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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
SB3381: Stop Lahaina Property Owners from Rebuilding
By Andrew Walden @ 9:07 PM :: 4524 Views :: Maui County, Ethics, Development, Labor

By Andrew Walden

Will Lahaina lot owners be allowed to rebuild properties burned in the August 8, 2023 fire—or will Lahaina literally be handed over to the HCDA and an appointed ‘Community Board’ comprised of Josh Green’s hand-picked Carpenters Union representatives?

The battle is on.

As this writer explained August 24, 2023:

When it comes to the Lahaina Fire zone there is no shortage of ‘plans’ for what property owners can and cannot do with their property.

All of these erstwhile ‘planners’ swear they are trying to prevent an exodus of Lahaina survivors to the Mainland.

But Hawaii’s history is irrefutable--all efforts at ‘planning’ produce a decade or two of inaction while warring factions duke it out in court.  ‘Planning’ thereby guarantees the exodus the ‘planners’ purport to avoid.

Lahaina property owners don’t need a ‘plan.’  They need the right to rebuild what they lost.

Property owners are represented by Maui Council Bill 21.  The usual ‘Land and Power’ development interests are represented by SB3381.

Here are the details.

The Star-Advertiser February 9, 2024 reports:

(Maui Council Bill 21) is designed to broaden and streamline emergency building procedures in a move that aims to speed up construction approvals in the wake of the Aug. 8 wildfires….

Bill 21, approved 7-0 by the Council’s Water and Infrastructure Committee, would amend the Maui County Code to broaden the applicability of emergency- repair provisions and clarify the approval procedures for emergency-repair permits…

The legislation, submitted by the county’s Department of Public Works, is intended to help the rebuilding of housing, public facilities and businesses damaged or destroyed by the fires.

Approximately 1,100 residential properties would qualify under the bill’s expedited permitting process, according to the county’s Office of Recovery.

Currently, only the owners of single-family residential structures qualify for the expedited emergency procedures in disaster areas. Under Bill 21 the expedited procedures would be expanded to apartments and other multifamily structures, as well as commercial buildings and other categories….

Jordan Molina, Maui’s director of public works, said the county is in the process of hiring a consultant to handle what is expected to be a surge of emergency building permits in the coming months. The consultant, he said, will allow the current staff to continue to process an existing three- to six-month backlog of permit applications.

Molina said the consultant should be on board by April with a three-year contract. The biggest surge of applications, he said, is expected in the first two years…

The current emergency application allows electrical and plumbing permits to be consolidated with the building permit application to reduce the number of applications that a property owner must submit. Under Bill 21 the application also allows for the consolidations of driveway and grading permits and possibly others if needed….

Under the bill, owners of vacant lands within the disaster area also would be eligible to undertake construction of new structures….

Bill 21 would allow qualified applicants to bypass required reviews by other agencies, except when it is deemed necessary. It is considered necessary when applications involve commercial structures, lots with more than two dwellings and other situations where an agency determines that review is necessary.

Under the bill, once all required information is submitted, a property owner can request the department to approve their application if no action is taken on the application within 15 days. However, approvals may be withheld if disaster debris removal is not complete, essential services are not restored, an agency review is required or a land use approval is pending.

Permit fees also will be deferred until the structure is ready for final inspection.

Another provision allows owners who want to rebuild structures that were constructed within the previous five years to be reissued permits using the same construction plans that are on file….

Bill 21 also would apply to future disasters….

Under Bill 21, Lahaina property owners would be allowed to begin rebuilding on an expedited basis. 

That’s the problem. 

As Lahaina property owners rebuild, it becomes more difficult and expensive to use eminent domain to transform Lahaina into a multi-billion dollar resort community of luxury villas centered on the ‘Venice of the Pacific’ water feature.

Not to worry, disaster capitalists, Senator Donovan Dela Cruz and Lahaina’s pathetic excuse for a Senator, Angus McKelvey, are riding to the rescue.

If enacted into law, SB3381, according to its text, “shall supersede all other inconsistent ordinances and rules relating to the use, zoning, planning, and development of land and construction thereon….”

In other words, it would wipe Bill 21 off the books.

SB3381 creates the “Lele Community District Board” whose members will be appointed by the Governor until 2026.  As we all know, Governor Green is owned and operated by the Carpenters Union.  Therefore the Community Board members will also be owned and operated by the Carpenters Union.  Union jobs come from major resort construction projects, not from individual home rebuilding.

SB3381 “all state lands contained within the boundaries of the district, except lands under the jurisdiction of the department of Hawaiian home lands, are: (1) Transferred to the authority; and (2) Subject to the management of the board.”  The district includes much of West Maui, far beyond the Lahaina burn area.

