Seaview Estates is a rich and colourful community with a vibrant and controversial history. I lived there from March 1987 until January 2015 and these are some of my memories.
For over thirty years I witnessed a multitude of comings and goings. Owners, renters, spectulators and squatters have all passed through. Some left after a short time while some settled for life. The incredible range of eclectic people has included residents supporting themselves and their neighbours by providing services like car repair, bike repair, small engine repair, plumbing, electrical, bob cat , back hoe, dump truck, chiropractic, counselling, massage therapy, computer repair, building/contracting, engineering, nursing, medical doctor, tax accountancy, landscaping/gardening, food production, house cleaning, car rental, roadside market stands, cabinet making, chop stick production, college professor, photographer, fisherman, ham radio operating, baking, notary public, travel consultant, film production and many more………..including jugglers, clowns and world renown performers. It’s phenomenal that all these skills and talents existed in a lowly rural subdivision designated by the County and State governments as purely ‘agricultural.’
Starting from humble origins, a wide range of unique abodes on the subdivision have included tents, trailers, tin shacks, buses, Hawaiian hale’s, spec homes, rental apartments, Californian retirement homes and even a mock Castle. These all reflect the diversity of owners, renters and visitors living there – once described in the Hawaii Tribune Herald as ‘the have’s and the have not’s’ – the demographics are much more complex than that.
There are three stand out characters who played very positive roles in the early development of the subdivision. Michael Ream built our first mailbox center and served as our unofficial mayor for many years, welcoming newcomers and providing them with valuable support to get settled. Greybeard greeted everyone as he pedalled by with a cheery, ” Hare Krishna, namaste” and offered to fix everyones bikes for free. He was hired early on to help maintain the parks and promoted the concept of wild open spaces in preference to just lawns. He was also elected to the KSECA Board, maintained a bridge between rival factions and faithfully served as scribe for many years. Garry Hoffield was President for a while and without him there would be no Seaview pavilion, he designed it and organised volunteers to build a classy community meeting place with adjacent bathrooms and water tank that has served Seaview ever since.
Many others have contributed to the healthy social fabric of the Seaview community. Susie Marie nurtured numerous neighbours with her ‘kokua’ parties, promotion of quality supplements and access to healing practitioners. Adrian is a very humble man who has touched many of our lives providing honest and affordable land moving services over many years. He also stepped up to voluntarily do all the plastering work at S.P.A.C.E. Robert and all the members of our local dance band RITA have raised spirits and moved many feet at parties and events spreading love and joy. The often unknown and little acknowledged cleaners of the community toilets need special praise for their selfless hours fulfilling this least desired of all community service. You know who you are. Mahalo nui!
Two of my favourite pioneering Seaview people were Carlisle and Lynn Knutson. They arrived in 1992 from Gila Bend, Arizona where they had a family business selling antique Chevrolet parts and used autos. They were professional flea market buyers and would return annually to the mainland travelling hundreds of miles through the southern states collecting items to fill containers that they shipped over to Hawaii. They operated a hardware store at their home providing an endless assortment of essential items from generators to an unbelievable range of screws and nuts and bolts. This saved us all from driving to Pahoa or Hilo and they maintained this valuable community service until they both succumbed to cancer in 2004 after 44 years of marriage. They were a wonderful couple and despite being rightwing, redneck and racist they were embraced by everyone, including the new age hippies. I spent a lot of time with them sharing sunset drinks at their home or at Bellyacres potlucks and I really missed them when they passed.
Other characters who have left their mark on Seaview forever include; Uncle Joe our original park maintenance man, Babble the begging hitchhiker, William the parrot man, Edge Horvat our pavilion post provider, Earnest Jackson the builder, Dan the volleyball man, tap-dance Marcia, boisterous ‘Three dogs Gary,’ Turtle the titan, Mr String the games man, Stanley the Clown, our baking President Jean, Boo our Swedish engineer, Joseph the eternal squatter, sage Susie-Marie, Tony the troll, Oona the harpist, Joyce the white witch, ‘Rock John,’ Hailey the horse lady, Shanti the ghost man, mercurial Morning sun, Queen Sherri Smith plus the ‘highly controversials’ like Pat Rocco, Scott Wills, Athena Peanut and………..there are so many more.
