Hawaii Community Activism & Local Politics
Micro issues like building, cleaning, community relations, and maintenance are important for the survival of a community. Hedonisia will always try to be politically engaged on a local level as part of our policy of entrepreneur activism.
As a local sustainable community based on ecotourism, part of our community activism is based on creating local awareness and lobbying the county and government directly to allow for more eco-friendly zoning for homes and communities in Hawaii.
We continue with this effort in our testimonials to the local government, organizations, and media.
Affordable Housing & Sustainable Community Resilience in Puna, Hawaii
As a local Puna resident and taxpayer active in the community since 2004, I offer my testimony on Puna recovery related to affordable housing and sustainable communities since the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
Over four years later, there are many, including myself, who are still unable to return to their properties. On 26 May 2018, I lost my home and my community business in the Kilauea eruption. We were a successful tax-paying ecotourist community for 14 years.
People who live in Lava Zones 1 and 2 are discriminated against in getting mortgages and property insurance. However, we are still expected to follow all aspects of County Building Codes which were designed for places like California rather than tropical Hawaii or volcanic Puna.
It was with great effort and a large cash deposit that I got a mortgage when I purchased my property in 2004. I paid a higher mortgage interest for a permitted house in Zone 1 only to have it swept away in 2018.
To rebuild a fully permitted home is expensive. The zoning and building laws in Lava Zones 1 and 2 are the same as elsewhere in Hawaii despite the added difficulties and cost of getting a mortgage and insurance. Community resilience is not optimized by only supporting the building of expensive permitted homes in zones 1 and 2. Madame Pele doesn't discriminate. She will take a million-dollar home as easily as an eco-friendly tiny home that has less impact on the environment.
As a lava-inundated property, I will never get a mortgage again to build on my land. Insurance will be prohibitively expensive. Yet I’m expected to rebuild under a Uniform Building Code that is not designed for tropical environments such as Hawaii.
Many Puna people have already created beautiful alternative homes made of bamboo and recycled materials. They are functional, eco-friendly, and suitable for tropical living. With legalization, they would be able to showcase these alternative homes as eco-friendly alternatives to the rigid structures of the Uniform Building Code.
Instead, such owners have to continually hide and live in fear that just one call from a neighbor to County Planning can bring them a whole lot of grief. Enforcement staff in the Planning Dept. and the Dept. of Public Works understand that many complaints are frivolous, fraudulent, and even blatantly vindictive. Because reports are confidential they breed suspicion amongst neighbours and even close friends. This can destroy relationships and is the complete antithesis of a system promoting community connectedness and trust. In many cases, county codes and staff are used as a weapon to harm otherwise law-abiding resident homeowners.
Puna is already famous as a place of quirky communities and jungle housing. Legalizing this reality would bring a major benefit by encouraging locally owned sustainable tourism that provides an alternative to the traditional hotel-based mass tourism that has a huge impact on the natural environment of our beautiful island.
My home was also an ecotourist community that attracted visitors from around the world since its creation in 2004. The land we purchased was formerly a junkyard. With zero help from the county, we cleaned up the property and removed 18 junk vehicles at our own expense.
We developed a unique community model of agricultural and eco-tourism based on female empowerment and gender equality. For 14 years, we were a tax-paying eco-community that fit well into the local culture of Puna with low environmental impact.
In our 14 years running Hedonisia, we had many eco-tourists who preferred our model of sustainable community tourism compared to the commercialism of Kona or Waikiki. Despite being a taxpayer in Puna for 14 years (20 years total taxes in Hawaii), and losing my home and business I did not receive any local government assistance.
1. Hinalo Street
The government decided to not rebuild Hinalo Street where I lived and then offered a Buyout Program with so much fine print that I will not get the full amount nor even enough to rebuild. I feel I am being cornered into accepting a reduced buyout when I would prefer assistance to rebuild and once again be a tax-paying member of the Puna community.
2. Restoring Infrastructure & County Water Tank on Hinalo St
I would prefer to see more funds spent on Puna infrastructure rebuilding. Upper Hinalo Street, where my property is located, is not slated to be restored despite it being a county road. Several landowners on upper Hinalo St did not have their entire property covered by lava as was the case in lower Hinalo. On my property, I have a 1-acre kipuka of arable land left.
