The ‘War against S.P.A.C.E.’ was waged by Scott Wills and a mere handful of residents who made persistent pernicious complaints with the County Planning Department. They destroyed a beautiful manifestation of a social circus vision that had been evolving since 1987. Scott only lived on Seaview Estates for a little over three years yet his impact was devastating for hundreds of others who had resided there for five, ten or twenty years and continue to live there and mourn the loss of S.P.A.C.E. as it was in 2010.
Problems began after Scott built his house directly across the road from our S.P.A.C.E. entrance. Our hippie appearance, socialist policies and anarchistic lifestyle must have triggered this very militaristic man, into fight mode. Soon after we opened he began a very aggressive campaign by lodging numerous complaints with the county authorities that included a multitude of malicious, vindictive and fraudulent accusations mixed with a few genuine issues.
In one weekend he made three separate official complaints to our County Planning Department. The first was about drumming that was not even at S.P.A.C.E. but in Boaz’s private home nearby. The second was about four cars parked on the County owned grass verge alongside his house during our farmers market. The third complaint was about Isla’s six year old birthday party.
Formal complaints filed by Scott Wills with the Planning Department got so ridiculous they included the claim that we had “a Methamphetamine Laboratory producing narcotics with the smell of acetone and other chemicals prevalent in air around the neighborhood.” Our lawyer advised us it clearly amounted to defamation but I chose not to file a lawsuit even though we had a very tight case. Suing our neighbours and obtaining financial damages through the courts was not the model of community development that I wanted to promote. My commitment to resolving conflicts through peaceful dialogue was however, not appreciated by S.P.A.C.E. adversaries and the complaints continued uncensored and mostly unrelated to reality. I believe now that I made a mistake by not suing Scott because unfortunately that’s the only language some Americans understand.
On a Sunday in March 2010 Isla’s six year old birthday party at S.P.A.C.E. was attended by about thirty of her young friends. The entertainment was typical of any kids party anywhere on the island and included some joyful events like egg and spoon, three legged and sack races. The party finished at 5.30pm, cleanup was completed and everyone had left S.P.A.C.E. by 6.30pm. The Planning Department called us a couple of days later very upset that they had received complaints about the event. Without being told exactly what the complaint was I had to attempt to defend having my daughter’s birthday party !
The planning department also received written complaints claiming that neighbours had been threatened by violence from visitors to S.P.A.C.E.. This was a very serious accusation and was totally unsubstantiated. We determined it wasn’t those six year old kids and no evidence was ever produced implicating anyone else. In fact the only time police were ever called for an act of violence in the vicinity of S.P.A.C.E. was to arrest Scott Wills, the same person leading the attack on S.P.A.C.E., for an act of domestic violence in his home.
To mitigate the genuine impacts of noise we invited all of our immediate neighbours to attend our performances for free but Scott Wills refused and then filed a complaint saying the applause at our shows “interrupted his TV viewing.” He later lodged complaints about my 60th birthday party bash which ended at 9.30pm and also a memorial service held for young Ted who was a 21-year- old Bellyacres resident tragically killed by a hit-and-run driver. This sombre event for a dearly loved friend, attended by his family from the mainland, local friends and a few political dignitaries (including Mitch Roth, our present Mayor) ended at 7:30 pm on a Sunday.
Scott Wills saw himself as a good law abiding citizen choosing to ignore his domestic violence incident his habitual pot smoking and and god knows what else. Because I never denied the permit violations and the real impacts on our neighbours from activities at S.P.A.C.E. he perceived me as an evil outlaw with a totally belligerent attitude. It is true that I was willing to question authority. This was not the behaviour he was used to at the Pentagon, so he tried ordering my compliance in classic military style which was obviously never going to work with me and he grew frustrated.
