Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Thoughts and Concerns Regarding New PG Association

We realize there are a wide range of feelings and opinions about the new directions we are contemplating, and about the reasons for (or against) it and the details involved with making it happen. That's not surprising -- if we were all in agreement about everything we'd hardly need discussion or meetings or even much of a club. Of course this web site and its forums offer pretty limited methods of discussion, so we look forward to seeing and hearing from everyone in person during the meeting on March 1st. It promises to be a historic and exciting event. And maybe we can even have a little fun there. Please, everyone, let's make sure all of our flying buddies are aware of the plans for the meeting and will make an effort to attend.

In the meantime I would like to highlight and address some concerns that have been raised by our members, both on this web site and by phone or in person.

I talked to Chris Langan on the Big Island about his specific concerns, and I think we had a good discussion. His primary concern is that the club needs to consider how it can continue to offer help to members on other islands with landowner and permit issues. He is worried that if we give up our connection to the old and well-established HHA with all its history and connections, we may decrease our chances of success in landowner negotiations. In the same vein, he is also worried that we may be narrowing our focus to just Oahu, when we may still have benefits to offer to pilots on other islands. And he is worried that the state won't want to reissue our existing permit for Kahana to some unfamiliar upstart group.

Erich shared a similar concern with me about how we can continue to help out with issues on other islands.

These are legitimate concerns. But I would like to try and reassure Chris and anyone else that has similar worries. First, we are not severing all of our connections with the HHA. No matter how we proceed we are all committed to preserving our good relations with them for the benefit of both groups. Second, the HHA has a good relationship and history with Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate as a private landowner, and that is certainly valuable, but our work with the state in the last couple of years has shown us that there is no special reverence in the halls of state government for any of our constituent groups or members. Without a direct personal connection to a particular lawmaker or administrator, I think we're all pretty much on an equal footing in that regard. On the other hand the paraglider pilots have now established a good and current relationship with the DLNR State Parks Division at Kahana over the past two years. In the first year we made a solid impression by refraining from any flights there while we negotiated the permit, and during this past year we have flown there under the terms of the permit while demonstrating that we can be responsible users of the park.

On the other hand I''ve heard some of our members say that maybe our focus should be concentrated on local issues which affect the majority of our members here on Oahu. They point out that it''s hard enough to manage our own local sites and members without trying to extend our reach to other pilots on other islands. There is not much interaction between the pilots on the different islands, and the other islands already have their own clubs to manage their own sites.

Chris is leaving soon to go do some paragliding in Brazil (poor guy) so he won''t be able to attend the upcoming meeting, but I hope we can all make sure these issues are addressed.

Bungee Mike recently shared with me a scenario he is worried about: maybe the hang glider pilots are just throwing us to the dogs at Makapuu. Of course that''s a natural fear, but my personal experience and all the discussions I''ve had give me reason to reassure Mike and anyone else with similar concerns. First, our two groups don''t actually share a permit at Makapuu -- the only permit there is from KSBE for the hang glider drive-up access and ramp launches. Paraglider pilots have always used the Cactus and Tomato Patch launches and the LZ under the tacit forbearance of the respective landowners and lessees. We are always going to be accountable for the actions of all of our members at all of our flying sites. This won''t be changed by a nominal separation. But many of us think this new association will actually give us a better chance of managing ourselves in a responsible way that reflects our specific needs and goals at all of our flying sites.

Nalu brings up a similar point for discussion. Are the hang glider pilots trying to dump us because of "certain persons" among us? I hope he doesn''t mean me! But seriously, I can only offer my personal experience as a board member working with the hang glider board members for the last two years. Over the four years of our joint association they have repeatedly and politely asked us to consider forming our own group. Not because of any particular member or incident, but just because we quickly grew to be an unwieldy majority constituency that threatens the status quo of a club that they would like to see preserved in its current form. Up until now I have actively worked to resist such a separation, but recently the consensus has grown stronger and more convincing among both groups. And for the record, it was the paraglider pilots who initiated the discussion this time around, not the hang glider pilots. But in the end most of us now believe that there are many good reasons to move in this direction, that the separation is a natural and obvious consequence of the growth of the paragliding community, and that both of our groups will see valuable benefits.