The county water tank is at the end of Upper Hinalo Street. It is still functioning but just needs to be connected again. Restoring upper Hinalo St will allow that possibility to bring water again down Pohoiki to Isaac Hale with benefits to local tourism and fisheries.
3. More Funds for Puna Social Entrepreneurs & Nonprofits with Fiscal Sponsors
Legalizing this low-impact building would encourage locally owned and community-based ecotourism providing an alternative to the traditional hotel-based mass tourism that has a huge impact on the natural environment of our beautiful island. We were able to do this for 14 years as the Hedonisia Hawaii EcoFeminist Community which existed (and paid taxes) from 2004 till its destruction in the 2018 eruption.
4. Rezoning Lava Zones 1 & 2
Those of us who live in Zones 1 and 2 like myself face difficulty in getting insurance and mortgages. For those who live in this area, which is continually under threat from another eruption, there should be exemptions from some of the building codes if residents are making eco-friendly structures. A traditional Hawaiian-style house is still illegal under current permitting regulations.
To rebuild a fully permitted home is expensive. It was with great difficulty and a very high deposit that I got a mortgage when I purchased my Lava Zone 1 property in 2004. I paid a higher mortgage interest and incurred extra debt for a permitted house only to have it swept away by lava.
Madame Pele doesn't discriminate. She will take a million-dollar home as easily as an eco-friendly tiny home that has less impact on the environment.
At the very least, those of us who live in Lava Zones 1 and 2 should get the lowest enforcement priority with zoning especially if the unpermitted structures are eco-friendly.
A reprieve or respite from expensive buildings and other permits in this region, would encourage experimental housing and solidify Puna as a place of quirky entrepreneurs, communities, and people. This would have the additional benefit of encouraging sustainable tourism.
Many Puna people have beautiful bamboo or other alternative styles of homes that are functional and eco-friendly. However, they have to continually hide and live in fear that just one call from their neighbors to County Planning can bring them a whole lot of grief. Instead, they would be able to showcase these alternative homes as viable tropical alternatives to the rigid structures of the Uniform Building Code.
Buyback Program Discrimination
Legal experts have noted there might be an official complaint about discrimination under federal law based on the Buyout which only compensates middle and upper-class people who owned a permitted home. Poorer folks who lived in unpermitted homes have had their structures valued at zero in the buyback rules. This value is even further reduced with the proposed changes in the buyback formula.
Valuing poorer people's homes at zero can legally be described as discrimination due to income and poverty. Many of the unpermitted homes are owned by local Hawaiians which introduces a cultural aspect to the discrimination.
5. Protected Kipuka
Though 75% of my land was covered in lava, I still have about 1 acre of green land, a Kipuka surrounded by lava. With Hawaii having one of the worst extinction and natural habitat devastation of most states in America, I want to apply for any relevant programs that would allow me to set aside part of this protected kipuka for native animal or plant species that need protection from predators.
My land is now free from most pests so would be an ideal location for habitat restoration or rewilding. Protecting native flora and fauna is supposed to be a priority for Hawaii. I would like to apply for any restorative program that would allow me to reserve part of my protected area for native plants and animals.
Calls to Action
Simple changes in legislation, zoning, and enforcement priority are a very affordable and effective way to address the ongoing crisis of housing affordability in high lava zones. At the very least, branches of the government must recognize the unique challenges of living in the area that have been exacerbated by lava inundations and the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the appropriate officials who wish to make a difference in Puna, we are requesting serious consideration of the following:
- New legislation or zoning laws based on the goals of SB2274 legislation to legalize sustainable, eco-friendly homes based on tropical living rather than the building codes meant for the mainland.
- A reprieve from expensive building and other permits Lava Zones 1 and 2 if the unpermitted structures are eco-friendly and safe by standards suitable for a tropical environment.
- Lowest enforcement priority for Zones 1 and 2. Rather than spending taxpayer dollars to penalize alternative structures in a volcano-threatened location, it would encourage experimental housing and be an example to the world. Property taxes are already paid for unpermitted buildings. This arrangement can be formalized.
- Due to the impermanent status of Zones 1 or 2, having exemptions from certain county codes would allow residents to be able to build eco-friendly intentional communities, housing, and businesses.
- One idea is that we need a new category of dwellings titled “Recorded, not permitted”, with the homeowner signing a waiver to indemnify the County against any claims.
