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Kekaha public housing residents go from ‘paradise to living hell’

Trees cut to make way for septic system

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Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11:45 pm

KEKAHA — A temporary septic system is coming with price tag for residents of a housing complex in one of the island’s sunniest and hottest places. Trees and bushes are being cut down, awnings are being removed.

Some residents at the Kekaha public housing center along Io Road claim the loss of trees and awnings reduced their quality of life and even created a health issue.

In the past few weeks and months the residents have lost several trees and shrubs to make way for the new septic system, which may become obsolete in five years after the county installs planned sewer lines. Now they say management is going a step further and cutting down trees and shrubs along the buildings.

Some of the work is required, according to Nicholas Berg, Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority on O‘ahu. The trees and bushes must be at least 50 feet from the septic system to protect from root incursion and in accordance to its warranty.

Berg said the Kekaha project has a lot of sun exposure and that Kaua‘i HPHA manager Karen Klock has recommended shading structures — which would be considered when funding is available. Klock also has discretion for landscaping removal work outside of the septic requirements, Berg added.

“We are working with the property manager to keep tenants involved in the decision-making process,” Berg said. “We want them to feel they are part of process and that their positions are respected.”

Henri Carnal, a resident for nearly 12 years, had one of the last awnings remaining, but he said it would be coming down — he was told it was in violation of the HPHA lease agreement. The awning rested as the centerpiece over Carnal’s doorway and covered some chairs with tall bushes on both sides.

“This is Kekaha,” Carnal said, referring to the daily sun and heat.

A retired union organizer, Carnal said he understands that the small group cannot make a difference without a much larger voice from the residents. He said the resident advisory board has not proved effective on this matter.

Carnal is most upset that the HPHA justified the loss of green space to install a septic system that won’t depreciate before the buildings are on the county sewer line within five years. He said the response was, “Do you want trees or do you want septic?”

‘We were so happy’

Patrick Moore has one of the last remaining units with Chinese orchid pods and bushes covering his entrance. He said the impending loss is a source of stress and worry.

The structures had been allowed to remain under previous management, according to Moore. The loss of shade from awnings and trees keeps the residents inside.

“We were so happy a year ago,” Moore said. “This has gone from a paradise to a living hell.”

Moore said the discretion should accomodate the local culture and people. Recently, a resident passed away in his 90s, who had spent his time repairing his fishing nets by stringing them up between his unit and a tree.

That would not be possible now under the new rules, Moore added, and is an example of the activities that retired people choose to do, just as pruning trees and shrubs or gardening.

The trees and bushes provide a healthy routine for residents who care for the plants and trees that yielded fruit, he said, in addition to shade and character for each unit.

Brenda Silva said her Chinese orchid pod kept her residence shaded for the seven years she has lived there. It is much hotter now since its removal, she added.

“I don’t even want to come out of the house now,” Silva added. 

Ui Ho‘okano has lived in her unit for the past five years after retiring. She is not very mobile with a painful leg condition and said her house is now hotter without her tree.

“We have no shade,” she said.

No air conditioner

The units do not have air conditioners and residents need medical approval to install one at their own expense. The community building has three air conditioners in the staff offices but not in the community areas.

Ho‘okano said she could sit outside of her front door under the shade of bushes and an awning. She does not wish to substitute her front yard with a distant gazebo.

There is still one tree and many shrubs and flowers in front of the JoAnn Jones’ residence. She has had greenery for 11 years. The tree remains in part to a physicians letter noting heat is detrimental to her health.

“Please don’t cut down my tree,” Silva said.

With the shade, he said the residents were a community and would visit one-another outside during the day. They would garden and watch out for each other.

“These are people that mind their own business,” Moore said. “Now they are saying, ‘we are fighting this’.”

The loss of mango, avocado and Chinese orchid trees has Moore is concerned that more trees will come down with management discretion and not because they are in violation of rules. There are several monkey pod trees towering over the property and he said losing these cultural landmarks would be a great loss for the community.

