Thursday, November 20, 2014

Musings: One-Two Punch

The Kauai County Council inflicted blows on agriculture and coastal preservation yesterday, passing one bill to hike property taxes for those who grow GMO crops, and another that makes it easier to develop along rocky shorelines.

Overall, it was a disappointing final meeting for this Council, which will seat two new members next month. But there was one bright note: we will no longer have to endure Jay Furfaro and Tim Bynum, both of whom thankfully lost their re-election bids.

The Council first approved a shoreline setback bill that exempts rocky shorelines and coastal bluffs from setback requirements. The action green-lights development in all the wrong places, like hazardous cliffs and coastal bluffs. Councilman Mason Chock was a staunch opponent.

The Council then went on to pass Bynum's “agronomics” bill, which would make Kauai the first county in Hawaii, and possibly the nation, to use lease rents, rather than market value, to assess tax rates. Councilman Ross Kagawa, who joined Mel Rapozo in voting against the bill, finds that prospect worrisome.

We tried to break new ground with 2491 and we lost,” he said, referencing the GMO/pesticide regulatory bill that was challenged by the seed companies and overturned by a federal judge. “I'm fearful of potential problems when you break new ground such as this.”

Ross said another lawsuit from the seed companies is likely. “Of course they're going to challenge a higher real property tax bill.”

The bill also impacts small farmers and ranchers who sublease land from the seed companies to grow diversified food crops and animal feed when the seed fields are fallow.

Those sub-lessees, as well as small farmers who grow GMO crops, likely will see higher costs because the bill affects parcels used for biotech research or cultivation in any part of the year, under an amendment proposed by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

Though JoAnn denied the bill will affect small farmers who grow GMO crops, such as corn and papaya, both Mel and Grove Farm Vice President Mike Tresler disagreed.

The small farmer who grows GMOs is going to pay higher taxes because they grow GMOs,” Mike,  a former county finance director, said to JoAnn. “You're shaking your head, but how can you tell me that isn't so? I can't tell from looking at this bill.”

Mel said the bill addresses crops regulated by the federal government, which includes all biotech seed. "I don't believe so," JoAnn replied.

But if you look at her amendment, it specifies crops regulated by federal government and whose DNA has been manipulated through genetic engineering to introduce new traits. Sure sounds like GMO corn and papaya to me.

Mike said he has been working with the seed companies to encourage them to cooperate with farmers and ranchers to grow cover crops and food crops when the seed fields are fallow, as they are much of the year.

We want to encourage them to continue that practice but if you tax them at this GMO rate it doesn't encourage that,” he said. “You're trying to single out the seed corn industry and I think the public has spoken on that issue pretty clearly.”

He was referencing the November election, in which anti-GMO candidates, including Bynum, fared poorly, while Mel and Ross, who opposed Bill 2491, were re-elected by a landslide.

Tom Shigemoto of A&B Properties said the ag bill is poorly written and will be difficult to implement. He also felt it was improper to require landowners to give the county proprietary information about lease rates.

JoAnn seems to believe the bill will actually help diversified farmers, who she said can't compete with the biotech companies, which are willing to higher lease rents.

But Tom vehemently disagreed. “I object because this doesn't help ag. Period.”

I think this is worth a try,” JoAnn said. “I hope it will make our laws better and not really hurt our biotech ag.”

It's worth a try?” Mel echoed. “That's not we do here. We don't do trial and error here.”

Mike said the seed companies pay good wages and also maintain infrastructure that benefits small farmers.

So we're going to punish them,” Mel said. “I see no justification.”

Both Bynum and Gary Hooser, as well as anti-GMO activists, have repeatedly claimed the seed companies only engage in experimentation here, and grow nothing for export. But Mike said that isn't true. “Actually, they do produce a product for sale,” he said, asking why the seed companies aren't considered diversified agriculture.

Mike also questioned how the Council could legitimately differentiate between farmers who grow a product for direct sale to consumers and those who grow a product that is processed in a mill and made into food that is sold to consumers.

Ross said the Council should have spent more time researching the bill and its legal ramifications, as well as unforeseen consequences, such as what will happen to housing occupied by former sugar workers if the seed companies pull out. 

But he said there are two options left: Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. could veto the bill, and “perhaps a new council can re-look at this bill and see if it's in the best interest of our taxpayers.”

The vote on the ag bill was 4-2, with Jay not present and Mel and Ross opposed. On the shoreline setback bill, the vote was 5-2, with Mason and Gary opposed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Musings: Cleanup Crew

The Kauai County Council will take up the topic of cesspools today, when it considers a resolution to support a low-interest loan program to help residents convert to septic systems.

Proposed by outgoing Chair Jay Furfaro, the resolution calls for funding a 20-year loan program with $10 million in bonds. The program would serve people who meet income restrictions, and are buying or selling houses within 200 feet of a perennial stream, river, ocean, or shoreline, or a two-year groundwater travel time to the intake of a public drinking water well.