The fact was that S.P.A.C.E. management and staff were very open to listening to neighbours that came to us expressing reasonable complaints. We always were willing to dialogue and mediate to create workable solutions for the future. Kevin Horton a well respected resident with genuine concerns regarding noise and traffic joined our board and later helped design a noise reduction system. We immediately installed a 8’x8′ foot wall as an acoustic deflector near one of the rear exits to S.P.A.C.E. We changed our close-down procedures after events ensuring that all cars left the parking lot before staff left S.P.A.C.E. We obtained heavy stage drapes, recycled from the Palace Theater, which we lowered for bigger events to contain the sound. We purchased a decibel meter to ensure that the noise from S.P.A.C.E. was within legal limits. We topped our iron wood tree barrier to facilitate lower branch growth to block more sound. We posted a new “SLOW – Children at play” sign at the entry to our parking lot. Finally, we offered to buy Mr and Mrs Wills dinner in Pahoa on event nights and even offered them small airplane flights but they refused.
How utterly ironic it was that after Scott moved out in June 2010 no further complaints where ever made by residents of his house. In fact the next occupant was the mother of a HICCUP student and a farmers market vendor and eventually became President of our S.P.A.C.E. board of directors. A later owner regularly attended our Sacred SPACE Sunday services and donated $500 saying he specifically purchased the house because he loved the market and wanted to be close.
When Bobby Jean Leithead Todd (BJ), the County Planning Director issued S.P.A.C.E. an immediate cease and desist order in early March, 2010 for the school, our farmers market, our performances and other unpermitted activities our heaven suddenly changed into hell. From that time forwards huge amounts of effort and time were channeled by Jenna and myself into legalization and the county permitting process in efforts to fight off the demons.
We immediately planned a public meeting to follow the next Saturdays Farmers market which we refused to cancel. It would have been a major event because the front page newspaper report outraged the people of Puna. We would have had all our marketeers plus other island supporters. Unfortunately, that same day was a Tsunami warning, the Red Road was closed and our farmers market had to be abandoned. Had that meeting taken place I’m convinced that there would have been a full fledged protest movement organised to occupy the County Council offices in Hilo with hundreds of seriously unhappy Puna residents willing to resort to civil disobedience to bring some sanity to this puntative action by the Planning Director.
However, during the week that passed our energy turned towards dealing with the injustice through regular bureaucratic channels and playing peaceful politics. That approach, historically, never seems to work to get the full attention of the authorities or the true feelings of the public fully expressed. Our public meeting was polite and courteous and merely resulted in petitioning through the normal channels which received the predictable inane response from the authorities.
For S.P.A.C.E. to receive a cease and desist order was excessive and unjustifiable in my view and the opinion of hundreds of others. It called for a radical reaction but sadly, while it was discussed, we lost the drive and the initiative to fully mobilise our resources. I live to regret that we naively acquiesced to the demands of the Planning Department without taking to the streets and resisting as all great social movements have done. It was a bitter lesson.
After moving back to West Virginia to work again in the Pentagon Scott Wills continued sending in complaints even though he sold his home and no longer had any moral standing at all in this case. He left us with a promise that his “war on S.P.A.C.E.” was not over and he intended to eventually file for a contested case hearing. He was gone from the war zone but by utilising long distance drone type warfare he left our whole community dealing with the fallout. Most complaints later submitted by a few other Seaview residents turned out to be a direct result of continued and aggressive lobbying from this man. He once told Jenna he wanted to kill me and assault her husband Terry. We should have filed terroristic threatening charges but chose not to, hoping for the peaceful resolution that never came.
From West Virginia Scott wrote to our Seaview Community Association threatening, “ we have the resources and ability to take whatever legal actions are necessary, we are withholding legal suit actions at this time, pending outcomes of actions of those that contribute in a negligent way to this Special Use Permit process. Allowing yourselves to be blindsided by a circus clown with special interests and promises of things that he historically has not been forthright and honest about is negligent.” His attack was very personally directed at me attributing every act of S.P.A.C.E. or Bellyacres to be my doing adding, “Graham’s history of total disregard for the law and his neighbour’s well being is proof that he cannot be trusted.” It hurt a lot to bear the brunt of his anger and aggression.