Sadly, during my residency, I witnessed the dark side of my chosen neighbourhood with incidents including: burglary, domestic violence, physical violence at community meetings, heroin addict deaths, four suicides, rapes, child molesting, threats made with guns and machetes, dogs killed by residents, goats and chickens killed by dogs, marijuana rippers roaming at will, trumpet blasts throughout the night, generator wars, cars driving doughnuts, guns being fired, swat team raids and endless green harvest helicopter intrusions….….. the list goes on and on. Why did all this happen in what should be a simple peaceful paradise and how did it or does it get resolved…………..?
In the 2010 Community Association Newsletter, Sahara Laurence wrote, “What we have in common is much more important than what divides us. One thing for sure is that our future is uncertain. We all chose to live here close to Madame Pele. We know we have to learn to do more for ourselves, to not rely on government. We want to be part of a supportive community. Let’s do it!” I believe it’s been the spirit of people like Sahara that has enabled Seaview to survive and thrive to be the place it is today.
The Seaview Estates subdivision, now occupied by 933 house lots, was originally twelve and twenty acre parcels, mostly belonging to Hawaiian families. The original two roads providing access to these traditional homesteads and farms were Kamoamoa Homestead Road that went from Kamaili to Kaimu on the mauka side and the narrow beach-rock Kings Trail along the coast. The 1955 lava flow covered most of the area causing the evacuation of almost all the residents and cutting off all road access. A Japanese developer saw a business opportunity and bought up every lot he could, really cheap, from families whose ancestors had lived there for generations. The only hold outs were the owners of the parcel that I later bought for Bellyacres. It had remained mostly untouched by the lava and contained mature mango and ohia trees which gave it a value far in excess of the paltry sum the developer offered.
There were many such opportunists making huge fortunes in the sixties and seventies by ‘persuading’ corrupt Hawai’i County Council members to approve the subdivision of agricultural lands into tiny residential house lots, some of them only 1/5th of an acre. On a single day in 1962, just before some changes in the state’s land use law would take effect, the Hawai’i County Planning Commission approved 42 new subdivisions totaling 3,500 lots. In December 1966, the Hawai’i County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring paved roads and water lines; however, this did not end subdivision profiteering as sales in substandard subdivisions continued because developers still held many lots.
By the end of the boom in the mid-1970’s, about 80,000 lots had been created when the total Big Island population was only 80,000 residents. Twelve percent of lot buyers were local residents meaning that about 25 percent of Big Island families had an investment in the success of the development plans. Another 35 percent were Oahu residents. These local residents were voters who expected to profit from their purchases. They became a political base for the developers and politicians and the elected officials named in development-related corruption scandals often went on to higher office while those who questioned this type of speculative development usually lost out.
After the Seaview developer got his County permit he graded the lava, had it surveyed into lots and built county roads so he would not be responsible for maintenance. The official description of the land is Keauohana- kehena– Keekee Homesteads but the developer decided to name it KALAPANA Seaview Estates even though it was more than seven miles from Kalapana village. This deception enabled him to fraudulently advertise the lots in Japan as being ‘adjacent’ to the Volcano National Park. His scam was very successful and he sold about 40% of the Seaview properties to Japanese residents sight-unseen for around $15,000 each in the 1970’s!
