in our voices – Big box bill … let’s breathe, people

Where does it start? The idea that sustainable growth needs to be at the forefront of the Kaua‘i experience. Visitor, resident, homeless, military, golf pro, developer … any and all, it would be fair to presume, have an interest in preserving Kaua‘i to some degree. Depending on who you are, the degree to which you want to preserve the character varies.

When any issue is discussed openly on Kaua’i, traffic congestion never fails to creep into the conversation. Over-development is never far behind. Maintaining our “rural character” is the mantra of many.

So where does it start? This necessity to control growth before growth takes over? The island’s denizens’ decisions today hold vast sway over the makeup of tomorrow’s Kaua’i. Many of the decisions, once made, cannot be reversed. When Wal-Mart shows everyone a survey that says most Kauaians want a Supercenter, that is wonderful news for Wal-Mart. But how many of those Kauaians won’t want what they get once a Supercenter is built? We’ll never know as it will be a moot point. Don’t forget, Wal-Mart is already here. It wants a bigger piece of the pie now. The corporation is playing the “victim” in its drive to get the thing built. If Wal-Mart succeeds in convincing us we need a Supercenter and it gets built, who will the next “victim” be … Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Crate and Barrel? There will certainly be a long line of them. This issue then is not about Wal-Mart, it is about where we draw the line. Why should we let Wal-Mart defeat an islandwide big box bill so it gets what it wants?

The island leaders and residents need to do some long, hard soul-searching rather than taking the argument that what we need right now is $2.50 a pound chicken.

The “big box bill” currently being hashed out in the Kauai County Council chambers is allowing some time for a little of that soul searching.

Though Wal-Mart is playing the victim to this current bill, it is not really about Wal-Mart — think of the store merely as one very loud citizen lobbying the County Council for a bill beneficial to its business model — it is about size limits on future businesses.

And the language is not complete.

Don’t let the smoke and mirrors coming from the Wal-Mart officials blind you to what the bill says about the future of our island. The council is, with the backing of the Bryan Baptiste administration, saying “hold on.” This is the executive and legislative branches of our local government acting in a manner that many are convinced they are not capable of. That is not to say the county doesn’t have a long way to go in other areas, but this is one battle and issue that will allow some time to think. If this bill were not being considered that would be a travesty.

Sure Wal-Mart wants theirs, but we as island residents want ours as well, and for most of us, ours is the remaining undeveloped portions of the island. So Wal-Mart, stop telling the people what’s good for them, and people, let’s start looking at the meaning of this bill.

If you think the proliferation of big boxes is going to eliminate the need to work two and three jobs to survive, you need to do some soul searching.

If you think big boxes are going to help ease traffic clogs, soul search. If you buy the argument that the big boxes are a social center that brings the community together, visit Ishihara Market in Waimea or Big Save in Lihu’e. If you buy the argument that the local mom-and-pops are afraid of competition, “duh.”

The big boxes stamp out competition with their methods. Their quantity allows no competition, besides other mass quantity providers.

To those who argue cheap groceries are good for everyone, the manner in which to bring those prices down should not be centralized, mass-quantity mega-structures. If that is the only method to get cheap groceries, then let’s erect towers of apartments and condominiums, to get cheap rents and purchase prices. If we are preparing for a massive population growth, then by all means, let’s let the stores go up.

Many criticizing the bill claim the county advances overdevelopment, while picking on the little man by not allowing the big box stores. That is merely another smokescreen; allowing guest accommodations but not the stores is not an attack on low income earners. Should we be allowing both? Let’s work on one, then the other.

Big box stores utilize streamlined, mass quantity methods of transporting goods with national and international networks to bring prices down. And yes the consumer benefits from that, but the shortterm thickening of the pocketbook will cost so much more later in the reasons we all live here.

Our economy, reliant on tourism, does not benefit from herding everyone into a few large stores on the island. Those off-island feel fatter pocketbooks.

Concerns about losing the mom-and-pops and the funky and divine niche shops are passed off as outdated, romantic notions by proponents of the big businesses. Do we want homogenized culture as our only choice for consumer goods? That is a choice we are facing with Kaua’i County Council Bill 2203.

The bill, if it passes, will not eliminate our “right” to pay lower prices, it will give everyone a little more room to breathe.

If maintaining the rural feel of Kaua‘i is about shopping at Kojimas and picking up knickknacks from localized shops, maybe we can pay a little more for chicken.


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