Quite a few properties would qualify. Kauai has some 14,000 cesspools, and 11,600 of them are located in perennial watersheds, discharging approximately 8.1 million gallons of effluent, 1,800 kilograms of nitrogen and 520 kg of phosphorus into the environment daily, according to the resolution. Ugh.

The resolution was driven by the state Health Department's proposed rule changes, which would prohibit new cesspools — Kauai has wisely already done this — and require houses with cesspools to convert to septic systems within 180 days of sale.

The conversion cost is estimated at $15,000 to $20,000, according to the resolution, “which may be cost prohibitive for a majority of residents on Kauai who would like to own or sell a home on Kauai. It goes on to claim that mandated conversions will cause “extreme financial hardship” for the community.

No doubt that's true for some, and low-cost loans seem reasonable to help them.

But in the meantime, what can be done to hurry along those who most certainly can afford it, and whose properties are located right on the ocean? Like the numerous vacation rentals in Haena and Hanalei, which Jay curiously never mentions in his resolution, though he does reference homes in Wailua-Kapaa, Nawiliwili and the area from Poipu-Hanapepe.
One blatant example is the $3.987 million Bali Hai Dream House, which is owned by the Paskal (tour boats and Postcards restaurant) Trust and located right on Makua (Tunnels).

Though records show the house was significantly upgraded in 1996, it's still using the same small cesspool that was dug back in 1970 for the original little house. Only now it has three bathrooms, and sleeps six-to-eight. With a weekly rent of $9,500, it could quickly cover the cost of a conversion.

And then there's the Teak House, an $8 million, eight-bedroom, 6,026-square-foot vacation rental that was built atop burials by the Zimmerman family — which, btw, funds the local anti-GMO movement. This TVR has 8 full baths, one half-bath and a pool, all served by a small cesspool built in 1989.

Come on! This is totally unacceptable for high-value, high-use TVRs right on the ocean. Sadly, these properties are but two of many. It's time for the county to require conversion to septic as a condition of renewing TVR permits.

The last time I wrote about the proposed cesspool rules, I got a comment from Kauai Principal Broker F. Lee Morey, who wrote:

What is true is that what is proposed by the Dept. of Health, which is point of sale replacement is not a good idea. We average 150 sales per year that have cesspools. This info is taken from MLS records. There are approximately 14,000 cesspools on Kauai. That equates to 93 years if all cesspool properties were to be sold and changed. Then throw into that equation the problems that point of sale will create with lenders, lower end and older homes. Primarily hurting those that can least afford it. We want cesspools gone. We just believe there is a better way to do it than point of sale.

What I personally would like to see, as a Realtor, is a 10 year deadline to get rid of all cesspools. First focusing on the most critical areas that have been identified. I would like to see no interest or low interest loans so that the replacement can take place prior to a sale and not create withholding issues for lenders. The cost of replacement is $20,000 to $30,000 per property. The smaller lots, under 10,000 sq. ft., must use a system that fits down into the cesspool that now costs $30,000. You can see how that may be cost prohibitive for some families. There should also be tax credits just like solar.

Last but not least there has to be enforcement. I think that the Dept. of Health feels it will be easy to monitor at point of sale. Though monitoring may be easier 1) It will not get the job done in a timely manner and 2) we need to offer some assistance for those that were complying with the law when they built their homes and not penalize those that can least afford it. 

The Garden Island has written extensively about Mahaulepu stream contamination, which can apparently be attributed to nene, chickens and wild pigs (what a surprise), and the North Shore coral disease. But it's been totally mum about the impact of TVR cesspools on water quality, perhaps because neither Surfrider nor the Terry Lilley fan club have an ax to grind there.

Regardless of what the DOH decides, Kauai County can take its own path toward cleaner water by helping locals with low-cost loans and demanding septic conversions for TVRs near the ocean and streams. As for tax credits, they should be limited to the least expensive properties, not issued across the board.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Musings: Parting Shots

Tomorrow is the final meeting of this County Council, and with two important bills on the agenda — shoreline setback and removing experimental crops from the ag dedication — it remains to be seen what legacy this body will leave for Kauai.

The key policy issue in the shoreline bill is this: Should the building setback be just 60 feet from rocky shorelines, as the current bill proposes, or 100 feet, as coastal and community advocates desire?

The key policy issue in the “agronomics” bill is whether thousands of acres with actual, legit crops in the ground should lose their agricultural dedication because bill sponsors Councilmen Tim Bynum and Gary Hooser are on a vendetta against the seed companies.

The bill eliminates the ag tax credit for all experimental crops — including biofuel and hemp, which could be problematic, seeing as how Grove Farm has state-designated Important Ag Lands in biofuel. I smell a lawsuit if this bill passes — and curiously Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura and County Attorney Al Castillo are in a tug-of-war over whether his legal opinion on the bill should be publicly released.

The key political issue is this: Should a loser and near-loser, neither of whom reflect the will of any majority, be setting policy with important, long-ranging ramifications for development and agriculture on this island?

Meanwhile, Hooser, the near-loser, sent out a gloating email that chronicled his “happy dance” upon learning he barely eked out a dead-last win. In it, he opined:

My good friends in the chemical industry were for sure high fiving, whooping it up and celebrating my demise during the first and second print-outs (insert facetious smirk). 