In the early ’80’s, following typical evil-developers protocols, he declared bankruptcy after giving the remaining 43 unsold properties to his brother. The courts appointed a trustee to administer the subdivision which basically meant hiring someone to maintain the parks and road verges. In 1990 a group of residents including myself, Bill Trump, Michael Horne, Gene Weaver and Stan Lathers held meetings with Pat Rocco in a shed at his house. We became the Founding Board that created the KSE Community Association to take over control of the parks from the Trustee. Chris Yuen was hired as our corporation lawyer. I was elected Chairman and made several trips to Honolulu to negotiate with the trustee. I was startled when given the original sales brochures with photographs and plans showing a majestic tree fringed pond at the front park, mature fruit trees along all the roads, a suggestion of underground electric utilities, a big beautiful community center, tennis courts and a swimming pool in the central park. The brochure, which was also translated into Japanese, emphasised an imminent land boom was about to occur with the building of resorts in Kalapana and Pohoiki including a golf course and club house.
When we drafted our KSE bylaws we decided to allow only one vote per owner regardless of the number of lots they owned. We did this to avoid any shenanigans by the developer and sure enough our hunch was right. At our first AGM he showed up with his brother and a few thugs thinking that with their 43 lots they would be able to gain control of the community association but we were able to head them off. Fortunately they gave up, sold the lots and never returned. After legally establishing our community association our priorities where the construction of a mailbox and notice board, the planting of trees and providing for the health and safety of our residents. We drew up a tree planting plan and purchased an old Firetruck to supply water to our residents and our saplings and to be a first line of protection in the event of a house fire. I wish it had all worked as planned but the naysayers had moved in by then, our tree planting and other plans were blocked.
In March 1987, when Bellyacres began, the subdivision had only ten houses but quite a few owners and squatters living in ‘alternative’ accommodations. With the only access being a very, very rugged and potholed Red Road few people chose to drive there and without water or electricity even fewer chose to live there. Since there was no grid, a lot of us invested and stayed on solar or wind generating systems with propane run refrigerators. An increasing number of new arrivals invested in big electric refrigerators, freezers and TV’s. While the first group used minimal amounts of electricity this new group needed to run very noisy generators for hour after hour each day to power their appliances. Anticipating the imminent installation of grid electricity they also didn’t want to invest in the most expensive low-noise generators or to build sound insulated generator sheds. This caused a great annoyance to the lovers of peace and quiet because with no trees and few houses, noise easily traveled across the desolate, virtually barren subdivision and the sweet sound of rural life was lost forever.
After many requests for noise abatements systems and reduced operational hours for generators went unheeded, a few vigilantes took matters into their own hands, wild west style. Night time guerrilla actions secretly poured sugar into fuel tanks resulting in costly repairs to generators. Police were called in and tensions rose. This community division was exacerbated by the fact that many old timers were able to live quite happily without grid electricity and liked having an unobstructed pole-free ocean view.
The installation of grid power to every one of the 933 lots meant that poles were placed along every single street impacting everyone, even those who decided to continue using renewable energy systems. Under armed guard the electric company went ahead with the pole installation and despite considerable civil disobedience and a few arrests the job was eventually completed. This might have been the only time that a community had such vehement opposition to the installation of electricity yet Seaview has never been your typical community – by a long shot.
After HELCO provided electricity in 1996, and the County improved the road, people began to rapidly move in and property values quickly rose above the previous range of $2,000 – $5,000. The quality and cost of houses began to increase too indicating that demographics were changing. A wave of new residents built homes and the old paradigm changed forever. These newbies came with different values and expectations that often conflicted with the norms of the original residents. The consequences of this division combined with constant lava threats from Kilauea Volcano plus other economic and social stresses became the high price paid for the benefits of a low cost lifestyle in idyllic Hawaii. Residents of our neighborhood were literally living on the front line, face to face with a growing list of challenges. Over the years we experienced an extraordinarily high level of crime proportionate to our population and it wasn’t just typical house burglaries or car thefts.
