Two Maui County Council members dramatically switched stances on a hotly contested measure to temporarily halt visitor accommodation growth in West and South Maui, ultimately allowing Mayor Michael Victorino’s veto of the bill to stand.
Bill 60 would place a moratorium on building permits for expansion of hotels and other visitor accommodations in South and West Maui until community plans in each area are updated or two years have passed, whichever is sooner.
Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, along with Council Member Tamara Paltin, who each backed the bill through first and second readings before the council, decided to abandon it Friday, citing potential legal issues.
Also, Rawlins-Fernandez said if Bill 60 is mired in litigation, it will inhibit a second proposed moratorium on visitor accommodations that would span the entire island.
“We have to choose with this motion if we are going to take a gamble on a moratorium that we expedited, for good purposes, but may not be enacted and may not be enforced and may get wrapped up in litigation,” Rawlins-Fernandez said during Friday’s meeting. “In litigation, it’ll end our chances of an islandwide moratorium.”
Paltin said that the bill would create legal hurdles without future review and proper definitions outlined in the County Charter.
“Those testimonies that want this so bad, that means that we have to dot our i’s and cross our t’s on it,” Paltin said. “Because it means so much to them, we have to give them the best defendable bill. I don’t want to give them something that’s shot down right away.”
In order to override a veto, the council needs six votes. Council Members Kelly King, Mike Molina, Shane Sinenci, Gabe Johnson all voted Friday to support the override, while Rawlins-Fernandez, Paltin, Alice Lee, and Yuki Lei Sugimura opposed it. Council Member Tasha Kama was absent and excused.
The bill introduced by King generated widespread support from residents during weeks of testimony.
King has echoed that the moratorium would place a much-needed pause on an unbridled visitor industry so officials can determine the next steps to mitigate over-tourism. She argued that the bill is bulletproof legally, and has been derived based on previous moratoria that stood up to challenges.
During the meeting King reiterated that the bill “does not violate any processes required by the charter.”
“An overwhelming number of community members express support of Bill 60, most of the opposition, pretty much all of it, coming from hotel lobbyists and industry workers,” King said. “Without this moratorium the community feels like there’s no end in sight to this uncontrolled growth.”
Maui resident Elizabeth McGain, who testified Friday and asked for a veto override of the bill said: “The majority of people you represent from all districts of Maui are in favor of Bill 60. We are feeling the impacts of over-tourism in every community on the island. Everyone understands the concept of more hotel rooms equals more visitors, plain and simple.”
Sinenci continued to back Bill 60 on Friday.
The problems that would have been addressed during the temporary pause include water scarcity, lower quality of life for residents, degrading the environment and “destroying our cultural assets” with construction projects, he said.
After Friday’s vote, Victorino lauded the council’s decision to allow his veto to stand.
“I share the community’s concerns about the direction of tourism in the County of Maui and I deeply appreciate the Maui County Council’s work on Bill 60,” he said in a statement. “However, it would be ineffective in transforming our hospitality industry to be more compatible with the needs of our community and natural environment.”
On July 2, the council voted 6-2, with Lee and Sugimura dissenting and Kama absent and excused, to approve Bill 60 on second and final reading.
Then, toward the end of last month, Victorino vetoed Bill 60, saying the measure won’t pass legal muster and lacks efficacy.
After Bill 60 was introduced, Rawlins-Fernandez in June proposed her own moratorium on visitor accommodations that would extend to the entire island of Maui.
It would maintain the number of current tourist accommodation units until the council passes legislation implementing recommendations presented by a council-established Tourism Management Temporary Investigative Group, or in two years, whichever is sooner.
The plan has been sent to the Maui Planning Commission. From there, the panel has until Sept. 7 to take it up and schedule a public hearing. It would then head back to council for first and second reading.
Both Rawlins-Fernandez and King had said the intention is that both moratoriums would be passed.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at email@example.com.