Actually, Gary, it was those of us with no ties to the industry who were joyously — and, sadly, prematurely — celebrating the demise of a demagogue whose lies have polarized communities across the state, infuriated and alienated thousands of decent citizens and wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, with no end to the carnage in sight.

Gary went on to make it clear his hubris far exceeds his meager vote tally, while his overweening political ambitions will leave him hard-pressed to fulfill his Kauai County duties:

We need statewide buffer zones, full disclosure, a targeted health and environmental study and a temporary statewide moratorium on the growth of this industry until we can determine and mitigate the impacts on the health and environment of our community.

Mmm, why not advocate for more money for state ag inspectors and health department studies, seeing as how those agencies have insufficient funding to do their jobs? 

And why focus solely on agriculture, when Civil Beat yesterday reported Ken Kakesako, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, as saying (emphasis added):

About 1,600 people or companies have licenses to apply restricted-use pesticides, and only 25 percent of them are farm-related.

The rest include professional pesticide applicators, such as exterminators that fumigate homes to get rid of termites and other pests.

“It’s misleading to only look at agriculture,” Kakesako said. “It shouldn’t be such a central focus if the conversation is truly about pesticides.”

But, of course, the conversation never has true, nor about pesticides. It's anti-GMO all the way, baby.

Kakesako's comment also reveals the lie that Tim and Gary used to rationalize both Bill 2491 and the agronomics bill: the seed companies should be singled out and punished because they're exposing more people to restricted use pesticides than anyone else.

Will that rationale hold up in court if the landowners sue over the agronomics bill?

Meanwhile, the “Maui Miracle” — to use Gary's term for the the GMO crop moratorium that narrowly passed, against the wishes of a majority of Molokai residents — is tied up in court, along with the Big Island's GMO crop ban. And though Gary is claiming “three of the four counties are all-in,” the political realities are a bit different.

Big Island friends tell me their County Council is considering a repeal of their bill, and would likely be emboldened if the new Kauai County Council also repeals Bill 2491/Ordinance 960, which is dead unless an appeals court resurrects it.

And there's no indication that Oahu folks are on board with any of this — anti-GMO marches there got small turnouts — and they still call the political shots in Hawaii.

So it's not too late to stop this political theatre, which benefits only a few grandstanding politicians and mainland-based advocacy groups, and address this issue in a sensible manner: fully fund the state Ag and Health departments so they can do their jobs, not just with pesticides, but invasive species, substance abuse, an obesity and diabetes epidemic and myriad other legitimate concerns.

To close on a note of levity, I'll leave you with the essay, “A small scale organic farmer wants you to know a few things,” which begins with the line:

Welcome to the farmers' market.

My favorite part:

No, the fucking chickens aren’t grass-fed. Because they aren’t fucking ruminants, that’s why, not because I’m part of a secret rural conspiracy to disrupt the endocrine systems of America’s urban masses. 

You get the drift….

Monday, November 17, 2014

Musings: The Future is Now

Kauai residents got a glimpse of the future this past week, and it freaked a lot of people out.

From the posh “Private Prince” project to a proposed resort designation at Mahaulepu, the writing is on the wall: barring an economic downturn or hurricane — the only two forces that have slowed Kauai construction in the past — more resort development is coming.

Curiously, though we've been hearing for the past two years that we must protect the visitor industry at all costs — even if it means destroying the seed companies and rejecting a dairy — once folks actually see the reality of putting all their eggs in the tourism basket, they don't want that, either.

Guess what? You don't get to have it both ways. As I've been saying for a long time now, when you allow the gentrification of ag land, it makes farming economically unfeasible. Once you eliminate agriculture, development is sure follow. And since there's no money in affordable housing, regardless of how much it's needed, it's gonna be upscale stuff in the very best places.

Hence, the “Private Prince” on land that once ran cattle, and a proposal — driven at least in part by the community's rejection of agricultural uses there — to set aside 13 acres at Mahaulepu for a resort.

Simultaneously, Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, along with Adam Asquith, Carl Berg, Don Heacock, Kapua Sproat and others, are trying to stop Grove Farm development in Lihue/Hanamaulu — one area where affordable housing actually is planned — by having the Puna District designated a groundwater management area.

If Grove Farm can't develop in Lihue, it will develop at Mahaulepu, and/or sell off more large tracts of land to the uber-rich, as has already happened with 2,700 acres at Kipu. And if the low-and-middle-class housing for residents is killed in Lihue, where will it be built? It won't.

Meanwhile, other people are wasting time on this sort of nonsense:

the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi has served all Realtors with a cease and desist order and they know it and are starting to ask can they be arrested...

I have a lot of sympathy for the Hawaiian independence movement, but as it currently stands, the Atooi Kingdom has no legal authority and its cease and desist orders are meaningless. Unfortunately, kanaka who might otherwise get involved in rejecting or at least shaping development proposals are distracted by these bogus strategies and misled into believing that something is happening when it's not.

