Friday, April 24, 2015

Musings: Friday Flashbacks

It was a little disheartening to listen to the County Council's first reading of the proposed homestay/B&B bill because I kept getting flashbacks to the transient vacation rental (TVR) debacle.

As homestay operators and Realtors came before the Council, they made pretty much the same arguments as their TVR predecessors: We never knew we needed a permit; we don't need no stinking regulations; absolutely no caps on the total permits granted; we're not bothering anybody; everyone should be grandfathered in; it's a great way for the County to make money; it's the only way “local folks” can hold on to their houses, and the real capper — well, if you don't want them in residential neighborhoods, then just open up the ag lands.

When Councilman Ross Kagawa noted “Hanalei is gone” and “we haven't even solved the TVR thing,” after wondering why the county had waited until it had 320 cease and desist orders before dealing with the homestay issue, well, that pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

To his credit, Councilman Mason Chock said the county really needed to prepare itself, because AirBnB and VRBO were “coming like a freight train.” But he apparently does not realize that train is already in the station, with hundreds of property owners now using those sites to advertise their illegal TVRs/homestays/B&Bs on Kauai.

Per usual, the county is trying to close the barn door years after the cows got out and moseyed into the meadow.

Councilman Gary Hooser, meanwhile, was absent, even though he'd promised prospective voters, while seeking donations for another Council run, that homestays would be one of his top priorities. But he and his HAPA group have a hot date in Switzerland, and we already know that ranks higher than his dull old Council duties.

Eddi Henry, a retired mortgage banker who bought a house on ag land in Moloaa that she now operates as “curated lodging experience” known as The Palmwood, first played the sympathy card — “We're all retired senior citizens” — before claiming that TVRs and homestays “are completely different animals.”

Except, of course, the TVRs that converted to homestays so they could fly under the radar. Which is why some of us who have been following this issue for a long time are kind of skeptical, and why any TVR cited for illegal operations should be barred from applying for a homestay permit.

Nicki Pignoli, who has a B&B in Kilauea, brought up “the inequity” of the B&B/homestay ordinance, compared to the TVR ordinance, where folks were never issued cease and desist notices while the law was being written and then were “automatically grandfathered if they'd paid taxes.”

And how well did that work? The county was slammed with TVR applications, most of which failed to properly document they were entitled to the permit, and then Planning Director Ian Costa ended up signing off on mass approvals, which gave homeowners a valuable TVR certificate for the life of the property. Meanwhile, folks who actually had followed the law and never started a TVR were forever excluded from having one.

Then the Council made matters worse by allowing TVRs on ag land, while removing all the inspection requirements. Never mind that the North Shore ag lands were some of the best on the island, and now they've been gentrified and fenced off to the place where kanaka maoli are pretty much excluded, except as cleaners and yard boys.

Can the County Council possibly be considering making the same stupid mistakes with homestays/B&Bs as it again grapples with “finding the balance” between property owners who want to maximize their investments and citizens who want a real neighborhood?

Though The Garden Island printed only testimony from those opposed to regulations, Caren Diamond and Sam Lee — neither has a financial stake in the issue, and both have seen their Poipu and Wainiha neighborhoods commercialized with TVRs — made some very salient points.

Sam lives in a 58-home enclave where 27 of the houses have already converted to TVRs, prompting the county to consider turning the entire neighborhood into a Visitor Destination Area. While residents are receptive to B&Bs “in some settings under certain conditions,” he thinks a Class IV zoning permit should be required to ensure a public hearing and citizen review of homestay applications.

The community is especially adamant that the county cap the number of B&B/homestay permits granted, Sam said. “The industry has been unable to self-regulate, suggesting a limit of this kind is imperative.”

Caren, who witnessed the mess caused by the planning department's inability to handle the flood of TVR permits, supported a B&B cap as a way to ensure permit applications are properly processed. She also recommended the county impose a moratorium on B&B/homestay permits pending approval of a regulating ordinance.

If the county had done that during the TVR debate, more than half the TVRs that got permits wouldn't have been approved, she said. In any case, if the county now wants to allow B&Bs, then it needs to reduce the number of TVR permits. With Kauai hosting 1.25 million visitors annually, if all the tourists stay in residential neighborhoods, where will the residents live?

