From the Inside Out

SUBHEAD: Resisting bad land use will be even less effective in a crappy economy, where it’s gonna be all about the money.

 By Joan Conrow on 21 September 2011 for Kauai Eclectic - 

Image above: Looking towards the public land at Kaena Point - a possible target of private development on Oahu. From (

A white moon just a whisker short of half was darting amongst the clouds beneath the steady gaze of Jupiter when Koko, Paele and I went walking this morning. Along toward the end, of both the road and our walk, pink began to creep out and claim first the sky and then the land, infusing it all with rosy color. I’ve been thinking a lot about the land lately, particularly the battles over how to use it, because

I just completed a piece on the state’s Legislature’s thoughtful gift to the people — or at least, the people with connections, the people with investment capital. I’m talking about the Public Land Development Corp, a Honolulu-centric entity with the power to run roughshod over any local development concerns, much less cultural, environmental and historical considerations. The PLDC seems to be aiming the final shot between the eyes at all those who have struggled since statehood to bring some sanity into the land development process; to look out for the interests of poor folks and cultural sites displaced and destroyed, respectively, for some dubious project or another; to level the incredibly uneven playing field that exists between economic growth and cultural-environmental protection.

I’d been thinking about it before I even started the article, while researching a book chapter on Kauai land struggles stemming from the 1970s. The list read like a sad litany of battles lost: Niumalu-Nawiliwili, Nukuolii, the Hyatt, the Westin (now Marriott), Running Waters, and in more recent years, Kealia Kai, Kealanani, Grove Farm’s ugly oozings all around Lihue, the travesty of Kukuiula, the two new Coconut Marketplace resorts — unbuilt, but still alive — and Joe Brescia’s house, built atop the bones of people who once were alive.

Sure, there were small successful skirmishes along the way, little bits of land here and there tucked away in conservation easements, accesses given as others were taken away, costly delays, a Supreme Court ruling on shorelines that the state and county continue to ignore.

But in looking back over the past 40 years, pretty much every developer who came to Kauai has gotten his way. And when they were stymied, ever so briefly and slightly, by the County Council’s moratorium on resorts, they simply turned the entire North Shore into a resort, via vacation rentals, and then bullied the county until it caved in and legalized their illegal minihotels, even those on agricultural land. All the heated public hearings, the contested cases, the lawsuits, the protests, the pickets, the arrests, have pretty much come to naught. Attempts to make changes through the system have hit similar dead-ends. Just look at what the county is trying to do to the citizen’s charter amendment on growth.

We’ve even watched in dismay as former land use activist Jimmy Nishida turned coat and sided with developers once he got appointed to the Planning Commission. (Speaking of which, how many meetings is a commissioner, even a lousy one, allowed to skip? Jimmy has been missing in action for many months now. It’s time for him to resign, so the mayor can appoint another rubber stamp.) My point in all of this is there’s got to be another way, a better way, to influence land use decisions. The current approach has not worked. It will be even less effective in a crappy economy, where it’s gonna be even more all about the money, honey.

And it's going to prove especially ineffective under the PLDC process, which gives citizens just one opportunity, at a Board of Land and Natural Resources hearing, to comment on proposals to transfer public land and development rights to private investors, who in turn are exempted from all zoning and building code restrictions. Yup, the door has been opened really, really wide. It’s time for those of us who care about the Hawaiian culture and the natural world to develop some new strategies for resisting the relentless push to give it all away for mere pennies on the dollar.

From what I've seen, major change cannot be affected within the current narrow, corrupt political system. We need to stop bashing our heads against that hardening concrete wall, stop fighting the battle on their terms, in their arenas. The only thing that will help us now is a complete overhaul of our institutions, starting with our own values, actions, beliefs that, inadvertent or not, still serve to perpetuate the injustices, the wrongs, the destruction and desecration.

 In short, we need to wage a revolution from the inside out. Fortunately, it’s already under way. Wake up, get conscious, and join us. The hour is getting late.

 See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Abercrombie Land Grab 9/13/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Privitizing Hawaiian Public Land 8/3/11 .

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