As for Joan Dickerson of the Princeville Ladies Golf Club, who wants to “petition the governor to do an eminent domain” on the Prince Course, well, that's just plain silly. Get real.

The Garden Island reports that Dickerson, who bought a home near the Prince Course, found news of the Private Prince both surprising and expected, "while the project gets to the heart of the question:" 

How much do we want to sit by and watch a select few take away our resources?

Yes, that question has been asked — and never answered — on Kauai for well over a century now. The irony is that people asked it of the development where the Dickersons bought, and now the Dickersons are asking it.

All the transplants, except those in high end real estate, want to pull up the drawbridge once they're safely inside the castle. Yet still, the battering rams are arrayed outside the walls.

A number of people have sent me emails asking what can be done about the Private Prince — a $500 million venture by Jeff Stone and Thai-Chinese billionaire Chanchai Ruayrungruang to develop an 8,000-acre, 350-unit community, while absconding with Anini Beach and extending the Princeville Airport runway in the process.

Development at Princeville can't be entirely stopped because they already have zoning entitlements, and neither Kauai County nor the State of Hawaii have ever shown any inclination to risk a private property “takings” lawsuit.

Still, residents can take steps to shape the project, exact concessions and protect Anini Beach from privatization — as has already happened with Kanaha and other North Shore beaches where vacation rentals have flourished, as most people yawned. But they must get organized now and dog the proposal as it moves through the permitting process.

Citizens also can push for restrictions on development that impacts viewplanes — the Private Prince plans to build 75 homes, each on a 5-acre lot, along the ridges (follow the yellow dots) between the coast and the Prince Course.
They can contact the County Council and urge its members to adopt a strong shoreline setback bill on Wednesday — one that requires adequate setback from the ocean bluffs and rocky coastlines that remain undeveloped.

They also need to urge the Council to reject Bill 2546 — a misguided, short-sighted attempt by Hooser and Councilman Tim Bynum to punish the seed companies by yanking all the land they lease out of the ag dedication. Though they're doing it under the guise of squeezing more dough from the multination chem companies, the end result will be ag land taxed at market values, which means it's ripe for development.

Though Gary pooh-poohed the prospect of westside development, saying the landowners would be restricted in how many homes they could build, he totally ignored the prospect of more private enclaves like the “Prince” going up on the desirable hillsides around Hanapepe and Waimea.

And as a way of saying they don't dig the escalating ritziness on the North Shore, people can support a resolution from departing Councilmen Jay Furfaro, which urges the Department of Land and Natural Resources to take an active role in prohibiting yachts longer than 75 feet from anchoring in Hanalei Bay.

Mostly, folks need to start looking at the big picture, the consequences of their actions, where they're putting all their oppositional energy. As some North Shore residents fought seed companies on the westside, and proclaimed they'd take tourism over seeds any day of the week, Stone and his cronies were busily plotting to give them exactly what they were begging for.

But no, they don't really want that.

So can Dustin Barca, Andrea Brower, Bynum and Hooser re-direct their troops to fight this latest assault — in their own backyard, yet — on the Kauai-as-fully-sustainable-pristine-paradise-myth? Which might be touchy, considering how they've aligned themselves with the high-end Realtors and North Shore super rich. Or was the anti-GMO/"red shirt" crowd really a pro-development movement in disguise, as I've suspected all along? 

As the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And I hear them high-priced grinds is real ono. Belly up now, 'fore it's all gone.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Musings: Face of a Demagogue

dem·a·gogue noun \ˈde-mə-ˌgäg\
: a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason.

I've been both fascinated and repelled by the glorified demagoguery of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii.

It is not to be confused with demigod — the status to which anti-GMO activist Dustin Barca elevated himself with a crude cartoon depicting him as the “Hawaiian Superman,” a reference to the demigod Maui.

No, demagoguery is something different — more deliberate, more dangerous, more destructive to democracy, more insidious.

As a friend characterized it: 

I'm good because you're bad. We are virtuous because you are evil. Oh, and a truck will come by in the morning to escort you to your re-education camp.

The rhetoric espoused by Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser has offered countless classic examples of demagoguery. But nothing seemed to portray the dynamic quite so vividly as this Facebook post by Ashley Lukens, the director of the mainland-based Center for Food Safety, which set up shop in Hawaii last year specifically to direct and exploit anti-GMO sentiment:
Here's how it works. First, they create an enemy, preferably an easy target, like multinational chemical companies.

They then vilify the enemy through accusations — poisoning water, people, land — that are repeated over and over and over again. None of the accusations have been proven in Hawaii; indeed, every assessment — even their own— has shown the accusations to be false. Not one blood test has been produced that shows elevated pesticide levels in a person living near or working in seed fields; state water tests have shown environmental pesticide levels well below threshold levels; there are no cancer clusters, no unusual rates of birth defects. Yet still, the claims are repeated.

Next, they deploy despicable tactics, which they then attribute to the enemy, as evidenced by  Ashley's post.

Ashley and her followers fear for their personal safety because they are the ones who have promoted violence, from the “fistee” call to arms and the “pass the bill” mob scene in the Kauai County Council chambers to the calls to destroy fields and do “whatever it takes” to eliminate biotech.

