–Published in The Honolulu Weekly on February 16, 2011–


OK, let’s be honest: The image of a robber lurking in the dark with an uprooted tree under his arm is quite hilarious. But, as Gertrude Stein would say, “…a theft is a theft is a theft.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what’s being stolen, theft isn’t cool.

Apparently, there’s a long history of plant thefts throughout the Islands, especially on the Windward side of Oahu, with Waimanalo and Kailua being two of the most heavily targeted areas, presumably because of the high number of nurseries and farms there.

“It’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention traditionally,” says Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat who represents Kailua, Lanikai, Keolu and Waimanalo, “but it’s a target because there’s a whole lot of farms in a small area, making it hard to track plants and agricultural commodities when they’re stolen.”

In response to the seemingly ceaseless thefts, Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican who represents the Kailua-Kaneohe Bay district, introduced House Bill 12, which establishes a “break it and buy it” policy for those caught stealing.

Establishing a standard penalty system for plant vandals is important, explains Lee, because victims not only suffer emotionally from their loss, but financially, as well. Businesses, condominiums and outdoor places on the Windward side, such as Kailua Public Library, Bacci Bistro, Glen’s Flowers and Plants and the Lanikai-Kailua Outdoor Circle have lost thousands of dollars from plant thefts.

Last month, Thielen held an open meeting at Cinnamon’s Restaurant in Kailua to hear from the community and discuss details of HB 12. At the meeting, she learned that individuals were taking it upon themselves to avoid thefts by abandoning their landscaping efforts or building fences around their properties.

One condominium, which has requested to remain anonymous, spent more than $2,900 to insall an 8-foot fence around its new plantings after its landscape contractor warned them it was necessary to prevent the plants from being uprooted or stolen.

Last Friday, the House Agriculture Committee heard HB 12, with testimonies from the Hawaii Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, the Dole Food Company Hawaii and a number of other organizations, as well as farmers and residents. Although the committee decided to defer the bill, both Thielen and Lee are hopeful their recommendations will be incorporated into a larger agricultural bill later in the legislative season.

The concept is still very much alive, says Thielen. “It never had to be my bill,” she says. “I’m fine if they use my language and put it in another bill. Just as long as we get something done to deal with these thefts.”