As Ross noted, hammering out the ordinance is going to be a long, painful process. A public hearing is set for May 19, and then the planning committee will take up the issue on May 27.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Musings: Nexus

A friend recently posted this photo on Facebook, with the comment:  "I hadn't seen the situation in Kakaako until today. These photos don't come close to capturing the scope of this shameful mess. What the hell happened to Honolulu?"
It brought to mind similar scenes I'd encountered in urban India, though the Honolulu tarps are newer, cleaner and waterproof:
Westerners expect to see impoverished homeless people in developing nations. But right next to the fab new John Burns medical school in up-and-coming Kakaako? On the streets and beaches of the tourist mecca marketed as “Paradise?”

Not so much. Still, that's the ugly reality of life in the Islands, and most folks go about their day-to-day without giving it much thought. Just like they return to their self-absorbed, planet-busting business-as-usual after celebrating Earth Day.

Meanwhile, a reader sent this email shortly after I returned from India:

While you’ve been gone, a new and bigger insanity has gripped the state: People are up in arms, absolutely indignant that a university would try to construct a telescope atop Mauna Kea.

First, the fight against building telescopes on Mauna Kea is not new. It's been going on for decades, with the most recent battle against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) spanning at least seven years. What's new are the Johnny-come-latelies, the anti-GMO protestors who, having failed to achieve anything in the political arena, are turning their attention to TMT in hopes of building an alliance with the Hawaiian community.

And that's where the two comments find a nexus: Why is it that the fight to protect Mauna Kea has gotten more attention, more interest, more recruits, more social media coverage — particularly among non-Hawaiians — than the ongoing fight against homelessness in Honolulu?

Especially since homelessness affects a disproportionate number of Native Hawaiians (click on images to enlarge):
And why is that non-Hawaiians are quick to take offense at the prospect of another telescope atop Mauna Kea, while remaining mum about the hordes of Hawaiians living houseless in their own homeland? Aren't they, as fellow human beings, the indigenous inhabitants of this archipelago, also sacred, like the summit of the highest mountain?

Why is it that students from Kawaikini Charter School and Kauai Community College are protesting TMT, but saying nothing about the mass of tourists traipsing through Ke'e, or Princeville's attempt to co-opt the heaiu there? Why aren't folks taking to the streets to rage against the ice epidemic that is stealing the sacred souls — and thus the culture — of so many Native Hawaiians?

Or to take it one step further, why is it that a telescope on Mauna Kea has ignited the passions of people locally and around the globe, but the horrors of the Kailua-Kona tourist trap, the gentrification of South Kona and North and South Kohala, the ongoing "economic genocide" — to borrow a phrase from the late Peter Nakamura — is a great big ho-hum?

Perhaps it has something to do with social media, where it's easy to garner likes, shares and #We are Mauna Kea supportive selfies for a simplistic message like “Hawaiians fight to protect their sacred land.” But more complicated concepts, like homelessness, and the gentrification and high cost of living that causes both it and the mass out-migration of kanaka to Las Vegas and elsewhere, aren't easily minimized to Internet memes.

It's easy to attract social media devotees and adrenalin-addicted activists to the latest cause celebre. But using that as gauge falsely inflates the size and power of the movement. I've heard the TMT fight likened to Arab Spring, which is actually a pretty apt comparison. While Arab Spring was a big success on social media, it was a big dud in terms of enacting real and meaningful political change.

Does anyone truly believe that photos like these will stop the TMT?
Or that Gov.Ige will be swayed by 5.000 “likes” and 3,000 “shares?” Especially when he's essentially washed his hands of the conflict, issuing the statement:

The TMT team is legally entitled to use its discretion to proceed with construction.

It's clear, from the many passionate commentaries written by folks on both sides of the issue, that there's no clear consensus on the TMT among Hawaiians or non-Hawaiians. I tend to agree with Ian Lind, who wrote:

I’m guessing there are many people who, like me, see this as an unfortunate clash between two positive sets of values, the urge to preserve and protect our natural and cultural resources, and the urge to understand and investigate the nature of the universe around us.