Ashley is worried about bullying because she leads a movement that has mercilessly bullied not only those financially associated with the identified enemy, but average citizens who dared to question the movement's facts, goals and tactics. Though she never once spoke up against that bullying, she is now seeking sympathy as a supposed victim of “corporate” bullying.

Ashley is worried about putting her child's Facebook photos on “lock down” because her movement defaced, defiled and disseminated Facebook photographs of local biotech employees and their children.

Ashley is worried about threats from “crazy bloggers” because the “crazy bloggers” in her own movement repeatedly threatened biotech workers and supporters with death, financial ruin and other harm.

Ashley is worried about “participatory democracy” because her own movement used outside funding and tax-free, nonprofit status to engage in political advocacy and lobbying to influence local politics. Meanwhile, movement supporters like Jonathan Jay use public radio to bleat about our cruel “winner takes all” style of elections, i.e., democracy.

Ashley intones on “the importance of dissent in the context of a liberal state” even as she leads a movement that ruthlessly represses all dissent.

Ashley, who lead a movement that attempted to make others cower in their home for speaking truth to the movement, is now vowing she won't cower for “speaking truth to power,” even as she claims her movement actually holds the power.

In this Facebook post, Ashley, is looking in the mirror, where she sees a demagogue looking back. But rather than recognize it as her own reflection, she projects it onto the enemy and claims the rhetorical high road of “progress and liberation” for a movement that in practice is regressive and repressive.

A demagogue /ˈdɛməɡɒɡ/ (from French "demagogue", derived in turn from the Greek "demos" = people/folk and the verb "ago" = carry/manipulate thus "people's manipulator") or rabble-rouser is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower classes in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness. Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.

Take note, all of you in our community who have aligned yourselves with this movement, who have allowed your faces and names to be used by this movement. Take note. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Musings: On This and That

It feels like a little of this, little of that, kind of day. So let's start with some military tidbits, since another Veteran's Day is just behind us and seemingly endless war looms before us.

Yet just 30 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 are even eligible to become soldiers, with the rest rejected because they have criminal records, insufficient education or are too obese, according to Stars and Stripes. Hmmm. Obesity has some health benefits after all….

America has spent $6 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of it borrowed, and long-term care for the wounded soldiers is expected to hit $1 trillion by 2050. Who benefits? Weapons-makers, big--Pharma, health care providers, military contractors and suppliers, etc., etc. As one former Army colonel put it:

The lowliest 1% go off to war to make the other 1% monufuckingmentally rich.

Closer to home, failed Kauai mayoral candidate Dustin Barca continues to show his ego knows no bounds as he single-handedly wages war against biotech — from the safety of social media:
Whatever it takes? As in, I'm gonna Instagram you into oblivion? Them's big words for a guy who couldn't even muster a majority of votes south of Kilauea.

It looks like the GMO stalemate is likely to continue at the state Legislature, where Sen. Russell Ruderman, a second-term Big Island lawmaker and health food store owner, will square off against Rep. Clift Tsuji, a powerful longterm legislator, as chairs of their respective agricultural committees.

So once again folks will waste time, money and jet fuel in a futile effort to get GMO labeling and moratorium bills passed. But not all is lost. The failed campaigns will allow Center for Food Safety to keep its name in the media and its funding appeals going strong.

And anti-GMO lobbyist Nomi “Babes” Carmona can keep slurping at the activist funding trough, blowing money donated by the earnest and befuddled on her own petty vendettas — like buying up domain names for me, Joni Kamiya-Rose, Chuck Lasker, politicians Malama Solomon and Clarence Nishihara, Monsanto's Fred Perlak and Pioneer's Cindy Goldstein, along with gmogroundzero, gmofreeoahu, omggmowtf and my favorites, boobs against biotech and boobs against biology. Just in case any of us are in doubt....

Continuing on the subject of overblown egos, Gary Hooser was told to pack his bags and beat it after it was discovered he was attending classes at UH law school while getting paid to run the Office of Environmental Quality Control, according to a source in the guv's office. So Gary resigned and was elected — and just recently re-elected — to the Kauai County Council, where he's now running the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action — his own private political machine — and still attending law school.

Upon hearing the news, a friend asked, “How'd he get into law school?”

While we're on the topic of the Council, the planning committee yesterday passed the shoreline setback bill without the “bright line” exemption. The building setback for rocky coastlines is now set at 60 feet from the certified shoreline, instead of 40 feet from nowhere. It goes before the full Council next week.

Also going to a vote of the full Council is defeated Councilman Tim Bynum's “agronomics” bill, which would pull all the seed crop acreage — we're talking thousands of acres — out of the ag dedication, so it can be taxed at market value. This is Tim's last chance to attack agriculture, unforeseen consequences — e.g., development into gentleman's estates, more large parcel sales to billionaires — be damned.

And finally, a friend left a message on Facebook: "KIUC seeking lease of water from Kokee ditch."

