I got a little sentimental when I wrote my goodbye column in the Triplicate five years ago, going on about the sea stacks and forest giants.
“Simply one of the best places on Earth,” I summed up, with truth as my defense.
I didn’t realize then that I’d be coming back, not as a newspaper editor and publisher, but as a semi-retiree.
Nobody felt sorry for Laura and me as we put all our worldly possessions on a slow boat to Hawaii.
We were headed for year-round highs in the 80s, lows in the 70s. A swimmable ocean. Hiking trails that reward climbers with panoramas of fluted green mountains and the blue expanse of the sea to the north, south, east and west.
Heck, I can look up and see palm trees swaying as I tap this keyboard.
And my job here has been an escape from the woes of the industry. Honolulu Civil Beat is expanding as most news organizations shrink. We have more than adequate resources and the freedom to report what we choose as long as our stories have impact and further the cause of making Hawaii a better place to live.
For all that, the fact is Crescent City was on the short list of potential post-journalism landing spots almost from the day Laura and I touched down in Honolulu.
One paradise would still be affordable and the other one wouldn’t.
Obviously, the contrasts between far-Northern California and Hawaii don’t end there.
Forget for a minute that Del Norte County has fewer than 30,000 inhabitants while Oahu has a million-plus. This isn’t apples to apples; more like olives to watermelons. But lessons can still be brought home from a place that has to excess what many people in Crescent City covet more of.
You can get too much of a good thing.
On any given day, there about 220,000 tourists in the islands, filling up the hotels and resorts and spilling into vacation rental homes. In Waikiki, out-of-staters wander the streets and beaches at all hours; Asians, Europeans and sunburned American mainlanders.
The visitor industry is Hawaii’s top economic driver, and yet the majority of the resulting jobs don’t pay enough to get by in perhaps the most expensive of all states to live in. Housekeepers and other service workers often hold two or more jobs and cram into homes with all manner of extended family members or other roommates.
The story is often the same for the people working in the restaurants and shops that cater to those tourists.
And all the locals, working poor or otherwise, must deal with the congestion and environmental threats posed by too many people.
Last time I looked, Crescent City was in no danger of being overrun by visitors except on the Fourth of July, and I don’t think the efforts to attract more are misguided. Strategically targeted audiences need to be told what Del Norte has to offer. Its very solitude amid the splendor is a convincing selling point.
Juicing the tourism industry can help build a healthier economy. It’s just not a panacea or even a producer of particularly high-paying jobs.
Another seeming attribute that Hawaii has simply too much of is well-heeled investors looking to own a piece of the islands. There is a significant shortage of affordable housing because when it comes to the construction industry, the money is always in raising more luxury condominium towers.
The buyers of those condos are often absentee owners, their investments driving up the cost of housing for the folks who actually do reside here.
Again, this is hardly a cautionary tale for Del Norte, which could use a little more outside investment.
I read the Triplicate online and it’s interesting to see that the concept of building an oceanfront condominium complex is back on the front burner. It’s an idea that was being kicked around when we first moved to Crescent City in 2008.
Attracting more residents who have some money — retirees or telecommuters escaping bigger cities — is another way Del Norte can and will get economically healthier.
More tourism? Check.
More outside investment? Check.
But make sure the growth is making the place better, not just bigger.
Hawaii has an abundance of each, but the unbalanced growth has left many longtime locals behind.
Summer is coming to Del Norte, and Laura and I won’t be the only “newcomers” looking for a piece of the action.
A place ensconced between the tallest trees in the world and one of the most beautiful coastlines is too grand to remain a secret.
Wrapping up my time in the islands is bittersweet. But I get excited thinking about returning to a place where it’s not too late to grow in a way that improves the quality of life for everyone willing to work for it.
Richard Wiens is a former editor and publisher of the Del Norte Triplicate who is moving back to Crescent City this summer.