ISN’T THAT CUTE?... AND SHE TALKS TOO: Basing criticism of a bill based on newspaper reports- as we did last Friday for the half million dollar “economic stimulus plan” for the Kaua`i tourism industry- can often spur a limited view of what really happened.
After seeing it, it was actually worse than we could have imagined, especially the condescending paternalism displayed by the other councilmembers when Councilperson Lani Kawahara had the nerve to intimate many of obvious problems with not just accountability but the general concept of the using taxpayer money to support private enterprise.
We finally found the cablecast of the meeting despite Ho`ike TV’s new “never twice at the same time” scheduling where the last two time digits are never :00 or :30 and were horrified by the council’s total lack of interest in having any measurable results of the cash fling.
Paternalistic condescension was the order of the day as the six no-brains tried to justify what they called a "no brainier" decision because, as Chair Kaipo Asing said “it was either do something or do nothing” ignoring the choice of doing something only if it’s going to be measurably effective.
Only under Kawahara’s questioning of Kaua`i Visitor Bureau (KVB) E.D. Sue Kanoho did we get the answer as to how the quarter million dump into the laps of the “travel wholesalers” would translate into more “heads in beds”.
They actually they have no freakin’ idea because that information is “confidential”.
We weren’t really surprised that there wasn’t a way to tell if the money actually translated into more tourists coming to Kaua`i. Kanoho told Kawahara that she “will check”- seemingly as an afterthought- to see what the “wholesalers can tell us” regarding “bang for the buck”.
Although we apparently missed Darryl Kaneshiro’s remark calling Kawahara “sweetie”- as reported in a letter to the editor by former mayoral candidate Rolf Bieber who was present at the meeting- the room reeked with testosterone-generated belittlement and misrepresentations of what Kawahara actually said.
Even though it was solely made up of numbers telling the council what everyone knows- tourism is in the toilet- Kanoho and county Economic Development Director George Costa’s “power point” presentation finally reveled their “plan” for flushing money into that self-same crapper.
It seems the idea is to “get the word out that there are good deals” in coming here by putting Kaua`i in the rotating banner ads at the typically ignored top of web sites like Travelocity and Ovitz in order to “divert” people from other destinations- who presumably also pay to be similarly “perched and rotated”.
When clicked it goes to pictures of beaches and coconut trees and the like along with the latest bafflingly ambiguous and apt to be ridiculed Hawai`i slogan- “you’d be happy to be here too”.
We presume that the number of “click-throughs” we get is also “proprietary” making a pig in a poke sound like a good deal.
Oh and guess what- there’s going to be “coupon book” with all sorts of those “buy one- get one free” restaurant scams and “get a free gift with purchase”- usually a two bit trinket- good at various tourist traps.
Does anyone actually click on banner ads? Does anyone actually come somewhere because of those notoriously useless coupon books? Is there anyone who’s not hip to their lack of any value whatsoever by now?
Ah- meet the Kaua`i County Council where a bill of goods are as good as gold.
It was expected that these things would typify the brainiac ideas of round-up-the-usual-suspects Kanoho and politically-appointed Costa. But if anyone thought the pompously vacuous council would be skeptical well, they’re obviously not paying attention.
Which is why it was so refreshing to see Kawahara suggest that it might be more than appropriate to use at least half the money to go to the root of the problem- our sole dependence on the tourism industry which soars and busts dependant on circumstances beyond our control- and use it to support diversification of our economy.
An obviously irritated Kanoho responded “now is not the time for that- you do that when you’re healthy”, a statement repeated by many on the council.
But Kawahara responded that “now IS the time” adding “I don’t see us putting this kind of money into other ‘industries’
“There’s no doubt that tourism is crucial” she told the rest of councilmembers “but there’s no doubt the council should develop alternative sustainable (economic) practices (and) provide people with options.
“We have not funded diversifying our economy. Now is the time we should look at diversifying”.
Then the bombshell that punctured the carefully over-inflated chest of the old boys at the table- Kawahara questioned whether appropriating county money to support private enterprise was an “appropriate use” of “taxpayer money”.
Kawahara said she could support half the amount- which is to be matched with half a million in next year’s budget- saying that any further expenditure should be for developing other “industries” and perhaps, if government money is to be spent, things like retraining.
Well all that was red meat for the rest of the council.
First Kaneshiro demanded a specific written amendment for what to throw the other half of the money at noting that the half million was from the “unappropriated surplus” (as if it was “extra money”) seemingly oblivious to the option of just not spending it at all for now
Next in the march of the unaccountable panic of “do something... anything!” was junior patriarch Derek Kawakami who chided Kawahara by insisting we have already been doing enough economic diversification by reading from something called the Kaua`i Economic Development Plan... which is just that- a plan that has sat there for years.
“It isn’t going to happen overnight” said Kawakami, ignoring the fact that it hasn’t happened in decades.
Kawakami then showed his grasp of issues by citing the $400,000 the county is spending on the so called “important ag lands study” as indication the county is funding diversification.
In actuality, as anyone who has followed it will tell you, the important ag lands study was mandated by the legislature and is designed as a way to identify UNIMPORTANT ag lands so they can be grabbed by developers to- yes, expand the tourism plantation.
That was followed by long tirades from former hotel honcho, Mr. Pomposity, Councilperson Jay Furfaro followed by his dazed and confused visitor-industry-promoting cohort Dickie Chang.
They each defended the tourism industry intimating that Kawahara had said to shut it down instead of suggesting that our dependence on such a volatile form of commerce makes diversification more crucial than ever.
Even though when sugar was disappearing in the 70’s the buzz word was economic diversification Kaua`i has never been more dependant on tourism. But when tourism is in a “boom phase” the attitude on the council has been “why do we need to diversify now?”. And when it’s in a bust well it’s “now is not the time because we have to fix our number one money maker first”.
Leaving Kawahara to ask if not now, when?
After Kawakami read from the portion of the 10 year old General Plan that calls for support of the tourism industry Kawahara read the rest of it that also details areas ripe for economic diversification- something, we have to add, that was in the GP before that and the one before that with no movement toward anything but our number two and three industries- militarism Frankenfood seeds.
But with Kawahara making too much sense the boys finally said they couldn’t vote for her amendment to cut all but the money for the wholesaler and to promote the 50th anniversary celebration of the movie South Pacific next fall- probably the only money being spent that could not just get people to come specifically to Kaua`i put is measurable... although it too should really be supported by the industry, not the county the way we see it.
Eventually, with nothing else left, Asing and Kaneshiro went back to gorging on red herrings with Kaneshiro leading the charge saying he couldn’t support her amendment unless she had a specific plan to use the “other $225,000” as if the money was burning a hole in his pocket.
Worse was Asing’s final straw-grasping attempt to humiliate Kawahara by claiming that in calling it an “inappropriate use of taxpayer money” she was calling it illegal. He said he was ready to ask the county attorney up to correct her in an absurd attempt to intimidate her and intentionally misunderstand the obvious meaning of “appropriate”.
As we said Friday, Kawahara seems to be slowly emerging as the voice of reason on the council. Watch this space later this week for more on that.