The lease is on tomorrow's agenda of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. It would give KIUC access to the land to conduct engineering and geotechnical studies for the westside pumped storage project it's been studying for the past year. They held a public meeting about it in Waimea on July 8.

To clarify, it's not a hydro project and it's not a diversion. They're not taking water anywhere, just moving it back and forth in a pipe to generate renewable electricity. As explained in the June issue of KIUC's Currents magazine:

Pumped storage is essentially a huge battery that stores water instead of electrons. It can use solar power to inexpensively pump water uphill to a storage pond during the day, then reuse the same water at night to turn a turbine and create electricity. First developed in Europe in the 1890s, pumped storage is now the most common form of energy storage in the

As an interesting aside, the project would displace some GMO corn being grown under a state lease by Syngenta, proving once again that yes, everything is connected.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Musings: Developer Friendly

The Kauai County Council's planning committee will resume hammering and polishing the shoreline setback bill today — which means they still have a chance to transform it from a developers' bill into one that serves the public.

Two big questions remain unanswered.

First, why is the Council making it easier to build along rocky coastlines, if not to give developers an unearned prize?

Especially when it remains unclear just how much of the coastline, particularly seabird habitat, will be impacted. Or how that exemption will play out with actual buildings on the ground.

Second, shouldn't all lots that abut the shoreline follow the same set of regulations? Particularly in this era of increasing coastal hazards due to erosion and climate change.

The primary sticking point is Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura's so-called “bright line" exemption, which excuses landowners from seeking a shoreline determination on land that's 30 feet above sea level and adjacent to a rocky shoreline.

As you can see from this graphic, much of the coastline potentially could qualify for this exemption:
Sam Lemmo, director of the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, expressed concern about the exemption in a Nov. 3 letter to the Council (emphasis added):

Overall, it is unclear how a structure would be cited on a property if the application meets criteria in (1) and (2). This may not provide safe setback for other serious hazards such as failure of rocky bluffs.

Sam isn't the only one voicing objections. The Council received 49 pieces of testimony in opposition to some aspect of the bill, primarily the "bright line" exemption. Just three were submitted in support. They came from the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, the Westin and the Land Use Research Foundation, a developer advocacy group.

The Chamber wrote, in endorsing the “bright line” exemption:

The Shoreline Setback Ordinance should only be used for its intended purpose, which is to protect life, property and coastal resources from coastal hazards. It should not be misused for the purpose of creating buffers along the shoreline to establish recreational, access, view plane and aesthetic setbacks. Matters relating to view planes should instead be addressed by the SMA Permit process or by the application of the provisions in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance relating to the establishment of scenic corridors.

But from Sam's letter, it's clear his agency is indeed concerned the exemption won't adequately protect life, property and resources from coastal hazards.

The circumstances that drove the original shoreline setback bill are no less relevant today than they were in 1971:

Growing population and expanding population have brought about numerous cases of encroachment of structures upon the shoreline. Many of these structures have disturbed the natural shorelines processes and caused erosion of the shoreline. Concrete masses along the shoreline are contrary to the policy for the preservation of the natural shoreline and the open space.

So why do anything to weaken that bill, when the only thing that's changed is it's more hazardous than ever to develop along the coast?

Which leads to another question: Why delete “activities” from the bill? Shouldn't activities within the shoreline setback area be subject to regulations under the Coastal Zone Management law? We've seen time and again that people are always trying to push the envelope. We need to ensure that mechanisms exist for dealing with whatever sketchy stuff folks dream up.

This isn't the best time to act on such an important bill, what with two Councilmen getting the boot and two others celebrating big wins. But it seems the Council is bound and determined to move this bill out of committee today, so it can be approved by the full Council next week.

Which means that now, today, is the time to remove that “bright line” exemption entirely. There's absolutely no justification for that arbitrary exemption other than to please developers. And they really don't need any special treatment, especially when it comes at the public's expense.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Musings: Obstacles to Sustainable Ag

In keeping with my practice of occasionally turning over the blog to guest writers, today we have a post on the obstacles to local food sustainability written by Les Drent, a 46-year-old Kapaa farmer. Les moved to Kauai in 1991 with a car and a couple of credit cards, then went on to build three successful brands under his company, LBD Coffee. Les owns and leases 34 acres on Kauai, where he grows several boutique crops, including organic coffee, fruit, corn and tobacco. 

I am as concerned about the future of these Islands as anyone, and it is my sincerest wish to foster a stable and sustainable way of life for my family, and our community. Sustainable agriculture of the kind that is being discussed today is a beautiful ideal. Everyone wants food grown locally. Everyone wants to keep money here in the Islands. Everyone wants food sovereignty and independence. These are unassailable virtues. But they are, I must report, practical improbabilities—if not impossibilities—for Kaua‘i. The numbers simply do not add up.

We are faced with a number of obstacles, any one of which by itself makes sustainable local agriculture nearly unachievable, but when faced together put it completely out of reach.

First among these obstacles is the skyrocketing cost of land, which is well beyond the reach of most small farmers. The greed of real estate speculators, the mortgage companies and the Federal Reserve who backed those lending institutions have created a situation in which land in Hawai‘i is overvalued.