I wrote to the KSECA President asking for support and received this reply “Dear Graham, we are happy to express our wholehearted support for the application. HICCUP/S.P.A.C.E. has proven to be a strong positive influence in our community over the past many years. And as your closest neighbours, you have earned our respect and appreciation. We wish you much success in this endeavour as you continue to serve the children and communities of the Big Island, much to the delight of us all.“
Within days the President received a threatening e-mail from Scott Wills, from West Virginia, in which he proclaimed “It has come to my attention that the association has endorsed the S.P.A.C.E. application. For you to endorse S.P.A.C.E. is in direct conflict of what is best for the community. Your responsibility is to protect all of us from violations of our rights to a peaceful existence at Seaview Estates. By endorsing S.P.A.C.E., you have violated our trust, violated the previous position you stated to us, and have let the community down for a special interest group that has no regard for the rights of their neighbours. You failed to contact us or consider us before endorsing this matter and we’re the ones impacted the most. This shows total disregard. I am CCing my attorney, so he can correspond with you regarding the legal action we are engaged in against S.P.A.C.E.. Hopefully, you will retract any endorsements and won’t become part of the legal action that is on-going.”
The President responded by writing to all nine of the former Board Presidents of Seaview explaining that Scott Wills was threatening legal action if the association did not abide by his demands. He asked, “what do we do about this threat from an owner in Seaview. His most recent letter implies legal action if we don’t comply with his intentions and we hope to avoid any legal action and the ensuing expenses. I seek your advise.” I replied explaining that “I fully understand your situation, but S.P.A.C.E. knows nothing at all about any litigation, we have never been contacted by any lawyer and know nothing about any on-going legal action. This appears to be a blatant threat to make the Seaview Board comply with Scott Wills’s wishes and our lawyers tells us that threatening legal action in this manner is itself an illegal act. As community builders we prefer to keep these matters out of courts and in the community dialogue process. Please help us bring truth to this issue and let’s keep it in the light.”
The Association President was understanding saying, “It is most unfortunate that one VERY squeaky wheel sends fear thru each of us….your second paragraph is the core of what we all feel…..the threat of a lawsuit. I believe it is illegal to threaten a lawsuit if we don’t comply with demands being made even before the suit is filed….I think that is called blackmail…..This should be a very good discussion at the annual meeting. Graham you know that I support you in this request….it sounds to me that this non-resident owner has a personal vendetta against S.P.A.C.E.. The Community of Seaview will discuss and decide at our annual meeting….and if the person complaining wants to take on our Community, The County of Hawai’i and The State of Hawai’i….then so be it, I believe we all stand on solid ground. Providing a Farmer’s Market and a School for the Keikis should be paramount…and that is what your request to our Board seeks to achieve.”
Meantime we had been forging ahead with our efforts to resolve our legal non compliance issues. Thanks to the determination of our lawyers, within six months we had totally completed an amended special permit application for the third time having jumped through all the required hoops and amassed a three foot stack of supporting paperwork. We expected a date to be set for our next Planning Commission meeting in the near future and I was excited about finally having the chance to present our case publicly. At this pivotal point the Planning Department continued their delay of our process by requesting us to complete a detailed and expensive traffic impact analysis report and submit additional information.
My response was to ask why these details were not required in July of 2010 when we submitted an almost identical amended application which was reviewed and accepted by them and we were granted an October 14th date to appear before the Planning Commission. One of the biggest mistakes that I made in this whole Special Permit process was accepting the Planning Department’s advice in 2010 to withdraw that application pending our State Land lease decision. I should never ever have trusted them because they were definitely not on our side despite smooth rhetoric to the contrary.
