Pistol shots rang out in the moonlit night. Aimed at the truck, they ricocheted and it was later claimed they grazed the head of a young joy rider. It had been a mellow Sunday in rural Seaview until the raucous reveller and his friends began driving doughnuts, loudly and aggressively, scarring deep ruts in the lawn of the oceanside community park. Kevin, a self-appointed neighbourhood watch volunteer decided to lay down the law – gun law. Later, when sentencing him to ten years imprisonment, the judge described Kevin as a reckless vigilante. Welcome to Kalapana Seaview Estates, my neighbourhood, circa 2000.
“It’s like living in a war zone” said Natalie lamenting the changes she’d witnessed during the twelve years she had lived there. The local community police officer attributed the troubles to new people moving into the subdivision who want to change it explaining simply, “they’ve met with some opposition.” That was a colossal, gross understatement!
“There’s a conflict between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ said Graybeard, one of our many long time residents whose homes weren’t built to code. Some lived in shacks, others in school busses or tents. The newcomers had new values fresh from California, Oregon, Washington and places further east. They built bigger expensive homes, all with permits and wanted to see property values rise. The ‘have-not’s’ were not helping their agenda.
Residents, like myself, who had lived there a long while either left, hid in the jungle or attempted to bring peace and harmony utilising their own personal approaches.
Michael Ream arrived in 1988 just after we moved into Bellyacres and became a life long friend. He set himself up as a chiropractor and part time builder but was the Mayor of Seaview to me. For more than twenty years he became the go-to person in the neighbourhood for information and advice as well as for really awesome neck and back adjustments. Many people served on the community association board – including myself for a while – but none had Michael’s authority and credibility as our spokesperson, our barometer and our watchdog. It’s saddened me later when newcomers, totally unaware of the significant role he played in maintaining the peace and harmony of our community, judged him by his humble homestead and lifestyle.
Other ‘have-nots,’ mostly living in non compliant structures on our residential estate, also provided valuable services like car repairs, bakery, travel agency, hairdressing, construction, plumbing, electrical, bike repairs, landscaping, notary public, jewellery making, fishing and counselling. Being 14 miles from Pahoa, the nearest village, and 38 miles from Hilo town we learned to be self-reliant as a community, supporting one another and sharing lessons in sustainable living. As Michael always said, “Take care of each other out there!” He was the archangel who rescued Monica, a single mum with three young kids, from tropical soakings, after her tent and tarps got repeatedly blown away. He organised a group to build them a tiny cabin to protect them from the ravages of the Hawaiian weather. It became their home for many years and unlike many similar primitive ‘shacks’ it still exists today.
In 1987, when we bought Bellyacres, nobody really paid much attention to rules or regulations since our locality was basically occupied by people living a subsistence lifestyle in the somewhat scrubby jungle. Lower Puna didn’t represent much of a tax base and therefore was pretty much ignored by all the authorities, police, building officials, and health officials. Fire services took so long to get to us that they have never, to this day, saved a single house in our neighborhood once it started burning. People lived in whatever structures they wanted and were pretty free to live how they wanted.
Bellyacres was adjacent to Seaview Estates and in 1990 I helped form the Community Association and was elected the founding board President. There were less than 30 residents then and we were diverse and hardy folks—surfers, hippies, Vietnam vets, a few redknecks and some crazy jugglers who didn’t mind living without electricity, telephones, internet, trash services, sewer service, nearby shops, or hospitals and with very erratic police services. In the early days we all appreciated the benefits of isolated living and we learned to live together pretty harmoniously, except for a short period during the ‘generator wars.’
In order to run standard electric refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, and other ‘essentials’ of modern life, a few of the newer mainstream folks began to run excessively noisy generators for increasing numbers of hours. This severely pissed off a few of the back-to-the-landers who resorted to secretly pouring sugar into generator fuel tanks which quickly ended the life of the beastly machines. Luckily, the introduction of affordable solar energy, quiet Hondas and eventually the electrical grid prevented an all out civil war.
Over the next twenty years the signs of division become more evident as the number of homes increased annually. The growing dysfunction in the community caused me to withdraw from the board after a couple of years and I’m so glad that I did. Accusations of vote-rigging, unethical board activities, the squandering of funds, electioneering bickering, rumour mongering and eternal squabbles, even punch-ups, at meetings, eventually led to law suits and a never ending turnover of frustrated board Presidents and members.
Among the ‘Punatics’ of Seaview was a certain Castle John, named after the grandiose house he built with his wife Sherri. It was not like any of the historic castles I knew from growing up in England. It had a fake drawbridge, fake battlements and a fake portcullis with a fake gateway, while the moat was a gentile swimming pool. No matter, everyone called it the Seaview castle and John reigned as king of the castle until he eventually got dethroned and put in the State dungeon by a local judge. That’s how things were around our neighbourhood, we lived with radicalists, eccentrics, criminals and social terrorists.
The infamous Charlie was an original ‘have-not’ whose life’s mission appeared to be the construction of a novel home that morphed and changed over many years. He was a source of great controversy and wonder as he added more walls and roofs and additional stories to his masterpiece apparently without any plan in mind. His folly was a well known landmark aptly named the ‘House of Cards’ owing to sections of the tin roof and plywood siding that flew alarmingly off the building during our frequent tropical storms. After numerous complaints to the County, from one particular neighbor, failed to result in any solution the house mysteriously went up in flames. During my three decades living there similar vigilante action happened to three other Seaview homes. Away from the flowery aloha shirts, sun drenched beaches and scarlet red lava flows paradise has a very sinister dark side!
I spent twenty years raising funds and obtaining permits to build a performance arts centre at Bellyacres. We called it S.P.A.C.E. and by the time it was constructed in 2007 our rural community had grown considerably and many of our social needs were not being met at all by the county administration. In the spirit of community self-reliance S.P.A.C.E. hosted a public charter school, a farmers market, a variety of arts classes and performance activities, two theatre groups, an Aids clinic, a church, weddings, memorials, community meetings and family events – in addition to being the home for the HICCUP circus. Then a military newcomer from the Pentagon built a big house opposite our facility and led a war campaign that caused the shut down of most of these brilliantly successful community building activities. We struggled to resist as best we could with limited resources, staying out of court and peaceful, but we failed. Sadly, it appears that American society only responds when litigation and/or guns are involved not when renegade ‘hippies’ and ‘have not’s’ react peacefully and respectfully writing hundreds of testimonials that get ignored.
From 2008 Seaview experienced another decade of exponential growth. New homes popped up everywhere, lot prices rose and so did the tension between residents. By 2019 there were nearly 300 houses with residents more diverse and divisive than ever. The need for a community centre to bring people together was desperately needed but tragically the tyranny of a few social terrorists grounded our S.P.A.C.E. project and precluded most of our Seaview community from using the facility. It was these sad events that led to my families departure to the northern part of the island and my eventual deportation to the U.K.
Dedicated to Michael Ream who died 28th October 2019, my favourite renegade Mayor.
Post Script: At Kevin’s trial it was not proved that anyone was struck by a bullet from the shots fired. After 3 years in prison Kevin was released and picked up by Graham and graciously given a job at Bellyacres that included the honor of building S.P.A.C.E. Kevin still resides in Seaview.
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