Creighton Mattoon remembers when Turtle Bay Resort was nothing but a blueprint.

That was back in the 1970s, when the initial proposal to develop five hotels on the site prompted Mattoon and other North Shore residents to band together and stop the project.

“This was a concern of the people in the area — that such a massive development could not be supported by the infrastructure that we have out in this area, Koolauloa,” Mattoon said. “And it’s more than just Koolauloa. It’s Koolaupoko and Haleiwa. It’s a long stretch of land.”

That land extends between Kahaluu and Haleiwa — a fertile, beach-lined zone largely seen as the antithesis to urban Honolulu. Koolauloa and Koolaupoko are the two ahupuaa that make up the island’s north-east corridor.

Residents were worried that the mass development and accompanying population growth would strain available resources such as water, emergency services and schools.

So Mattoon and others met with then-University of Hawaii professor Walter Johnson to brainstorm what they could do to protect those areas. And that’s when they coined the phrase “Keep the Country Country.”

“Basically the idea is to protect the rural area that I described from massive urban invasion,” Mattoon said. “And it’s not just for the people who live out here — it’s for the whole island.”

Fast forward 30-plus years. Though Keep the Country Country is the name of a single organization, the phrase has now come to describe a collaborative grassroots initiative to resist a number of controversial development projects across the island. The term is seen on bumper stickers and hats, shirts and rubber slippers. In fact, “Keep the Country Country” is now registered with the sate Department of Consumer Affairs, according to Mattoon.

But it’s also a popular catchphrase with Honolulu mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell, who critics say was a key player in the very projects Keep the Country Country and its affiliates oppose.

Now the group wants Caldwell to stop using that phrase. Keep the Country Country last week sent out a press release asking that he drop the slogan from his campaign.

“If Candidate Kirk Caldwell chooses not to disavow these proposed massive developments outside the urban core, in the name of accuracy, transparency and fairness to Oahu’s voters, he should immediately remove ‘Keeping the Country, Country’ from his campaign website and political speeches,” the press release says.

Caldwell often mentions the saying in speeches. It’s also the title of one of eight issue areas he has listed on his campaign website.

He has vowed to maintain the rural, agricultural character of the countryside while supporting growth within Honolulu’s urban boundary in accordance with a transit-oriented development model.

Still, Caldwell was the city’s managing director under former mayor Mufi Hannemann, whose administration — particularly the Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) — oversaw contentious North Shore development projects that critics say have shunned community input.

“Kirk Caldwell basically comes from the Mufi Hannemann mold — he’s a protege of Mufi Hannemann,” said North Shore community leader Larry McElheny. “He comes from that camp, all the pro-development elements in our society. If you’re going to ‘keep the country country,’ those are not the folks you want to deal with. They’re the ones advocating for Turtle Bay expansion. They’re advocating for Envision Laie … For Caldwell to use that as a campaign slogan, it’s just really wrong. It’s deceptive. It’s hypocritical.”

Caldwell Opposes Turtle Bay Expansion

Caldwell campaign spokeswoman Glenna Wong said the attacks are unfounded.

“It’s unfortunate that Defend Oahu Coalition does not agree with Kirk’s vision and beliefs,” she said, referring to the organization that has spearheaded opposition against Turtle Bay Resort’s expansion. “He has said ‘Keep the Country Country’ because he believes it.”

Proposals to expand the Kahuku resort have evolved over the years. The most recent plan includes adding 1,375 units to the property.

According to Mattoon, Caldwell was the Honolulu managing director when the city and former property owner Oaktree Capital were being sued for refusing to update an Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The Hawaii Supreme Court in 2010 ruled they would need to produce a new EIS.

Caldwell, however, doesn’t support the expansion of Turtle Bay Resort, according to Wong. She pointed out that the Sierra Club and Keep the North Shore Country first filed the lawsuit in 2005 — initially against developer Kuilima Resort Co. and the city — before Caldwell served as managing director.

But Mattoon, McElheny and other community activists pointed to other development projects, including some that Caldwell has publicly supported.

Caldwell Supports Contentious ‘Envision Laie’ Project

Oahu’s long northeastern tract has for decades been designated as the island’s rural region, according to McElheny, a longtime Pupukea resident.

“Every official planning effort that I’m aware of has essentially said that we’re going to urbanize the Honolulu side of Oahu — which includes Ewa — but we’re going to leave the other side rural,” he said. “That’s been the consensus island-wide.”

But that mutual understanding, he said, is quickly changing.

McElheny said the most egregious breach of that de facto agreement is Envision Laie — a subdivision proposed by the city planning department that would include a shopping center, office buildings and more than 1,000 new homes.

“If that goes, you’re basically going to urbanize the area that we’re talking about. It’s just the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said McElheny. “It’s a two-lane highway. There’s already traffic. Anything you do that exacerbates an intolerable condition and adds more traffic is just ludicrous.”

But critics are also perturbed by the way the Hannemann administration went forward with Envision Laie.