I understand the rage and frustration that many kanaka feel. I understand the value of political symbols. I understand, and deeply respect, the concept of sacred land.

But what I don't understand is the selective attention paid to certain issues — especially among non-Hawaiians — while others of equal importance are ignored. Shouldn't these struggles, which share a common root, produce similar sufferings, be addressed as the complex, inter-related whole that they are, rather than reduced to a bumper sticker slogan, a street march or a selfie?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Musings: By Any Other Name

As the Kauai County Council prepares to take up the homestay ordinance tomorrow, we've been hearing the oft-repeated cry of “gosh, we had no idea we needed a permit” from so many operators. 

Especially those who have been issued a cease and desist order from the county.

So imagine our surprise when we took a little gander at homestays/B&Bs offered in the Kilauea area, for just one example, and discovered that some of the owners are Realtors, people who already have TVR permits — in short, folks who really ought to know better.

Like Realtor Bruce Fehring, who has a legal TVR, Hale Kaikalani, as well as Twin Hearts — a not-so-legal “homestay.” In the web copy, he even has “homestay” in quotes, because he knows — wink-wink — that Twin Hearts is a TVR on ag land that failed to secure a permit, and is now masquerading as something it's not.

Then there's Allen and Catherine Rietow, who rent the Aloha Sunrise Cottage and its twin, the Aloha Sunset Cottage, on their seven-acre ag parcel. But they don't even try in their ad copy to pass them off as either B&Bs or home stays, just unpermitted TVRs.

Randy and Jill Smith, meanwhile, rent the Jasmine Nights cottage, which presumably could pass as a “homestay” because the owners at least serve as hosts. But how, exactly, is it any different than a TVR on ag land, for which permits are no longer being issued?

And since the proposed ordinance only addresses homestays/B&Bs in the residential district, what exactly is going to happen to the dozens operating on ag land?

Francesca Azuremare-Woolger, also a Realtor, advertises “Several private cottages in and around Kilauea area,” while Richard A. rents out the Coconut Hut.

Realtor Harvest Edmonds — who claims to be “a passionate supporter of sustainable agriculture on Kauai,” even as she helps turn North Shore ag lands into resorts — argued passionately for TVR permits on ag land, claiming she and her husband would otherwise lose their land. She got a permit, but then went ahead and created another TVR/homestay/B&B — the “Green” Cottage.

Then there's the “Kauai Retreat Center,” on ag land in Waipake, that offers six-bedrooms — all with “private outside keyed entrances.” At what point, you may legitimately ask, does a B&B become a hotel?

Let's not forget The Palmwood, which bills itself as “an update on the traditional bed and breakfast,” because it's actually a three-story TVR in the hills of Moloaa that rents its three rooms for about $300 each per night.

Or the Anahata Sanctuary, with its six “sacred chambers” (bedrooms) and meditation temple that is “a perfect place to meet Conscious Like-Minded People.”

Are you starting to get the idea that these aren't really mom-and-pop establishments operated by na├»ve landowners who have been brutally victimized by callous county enforcers? 

Instead, they're just the latest round of TVRs seeking permits that were no longer supposed to be granted.

The question now is will the county cave? Or stand its ground and shut 'em down?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Musings: Rising Tides of Insanity

While reading The Garden Island's “reefer madness” guest commentary on the “dangerous risks” of medical marijuana dispensaries, I couldn't help but reflect on another commentary, this one in yesterday's The New York Times, about heroin addiction.

While Alfred P. Sarmento used TGI to denounce those who have sought medical marijuana for severe pain, making like it's just a scam to get high, Sam Quinones wrote in the NYT:

Fatal heroin overdoses in America have almost tripled in three years. More than 8,250 people a year now die from heroin. At the same time, roughly double that number are dying from prescription opioid painkillers, which are molecularly similar. Heroin has become the fallback dope when an addict can’t afford, or find, pills. Total overdose deaths, most often from pills and heroin, now surpass traffic fatalities.

