In the tug-of-war to determine the future of Kaua‘i, the odds are stacked against those struggling to preserve its unique character and natural beauty. Unless enough citizen opposition organizes to halt the ongoing invasion of modern day carpetbaggers, the momentum of uncontrolled growth, which has already begun, will ultimately wreak havoc on every aspect of our lives, altering its pace and quality, changing forever what most of us would never allow to happen — if we could somehow muster the will and devise a strategy to prevent it.
Kaua‘i is “ground zero” in a non-stop itinerary of greed that has already left irreversible scars on some of the island’s most desirable real estate. Incompetent and/or naïve politicians and governmental boards are no match for the deep-pocketed, bloated entities who feed on our natural resources propelled by the feverish drumbeat of windfall profits. Where an entire civilization once flourished, we defile its memory with a timeshare project or some other extraneous form of concrete sprawl. In the mad quest to ride the incoming tide of commercial expansion, the floodgates have been torn from their hinges; and some of us who have lived here for any length of time cannot help but wonder if this malignant form of progress has already gone too far.
Kaua‘i is fragile — much too fragile to absorb the shockwaves that accompany the scourge of unrelenting change, but the speculator’s bet is not wagered to concern itself with the preservation of the island for future generations.
In that regard, we must surround ourselves with a local government that understands the need for thoughtful, considerate, intelligent planning and the judicious evaluation of the environmental and social consequences of any proposed development. In practice, it will require our public officials to deny certain developer wish lists instead of rubber-stamping every application that rears its ugly head or routinely issuing “after the fact” building permits. If this were a corporation, as shareholders, we would move to throw out any corporate officer proven incapable of doing the job or guilty of squandering our most valuable assets. As a community with so much at stake, we should demand at least as much from our elected officials.
Speculation and greed are unlikely components for a viable economic plan, but there is mounting evidence to prove that each is playing a role in the changing face of our county. The poster child for this wrong-headed growth policy is the monstrosity that looms high above Kuhio Highway directly across from Kaua‘i Village. Utterly incongruous to its surroundings — the architectural equivalent of the Frankenstein monster — it assails our vision, monopolizes the view plane, clutters the landscape, blocks the trade winds; an intrusive blight, whose only “charm” is the quick profit being made by those who are reselling the units even before the project is finished. Boasting the aesthetic appeal of a maximum security penitentiary — it would not be out of character to see a watchtower erected complete with searchlights and a barbed wire fence.
Reselling investment property is not an unfair means of producing revenue, but when that is the development’s sole purpose, it can only result in an inflationary environment where speculators essentially dictate the course of our future. With money flowing and prices soaring, no developer with enough backing to hire a bulldozer will be able to resist the urge to participate in Kaua‘i’s runaway building boom. The lure of bountiful returns has bankers and wealthy investors dizzy with excitement, never once asking whether the end result will benefit anything beyond the one fundamental consideration that trumps all others — the almighty bottom line. Raw greed disguised as progressive growth — unrestrained, insatiable — transforming an earthly paradise into a speculator’s dream of heaven.
Unless we can bring under control those elements of change that are clearly not in the best interest of our island, we are bound to be confronted by some harsh realities in the coming years. Long before the air starts escaping from the speculative bubble, either through a natural disaster, a severe economic downturn or an international catastrophe, the perpetrators of the building boom from hell will have departed our fair shores to no doubt seek out yet another domain for the fleecing. In their wake, the quality of life and the natural beauty of this island will be forever diminished, but crime, overcrowding, traffic congestion and social decay (the cruel by-products of poor planning and uncontrolled expansion) will multiply. Meanwhile, the spiraling costs of building and maintaining the infrastructure and providing all of the other increased services will in time open the door to yet another wave of carpetbaggers (speculators) who will finish off what remains of the Kaua‘i that was left by your ancestors to preserve.
If this island were an endangered species, she would be gasping for air and fighting to survive. It’s time for each of us to decide whether this generation will come to her rescue and preserve what is left of this magnificent place or hasten her demise through apathy, ignorance and outright complicity.
• Fred von Wiegen is a Kapa‘a resident.