Tree removal, chemical use

Tree removal is conducted by contractors and in consultation with a certified arborist on site to manage and evaluate the work that is being done, according to Berg. Some trees present a hazard of incurring on to neighboring property.

The overuse of chemicals in killing weeds along the sidewalks has Moore and other tenants concerned for the health of animals and people. He said starting a new garden is difficult enough with topsoil removed from the septic construction.

The number of maintenance people has dwindled during a state hiring freeze. With just one person doing the weeding, the tenants said the lone worker has turned from manual removal to a heavy use of chemical herbicides.

Berg said he would address the issue by checking with maintenance practices. He understands that the hiring freeze has reduced staff through attrition, but that he would to check if and why chemical overuse was occurring over physical manual removal of weeds and grass.

HPHA will follow county ordinances when deciding what is allowed or not regarding landscaping and with creating house rules, said Berg. In the end, he said HPHA wants to protect its assets and reduce clutter as much as possible.

As they move forward Berg said they would utilize the property evaluation to manage it in the most appropriate way and to incorporate that with tenant input.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • infact88 posted at 8:57 pm on Fri, Dec 9, 2011.

    infact88 Posts: 9

    Catherine77, I suspect you are a "lovely soul" and I agree with the broad generalities and platitudes you link to a call for compassion. You "have a family member that lives there". Well and fine. But my statements were very specific and meant to address the specific individuals involved in very specific accusations made in the press. Your claim that the "bottom line" is harmful chemicals tells me that you have no experience with the site or these individuals and their claims. These individuals have shown zero compassion for anyone who disagrees with their methods, hence my characterization of them as a lynch mob. Ironic that you should admonish me to walk in the relevant shoes, given your stroll through a rose garden of generalities. In general, I agree with you, but you are very wrong about the specifics of this situation and possibly you are being manipulated as unconscionably as was young Mr. LaVenture. The past actions of this specific group is a matter of public record.

  • Catherine77 posted at 6:25 pm on Fri, Dec 9, 2011.

    Catherine77 Posts: 1

    What Infact? Until you have walked miles in these people's shoes. They are humans and deserve to be treated humanely. Most of them have worked their entire lives and then became ill, some physically and mentally due to post traumatic stress, tragedy in their lives. I have a family member that lives there. I have met these people and most are lovely souls. It is sad people judge so quickly. I know wealthy and poor people. There are good and bad people everywhere.

    The bottom line is, there are chemicals and it is harmful. Also, their shade is being taken away. Yes, there are larger issues at hand there and in the world. These people do not deal well with change. Most of them would not choose to live there and would rather work but have debilitating injuries and illnesses. Sure, maybe some "work" the system but there are many who genuinely need assistance and every human deserves complete compassion-weather they are wealthy, poor, well, or ill. Let's show more compassion this season.

  • jonathan posted at 5:02 am on Thu, Dec 8, 2011.

    jonathan Posts: 12

    Honestly, have you people never heard of composting toilets? Seriously. "What a waste" :)

  • infact88 posted at 10:41 pm on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    infact88 Posts: 9

    Granted Tom LaVenture (author of this article) is a young man, but there is no excuse for his irresponsible submission to manipulation by this group whom he repeatedly characterizes as "retired". They have barely or never worked in their lives and live on crazy pay which they apparently deserve. These same facts should disqualify them from manipulating the press with delusions and lies. The septic system was completed 6 months ago, on-site spraying is minimal, and Mr. "Moore" even stooped to lying about his real name. Gaming the system to get benefits and housing and then forming a lynch mob to take advantage of some cub reporter too young to recognize psychopathology in action (and too credulous to bother checking on what he has been told)is the m.o. of these pests. All of them have violated the terms of their lease for years, and now that a new management intends to evict them into the streets from which they came, they want to use these lies and gross distortions as a stall tactic.