“[The DPP] acted unilaterally contrary to what the citizens’ Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) was asked to do out here,” said Mattoon, who was a member of the 27-member committee. “[The PAC] was formed under the city’s auspices and included a plan that did not include any expansion and did not approve of Envision Laie.”

The PAC submitted its plan in June 2009. But the DPP in October 2010 released a unilateral proposal — essentially devoid of the PAC’s input — that laid the foundations for Envision Laie.

“A year later, and everything we had done was basically thrown away,” said Keep the Country Country member and longtime Hauula resident Barbara Kahana. “The developer’s plans were boldly inserted into the project. It’s exhausting. So many people who care so much, and the advice is kind of ignored.” Kahana was part of the group that conceived “Keep the Country Country” back in the 70s.

Kahana said she doesn’t trust Caldwell because of his affiliation with the Hannemann administration. She denounced the way the city has, over the years, planned and executed various projects, inviting community input and then slipping back into secrecy.

“It’s just left a sour taste for me,” she said. “It’s a total slap in the face. There’s a trust level that may have been there 20, 25 years ago that’s eroding over time … I’m not confident that he (Caldwell) will surround himself with people that should be more open and more accountable and really will pay attention to the right processes. It’s really discouraging.”

Indeed, critics say Caldwell shouldn’t be saying “Keep the Country Country” largely because he supports the project.

“Kirk does support Envision Laie, as do most of the residents in that community,” said Wong, adding that many Defend Oahu Coalition members and other “Keep the Country Country” activists don’t live in Laie.

But Kahana disagrees with that assessment.

“I think he’s wrong when he says the majority,” she said. “It may be the majority of the people he has face time with … but it’s not a slam-dunk that the majority of people out here want that project.”

Kahana emphasized that she isn’t opposed to all development. Rather, she supports what she calls “smart development” — projects that heed to land preservation and the area’s infrastructural constraints.

“You can’t cut off the connection to land, to nature,” Kahana said. “It also means that you need to pay attention to infrastructure and not ignore this traffic business. It’s a two-lane road.”

Caldwell Sides With City On Proposal To Privatize Haleiwa Park

Critics also cite the ongoing plan to sell Haleiwa Regional Park to private investor Andy Anderson — a proposal first developed under Hannemann when Caldwell was managing director. Anderson has proposed building a boutique hotel on the 3.5-acre plot of land.

The proposed sale has garnered widespread criticism, particularly from those who say the park is used for a variety of activities and enables much-needed access to the beach. Two groups have recently brought the city to court over the sale.

But Caldwell openly supports the proposal. “Kirk liked the concept, he liked the idea of a hotel,” said Wong, adding the Caldwell thinks the proposal should be “explored further.”

“As I understand it, that land isn’t a public park,” said Wong.

Rather, it’s an undeveloped remnant of land owned by the city, she said. She added that the acquisition of the city-owned remnant would be given due process, including approval from the Honolulu City Council.

But critics of the sale say the land in question is in fact a public park that should be protected from privatization.

“It depends on your definition of a park. Under the city’s definition of a park, it qualifies,” McElheny said. “It’s underdeveloped, it’s precious, it’s priceless. As we speak, there are people down on that park developing it into a park. Eventually, there’ll be picnic benches and so forth. It’s evolving.”

McElheny pointed to the city’s revised ordinance, which defines a public park as “any park, park roadway, playground, athletic field, beach, beach right-of-way, tennis court, golf course, swimming pool, or other recreation area or facility under the control, maintenance and management of the department of parks and recreation.” And a sign at the park, he said, demonstrates that the land is overseen by the department.

Caldwell Guilty By Association?

Keep the Country Country’s recent press release also pointed out that Caldwell’s campaign chair, Lex Smith, is an attorney representing the company that has been attempting to evict longtime residents from the Kahuku Plantation Camp.

At least six of the 71 families living on the plantation have already been evicted, according to camp resident and community leader Margaret Primacio. Some of the plantation residents are currently selling kalua pig for their legal fund to fight the eviction in court.

“I’ve seen hardworking families give to the land and benefit from raising their families in such an area in close proximity to the ocean that was their refrigerator, sustenance for families,” said Primacio. “Families have flourished here. My grandchildren are here. Generations go on. That’s what we want to see — families that can understand and live in a very natural, slow-paced country lifestyle.”

But Wong said that, despite his relationship with Smith, Caldwell hasn’t played any role in the eviction.

Still, critics maintain that Caldwell is wrong in co-opting a slogan that they say is directed at power players with a pro-development track record.

“It’s disingenuous,” said Save Oahu Farmlands Alliance member Choon James. The Alliance has vowed to stop development at Hoopili — a project that proposes to build a housing development on Ewa farmland. Caldwell supports the plan.

Indeed, the “Keep the Country Country” opposition has spread to areas well beyond Oahu’s North Shore.

“There is a sound bite out there that Keep the Country Country supports rail,” said James. “To say it’s a way to contain urban sprawl is disingenuous. We’re fully aware that the whole island is up for grabs.”

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