Under the Sun
What if bureaucrats had to sell Zippy’s chili to buy printer ink?
Is it me or is there something screwy about the state selling license plates to raise money to protect Hawaii's native species?
At first look, the idea seems like a good one. The plate's design is attractive, depicting an 'i'iwi perched on an 'ohi'a branch in bloom -- a tableau of native honeycreeper in native habitat I've seen only once or twice in real life. To punch home the message, the plate declares "Protect Our Native Species."
As a branded tree-hugger, I have no quarrel with protecting native species, no quarrel with pulling down some extra bucks to preserve what's left of forests and mountains and the marvelous creatures that need them to survive.
But pushing license plates for vehicles that belch pollutants that mess up the environment is hard to reconcile with a conservation effort. It seems at cross purposes to decorate the machine whose abundant use results in climate change, which places forests and wildlife needing protection at risk.
Not to be a killjoy, but drivers thinking of paying $30.50 for the smug pleasure of a pretty plate could do more good by leaving the car in the garage a couple of days a week, planning errands to make fewer outings in the Expedition and donating the gas savings for conservation work.
Besides, even though the state government says the cash will go to "develop and implement programs to protect and recover" native species -- to quote a news release -- you never know where the money will end up.
That's because the people who make decisions on how to spend tax dollars often ignore the forest for the individual trees. Shuffling priorities and mutating personal objectives frequently conflict.
Gov. Linda Lingle wants the state to buy the Turtle Bay resort and its surrounding land to prevent the loss of the North Shore's rural character. There are also bills in the legislative pipeline to buy the valley and hillside across the Ka Iwi nature reserve so that a resort can't go up there. Both are fine proposals because Oahu doesn't have a lot of shoreline left unobstructed by the claims of tourism and the wealthy.
Money, of course, is the everlasting problem.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is well-acquainted with cash crunches. While the governor hopes to save Turtle Bay shoreline from hotel development, the department wants to develop a Kauai shoreline for resorts, time-shares and retail, seeking to lease out 52 acres near the Wailua River to raise money for a Hawaiian homes subdivision. Though the department will still own the land, once built, resorts tend to stay put.
The plan will trade away another piece of the islands, but the exchange will cut DHHL's long list of applicants for long-awaited homes. It's a tough call, especially since coastline developments affect everyone.
DHHL is fortunate in that it can manage its assets for a focused purpose. It's when there are myriad goals and needs that government funding can get crazy. No one would expect agencies such as the budget and finance to have to sell Zippy's chili to pay for ledgers and calculators or the legislators to offer Huli-Huli chicken on Saturdays in the Safeway parking lot.
So when conservation of native forests and birds falls in part to peddling license plates tricked out as an "innovative way for residents to show their support," that says a lot about what's important in Hawaii and what's not.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org