None of us wants to complain about small steps in the right direction.
Yet, as Donella Meadows recently observed in her “Global Citizen” column, “Those who are comfortable in the middle of the perfection spectrum tend to settle there.
A step in the right direction becomes a stopping point. Words get muddled when we try to distinguish mediocrity from anything else.” Unless we nurture a passion for excellence, too much of our muddling comes to seem “good enough.” Perhaps this explains why we cannot seem to get our government agents to bring Kauaians better deals.
We do notice that, at the same time as our business and government deal-makers converge on the lowest common denominator- “just to get things done,” as one Planning Commission member recently declared- more and more Kauaians are converging on a higher standard to ensure a sustainable development path for our island. So, here is a cautionary note against the mavens of mediocrity: It is at least conceivable that “settlers” may pose a greater threat to our hopes for Kauai’s future than “nitpickers.” The latter have given and taken their epithetic shots here of late, so let us focus on the former- those who would settle for “good enough”- and simply highlight the risks of going with the flow of the “good enough” gang on these vital decisions.
Kauaians have seen a lot of “good enough” recently. Look at the deals our agents have handed us just in the last few months. Coco Palms, Kukuiula and Kapalawai-not to mention the General Plan Update itself-all represent development deals with serious flaws.
Still yet, our ostensible political leaders apparently view them as good enough for Kaua`i. Sure, they say, we know that Coco Palms intends to excavate a sacred burial site for their underground garage, but they promise to handle the bones in a Hawaiian way, and that’s good enough for us.
Or they say, Oh, yeah, we really need that shoreline access at Kukuiula, and we do not need more timeshare units, but A&B is hurting and this is the best they could come up with.
Or, I know we agreed not to put resorts outside of existing visitor destinations, but Kapalawai is such a great spot for an eco-resort- in the middle of our most rural community, right there next to the seed tweakers test fields- and housekeeping jobs are better than nothing for the westside.
Or, We cannot tighten up the General Plan guidelines for our viewplanes, greenbelts and ag sprawl because some would-be developers are screaming- so platitudes will have to do.
And now comes Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative’s best shot, with news that our electric rates will not be going down, but at least they won’t be going up. What’s up with that? We observed last fall that one of the benefits of public acquisition was rates that are consistently 15 percent or more below those of privately-held utilities. Was this not part of the point of our acquisition here? Are we willing to so easily give up our urgent need for lower rates just because KIUC has gotten boxed in to a bidding game that backfired? What if this is not the best deal we can get, and there is, in fact, a way to acquire Kaua’i Electric and lower our rates at the same time? One option the County Council might pursue is to simply declare that public acquisition of KE is in the public interest, and then initiate eminent domain proceedings. The principal advantage of the eminent domain method is that, when we fail to agree on a fair price, an arbitrator will step in. Isn’t this one way that Kauaian ratepayers can get a decent valuation for this acquisition? In each of these deals, our island coulda-woulda-shoulda done better. If God is in the details, we might wonder who plays devil’s advocate in these deliberations.
Sadly, our island’s done-deal build-out may not yet be bad enough to banish “good enough” from our civic discourse. Meanwhile, the “settlers” will just keep pushing expedience over excellence.
Let us pray for the day when all Kauaians agree to only settle on the very best for our island. For now, we might settle for government agents who know a good deal when they see one.
And if we cannot get excellent deals for our community, and we cannot even pass on the lousy deals, we might think of simply switching agents.
This is the third in a series of essays on the theme of “converging Kauaian canoes.” Ken Stokes (kaimiau@hotmail) hosts an e-list on Kauaian community initiatives.