As early as 1993 Seaview Estates had experienced an incident of rape that transformed the community. A blockade was manned, by a rotation of residents, at the bottom of Mapuana to check on people arriving and departing until the perpetrator was caught. The victim was traumatised, never fully healed, and lived the rest of her life on the subdivision playing a major, somewhat controversial, role in local politics. Seaview seemed to have more than it’s fair share of people suffering or recovering from trauma. We had a number of cases of domestic violence where victims sought shelter at Bellyacres. There were two drug overdose deaths plus four unsolved cases of arson that destroyed three homes and our community association office. For a time we had a man called ‘Jake the Snake’ cruising up and down Mapuana, high on ice with a crazed look in his eye and a machete in his hand.
Temporary Restraining Orders issued by judges to protect residents from violence became as common as colds and caused some serious complications at community gatherings. We had four tragic suicides, one of them in the home across from our Bellyacres front entrance and one where I was the person to discover the body. Life in Seaview was horrific at times. A young man named Michael Scott was discovered by Michael Ream in May 1995 after dying from Leptospirosis. There were many counts of terroristic threatening, the unsolved disappearance of ‘360degrees’ Hank and endless complaints made about something or other. It was a small community with very little privacy and over time it became tragically addled by fear and suspicion.
Armed criminals high on drugs or looking to steal drugs were not uncommon around Seaview. As recent as 2014 my wife was looking onto our Bellyacres fruit orchard from our house and exclaimed “look there’s swat police with guns!” After years surviving the drug war my first reaction was to hide my medical marijuana because I knew that having a permit did not preclude us from police harassment. I then went to the orchard and cautiously approached one of six police officers walking with guns drawn and staring around intensely. Apparently a known ‘meth’ addict, with an arrest warrant and a gun, was being chased after driving though Seaview and crashing his car into the Bellyacres rear entrance. The police failed to catch their prey and we spent a very restless night wondering where he might be. With so many jungle hiding places and several empty buildings he remained concealed inside Bellyacres or close by on the subdivision but was fortunately caught the next day.
Very sadly, violence has played a disproportionate role in the history of Seaview and much of it has been due, not to drug abuse, but to mental illness. One particularly colourful character who epitomised this condition was Castle John – named after the impressive three story mock castle he built at the entrance to Seaview Estates. John was a well meaning and respected resident who often helped out his neighbours and who had a mission to help build a healthy community. Unfortunately, he lost his sense of judgement, probably as result of a bipolar condition, and in 2017 appeared in court as a jester clad in bright red shirt, purple trousers and yellow sash. His feathered blue cap was covered with small silver reflective polka dots and he was accompanied by his decorated dachshund, Bruiser.
The judge didn’t seem to appreciate his wardrobe at all and throughout his case John belligerently showed total contempt for the court, the laws of the state of Hawai’i and the state’s judicial system. In his defence he said, “I don’t respect the laws here, I’m a citizen of the Hawai’ian Kingdom. The organisation that you represent stole this land from the Hawai’ian people and my allegiance is to Queen Lili‘uokalani.” When it was judged that he was responsible for the confrontation that led to some serious injuries he responded saying “Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished,” and turned to the victims, who were in the courtroom gallery. “I tried to help these people by allowing them to live with me as family members when they had no place else to go.” Obviously the judge was not impressed or compassionate and Castle John was sentenced to ten years in prison and removed from his Seaview castle to take up residence in a cellblock. It was a tragic ending for another Seaview personality.
At various stages in it’s history Seaview experienced violent fights at our AGM’s and neighbourhood watch meetings and rowdy behaviour was commonplace at regular Board meetings. Even the local community police officer was reluctant to attend meetings. Board members were regularly bombarded with rude and disrespectful behavior causing a constant stream of them to resign. It reached such a level of dysfunction and concern that by April 2013 all the past association presidents, including myself, wrote a joint letter explaining, “We have been saddened by the deterioration and polarization of the Board of Directors of Seaview over the last two years during which five presidents and twelve board members have resigned.”
