Kauai Heroes

SUBHEAD: As David Bowie sang “We can be heroes, just for one day.” Maybe in a month or so our County Council can be, too.

By Joan Conrow on 16 May 2013 for Kauai Eclectic  -

Image above: As a result of the intense illegal landscaping, erosion is consuming the public access to the beach. From (http://kauaieclectic.blogspot.com/2013/04/musings-abuse-chronicles-14-a.html).

Given the reactions, you would've thought the Kauai County Council had proposed The Inquisition rather than an investigation into just how, exactly, the vacation rental issue got so damn messed up.

I mean, nobody was gonna be burned at the stake or anything. Just a few subpoenas, some interviews, a little fact-finding, perhaps a wrist-slap, or in the best county tradition, an assignment to another job where your incompetence isn't quite so noticeable.

Absolutely no investigation is needed, but if one must be done, let the Administration do it, pleaded HGEA union rep Gerald Ako, who admitted he had not even read the resolution he was testifying against.

Aw, come on, give the Administration another chance, begged managing director Gary Heu. We'll get it right this time. After all, the mayor has formed an “oversight committee at an executive level...to get our arms around this issue.”

When was it formed? Oh, about two weeks ago.

“We should really pull back and take a much broader look at the issue,” Heu advised.

You mean as in whether we want Mayor Bernard Carvalho to represent us for another four years, seeing as how all this ineptitude and inaction happened under his watch? Or just who, exactly, does benefit from blanket approvals of non-qualifying TVRs? Or how much this boondoggle has — and will — cost the taxpayers?

What the county really requires is a re-engineering study, “a big picture, long-term kind of thing,” Heu said. But the Administration knows nobody wants to wait around six months to a year for that. So instead, “a short term plan is being developed, such as taking some of these [years old] violations into enforcement.”

Be still, my heart.

The planning department has actually formed a four-person task force “to take a look at a few of these violations and a find a way to move them forward,” Heu said.

Can we expect in three months to see at least one case brought to a hearings officer, civil or criminal charges, fines? wondered Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, ever the optimist.

“We would like to move as soon as possible,” Heu hedged, following the county maxim of never let yourself be pinned down.

By the afternoon, that “few” had somehow mushroomed into 30 cases that Planning is investigating or enforcing against, or maybe looked at the files or something. It wasn't totally clear, but the number sounded big. Or at least, bigger than “a few,” and hopefully big enough to head off a Council investigation at the pass.

More obfuscation was provided by County Attorney Al Castillo, who was flanked in this most serious matter by deputy county attorneys Maunakea Trask and Ian Jung. The three of them offered a lot of mumbo jumbo about adjudication, due process for TVR owners, county rights, 20 contested cases, Council overstepping its bounds, duplicate investigations. It all boiled down to the same message: butt out and let the Administration handle it.

“I would've liked to be able to review the resolution first for its legality,” Castillo sniffed. No one sent it to his office with that specific request, though surely he knew about it, since it was publicly noticed a week ago, and he could have shown some initiative in checking it out.

But then, initiative is apparently not a county value, or we wouldn't have a planning department that waits until it receives a formal complaint before investigating, even when it has been made publicly aware of zoning violations.

“Can we get an attorney who can help us?” asked Councilman Mel Rapozo in frustration.

One thing the Council and Administration did agree upon, aside from wanting to “get to the same place” — a destination that was not precisely defined, and appears to have several routes, depending on who is steering and how much they wish to keep hidden— was the county's tremendous liability exposure. Then there's its unspoken counterpart: how much that exposure might increase if the county's dirty laundry is hung out on the line.

Caren Diamond, a longtime beach advocate and member of Protect Our Neighbor Ohana, discussed the dangers of allowing visitors to keep sleeping in ground floor units within the flood zone.

“Every morning that visitors wake up in these units exposes the county to liability, especially that morning when a tsunami comes,” she said.

After her testimony, Councilman Ross Kagawa praised her contribution to the investigation and evidence laid out in the 16-and-counting “Abuse Chronicles” series on this blog: “You and Joan and Barbara Robeson [Caren's fellow PONO member] are heroes.”

“You are only heroes if the Council takes action to rectify,” said Councilman Gary Hooser, who with Rapozo introduced the resolution to investigate.

About seven hours later, the Council voted to defer the issue for a month.


Well, as David Bowie would sing: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

And maybe in a month or so the Council can be, too.

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