dried decayed food on deck and eating table..... Flies every where !!no lock on tentalows. We took note locals were using tentalows for the night and sneaking out in the morning ? This place is poorly run and cared for..would not recommend it for safety or your health!!!

An August guest was similarly disappointed:

We arrived at this place not expecting it to be anything fantastic and were prepared to rough it a little bit. However, when we arrived we found no gas for the hot water, out of order signs on the toilets and unlockable doors on the tentalows. 'Glamping' this was not. For these reasons we decided to leave and get accommodation elsewhere. It was a little bit disappointing given the nice beach location. If the owners put some money into the place and built some proper cabins they would make a killing.

As was a guest who had July reservations:

When we arrived around 9 pm there was no one there to check us in and no one answered the phone. We were stranded on our first night in Kaua'i. My family and I had to scramble to make other accommodations for our stay last minute, under the gun. Kumu Camp not only didn't answer the phone that night, they never attempted to contact me at all to see if we made it somewhere else or to apologize.

A January guest had mixed reviews:

There were many wonderful aspects of our experience at Kumu Camp: seriously, we were just feet from the beach; the sound of crashing waves 24/7; a great deck to call our own whether it was cocktail hour or coffee time; our own shower; flushing toilets; a comfortable bed; great access to town and restaurants as well as many hikes and beaches; and a quiet, low-key campground.

The reality was that the "kitchen" is an old food truck that did not have lighting (so when you went inside, you needed to bring your headlamp or lantern); and was pretty unclean. There was a lot of old food in there and mice were getting into some hamburger buns that were there (the buns and the mice) our entire stay. Initially, there was only one or two old pots and there were utensils. About four days into our stay, a set of new pots and pans appeared because someone complained. (Not us, as we accepted the status, and planned our meals around our equipment.) The outdoor barbecue grill was deeply crusted by burned food and the only thing we put on there was a pot for water our first morning.  

It may be Hawaiian Homes, but that doesn't mean anything goes. Especially since a Kauai Councilman is involved.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Musings: From Anti to Advocate

I recently received an email from a North Shore Oahu woman, who wrote:

I've been reading your blog for a while and today I read your "Seed of Doubt" article. It struck me as being anti-GMO, but your recent writings seem to support GMO.

I'm pro GMO, or more specifically, pro ALL Ag in a state where it seems we're losing the battle to try to have DIVERSIFIED Ag. I grew up on Waialua Plantation on Oahu and am trying to preserve our agrarian way of life. May be a losing battle. We have many of same issues as North Shore, Kauai.

My question is this: Am I correct in my assessment that you started out anti-GMO and have now become pro-GMO? What changed your mind?

It seems an apt time to publicly respond to her inquiry, since today I'm on the beautiful campus of Cornell University, a visit that represents the culmination, in many ways, of my transition from an anti to an advocate.
And by that I mean an advocate of science-based decision-making, of giving farmers a choice, of retaining access to every tool in the box to respond to the challenge of feeding billions of people in a changing climate. For Hawaii specifically, it means an advocate of agriculture Because despite all the idealism about feeding ourselves, the reality is this: the seed companies are the core of ag in the Islands.

When I wrote “Seed of Doubt” in April 2009, I thought I knew a lot about biotechology. I was proud to be the first Hawaii writer to cover the topic in any depth, starting with “Who Grows There?” — which included a cringe-worthy (editor-selected) image of a tomato being injected with a syringe — in Honolulu magazine. I thought the anti-GMO sources I quoted were credible people with the best interests of the Islands at heart.

But in 2013, everything began to change. Vandana Shiva and Andrew Kimbrell came to Kauai to call for the expulsion of the seed companies, and I saw a large crowd of mostly North Shore haoles transfixed by the revivalist rhetoric into a stuporous state. 

Councilman Gary Hooser introduced his pesticide/GMO regulatory Bill 2491, telling me it didn't matter if the bill was ever enforced, only that it passed. 

As a beekeeper, I participated in a tense panel discussion that was supposed to be about the impacts on pollinators, but was clearly intended to be a takedown of the seed companies. And I experienced my first pummeling on social media when I demanded that panel organizer Jimmy Trujillo honor his promise to other panelists not to videotape the event.

In the course of just a few short months, I saw the social and political climate on Kauai dramatically shift. Hooser had begun the year calling for a “million little fists” to start pounding, and people seemed only too happy to oblige, disrupting meetings, shouting down state officials, aggressively bullying non-believers on social media, stifling debate and discussion through an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.

Over the years I'd attended hundreds of meetings, on all the islands, and I'd never seen or experienced anything like it. It felt like everything I'd ever read about the brown shirts, the Red Guard. It felt creepy, and sinister, like the birthing of a mob mentality, the kind of mindset that had led to pogroms in Germany. It felt nothing like civility, nothing like aloha.

Who are these people? I often wondered. Some were new faces, newcomers; others were people I'd known for years showing an intolerant, ignorant, self-righteous side.