In the current market, furthermore, development is far more profitable than agriculture; local planning commissions, which have been overrun by lawyers exploiting loopholes in zoning laws, have allowed prime agricultural lands to be developed. While it is possible to lease land and grow food, there is little if any chance that the profits from such a venture will ever be sufficient for the farmer to buy land. And as any experienced farm owner will tell you, the land beneath your feet is the only equity you will ever have towards retirement.

Second among these obstacles is the simple reality that we consume far more food than we can ever hope to produce locally. The population of Kaua'i is roughly 67,000. Based on my estimates of how much the average omnivore American consumes in one year, we would have to produce the following every year to achieve complete food independence:

10,050,000 pounds of wheat, rice, or corn
20,770,000 eggs
9,045,000 pounds of potatoes
6,700,000 pounds of vegetables
5,695,000 pounds of fruit
1,750,000 gallons of milk
1,675,000 chickens
67,000 turkeys
22,110 pigs
6,700 cows

These numbers are for Kaua‘i residents only; they do not even begin to account for the demands of part-time residents or the resort industry. Even at their most conservative, these numbers clearly illustrate that the rate of consumption far outpaces what our Island can produce.

A third obstacle is the high cost of living in Hawai‘i as a whole and on Kaua‘i in particular. Agriculture simply isn’t profitable enough to attract small farmers. Let’s suppose that it takes a combined net income of $100,000 before taxes for a couple to sustain a modest living on Kaua‘i. There is no food crop—not even boutique crops like coffee, chocolate or vanilla—producing enough per square foot to support the purchase of land, home construction and the cost of operating a farm while providing for that modest living. Many farmers who undertake such boutique crops come to the effort with a large capital investment, and many have had successful business careers outside of Hawai‘i. These farms may succeed despite the odds, but don’t be fooled by the romantic notion that these gentleman-farmer estates are either the norm or economically viable.

At this point you might be asking, “Well, if you came to Hawai‘i with nothing, Les, and became a successful small farmer, can’t anyone do it?” It’s a legitimate question, and the answer will illustrate why local sustainability initiatives are not practical.

My business looks like an industrialized, successful farm with greenhouses, a certified kitchen, a roasting facility, tractors and other implements, but the truth is that I rely very little on my farm to create the final products I sell. And what my farm does produce is subsidized with profits from other parts of my business: I operate a consulting company that provides various farm services to a foreign entity conducting research in Hawai‘i.

I consider myself to be a well-rounded agronomist and businessman; I have followed the USDA National Organics Program for eleven years while also adhering to the strict permitting standards established by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Both require extensive permitting and conduct routine audits that make an IRS audit seem effortless. I play by the rules, even going above and beyond what’s required. 

And I speak from experience when I say that sustainable food-based agriculture is not financially possible on Kaua‘i at this time without huge government subsidies. The costs make it impossible for farmers on this island to earn a modest living let alone to compete with corporations importing food to Hawai‘i.

It gives me no pleasure to state these facts and the conclusions they logically lead to. I, like everyone who lives in Hawai‘i, would love to see an agricultural utopia created here, one in which we grow our own food, generate our own energy, treat the land with respect and offer farmers the hope of a decent life. But those who push for sustainability have so far not dealt with the obstacles in an honest and clear-minded way. Sustainability has become a political brickbat to throw at corporate agriculture or a soapbox for politicians pandering to the electorate’s romantic notions about food sovereignty.

Sustainability can be a wonderful thing in concept, and there’s no harm in supporting efforts to produce as much food here as we can. Backyard gardening should be encouraged and local farmers should be supported in every way possible. Agricultural land should be protected from development. Best practices should be researched, shared and implemented locally. But we should not labor under the misapprehension that such measures can replace the systems of food production on which we rely. Unless we reduce the population of the island, and unless we change our diets to fit what and how much our island can produce, sustainable agriculture and food independence is a quixotic dream.

And in tilting at windmills by focusing on localism and sustainability we risk losing sight of the bigger picture. If we invest more of our limited resources to this effort than it can ever return, we are moving in the wrong direction. I do not believe sustainable agriculture is achievable or economically viable for Kaua‘i, and any suggestion that it can be is a misconception that demonstrates the disconnect between the well intentioned idealism of government leaders and the economic reality for Kaua‘i’s working farmers.

So where should our focus be, then, if not primarily on local sustainability initiatives? We should be strengthening our ties with those nations that do supply our food. We can best assure sustainability through improved international relations. My company, for example, is fortunate to have manufacturing partners in Nicaragua and China that help me produce many of the wonderful products we enjoy; without them, it would simply be economically impossible for me to create those products.

