Wednesday, March 5, 2008


RUNNIN’ WITH THE PACK: Last week when the call went out to “save Kaua`i” by supporting a bill declaring a moratorium on sub-dividing agriculturally-zoned land citizens showed up in droves to support it.

But now our denizens have skulked back to their dens believing that they stood up for something and were again defeated by an old-boys corporate-controlled County government that just won’t listen to the akamai citizenry.

“They didn’t listen” declared a half a dozen commentaries and another dozen comments and emails many declaring that councilmembers “just don’t get it”, declaring Mayor Bryan Baptiste a defeated hero.

Unfortunately those hare-today, goon-tomorrow, well-intended County Council attendees and testifiers are the ones who didn’t get it because the truth has been hidden so well for so long.

Most bemoan a perceived squabble between the Council and the Administration and wonder why the Council wouldn’t pass Baptiste’s “time out” attacking hizzonah rather than passing or even considering the bill..

But the history is voluminous. Here’s some.

Actually the one thing most don’t know is there hasn’t been an ag subdivision processed by the Planning Department (PD) in a long time now. Applications have routinely gone unprocessed by Batiste appointee Planning Director Ian Costa, some claim illegally. That’s status quo according to the administration.

But even if owners were being issued official subdivisions of large ag parcels, the real problem since the 70’s has been the “Agricultural Condominiums” under the State Condominium Property Regime (CPR) where ag lands, even if previously sub-divided the one time allowable by law, are split up further under a 1970’s state-legislated “apartment” ownership scheme that was originally a loophole but is now standard procedure.

And since the 70’s every politician, county and state, has publicly maintained there is nothing the county can do to change this other than asking our State legislators to change the law. But as many suspected and found when they did the research in the 80s, it’s not that simple. In fact the county is the body that determines the “density” of those CPRed lots through the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO). And allowable density in the law allows houses which have people, whether they’re dense or not..

The CZO is a state mandated county document and among other things it determines how many can live and therefore how many houses can be constructed on properties with various zoning designations like agricultural, open, residential or resort .

Each one has an allowable “density” defined in the county CZO.

When many tracts of agricultural lands were put under the CZO in 1973 many sections of agricultural lands were hilly sloped areas and, since they would be hard to farm they were zoned “open lands”.

But the problem is, despite what you would think about “open” land, while ag land has very little inherent “density” per acre, under the CZO “open” land has quite a bit

And there lies the problem of CPR’s of creating gentlemen’s estates instead of farming activity because of “open” lands. Those sloped hilly sections throughout ag parcels were zoned open on the maps because supposedly no one could farm on them. They do have allowable density which is spread over the whole parcel.

A land parcel for agricultural use- whether whole or subdivided once- can be further broken up through a CPR so that houses can be built on every CPR-owned lot, making housing legal on each because of the “open” zoning that created density that’s spread out throughout the ag condo parcels during once during subdivision and then via the CPR process.

Clear as mud. eh?

That’s actually the simplistic explanation of the “complexity” of the “ag-condo” problem, where someone puts in a fruit tree and buys a horse and presto- they own a three acre “farm” with a house on it.... or two... even if their “barn” is a 30,000 sq. ft. vacation rental reportedly on one ag lot.

But when some people figured out in the 80’s that the problem was one of the density and was controlled by the CZO the problem wasn’t in for a simple fix eliminating the density on open-zoned land it was thrown into a bin of needs for a the famously promised “CZO update”.

“It’s way too confusing” said JoAnn Yukimura just last week of some proposed massive CZO update bill that she says has been stuck “in committee” since before she came into office in 2002, even thought the committee backlog was said to be cleared by County Clerk Peter Nakamura in Dec of ’02 as PNN reported at the time.

For the past 30 years the urban- or more accurately rural- legend told by every elected official on Kaua`i has been that regulating ag-condos is out of the hands of the county and strictly the State legislature’s kuleana.

But the uninformed people are not to blame. The press and government watchdogs been silent waiting for a legislature which is never going to act.

Every time the possibility of county regulation of ag condos through density regulation was brought up it was thrown into some impossibly complex issue of the need to (play dramatic music with echo) “Update the CZO”.

The problem of density on “open” zoned land could have been solved by removing that density in a one sentence amendment to the CZO back in the 70’s. But it was never done then and hasn’t been since... it could even have been done by the administration through a bill doing that in place of the rejected bill which would have done nothing that isn’t status quo and make people think the issue has been solved... and as Bryan is fond of saying “we’ll all sing Kumbaya”.

In the late 90s people complained about this lack of action It was, at the time- as now- similar to the lack of enforcement of the vacation rental laws and subsequent fudging of the law, resulting in a perceived loophole being carved out by a few monied interests.