If these deaths are the measure, we are arguably in the middle of our worst drug plague ever, apart from cigarettes and alcohol.

Hawaii is not immune from this plague. So why is Saramento freaking out about medical marijuana? isn't it kind of a no-brainer to hope, even pray, that people seeking pain relief through highly addictive opioid prescription drugs and heroin would instead find pain relief through medical marijuana?

Because despite Saramento's claims, the only “rising tide of insanity getting ready to hit our shores on Kauai” is the irrational fear about medical marijuana dispensaries.

The other tide of insanity has already hit, namely the freak-out about pesticides — but curiously, only those applied by biotech seed companies. Councilman Gary Hooser, wearing his HAPA hat, plans to ride that tide to Switzerland this week, apparently unaware that it's a land-locked nation. 

The purpose of his mission? Cry to the Swiss government about how Syngenta, which is headquartered there, uses pesticides in the U.S. that are banned in Switzerland. As the press release  states:

The delegation will be presenting Swiss lawmakers with a petition from Hawai‘i residents and other supporters requesting that Hawai‘i and its people be granted the same respect and protection that is granted to the people of Switzerland.

Now what, exactly, is the Swiss government supposed to do? Shut down Syngenta? Right. And why would the Swiss government give a shit, considering Syngenta is engaged in activities that are perfectly legal in the U.S.?

It wouldn't, of course. But it's all part of the show that Gary and the anti-GMO folks are putting on, replete with the usual lies, as posted on the HAPA Facebook page: “Syngenta sprays literally tons of restricted use pesticides on the tiny island of Kaua`i - next to schools, hospitals, and homes.” 

Except it doesn't. The company has voluntarily implemented buffer zones.

Sadly, though, truth-challenged HAPA will be passing off its propaganda as "educamation" to a gullible group of true believers, namely, a “European alliance of environmental organizations, trade unions and political parties tracking the activities and impacts of Swiss transnational corporations around the world.” The press release states:

The purpose of the trip is to educate this international audience on the cultural and historical context of Syngenta’s operations on Kaua‘i, the impacts of the industry’s activities, and the political and social efforts of the community to gain environmental and public health protections (i.e. through Kaua‘i Bill 2491 and state bills such as HB1514).

The HAPA delegation includes Gary, Malia Chun and Fern Rosenstiel, who is laughingly identified as an “environmental scientist.” Do you suppose Gary and Fern are still going to be making their discredited birth defect and cancer cluster claims? And will they reveal how Bill 2491 was passed via fistee mob action, and then struck down in a triumphant display of the state's pre-emptive powers? Or will they stick to the little engine that could fairy tale? 
I know it's snarky, so spare me your outraged comments, but frankly, this group is not a good advertisement for a GMO-free diet. And Malia certainly doesn't look like someone residing in a pesticide hell-hole, as she has claimed under threat of perjury in her court documents.

The press release states: 

Hooser will be speaking as an individual relating his individual experiences, thoughts and concerns and not in his official capacity.

Which means he has been reading my blog, where I've repeatedly dinged him for testifying to the state Legislature as a Councilman on issues the Council has not considered.

But if he's speaking as an individual, why is he identified first as Kauai County Councilman, and second as HAPA President? Because Gary, once again, is using his elected position to try and give some sliver of credibility to his nonprofit.

I keep waiting for HAPA, which has weighed in on the Mauna Kea telescope and other issues, to say something about the culture-appropriating Princeville project, and its recent application of herbicides — do you suppose they were manufactured by Syngenta? — to 100 acres on the Prince Course greens.

So far, HAPA has been silent. I guess it would be a bit hypocritical for HAPA communications director Elif Beall to say anything when her husband is selling real estate to the same exclusive crowd.

Which brings us back to the question we've always had about Hooser, HAPA and the rest of the anti-GMO crowd: why have they targeted only agricultural companies, which just so happen to be occupying those oh-so-desireable and still undeveloped lands on the westside?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Musings: Prepare to Puke

A friend sent me a brochure for the Hanalei Golf & Beach Club with the message, “be ready to puke” and a subject line that read “Princeville, not Hanalei!”

