Is Kauai watching its future sail by?
How many economic, intellectual and cultural backwaters see their reflection and go, "Boy nothing is going on here."
I bet not one.
So when Leroy Laney, First Hawaiian Bank's economics consultant, reported last week on the Kauai economy, no one said, "This is what we warned you would happen."
But in those dry numbers are a description of just the sort of stratified society with little middle class that futurists, professors, pundits and a few wise politicians had all warned about.
The difference is that the warning was not heeded and now Kauai's politicians are left with the symbolic nonsense of banning even bigger Wal-Marts or hissing at the Hawaii Superferry.
You can get a good picture of what happened to Kauai by logging on to Google Earth and loading up a picture of Kauai from outer space. Travel along the coastline and you will see a fringe of pools, cabanas and Fantasy Island-like lagoons.
In his report, Laney tallied some of the numbers. Poipu alone is building or has approved permits for 3,188 more dwelling units. From 1997 to 2006, single-family home prices increased 205 percent, Laney reports. Princeville Shopping Center is getting a facelift "and planning continues for the resort's remaining 7,000 acres of undeveloped land," he said.
No mention was made of new public schools or a gleaming new high-tech center, although a total of 60 gap-range homes are being built, Laney added.
Eight years ago, the late A.A. "Bud" Smyser, the Star-Bulletin's wise former editor, worried about Hawaii becoming a Pacific backwater.
"We will grumble about rich and educated people exploiting us. We might let our environment get mucked up. Visitors might turn elsewhere. Good riddance, some might say. But our economy would shrink ... Bangladesh won't have to give up its title as the poorest Asia-Pacific area, but we might be mentioned in the same breath," Smyser warned.
Laney noted what is fueling the construction industry and all those new buildings are not hotels, but time-shares.
"As the various forms of fractional ownership become more prevalent, there is also a social element to be considered. That is, there is a blurring of lines between who actually is a local resident and who is a visitor. Some find this a negative aspect of the trend," Laney said.
Kauai politicians, who have allowed the island to slip into what seems a frothy Mecca of crystal shops for New Age gurus, might be asked what the island would be like if real land-use laws had been passed and enforced during the past two decades.
Smyser said in 1997 that "there is still time to rein in our drift to the backwater scenario, particularly if our legislators will show a little bit of that quality called courage."
Failing that, Kauai is left to glower as the cutting edge of a promising future passes by.