- Alternative building codes are utilized by many mainland administrations to create a range of options for legal construction.
Our Calls to Action would bring many benefits to Puna while not disrupting the traditional, eccentric, and natural rhythms that make it so special for those of us who choose to live so close to an active volcano.
I am currently a member of the Lower Puna Rising group that is advocating for sustainable community resilience legislation, rebuilding, and programs that would allow Puna to be rebirthed after the Kilauea eruption in ways that are supportive of the greater community.
We have the potential to be an example to the world when it comes to sustainable community living. This is an exciting opportunity.
Thank you so much. Feel free to contact me to discuss further or have questions.
Pre-Eruption Hedonisia Hawaii Eco-Feminist Community
Hedonisia Pre-Volcano History
Before the eruption, we were founding board members of the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance (HSCA). This grassroots organization, active from 2011 - to 2014, worked to support legislation in Hawaii to allow for more eco-friendly building practices and communities. Bamboo, a fast-growing eco-friendly wood that has been used as a building material for thousands of years in Asia. Yet the vast majority of bamboo species are illegal to use as a construction material in Hawaii.
The HSCA, at its peak, had over 600 members. Our local grassroots political lobbying effort, on bill SB2274 "Related to Sustainable Living" almost succeeded at passing landmark legislation to create a legal precedent for alternative housing and eco-community living in America and around the world.
The HSCA is currently dormant. However, records for SB2274 and its passage through all the various House and Senate committees are part of the 2014 Hawaii State Legislature Archives.
From 2010-14, I was vice president of the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance, a Puna-based organization that at its peak had more than 600 members.
Sadly, the bill was killed in 2014 as noted in the Big Island Weekly cover story. Had it succeeded, SB2274 would have laid a legal foundation for addressing many of the zoning, agricultural, permit, and ecotourism issues that are relevant to Puna.
We encourage Hawaiian residents to phone or write in testimony to the Hawaii State Legislature where you can create your account and be part of the political process to give testimony on laws that are going to affect our beautiful state.
Education & Activism through Socially Conscious Business Practices
We started Hedonisia Hawaii in 2004 as a simple eco-hostel. We had no politics in mind at that time.
We just wanted to offer a more affordable eco-friendly vacation than the ‘concrete tourism’ in the overdeveloped resort areas of Waikiki, Kona or Lahaina.
However, we found it can be quite difficult to create a sustainable community not only in Hawaii but in most of the USA and Europe due to excessive government zoning and planning regulations.
For big corporations, it is much easier to create an environmentally destructive 5-star resort than it is for a small community to go through the cumbersome, expensive, and very bureaucratic process to offer services that are outside of the realm of 'traditional tourism'. As a result of our frustration with existing legislation, we had to be part of the political process. And that is what we have done with our local political activism!
We also practice social sustainability globally through our Socially Responsible & EcoFeminist Entrepreneur Web Projects.
Social & Environmental Goals We Address in Our Community Enterprise:
- EcoTourism Prototype. We want to demonstrate that true, low-impact eco-tourism is possible in Hawaii and involves inspiration, education, and enjoyment.
- Environmentally Friendly Building Permits and Legislation. We want to change zoning laws in Hawaii, to give intentional communities with a social enterprise focus, the ability to legally exist with government incentives—rather than sanction.
- Sustainable Community Management Internship. We want to educate intern managers so they can create and manage a sustainable community in Hawaii or elsewhere in the world.
- Community, Activist, Feminist or Environmental Entrepreneur Business Incubator. When an intern has an idea for their own social entrepreneur business, we act as an inspirational and practical incubator for them to develop their idea while interning at the community.
- To develop sustainable principles, prototypes and practices: Community resource exchanges, natural or recycling building materials, thermal and solar heating/cooling systems, renewable power generation, water harvesting, contained sewage treatment systems, and food production.
- Eco-Hut Prototypes. At Hedonisia we build small huts like Puka Hale, from recycled and renewable materials as affordable eco-tourist lodgings and to present to the government as prototypes for sustainable low-cost housing.
Hedonisia Activist Entrepreneur eBook Access
Sign up as a Hedonisia Virtual Community Member and receive access to The Activist Entrepreneur. This is a video course on how to create a business that is working through the political system to promote a socially progressive, feminist, or environmental cause.