Because while the super-exclusive Hanalei Golf & Beach Club capitalizes on the name and mystique of Hanalei, it is most decidedly Princeville in both flavor and locale. After describing how Princville's “verdant acreage was home to cattle and horse ranching, farming and plantation living,” the brochure proclaims:

But it was a century later that the north shore homestead found its true calling: that of an exclusive community.

Puking yet?

Don't worry, though. The master-plan for this 180-residence “exclusive community” will be:

[C]rafted by the guiding principles of Culture, Sustainability and Historic Hanalei. Our decisions are guided by an understanding of the ahupuaa, the ancient Hawaiian system of land stewardship. Our community will be a model of 21st century environmentally and socially responsible sustainable development. [Really? Check out yesterday's post on the Prince Course links.] Lastly, our traditions and spirit will embrace the essence of historic Hanalei and the true spirit of aloha.

No doubt it's the same “spirit of aloha” that John Hoff wants to export from his B&B on ag land, which, like the Hanalei Golf & Surf Club, is a far more lucrative use than boring old farming. As he exhorted in his letter to the editor yesterday: "Let us nurture aloha on ag lands!"


But let's return to the the private Prince, a project by Discovery Land Company, The Resort Group and Reignwood International that promises us:

[T]he perfect balance between natural and built forms, activity and serenity, community and privacy – complemented by world-class luxury amenities including world-class championship golf, member clubhouse, beach club, wellness center, equestrian facilities, private airport, organic farm, community mauka trail system, and boat launch. Within this ideal place, relationships between people and the environmeant [sic] are cast in an intangible mold, honoring the influences of the past while creating a value for Members and generations to come.

Thank goodness they claim “a deep understanding” of the “project's competitive market environment” and “local culture.”

But then, if they did, would they have written this?

Surround yourself with over 8,500 acres of tropical landscape. Cradled by five majestic mountains, the Princeville ahupuaa [huh?] traverses down craggy slopes to the sea. Within this circle, the emerald green Hanalei Valley is a patchwork of historic taro farms, wild bird habitats, equestrian paths and hiking trails.

Yup, buy into this private Club and you not only get Princeville, but the entire Hanalei Valley and Bay, with all its surf breaks. The brochure goes on to promise:

The first of its kind. Where you will live in harmony with nature. Where you will create a family retreat for generations to come. Where you will care for the land with aloha, as an ‘ohana – family. And where you will return again and again to replenish the soul, naturally. A heaven on earth. An ancient ahupuaa of royal land from mountain to sea on the North Shore of Kauai. A playground for princes, then and now. And an opportunity for relaxed, country living – island style – that just a chosen few may call home.

Chosen few. Yup, that's really a reflection of local culture, 'ohana and aloha, all rolled into one.

Sadly, there's more. Get your barf bag ready:

Create your private retreat on royal lands. Enjoy the array of amenities befitting the new konohiki – stewards of the land. Share the mana – spirit – of this special place with future generations.

There you have it. The super rich are proclaiming themselves the new konohiki. Yeah, just go ahead and claim not only the island, but the culture and the mana.

And folks are protesting a telescope, while letting this crap slide? Is anyone going to take to Facebook with “I am Princeville” written on their bosom, biceps or palm? Because these guys are also laying claim to what they characterize as “sacred surfing spots” as well as other sacred sites, and even the ancestors:

Your presence at The Hanalei Club honors the contributions of many, many Hanalei ancestors.

The Hanalei Club, come celebrate the Hula. Pay tribute to Laka, the hula goddess. Visit her stone shrine at Lohiau Dance Pavillion along a path from Ke ‘e Beach State Park in Haena, where members of modern hula hulau (schools) leave tokens in her honor. Or enjoy the artful chants and legends that have preserved Hawaiian cultural traditions for centuries.

The map of the project gives folks a sense of how much vast territory their konohiki rights entail. Location bubbles are filled in with things like “surf Kalihiwai Point” and “Trail to Anini House Outdoor Pursuits” and “Anini Beach,” which they are clearly taking over with 20 new “Anini Beach Estates.” Some 30 “Mauka Ranches” will be built behind the Princeville Airport, soon to be privatized so folks don't have to endure the Kapaa traffic.