A major cause of the division in the community at this time was the Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education (S.P.A.C.E.) built at Bellyacres and it’s positive and negative impacts on the subdivision. Pat Rocco past president and founding board member of KSECA wrote, ” Professional againsters” – the naysayers – the people who complain about every little thing and do this endlessly. You know who they are, you’ve seen their names in the paper over and over again. you’ve seen them at meetings, constantly making a scene. Balance this with the children, the teachers the instructors, the farmers, the craftspeople, the artists, the performers and so many more that participate in the programs classes, productions and learning sessions, farmers markets and more that make up the grand scale of what is going on a S.P.A.C.E. every day of the week.” It was a few of these vocal naysayers who caused the rejection of the installation of a local cell phone antenna and also a photovoltaic solar field project that I had proposed could serve the whole subdivision. And, when S.P.A.C.E. offered the KSE community association free office space, toxic local politics led by these same naysayers prevented them from accepting.
In the early 1990’s l had started a community social circus program based at Bellyacres with the mission statement “to promote the healthy development of children and community using the fun and skills of the circus.” It became a renown program performing throughout the State and was featured on TV shows and in magazines. The HICCUP circus touched hundreds of kids and adults and our activities built the social fabric of our community and we received accolades from local residents as well as major political figures. Bellyacres was visited by both Mayor Billy Kenoi and County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong who said that it was, “a model community that needs to be duplicated around the island.” Senator Daniel Inouye wrote, “Bellyacres provides a positive, enriching and safe place that helps motivate the entire community”. Senator Daniel Akaka wrote, “Bellyacres has a long list of public service, I thank and commend you for your many outstanding accomplishments.” Congressional Representative Hanabusa wrote, “Thank you for being an example of public service…..to the people and youth of Pahoa, the arts community and to our state.” Neil Abercrombie the Hawai’i State Governor also commended us for providing numerous services to the public and for S.P.A.C.E. serving as a gathering place for our community.
Just one example of our impact was the time a native Hawai’ian Uncle came to the pavilion and taught a large turnout of Seaview Estates residents to make coconut woven hats and decorations for our parade float. Theresa, a deaf resident, sewed a huge string of colourful flags while two community association board members made a beautiful new Seaview Banner and stilt costumes for our HICCUP kids. On December 8th 2001 we had our biggest ever turnout for the Pahoa Winter Parade with Carlisle and Lynn wearing big beaming smiles driving about twenty of our proud seniors on board our ‘Castaways’ float followed by a large contingent of joyful HICCUP circus kids. We were the hit of Pahoa town that day and Seaview Estates proudly won the people’s choice award for best overall group.
From our origins Bellyacres hosted community performances, AA meetings, birthday parties, weddings and memorials. We served as a place of refuge for runaway teenagers, victims of domestic abuse and homeless single mothers. We held community potlucks every Sunday open to everyone until the numbers got way out of control. More than fifty people bought property in Seaview Estates or the local area after attending our festivals or living with us for a while at Bellyacres. Many of them are still there actively involved in the community.
When S.P.A.C.E. opened in 2007 our board of local leaders listened to the needs of lower Puna residents and responded. We added a charter school, a farmers market, theatre and dance groups and more public performances to our list of activities, although we knew our Special Permit, issued in 2001, hadn’t included them. After complaints were made by a small number of people we were forced to curtail several of these unpermitted community services. Hundreds of our neighbourhood friends called and submitted written testimony to the County sharing highly emotional stories about the positive impact that Bellyacres and S.P.A.C.E. had had on their lives. Over one thousand people signed our petition requesting government support. It was very touching and tragic because the County did not want to deal with complaints, attempted to revoke our permit and blocked our efforts to legally amend it by indefinitely stalling our hearing before the Planning Commission. Our role in helping to build the economic and social fabric of the Seaview community was then reduced to a fraction of its former self and the loss has been felt by many ever since.