All the quick fixes for stupid problems made by establishing a CZO in one fell swoop only 35 years ago were thrown into a project of updating the CZO. The problems had become such an insurmountable mountain that it demanded that : someday” had come.

Councilmember Tim Bynum figured this out and his previously dim bulb went on. It spurred his nervously-delivered presentation at the meeting where he announced he was shocked to find out that the county DID have control over ag condos through the open-zoned lands’ densities as expressed and regulated through the County CZO.

In all fairness Bynum, being thought one of the more styptic-pencil-causing blades in the razor, actually seemed to be genuinely shocked, as opposed to being “shocked-shocked” which is how many felt upon learning he honestly didn’t know all this... he being a formerly proud, now ashamed, owner of an ag condo himself.

Whether or not Yukimura’s alleged “too complex” bill is in some Council Planning Committee purgatory, when the Baptiste administration took office seeing the update bill get developed was certainly a funding priority of the council.

After all was said and done at the meeting, Kaipo Asing did one of his famous “Uncle-Chair explains it all” presentations, listing the yearly appropriation for the Costa’s Planning Department to hire someone to conduct a study and develop a CZO update bill since they had given up on thinking the administration could do it in-house.

$90,000 in ’02,
$90,000 in 03, another
$30 each in ‘04
and ‘05 and a whopping
$100,000 in ’08.

And for all that they couldn't come up with a sentence for the CZO to stop density on open land from causing density on farmland.

“And now you want a time out?” Asing repeated over and over to the Mayor. “($340,000) to do the job... and NOW you want a ‘time out’... for WHAT?... “

There isn’t enough space to list all the actions of at least incompetence and if not malfeasance and resulting costs- both financial and otherwise- that Costa has cost Kaua`i thorough inaction like the Ha`ena vacation castles on conservation land and cream-puff arbor-cide in Koloa?

Costa was Batiste’s chief bulldog during his Mayoral campaigns earning him the job that he is only questionably qualified for since he’s an architect, not a planner. Before that he served former Mayor Kusaka’s as flack-catcher-in-chief as an unqualified-so-unofficial “Deputy” Director of the allegedly-corrupt, admittedly- incompetent, under-investigation Kaua`i Pubic Works Department for many years, holding open the revolving door for on-again-off-again Engineer Caesar Portugal whose family ran a construction business that did millions of dollars of work for the county.

But digressions aside you would think that all these well meaning people taking a day off to attend a meeting would at least attempt to find out what is really going on before they weigh in on a silly corruption-perpetuating misdirection bill that won’t do anything and rather supports a corrupt administration’s attempt to suspend the massively taxpayer-funded efforts that should have been done at the turn of the century if not 20 years before then.

History is made by those who show up. Showing up is a good thing. But real action is accomplished by those who show up forearmed, not go off half-cocked on a half-baked idea in a regurgitation of what they’ve been told by corrupt politicians who appear to be “on our side this time”.

In politics when the corrupt corporate pol tells us what we wanna hear it may seem like a miracle but the only miracle he’s thinkin about is that we swallowed it.


Anonymous said...

A moratorium on ag subdivisions and re-zonning would have been one of the more stupid things the county could have done. After all, where else can any supply of affordable houselots come from if not from ag land?
The notion of many small farms and the necessity of preserving "our" ag lands is pure balderdash and flies in the face of the spontaneous historical evolution of landuse.
If one thinks that farming is such a great thing then do it; the truth is that the long lines are not at the signs marked "farming here" instead they are qued-up at the one that says affordable houselots.
Good intentions often make the worst policies--and, politicians and the so called "progressives" never comprehend basic economics and the unintended consequences of poor policies and laws. So, in the end not enacting the ag moratorium turns out to be one of the brighter things the seven dunces have done. Now all they need to be convinced to do is waiver the anti ag rezonning mindset and add incentives for small affordable lots.

Andy Parx said...

The bill had nothing whatsoever with re-zoning ag land for affordable housing, only subdividing ag land into smaller parcels.

Anonymous said...

Which can also alleviate the undersupply of affordable lots. The bill itself may not have delt with re-zonning...however, the message is clear---leave ag land alone---if you think that ag re-zonning for any purpose is welcomed by the county then you are more naive than one previously imagined. By the time the system is done with an applicant the lots cannot be offered as affordable--the red tape and outright obstructionist attitudes drive costs up and up. As the years roll by and bad law and regulation are heaped on bad law and regulation the supplies are restricted and the prices soar. Anyone with a lick of economic common sense can see this---the key here being the common sense requirement.

Anonymous said...

ah, sounz like another disciple of rs wier has found your website. funny how folks believe 'the market' will solve the issues of the day when 'the market' is one of the catalyst of the issues we face regarding affordable housing. add bankrupt policies of dysfunctional government and the situations seems hopeless.
thank god for bloggers! otherwise we'd be having this conversation at the coffee shop