Tuesday, June 8, 2010


ANOTHER HOLDUP: As a five-year-old pup growing up in the concrete canyons of the northeast megalopolis we were quite sure of our reply when we answered a teacher’s query as to where milk came from by saying “the A&P”.

Not that we were technically wrong given the way the question was asked but we soon came to find that it’s a little more complicated and indeed, the farmer is the man that feeds them all (with apologies to all the hard working women farmers).

Here on Kaua`i it’s even more complicated because despite lip service about preserving agricultural lands they’ve been cut up in little pieces and the resulting “fake farms” make sure the only thing that grows is the bank accounts of the shysters who used land use law loopholes to line their pockets.

The fact is that because of this the cost of farm land is already so high that no one can afford to successfully farm it if they have to pay off a mortgage on it from the proceeds of the farm.

So when a few years back farmers started asking for a Farm Worker Housing Bill it sent up all sorts of red flags as just another loophole-ridden legislative initiative to increase the density on all this used-to-be ag land destined to drive the prices of ag land higher still.

When the bill (#2318) hit the council floor over a year ago that’s exactly what it was- even those legitimate farmers who asked for the measure were saying so.

But to make a long story short after many hours of work by farmers and politicians a bill that has a long list of really tight restrictions is about to be passed into law tomorrow... maybe.

In Sunday’s newspaper a guest column by one of the true farmers on Kauai, Louisa Wooten, along with farm advocate Andrea Brower of Malama Kaua`i details why they have come around and what the bill does to make sure only legitimate farms will be able to put up “temporary” worker housing.

The point out that the bill says that:

- Farmers would have to show receipts of $35,000 from gross sales for two consecutive years. This level would have to be maintained each year in order to keep qualifying;

- The land would have to already have a county agriculture dedication;

- Only certain crops would qualify, with tree and turf farms excluded. Those crops have had a history of abuse under the ag dedication program;

- Farmers must have a viable commercial plan that clearly defines a need for worker housing;

- Farmers must appear before the Planning Commission;

- Only current CPRs can apply;

- In case of sale or transfer of land, the Planning Commission must be notified and the permit reviewed;

- Annual fillings and regular inspections will ensure compliance;

- Structures, which will sit on stilts, must be removed within six months of non-compliance;

- Possible fines and liens could bring stiff financial repercussions.

Sounds pretty restrictive. And in most places these things might insure that the bill doesn’t give fake farms- the ones that with no farms just “farm dwellings” as state law requires they be- the added “density” to put up another house on their lot.

And in just about any other place the bill, as it stands right now, might pass muster.

But this is Kaua`i and the last two of those restrictions give us pause.

Because the success of this measure. like others before it. lies in our planning department’s ability to enforce the law and, from past experience, anyone who pays attention knows that the requirement that “(s)tructures... must be removed within six months of non-compliance” is a joke waiting to be told.

This was the main point made by Council Chair Kaipo Asing in a convincing presentation at the last council meeting and is the main reason why the bill may not pass tomorrow.

The article states that “Maui has had a less stringent farm worker housing bill in place for ten years. It has been a great boost for farmers on that island with no documented history of abuse.”.

But then again Maui has had a real planner in charge of their planning department for the last 10 years.

There is hope though. Brower and Wooten write:

If there are concerns about potential abuse of the bill, let’s work together to close the loopholes.

There is one more thing that might insure that these “temporary” structures are removed- a requirement that farmers put up a bond in the amount of the cost to remove the structure and be required through the conditions on the use permit to allow the county to use the bond money to do the removal... and sign legal documents allowing the county to do so.

Even then we have reservations given the track record of the planning department to enforce council-passed ordinances such as the botched transient vacation rental bill that has become it’s own joke since it went into effect almost two years back.

The fact that legitimate farmers and farm organizations who saw the problem and opposed the original bill have signed off on it says much in its favor. But legitimate farmers have waited years for the bill’s enactment and can wait another couple of weeks to include a provision to assure that the houses will be removed when they are no longer called for.

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