The opposition campaign was spearheaded and driven by Scott Wills, a retired military officer, who built his home adjacent to Bellyacres just as we built S.P.A.C.E. Other complainers were people who, surprisingly, often attended shows or events or our farmers market. Two of them previously lived at Bellyacres in one of our unpermitted structures before moving to another unpermitted structure they built on their own adjacent lot. Another serious complainer had wanted to rent a home at Bellyacres with her family but was not accepted and held a wicked grudge. She was tenacious for about two years until she got evicted from her rental and when no one else on Seaview would rent to her she had to move away. Phew ! Someone we had always thought was a Bellyacres ‘friend’ decided to call the police to complain about a Sunday Party we held that ended at 8.15pm. She later apologised explaining it was because she didn’t get a personal invitation to attend and felt really rejected. Some Seaview residents have been known to be fickle and pernicious, vindictive and vengeful but, luckily, not all of them stay around for long.
Scott Wills moved from Seaview back to the mainland shortly after his ‘complaints’ bomb resulted in a cease and desist order. He continued his war on S.P.A.C.E. from Virginia and was joined by two other highly dangerous Seaview residents, the notorious RJ Hampton and her sidekick Sativa. In 2013 RJ was arrested by police for disturbing the peaceful progress of a community meeting during her unsuccessful campaign to get elected as a council member. In bitter revenge she mounted major character assassination attacks on numerous community members including elected officials. She also filed County Ethics charges against our State Senator and the Chairman of the Planning Commission (because they supported S.P.A.C.E.), filed State Ethics charges against the Village Green Society, Hawai’i’s Volcano Circus and the Hawai’i Sustainable Community Alliance and filed charges with the State and Federal Departments of Health that caused the EBT Food Stamp service at S.P.A.C.E. farmers market to be shut down for three weeks. All Ethics and EBT charges were dismissed after investigation with no evidence to substantiate any of the claims made. Unfortunately, these two ‘social terrorists’ refused to give up and continued their aggressive campaign of complaints until they succeeded in totally intimidating certain members at Bellyacres and they eventually played a big part in my deportation from the U.S.A.. Politics at Seaview Estates is serious stuff and sadly many people have got really hurt. I have great admiration for those who have suffered themselves but continue to live in the same community as their adversaries. It proved too much stress for me.
Undoubtedly the penultimate stress producer for all of Puna is the continuous fear of future lava inundations. Madame Pele is immune to petty local politics and her agenda overrides everything else. The June 27th flow had the whole district talking about very little else from September 2014 until February 2015, with three lava fronts expected to run through Pahoa town and cripple our lower Puna community. Businesses closed and later reopened, schools were evacuated for a year, many people sold their houses and moved away, and the people who stayed remained in a constant state of anxiety regarding the flow’s return to Pahoa. Reports at dozens of community meetings hosted by Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists educated residents to the reality that Madame Pele will definitely be covering Pahoa Town and the nearby subdivisions with lava again, it is all just a matter of when.
This truth was emphasised again in 2018 when a massive new Kilauea eruption brought outbreaks of lava from twenty-four fissures with fountains up to three hundred feet high. It spewed fast moving flows and volcanic ash preceded by earthquakes and ground deformations that created huge cracks across access roads. The relentless lava flow forced the evacuation of two thousand residents, buried sections of the main highway and reached the Pacific Ocean at Kapoho Bay. It entered the Kapoho Crater and evaporated the largest natural freshwater lake in Hawai’i and then moved speedily forward and destroyed the whole subdivision of Vacationland. This volcanic activity was the most impactful in the United States since the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens with nearly 14 square miles of land covered by lava flows and about 780 houses destroyed. No incident in two hundred years on the Big Island has created as much upheaval and heartbreak. Now Seaview residents live each day not knowing when the next inevitable disaster will occur and wonder if it will follow the 1955 route and overrun their homes. It takes a lot of faith and a strong sense of non-attachment to live on Seaview Estates. Looking mauka (uphill) involves staring directly into the face of Madame Pele, a landlady who can evict you anytime she chooses.
There are many, many reasons why it takes a very special kind of person to be a Seaview Estates resident and why each one is an expert demonstrator of renegade resilience.
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