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Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Saiki Opening Day Speech: Don’t let Lahaina property owners rebuild
By News Release @ 5:21 PM :: 2371 Views :: Maui County, Development, Land Use, Tourism

House Speaker Scott Saiki Opening Day Remarks 1/17/24

Good morning… Aloha… and Happy New Year.

I would like to open this session by introducing two of our newest House members.

First, Representative Tyson Miyake of House District 10 Prior to his appointment, Miyake served for Maui County as chief of staff, and as well as deputy county managing director. His fresh perspective and County-level experience will be invaluable as he works alongside the Maui delegation to deliver much-needed relief and leadership to Maui in the upcoming session. A fun fact about Rep. Miyake is that he once studied to become a lingust, prior to switching to business management and business law. Today, he can speak 6 languages conversationally.

Next, we have Representative May Mizuno of District 29. Mizuno has deep roots in her community, in her experience serving as Office Manager for the District 29 office. Additionally, Mizuno is a dedicated member of the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board No. 16. Her dedication to the constituents will continue in her role as a House Representative. Did you know that May is also skilled in the outdoors? During the summer while she was in Alaska, she successfully reeled in a 157 lb. Halibut, surpassing the size of the fish caught by her husband.

With both Miyake and Mizuno joining us, we have an almost historical composition of 20 House freshmen members. The third Wednesday in January is close enough that we can, at the beginning of every legislative session, say Happy New Year, and mean it. It positions us to both reflect on the previous year, and to be thoughtful about what we are resolved to do now and in the future.

This year, we begin somberly, with gratitude, and determination. It has been 162 days since the Maui wildfires, and the shockwaves have not yet subsided. To quote Archie Kalepa, “Lahaina is bearing the burden and all of Hawaii is feeling the pain.” We are thankful and indebted to the many people who were indeed the very first responders, whether that was their job or not, and continue to this day to listen to, provide for, and advocate. We have a few here today. Members, please join me in greeting: - Representing the Mayor, Mish Shishido - Community members of the Lahaina Advisory Team: Laurie Lei DeGama, Rick Nava, Archie Kalepa. - There are three members of the Advisory Committee who were unable to attend today: Kaliko Storer, Kim Bale, and Nestor Ugale.

As we acknowledge these individuals and the communities they belong to, we are brought to an essential question. As Lahaina continues to bear the burden, and all of Hawaii continues to feel the pain, what will we do about it?

History provides lessons. 105 years ago in 1919, another large-scale fire devastated Lahaina. No lives were lost.  The town was mostly built on the same footprint, with a few infrastructure improvements, mostly led by individual property owners who had the means to do so. We could follow this model, modernizing it a bit. And in doing so, perhaps reset the clock for another, more horrific disaster a century from now. Or – with climate change - much sooner.

(TRANSLATION: Don’t let property owners rebuild.)

More than 250 years ago, Native Hawaiians figured out how to manage their needs in relationship to place. There are no entries in the Wehewehe Hawaiian on-line dictionary for the word “sustainable”, let alone “self-sustaining”, but that is exactly how decisions were made, food cultivated, population distributed, natural resources managed. They had to have a circular economy because, as far as they knew, they were the only people. As it turned out, many of the folks who came to the islands over the centuries were Pacific people with similar values.

(TRANSLATION: Turn Lahaina into Wailea v2 surrounding the ‘Venice of the Pacific’ water feature.)

There are now many people, and many interests outside of Hawaii who make decisions independently that profoundly impact us. We have encouraged and become more dependent on economies that deplete our resources. The many conflicts in the world affect us, even if they are far away. And the acceleration of climate change alters every place and all things.

None of this means we don’t have agency over our future. It means we must exercise agency and not let things drift or compromise the present at the expense of the future. One of the things I am proud of is the work that this House engaged in since we adjourned sine die eight months ago. The House had planned an interim agenda that was appropriately and abruptly changed in August. But throughout, the House worked, asked hard questions and pursued better solutions.

The House brought meaning to the need for us to work beyond our own members and engage with people in our community. Two of these efforts, in particular, will help guide not only legislation, but also how we think about these issues. 

The first is the working groups for Maui:

- Food, Water, and Other Supplies

- Shelter

- Environmental Remediation

- Jobs and Business

- Schools, and

- Wildfire Prevention

These are issues laid bare by the Maui fires, but they also have application in many other places across the state. Thank you to our co-chairs, Representatives Gregor Ilagan, Terez Amato, Luke Evslin, Nicole Lowen, Elle Cochran, Daniel Holt, Andrew Garrett, Justin Woodson, Jenna Takenouchi, Linda Ichiyama, and Darius Kila. And thank you to all of the House members who served as working group members and who participated in this comprehensive work.

The second interim effort focused on water. Thanks to Chair Linda Ichiyama, Chair Nicole Lowen, and Senator Jarrett Keohokalole, the Legislature worked with state agencies, the Board of Water Supply, City Council, the Governor and the Mayor – a multiple jurisdiction effort without precedent.  The Red Hill WAI (meaning Water Alliance Initiative) report charts a pro-active course of remediation so that decades and perhaps even a century from now, future residents aren’t poisoned by the nearly two million gallons of fuel in the ground slowly making its way to the water table. This work on the Lahaina wildfire, water, and many other topics aren’t just interrogations of issues. We are fundamentally asserting that not only do we have agency and the responsibility to act, we are also questioning the how and the why and for whom.

This, I think, is part of the lesson of what Kumu Hina Wong told me recently. She said she would like to have all of us “center Hawaii.” Members – to center Hawaii is to center values that make sense for island communities and for our responsibilities as stewards of the public trust. We will need to remind ourselves of these values frequently, especially in a time of urgent decisions, and uncertain economic prospects.

I have been pondering what it means for us, as legislators, to center Hawaii? To put the present and future well-being of this unique place, and the people of this place at the center of our actions and decisions? It would mean, for example: To say that among the many needs and wants presenting themselves in the wake of the fires, that the needs and the well-being of local people of Maui and the residents of Lahaina come first.

To center Hawaii would require us to acknowledge that land is no longer the limiting factor of what we do – because if we don’t center the well-being of our water as a fundamental public trust responsibility, all our affordable housing and economic development and even our conservation efforts won’t matter. And centering Hawaii is to center Aloha and the working principles of aloha, as did many in the days and weeks following the great fire.

Some of us are newer to this chamber, and some of us are veterans. However short or long our tenure, our responsibilities take on even greater consequence if we are to not only represent the districts we are individually elected from, not only the state as a whole, but also to center Hawaii and truly be the stewards in the public’s trust now and for the future.

I would urge all of us to internalize the lessons of the wildfire, of the threatened water, of the pain and courage and aloha of our fellow residents in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Hawaii requires much of us, and we can, together, do our part. 

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