Additionally, I encourage political leaders, educators and economic drivers to emphasize educating our youth in bio-science, math, technology and business management. The United States has positioned itself as a world leader in those areas, and as much as the romantic notion of returning to Thoreau’s Walden harkens us, we cannot afford to ignore this future. We must embrace it, push into new endeavors, and show those that produce for all of us, we care about their livelihood.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Musings: A Closer Look

A reader left this comment yesterday:

Want to comment on the Maui vote Joan? How is it that over 50% of the Maui voters passed the anti farming initiative? Is there that many crazy people on Maui? Monsanto spends $8,000,000 and loses? How can this be? Facinateing. Regardless of the language of the proposal and its legal viability, it seems pretty amazing that over half of Maui voters chose to send the gmo companies packing. Maybe we will see the fistees and Barca all moving to Maui?

With 52.7% of the registered voters casting ballots, the final vote on the anti-GMO initiative was 50.2% in favor, 47.9% opposed and 1.9% blank.

I took a careful look at all the precincts on Maui, and found the measure had strongest support in areas where GMO crops aren't even grown. But it was repeatedly rejected in communities that actually have GMO fields and workers. 

Molokai, with all its GMO acreage, overwhelming opposed the measure, while Hana, with no biotech, soundly supported it. Haiku — the largest precinct in Maui County, but with no GMO fields and a big population of newcomer mainland haoles — also voted overwhelming for the initiative, which pushed an initiative that was running pretty much neck-and-neck throughout the county over the top.

So we see the same dynamic playing out as it did in the Kauai elections, where voters on the westside soundly rejected anti-GMO candidates. And that dynamic is this: 

People who are not working in or even exposed to the GMO fields are all for banning and regulating them, while those who actually live nearest to and work in the fields have no desire to be “saved” from this alleged agricultural menace.

Sounds an awful lot like ye olde “white man's burden” colonial mindset, which was expressed so well by this comment, also left yesterday, in all its “sic” glory:

west side generations of migrant sugar and pineapple hordes were forced to drink the kool aid decades ago...they abide by what is told TO them. Theres no rationale or creative thinking...can't go against the machine,theres no popular advocay for a better way. anger in your face/kick your ass fuels the discourse as if its amazing dialogue. the poisons theyve lived immersed in taint the world thats bigger than them.they don't get they don't get it ...two steps removed. Defending against a psuedo enemy keeps them believing the nemesis is out there and not from them. The whole ploy of the corporations is to keep it that way. pawns line up quietly and dont question.

This is the underlying attitude that is driving much of the anti-GMO sentiment throughout the Islands and creating much of the polarization. It's incredibly offensive to the “migrant sugar and pineapple hordes” who actually built modern Hawaii, whose manual labor created, ironically, the economy that allows so many of the mainland haole anti-ag folks to now live in "paradise."

Meanwhile, another commenter left a link to a new paper that purportedly links GMO crops and glyphosate (Roundup) to “the deterioration of American health," thus becoming gospel for the anti-GMO crowd.  I sent the study to a friend who is very akamai about scientific papers to get his take. His response:

I've had some time to look over the glyphosate-disease study. Entire fields of red flags.

The first one is the authors. Three of them work in geological imaging, as best I can determine, with no indication of health care or statistics credentials.

The lead author, Nancy Swanson, is a math and physics professional who did her early career work at the Naval Surface Warfare Center and advertises her specialisy in remote sensing and imaging, optics and laser light transmission.

The corresponding author, Leu, is president of the activist organization, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. One of its core principles: "IFOAM opposes genetic engineering in agriculture due to the unprecedented danger it represents for the entire biosphere and the particular economic and environmental risks it poses for organic producers. Leu (who appears from his photos to be haole) is a tropical fruit grower in Australia who wrote "The myths of safe pesticides." He has no medical or epidemiological training, or at least claims none in his bio. So we know where he's coming from.

And it's no surprise they found a bunch of apparent correlations, because that's all they were looking for: "Databases were searched for epidemiological data on diseases that might have a correlation to glyphosate use and/or GE crop growth based on information given in the introduction."

Did they find any negative correlations that might disprove their thesis? We don't know. They didn't report it. I think the term of art for this is cherry-picking.

One caution is that almost all of the statistics show significant increases in disease before the use of glyphosate. The authors don't address that anomaly, but it seems to be to be a significant one.

Example, there is a 100% (that's kind of a lot) increase in death from hypertension from 1982-1992, before glyphosate and long before GE crops---this is from Leu's own data. Several of the charts show disease levels doubling in the decade before glyphosate.

The elephant in the room, it seems to me, (although I hurry to say I'm not an expert) is overweight. The authors don't consider that obesity could be causing everything else. But we all know this, right?

Obsesity alone is about the most significant disease-causer you can think of.

Obesity is closely associated with Parkinson's. Here's a study of Japanese men in Hawaii.

Here's what Mayo says about obesity and kidney disease. 

Primary risk factor for diabetes? Overweight. 

Are obesity and chronic gastrointestinal disorders linked? People think so.

And it goes on and on.

Here's a fun one, The authors [of the critiqued study] assert that glyphosate is linked to autism:
Maybe we can blame the sugar industry, because this problem tracks sugar use for far, far longer than it does pesticides:
In short, things aren't always what they first appear, whether it's a supposedly objective study  claiming to link GMOs and glyphosate with disease, or an election that seems to show "over half of Maui voters chose to send the gmo companies packing."