This latest action confirmed my belief that they were intentionally and desperately wanting to keep us and our supporters away from meeting with the Planning Commission. They knew that Scott Wills would request a contested case hearing, which is a big deal, and S.P.A.C.E. would bring out the press and the largest amount of public support ever seen at a hearing. They had already seen our petitions, support letters and our ability to bring out hordes of people to support our application.They also knew that along with others I would be given a platform to speak out publicly about the injustices and deficiencies of the whole system. They had read in our Special Permit amendment application my claims that the community facilities and services provided by S.P.A.C.E. for the benefit of the lower Puna public saved the County of Hawaii taxpayers many thousands of dollars annually. They knew that we had very strong support from two of the five new Planning Commission members and that being a body of volunteer citizens, not public servants, they would be considerably easier to convince that our case was worthy of support. The biggest fear of that particular Planning Department was that the Commission might actually vote in our favour!
Complaints are are big part of U.S. society and there is definitely a place and a time when they serve the interests of people; however, as I can painfully attest, this is not always the case. I believe strongly in the principles of democracy and the need to protect the rights of the individual from the tyranny of the majority. But I also believe in the rights of the majority to be protected from the tyranny of the minority. Our official government complaint process serves to protect individuals and our community; but, when it is abused, one individual can cause considerable harm to the majority. Frivolous complaints cause government officials a huge amount of unnecessary work, bring unwarranted responses, and—in the case of S.P.A.C.E.—resulted in the termination of essential community-building services.
Sometimes they expose the most evil people as this lucid audio recording between RJ Hampton and Kathy Flynn incontestably and patently demonstrates.
RJ’s claims that I made $50,000 in one year from the Farmers Market and that the FBI would soon be raiding Mayor Kenoi’s were all totally bogus but her threat to file ethics charges against Zendo Kern and BJ the Planning Director were true plus she also filed charges against S.P.A.C.E., Bellyacres, the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance, Russell Ruderman and Tiffany Edwards. Kathy’s major concern seemed to be that her husband was at risk after County Planning asked him to spy on S.P.A.C.E. and report back to them! Despite being tempted many times to retaliate by reporting these people for living in their own non-compliant illegal homes I resisted the urge to engage in that community destroying activity. I wonder if retaliation is sadly the only approach they truly understand.
There was never any dispute that the majority of local Puna residents fully supported S.P.A.C.E. from conception. Over 1000 locals signed our petition requesting the County to grant us approvals for our activities. 243 submitted written testimony to the Planning Commission and hundreds made phone calls to the Mayors office. With newcomers changing the demographics—and some old timers growing grumpy about changes in the hood—by 2012 a handful of disgruntled denizens successfully created roadblocks in our progress building the social fabric of our community. Like most other long-lived social action groups, we had our share of challenges over the years and managed to overcome them but the legal and political quagmire that we found ourselves facing by 2014 proved overwhelming. S.P.A.C.E. was forced to close our beloved farmers market and curtailed most other activities and, after receiving online immigration threats from RJ and Sativa, I moved out of Puna with my family to start a new life in Waimea in 2015. In July 2017 I was eventually deported from Hawaii after a wonderful farewell party with friends at S.P.A.C.E. and was dearly touched to received a wonderful Appreciation Award from the Hawaii County Council just days before my departure.
POST SCRIPT: In February 2021 I received an e-mail from a well-known long-term Seaview Resident who described how he had rejected Scott Wills efforts to recruit him saying, “Years later I read the DLNR report. There are a few manipulations that I found out came from Scott Wills. He is the one who initiated the investigation and drove it forward. His main group of RJ, Sativa and John Dubois, were played brilliantly. When I tracked down Mr. Wills (at the Department of Defense in Washington D.C. ) he had a good laugh telling me how and what he did. He was a retired Army Colonel in intelligence and was working for a subsidiary of the infamous Blackwater Company. His ire with me was that he was trying to develop a group of people in Seaview to oppose you and I was doing my best to break up his little hui. I don’t talk to RJ and Sativa and never have, they are evil creatures. “