Walking around Lana’i’s stores during this holiday season is delightful. With Murdock and his intimidating methods finally and irrevocably gone from Lana’i (except for retaining Richard’s Shopping Center and that pesky, hidden, secretive right to destroy historic Ka’a ahupua’a with hundreds of 400 foot turbines), old friends are now talking to each other again. Those ridiculous pro wind signs — “Wind Power: To Make Lana’i Green” — are almost all gone. (Big Wind on Lana’i never was – and still is not – about “making Lana’i green;” it was always about making Murdock lots and lots of “green” — mostly from your taxpaying wallets). Lots of our friends and neighbors are once again employed, working long hours, but enjoying the “green” they can then recycle into our local businesses. You can feel the renewed spirit permeating our island.

Years ago, when I used to play late-in-the-night, too-much-scotch poker games with my buddies, one of our favorite hands was called “Goodie/Baddies.” The dealer would designate a few cards as “goodies” (e.g., deuces and fours), and if those were dealt to your hand they became wild cards and greatly enhanced your chance of winning the pot. But if that same card later came into view in the center of the table (the “flop”), it cancelled the goodies in your hand — turned them into “baddies.”

Larry Ellison’s approach to Lana’i so far reminds me of that poker game, only with much more at stake than the few pennies in our late-night pots. It’s great that Lana’i is seeing a significant upswing in jobs — extending the hours of existing employees and hiring lots of new ones. Painting the old, demolition-by-neglect Castle & Cooke properties not only helps with employment but freshens up the City. A revitalized and re-opened swimming pool and new basketball/volleyball court is a much needed and welcomed addition to the community’s scarce recreational resources. Putting up picnic tables around Dole Park is a “goodie” for sure, as was repairing the Old Men’s Benches in the park.

Allowing Murdock, however, to keep some unknown rights to develop the Ka’a Ahupua’a into a wind power plant for O’ahu is a guaranteed “baddie.” Calling us a “lab,” even if for a potentially positive vision, is not a “goodie.” Learning about our future on a New York CNBC interview is also not good. Being told what our future entails instead of participating in what it could be, is a real baddie. So the question is: are the “goodies” being cancelled out by the “baddies?”

And the answer is…… it’s way too early to tell. A new majority landowner offers an opportunity to change Lana’i’s history. (Although we have heard this refrain before!) For the past 25 years, we have been ruled by a feudal monarch; one who told us what to do, what to think, and what to fear. He’s been proven wrong of course — his departure has not meant the closing of Lana’i but rather the re-awakening of it. But wouldn’t it be lovely, almost revolutionary, if the new owner planned WITH US, instead of for us? If he talked WITH US, instead of to us. If the economic drivers for Lana’i’s future were a path WE, the community, helped carve out? If we learned of his plans for our future without a continent separating us?

Imagine if Ellison or his “people” sat down with a group of Lana’i residents, rather than meeting with selected individuals one-at-a-time. Or met with Lana’i residents not hand-picked for his meeting list by the previous C&C management? We keep hearing that Ellison is not a community-meeting kind of guy. Given the nature and tone of previous “community meetings,” and C&C’s heavy-handed management of them, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe what would work would be a series of conversations with a diverse cross-section of residents, similar to a process used by Lanaians for Sensible Growth (LSG) with its HACBED study, conducted in 2008 to gauge community values. Maybe it would look less like the Murdock style of playing us against each other, and more like re-building the community’s cohesion.

Hiring a “Lana’i boy” as the new COO (under Ellison) for our community is most certainly a goodie. Kurt Matsumoto and his family have deep Lana’i roots; Kurt comes to this job with first-hand experience of how this community works, unlike the men imported by Murdock.

Most people seem to respond very favorably to the substance of the plans Ellison announced in New York on CNBC. And why not? Who wouldn’t want Lana’i to be self-sustainable in both food and energy? Who wouldn’t love to see us feed and power ourselves? Ask anyone on Lana’i who has photo-voltaic panels on their roof if they’d rather pay hundreds of dollars to MECO every month — or their current $17!

The ILWU and Castle & Cooke continue to pipe the impossible dream of a 40 percent reduction of electric rates from Big Wind. Why don’t they instead start a program of wholesaling PV panels here on island, offering them at a reduced price to homeowners and training their workers to install them at a discount for residents? That would reduce everyone’s electric rates by way more than 40 percent.

Add more solar? Why not? Improve the battery storage system, expand the existing solar farm, make the grid more tolerant of intermittent power — all positive changes, all in line with Ellison’s CNBC vision. Even a couple of small windmills (we couldn’t help but notice the complete absence of that word in his interview) to power Lana’i would be a significant contributor to our energy self-sufficiency.

Increasing our food security is another desirable vision, especially if we could grow enough to feed ourselves. What an exciting goal — to make Lana’i energy and food self-sufficient!

But please Larry, don’t perpetuate your predecessor’s “here’s-your-future; do-what-I-say-or-else-the-sky-will-fall” management style. Plan with us, not for us.

Do the “baddies” cancel out the “goodies?” For now, the spirit is good. Cautious optimism abounds.


About the author: Robin Kaye is the spokesman for Friends of Lanai.

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