I recall one Kauai County Council meeting, where the red shirts — the anti-GMO advocates supporting Bill 2491 — were on one side of the county building lawn and the blue shirts — the seed company and ag workers who opposed the bill — were on the other. I was absolutely stunned by my visceral reaction to the scene. The red shirt side felt, frankly, repellent: grasping, sanctimonious, unsmiling. The blue shirt side felt, frankly, welcoming: warm, laughing, smiling. And yes, one side was almost entirely white, and the other side almost entirely local.

But what really shifted me emotionally was reading letters to the editor and listening to testimony that portrayed the seed workers as uncaring monsters, defilers, people to be avoided in grocery stores because they might be contaminating others with poisons on their clothes. They were repeatedly characterized as folks who had no aloha for their neighbors or the aina, and either cared only for money, or were duped by their bosses.

It was shocking and deeply disturbing to watch the primarily haole anti-GMO movement turn locals and immigrants into The Other.

My heart went out to them. And once my empathy was aroused, I began to question what I thought I knew about biotechnology and the people who so vigorously opposed it. I began to read and study. I also began to delve into the anti-GMO movement — its funding, its MO, its players, its agenda.

As I learned more, I gained a greater grasp of the complexity of the subject — scientifically, politically and socially. I discovered the so-called good guys weren't so noble as they pretended, and the so-called bad guys weren't as evil as they 'd been portrayed.

Mostly, I began to understand that in Hawaii, support for the seed companies doesn't mean blanket support for Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, DOW, DuPont Pioneer and all their business practices all over the world. It means support for the perpetuation of agriculture. Period.

The seed fields are keeping the irrigation systems open, the ag workers employed, the land in production. One day they may leave; one day Hawaii may grow more of its own food. But until then, they're far and away the most productive aspect of agriculture in the Islands, and despite all the claims to the contrary, we've seen no evidence that their practices are any more harmful than the other industries that support Hawaii's economy.

I also learned that biotechnology isn't just Monsanto and Roundup Ready soy and corn. There's a whole other world in the public sector that is working to improve the disease-resistance and productivity of small, indigenous crops that are crucial to farmers in the developing world. Other public researchers are striving to improve animal welfare, and reduce the environmental impact of livestock and crop production.

I've met many of them, and I've invariably found them to be good, caring, conscientious people who are earnestly striving to make the world a better place. They're typically bewildered by the antipathy that so often greets their work — antipathy generated by those who either do not understand the science, or are trying to distort it to achieve their own political and social objectives.

Along the way, distraught and distressed by what's happened — and is still happening — around biotech in Hawaii, I heard about the Cornell Alliance for Science, which was founded just last year. Funded with a $5.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it's dedicated to improving science communications, ensuring that farmers have access to agricultural technology and depolarizing the biotech debate.

I reached out to its director, Sarah Davidson Evanega, seeking tips on how to heal Hawaii. I found a sympathetic ear in someone who had seen a similar steamroller smash biotech in Thailand, leaving the populace polarized, confused, shaken and afraid. Just like what happened in Hawaii.

For the last nine months I've been doing communications contract work for the Alliance, which has deepened my understanding of both the science and the movement that opposes it. I've also gained an awareness of the international implications of this struggle, and they're huge.

That awareness was heightened by my interaction with the 25 Alliance for Science Global Fellows, most of whom come from nations that are struggling to feed their populace. Their stories of poverty, hunger, crop disease, subsistence farms and the reality of food insecurity moved me, and caused me to ponder more deeply the morality of an anti-GMO movement grounded in affluence and privilege.

Two Fellows from the U.S. summarized my own views when they said:

We're not just talking about American consumers here that have plenty to eat. We're talking about people in food insecure regions who have nothing to eat but a small handful of rice every day.

Access to biotechnology is really a social justice issue. It shouldn't be an issue of white people in the west making public policy for other nations.

The Fellows are graduating from their 12-week course tonight, and I'm here to offer my congratulations and support as they return home, armed with solid knowledge about science, biotechnology and effective communications that will help them guide and inform this ongoing debate.

One of them is Joni Kamiya Rose, the Hawaii Farmers Daughter who was one of the first to raise her voice in opposition to the anti-GMO movement in the Islands. She's a local girl who saw her family farm escape ruin thanks to the papaya that was genetically engineered at Cornell, by Big Islander Dennis Gonsalves, to resist the devastation of the ringspot virus. As Joni quips, “And it all started because I got mad.”

For me, it all started because I got mad and sad — about the fear-mongering, the celebration of ignorance, the bullying, the rending of my community, the polarization that still lingers.

But now, I'm neither mad nor sad, just excited about all the doors that have opened, the horizons that have broadened, simply because I was willing to open my mind and question some deeply-held, and ultimately false, beliefs. This process of reflection and correction feels good, and right — integral to being a thinking, caring being.