Kawakami Realizes his Roots

SUBHEAD: Kawakami’s change of heart could mean passage of farm-housing bill. Image above: Derik Kawakami sits at Kauai County Council Meeting. Pjhot by Dennis Fujimoto. [Editor's note: Since his election Derek Kawakami has transformed himself. He is trim and energetic and articulate. After reading this article I believe he may have made as important a transformation intellectually and spiritually. Congratulations Derek. Next election we will be looking to support you.] By Leo Azambuja on 11 June 2010 in the Garden Island News - (http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_d2136d12-7530-11df-9886-001cc4c002e0.html) The farm-worker-housing bill seemed to have reached the end of its rope Wednesday.

With the Kaua‘i County Council split exactly in half, it would still have to go through some agony and pain before dying.

But a tsunami wiped clean the council chambers here.

Councilman Derek Kawakami had been a vehement opponent of the bill. Just like a righteous samurai following his code of honor, he was scheduled to be the first to sink the sword in the bill many farmers believed would help to increase their production.

Kawakami proceeded just as expected, bleeding the life out of the bill while explaining why he had been so against it.

When everyone thought Kawakami was going to hand a lifeless bill to his colleagues, the unexpected happened.

“I must admit that I indeed have forgotten that my roots have come from farming,” said Kawakami, shocking everyone.

“I’ve had a change of heart on this bill,” he said, causing an uproar in the room.

“When I look into the eyes of farmers like Louisa Wooton, when I look into the eyes of farmers like Roy Oyama, when I look into the eyes of farmers like Jerry Ornellas, it reminds me that I’m looking into the eyes of my own ‘ohana,” Kawakami said.

The night before the meeting, Kawakami stayed up late, writing down reasons for his opposition to the bill. What happened next was pivotal for his change of heart.

“I had a dream,” said Kawakami, adding that in the dream he visited his late uncle Edwin Kashima.

Kawakami said the kolohe farmer was the only uncle he could relate to. In the dream, Kawakami walked through his uncle’s farm, including a shack built with wood taken from shipping crates picked up at Big Save supermarket.

“I woke up so startled that my wife woke up,” he said. “I was in tears.”

Kawakami showed the audience old black-and-white pictures of both sides of his family, all barefoot. They were all farmers. At that point he admitted he had forgotten his roots and announced his decision to support the bill.


Councilman Jay Furfaro and former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura originally introduced the bill almost three years ago, and it has since gone through lots of hearings and input from farmers.

The bill would allow farmers to build up to three, removable, farm-worker dwellings, totaling no more than 1,800 square feet of combined living space.

Several farmers had come to the meeting prepared for what was apparently the last attempt to convince council members to approve the bill.

The outcome, however, looked gloomy.

Councilman and rancher Daryl Kaneshiro had already recused himself from voting, alleging conflict of interest. With only six voting members and needing a majority of four votes to pass, a likely tie would kill the bill.

Council members Lani Kawahara, Tim Bynum and Furfaro have openly supported the bill, but Kawakami and Chair William “Kaipo” Asing had been fighting it all along, fearing abuse that could lead to development of residential subdivisions on agriculture-zoned lands.

The wild card was Councilman Dickie Chang, who seemed to be on the fence.

Two weeks prior, on May 26 the bill had reached full council, but was deferred in the 11th hour. At the end of a 12-hour work-day, Kawahara had to leave before a vote could be called for. She had to catch a plane to go on an official trip to a health conference in California.

Furfaro then asked for a two-week deferral, so Kawahara could participate in the vote. Asing, against his will, called for the motion.

Had the vote been called for before Kawahara left, it would’ve been a tie, killing the bill on the spot. That night, Chang had not yet stated his position, but he admitted Wednesday he would’ve voted against it at that meeting.

Another deferral

Despite the clear majority support, Bill 2318, Draft 3 was not approved Wednesday.

Furfaro asked for yet another deferral, of no more than two weeks, to work on amendments for safety against possible abuse.

Currently, there are at least 11 provisions to prevent abuse, he said (see box). Even the staunchest supporters of the bill agreed that enforcement needs to be done.

The bill will resurface once again on second reading on June 23, but with at least four of the six voting council members supporting the bill, it will likely pass.

Chang has not said what direction he will take, and Asing has repeatedly said he supports the intent of the bill, but thinks it’s not abuse-proof.

Kawakami, before announcing his change of heart, said he believed the intent of the farmers was “pure from the heart.”

After the council introduces extra safety measures, Chang and Asing may have a reason to join the party.

Not a cure for all

Kawakami may be voting for the bill when it resurfaces June 23, but he doesn’t believe farm-worker housing is a cure for a diminishing agricultural industry on Kaua‘i.

Some of the challenges, he said, include lack of collaboration between local farmers and food industry, increased costs of freight and materials, lack of education on the value of local products, lack of interest in farming as a career, implementation of renewable-energy practices and developing export potential.

Many farmers and other council members echoed some of Kawakami’s concerns. They agreed the farm-worker housing is not a cure-all, but it’s a starting point.

Kaua‘i Farm Bureau Executive Administrative Melissa McFerrin said there is still much work to be done, but said the bureau is there “for the long haul to be a resource and work together (with farmers).”

Kawakami also said it remains unclear how many farmers would qualify, and was not convinced the measure would assure affordability of agricultural lands. The overall issue, he said, is the lack of worker housing in general. He was concerned abuse would drive prices up.

Yukimura said the council makes laws, but the mayor and the administrative departments are the ones in charge of enforcing the laws.

“I have to see the track record with respect to vacation rentals and shoreline setbacks; and all of these things haven’t been really good up until now,” Yukimura said. “We really have to ask the administration to step forward and do their part.”

Andrea Brower, deputy director of Malama Kaua‘i, said she hopes the community members will do all they can to help enforce against abuse.

As farmer Ned Whitlock said, “farmers may be a few, but there’s a mountain underneath them.”


1 comment :

Eleanor said...

Wonders never cease!! Good for Kawakami.


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