Something’s Happening Here
A string of controversies on Kauai is changing the way people do business. The rest of the state might not be far behind
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The community unrest with the south shore development is just one of many flashpoints. Just up the road in Koloa Town, there was the monkeypod tree controversy. There, a private landowner’s plan to cut down a stand of aged monkeypod trees brought protests and candlelight vigils and threats to boycott the businesses that would fill the commercial center set to replace the trees. A lawsuit cleared the way for the development this year, but community angst is far from abated.
Another noteworthy hullabaloo was over a plan to build a Super Wal-Mart. The heated debate over whether or not big-box stores were good for Kauai’s business community and the island’s rural character spawned a bill banning big-box stores over 75,000 square feet.
Then, of course, there’s the Superferry.
What lies beneath those controversies is what’s on residents’ minds across the state: housing costs, traffic woes, low-wage jobs and environmental degradation. What makes it so much more poignant is the size of Kauai’s community; everything is more personal. To get a better grasp of the situation, Kauai Planning & Action Alliance (KPAA) produced “Measuring What Really Matters, Community Indicators Report 2006,” a definitive study on resident sentiment and struggles. (To read the full study, visit www.kauainetwork.org.) Here is a snapshot of the findings:
• From 2000 to 2005, the number of Kauai residents living below the poverty level has increased by 1,000, from 6,031 to 7,078.
• From 2000 to 2005, Kauai median family income has risen by $5,000, from $55,900 to $60,900, an 8.9 percent increase in actual dollars, yet income fell by 6.9 percent in constant (deflated) terms.
• From 2000 to 2005, median incomes on Kauai have risen slightly while median-housing values have jumped sharply, and the affordability index has dropped from 77 percent to 40 percent. That means a family with a median income has only 40 percent of the income needed to afford a median-priced home.
• The number of homeless jumped from 500 in 2002 through 2004 to 700 in 2005.
• Violent crime rose 4 percent from 2000 to 2004, reaching an all-time high of 341 incidents in 2004.
• A total of 5,000 residential units and more than 6,100 resort units are currently pending or will be built within five years.
It’s not surprising that the future of Kauai looks dusty. “There is a heightened awareness of anything that might impact our quality of life,” says Beth Tokioka, director of the Kauai Office of Economic Development. “Processes are not easy on Kauai right now.”
The Kauai 2000 General Plan was to be the noble sword to carve out a bright future for Kauai. “The General Plan has some really beautiful words in it about protecting the rural character of our island and controlling growth and so forth,” says Kauai councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.
The problem is, Yukimura says, the plan was never really implemented. The General Plan was a testament to what the community wanted to be, but not a true road map to ensure it was achieved.
The real dirty work in planning is not in coming up with the vision, but in making the hard decisions to achieve it, she says. (The same risks also lie in the state’s 2050 plan, she notes.) Because of course everyone wants better schools, high-paying jobs, affordable housing, less traffic, a secure environment. But there is often a trade-off involved. For example, to obtain affordable housing often more building is necessary, which can impact such things as the environment and traffic conditions.
“We want economic development and we want environmental protection and that is put in the plan. But nobody says how we are going to get there,” she says.
Yukimura says instead Kauai often manages growth by reactionary measures such as a laundry list of approval conditions and at times, litigation. “One thousand conditions is not the answer,” she says. “You have to address the issue before it becomes a controversy.”
Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste, in a prepared statement, also faulted the General Plan in 2000, in particular for failing to take into account all the developments approved in the 1970s and mid ’80s but not yet built. Those developments in places like the south shore did not break ground until recently, when economic conditions were ideal, and his office, he says, had no control over their approval decades ago.
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