  • johans posted at 7:46 pm on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    johans Posts: 17


  • onegeaeme posted at 4:37 pm on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    onegeaeme Posts: 5801

    IMO the great sadness is the spraying. Those dreadful poisons. Killing living things. It's just too Avatar. Along my street, in front of my house-it is my house-the county comes ocassionally & butchers & bakes brown the green with Roundup.

    Last time, after the Marathon, at the demand of some stupid neighbors up the hill. Two days!! A flat bed. A huge tractor. Three pick-up trucks. Several men. We, the tax payer paid for this. Dreadful, sad, dead brown mess. Because their six-figures cars got brushed in the face with a dainty little Turk's Head hibiscus? One of the ridiculous females threatened to have the county tear my ring out & widen the road for her & her fast moving buddies. Need a two lane bridge, too, Barfsy?

    It's not just the poor.

    It's the killing machine in another dimension.

    I think of the venerable Monkey Pods butchered in front of the Post Office in Koloa. Same crew, BTW-some of them-one loon a member of the yellow asylum in Poipu.

    Peace and love bettejo

  • AnonyMouse posted at 10:46 am on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    AnonyMouse Posts: 987

    Isn't the State just complying with a federal EPA mandate ordering the replacement of multi-unit serving cesspools to be replaced by septic tanks? The deadline for these improvements to reduce effluents from continuing to contaminate our ground water and reefs ecosystems is long overdue and financial penalties were either being threatened or are already been assessed. It’s too bad the trees had to go, but their much easier to grow and replace than clean water and healthy oceans. Besides, who knows when the County will actually get around to do the sewer improvements? How long have it been on the drawing board?

  • upnup posted at 10:45 am on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    upnup Posts: 141

    [quote]moailio said: "The other "living hell" that the public housing management steadfastly refuses to address is that the refuse to allow even one of the units to be smoke free forcing tenants who are made ill by cigarette smoke exposure to move out and live in a car at salt pond beach. "[/quote]

    No one is FORCED to live anywhere, whether it's in the complex or out of the complex. Unfortunate as this situation may be, it would be so much more productive if the residents were more grateful to have this housing. A majority of the residents (owners and renters) do not get government assistance for the shelter they live in. It's this "entitlement" attitude that can be so destructive and counter productive. Let's all be more POSITIVE! =)

  • upnup posted at 10:38 am on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    upnup Posts: 141

    [quote]mrb said: "One cannot help but wonder why trees and shrubbery were allowed in the first place." - poor previous management ALWAYS causes problems for future management who enforce the rules, the same rules people agree to when they buy into or are given something. Unfortunately, as time goes on these same people begin to feel entitled.

    "This is the height of bureaucratic audacity to disregard the needs and priorities of the residents." Think about this, if the current system failed next month and the smell of raw sewage engulfed this housing complex, would the residents then be saying, "That's OK, we can wait 5 years until the sewer line is installed. It's no big deal, I like my shade better.

    "In pure and simple language:Listen to the residents!" - Read your comment again tomorrow and see if it still makes sense.

  • moailio posted at 9:38 am on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    moailio Posts: 58

    The other "living hell" that the public housing management steadfastly refuses to address is that the refuse to allow even one of the units to be smoke free forcing tenants who are made ill by cigarette smoke exposure to move out and live in a car at salt pond beach.

  • mrb posted at 7:29 am on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    mrb Posts: 156

    One cannot help but wonder why trees and shrubbery were allowed in the first place, if these plantings now need to be removed to make way for a TEMPORARY septic tank! This is the height of bureaucratic audacity to disregard the needs and priorities of the residents being directly affected. Those of us who LIVE in Kekaha KNOW how hot and dry the weather is like, and shade trees are prized all over town.
    In pure and simple language: Listen to the residents!

  • kolohalabindongo posted at 7:24 am on Wed, Dec 7, 2011.

    kolohalabindongo Posts: 10

    this is so sad


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