And worst of all, SB3381, section 206-E(5), grants the unelected Board the right to seize any private property in the District, via eminent domain condemnation.

There is pushback.

Pamela Tumpap, President of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, testifies before EET/WTL:

The powers of condemnation (eminent domain) should not be given out without serious and lengthy discussion - eminent domain is an extreme measure

Maui County Mayor Richard T Bissen explains:

…the County of Maui has already established an Office of Recovery, and much community input and dialogue has been and is still being received and acted upon, including the development of the community's initial Recovery Needs Assessment and future Long-Term Recovery Plan. For updates to the efforts of the Office of Recovery, see https://www.mauirecovers.org/recoveryphases. Establishing a new process and regulatory layer for wildfire survivors to now navigate and understand may introduce additional barriers to rebuilding and recovery efforts.

The bill aims to centralize decision-making under the authority, including the ability to levy assessments, which likely raises community concerns about the broad range of authority granted to a non-elected board and the selection process established for the members of the district….

An aggressive plan has already been put in place to allow residents to expeditiously return to their properties. This plan includes prioritizing infrastructure repairs to residential areas and an expedited permitting center, which will be available in the Spring of 2024. The time frame for the establishment of the Lele Community District may not align with the County of Maui's ongoing effort and expedited timeline to return residents to their properties, which may affect overall rehousing efforts….

Maui Councilmember Tamara Paltin, and community group Lahaina Strong, point out:

The proposal to place the control of all lands in the Lahaina moku under a state entity raises concerns about the centralization of power and potential disenfranchisement of local stakeholders….

The board election process, while democratic, provides the opportunity for disproportionate influence from special interests. Furthermore, the elections would not take place until 2026, allowing Governor Green to appoint all nine board members to two-year terms. Again, this raises concern about inappropriate outside influence. There are documented ties between Governor Green's appointments and political action committees representing corporate and development interests….

Aside from an annual report to the legislature, there are no mechanisms to facilitate public transparency….

Katie Austin writes:

The proposal to transfer all State lands, including possible county and private lands, to the Authority raises concerns about property rights and eminent domain….

Removing county oversight could impede local recovery efforts and prolong the rebuilding process. Allowing gubernatorial appointees to make critical decisions for Lahaina during its pivotal years undermines local autonomy. … I fear the authority’s community plan might not align with existing county plans. Our county council along with the office of recovery is already diligently working on plans, and I feel an outside governor appointed board could undermine our communities’ wants and needs. I also worry that an assessment cost for landowners and the purpose of the proposed "special fund" remain unclear. I fear that property owners paying another tax with just ensure another undue financial burden.

HCDA is clear about its intention to wipe out Front Street and many of Lahaina’s older homes which lack modern ‘setbacks’ from their lot lines:

The planning process could take some time to complete. Property setbacks, shoreline setbacks, sea level rise adaptation, climate resiliency, street right of ways, must be considered as part of the land use planning.

Referring to an earlier bill, Civil Beat, February 11, 2024 writes:

Imagine a state corporation with the power to buy property and develop it according to the corporation’s own rules. The entity could acquire land against the will of owners through eminent domain and issue bonds to pay for it. Financing would go through a special fund outside the standard budget process. 

The corporation’s first task would be to redevelop Lahaina. 

Hawaii lawmakers have introduced bills to create this corporation, called the Cultural Corridor Authority, to help rebuild Lahaina. And while the Cultural Corridor Authority, House Bill 2693, appears to have little support — a sign of the challenge legislators face trying to develop policies to address rebuilding Lahaina — lawmakers have introduced several bills this session that envision Lahaina’s redevelopment. They include a Senate bill (SB3381) similar to the cultural corridor measure, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday.

Jackie Keefe, who has pulled papers to challenge McKelvey in the Senate Democratic Primary, mourns the failure of HB2693 but is optimistic massive amounts of land can be controlled under SB3381:

… we should have all the land proposed because a true restoration of Ka Malu 'Ulu o Lele will need to stretch from mauka to makai. These are the exact type of conversations that we are looking to foster….

With Delacruz and McKelvey leading the charge, SB3381 passed EET/WTL unanimously.  Approved on Second Reading, February 16, 2024, the bill now awaits a February 28, 2024, hearing before DelaCruz’ WAM. 

The Bill has a defective 2060 ‘takes effect’ date, so if the House approves, the bill’s real text will be written, as always, in a secretive Conference Committee at the end of the Legislative session.

---30---

SB3381: Text, Status

HB2693: Text, Status

Bill 21 (2024): Text, Status

Aug 2023: Do Lahaina Property Owners Have the Right to Rebuild?

Oct 2023: Right to Rebuild? No Building Permits Issued Since Lahaina Fire

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