The handful of paraglider pilots who were around back then were originally allowed to join the hang gliding club a little over four years ago, after a lot of negotiating had taken place. The paraglider pilots hoped to gain legitimate access to Makapuu. And the hang glider pilots wanted a way to keep an eye on us and hopefully exert some control over our flying at Makapuu. After a little over four years together, I don''t think anyone thinks either of these two goals was really accomplished. But on the other hand I think we''ve all realized that they''re also not really necessary. At least we''ve had the good experience of a few years working together on a few joint issues, and getting to know and trust each other a little better. If the paraglider pilots are ever required to apply for legitimate access to the places we already use at Makapuu, we can always do what''s necessary to make that happen. And the hang glider pilots will continue to work with us to try and make sure our flying out there doesn''t cause any trouble for them or their permit at Makapuu.

Nalu also expresses concern over whether the board has overreached its authority on this issue. I sure hope not. I will be the first to admit that I''m far from perfect, nor can I as a board member perfectly represent everyone in all my work as a board member, even though we are elected to do just that. And I''m sorry if anyone has got the impression from our conversations with them or from our announcement for the meeting that this was a command decision from the board. It''s not. This is the first step in a consensual effort to realize a positive direction that we''ve all discussed with each other many times over the years. In recent weeks and months it has come up more often and in better detail than ever before. The board meeting was just an official first step to recognize the prevailing sentiment of the membership and set things into motion.

I and others have made a point to talk with as many members as possible both before and after our thinking had brought us in this direction. We did consider calling for multiple meetings about these issues. But since our informal preliminary conversations confirm that the majority of us seem interested in pursuing this course anyway, we thought a single meeting would be enough to work out all of our initial differences of opinion on how to proceed. Of course in the unlikely event that the board has incorrectly assessed this prevailing current of opinion from its membership, our members are always welcome to override any actions or decisions the board makes on their behalf at any time. The board can never really make any headway against the wishes of the majority of the membership. All clubs have an infrastructure that is designed to prevent that or at least to allow for its effective correction.

While I know it''s easy to dwell on the negative or scary aspects of such a big step for our group, I hope we can also look to the positive potential that we have ahead of us. This move to form our own association will give our group a chance to be more unified than ever before. We can start fresh and try to avoid some of the polarizing issues we''ve seen in the past: importance of one site vs. another, one type of wing vs. another, commercial vs. recreational representation, advanced vs beginner pilots, etc. We can be more open and transparent in our infrastructure and setup. Our mission statement and bylaws can be set up in a simple and straightforward way that will help our association to run itself a little better. And we can make a point to set it up in a way that clearly makes it a representative entity, and not a club run by or for a small group or one person.

Many of us have thought that remaining a part of an established club has made it easier to keep our members under control. But I think having our own distinct group will actually make us more accountable to ourselves for our own actions. The hang gliding club has spent years and years working out their differences, and they''ve pretty much done it to their satisfaction so it needs little adjustment now. But we''re only just beginning to think about some of these issues. We can''t afford to just sit back like they can -- we have to reach in and get our hands dirty and work things out for ourselves. This kind of self-sufficiency will help us be a better club in the long run.

We can more easily pursue our own specific agenda of site negotiations and permits with state and city and private landowners. This is never something the hang glider pilots were too interested in, nor did they stand in our way. But being on our own could give us the freedom to negotiate some issues in a more unified way, especially when discussing the launching and landing issues that set us apart from our hang gliding brothers.

This web site and its forums are not quite as well-used as they could be, but I hope that we can reach more than the usual suspects (Pete, Doug, Me and Chris) in the future. I am glad to see Nalu offering his input on the site now. It's important to air our differences of opinion on all issues related to flying and to our group as a whole. Even though sometimes it seems hard to reconcile our disagreements, I really think our diversity makes us a better group. I don't expect everyone to be totally happy with any decision or action that the whole group approves. That's pretty much the cost of any kind of majority government. But I hope we can come as close as possible to achieving everyone's major goals for the group in the long run.

Keep the comments and questions coming, both on this web site and by any other means you like. I look forward to more constructive dialog, and I am excited about the upcoming meeting and our plans for the future. We are almost done with the proposed agenda for the meeting, and I will post it here as soon as it's ready so we can all get a chance to think about it and discuss it before we get together.

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