As the brochure states:

When you spot Hihimanu – Manta Ray, named for the graceful sea creature – you’ll know you’re home.

So act like you own the whole damn place.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Musings: Unjustifiable Stances

The new owners of the Prince Course — Jeff Stone and Reignwood International — are taking a scorched earth policy to the greens there, applying herbicides to more than 100 acres of links.
And then what do you suppose they'll apply to make the new grass grow again?

As you can see, they sprayed right up to the water's edge, with no buffer zone at all.
And as the nene doodoo indicates, endangered birds are frequenting the sprayed greens, with unknown effects.
Where's Councilman Gary Hooser, the outraged KKCR DJs, Fern Rosenstiel, Dustin Barca, GMO-Free Kauai, Babes Against Biotech, Hawaii SEED and all the other folks who have been screaming about pesticide and herbicide use on the westside? Here's something happening right in their own backyard.

Surely their concern isn't limited only to multinational chemical/seed companies, to the exclusion of multinational developers. Unless, of course, their interest all along has been in destroying agriculture, so resort/tourism uses can flourish.

As I reported last July, a study by University of Hawaii researchers shows that Island golf courses use significantly more pesticides than the seed/chem companies.  The report, last updated in 1999, estimated that 119,867 pounds — nearly 60 tons — of pesticides are used annually on golf courses in Hawaii.

By comparison, approximately 2.5 tons and 5,884 gallons of restricted use pesticides were applied to Kauai's seed fields in 2012. The pesticides applied to links in Hawaii include Chlorpyrifos, Dicamba, 2,4-D and Roundup — the same herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used on seed fields. Yet the anti-GMO groups have singled out only agriculture for attack and regulation. Why?

Meanwhile, the New York Times is criticizing India's ongoing crackdown on Greenpeace. Most recently, India’s Home Ministry temporarily suspended Greenpeace India’s registration as a group eligible to receive foreign funds under India’s 2010 Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and froze its bank accounts.

While the NYT is focusing on Greenpeace's activities to halt coal mining, the international “nonprofit” has also been active in stymying India's foray into biotech crops, using the same misinformation, propaganda strategies employed in the Philippines and Thailand, where the group also destroyed test crops.

Though the NYT is framing it as a free speech issue, and it's true that dissent must be allowed in a democratic society, there's more to the story than that. India is reacting against what it sees as foreign meddling in its affairs.

Greenpeace — like many groups active in Hawaii — is not at all transparent in revealing either funding sources or expenditures, which are significant. Greenpeace International claimed revenues of about $171 million in 2013. And while the NYT unquestioningly accepts Greenpeace India's claim that 70 percent of its funding is generated in-country, no public records confirm either its budget or its funding sources.

What is clear is that Greenpeace has an extraordinary presence in India, with 268 permanent staff in that country alone, compared to 221 in North America, 175 in Southeast Asia and just 48 in Africa. It's hard to believe that money isn't being funneled into India from outside.

And in other news, the Hawaii State Legislature apparently wants to ensure that only the big boys are allowed to operate medical marijuana dispensaries. It's moving forward with HB 321, which would require folks to plunk down a $25,000 nonrefundable application fee. Ouch,

And if you get the green light, you have to pay another $75,000 for each license approved, plus $25,000 for each retail dispensing location allowed.

The bill also imposes a special general excise tax of 25 percent on marijuana sales by dispensaries, and a retail marijuana special sales tax of 10 percent.

Wow. Talk about gouging.

So far, Sen. Ron Kouchi and Rep. Jimmy Tokioka have voted against the dispensary law, while Reps. Dee Morikawa and Derek Kawakami were in support, Derek with reservations.

Council Chair Mel Rapozo also was able to muster a majority to support his resolution opposing any dispensary in Kauai County. The reso carries no legal weight, because the bill prohibits counties from enacting ordinances or rules to prohibit the use of land for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Still, it expresses the reactionary mindset of those who are willing to discriminate against medical marijuana patients by denying them the same rights that other patients have to purchase their prescribed medications in a legal facility. How can they justify that stance?