King “Disappointed” in Mayor’s Veto of Hotel Construction Moratorium
Councilmember Kelly Takaya King of South Maui issued a statement on Wednesday in response to the Mayor’s veto of Bill 60, which establishes a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for new visitor accommodations and visitor accommodation expansions in South and West Maui.
In a detailed explanation, King said she is “very disappointed” in the Administration’s decision to oppose Bill 60. She said the legislation was developed after public input from multiple meetings since May in which advocates expressed concern over uncontrolled growth of the visitor industry.
“When Hawaiʻi reopened to tourism after COVID vaccines significantly lowered the number of positive cases, the influx of visitors exceeded all expectations and exacerbated an already widely shared, pre-pandemic sentiment that the industry is out of balance with the needs of residents, and that communities should rethink the role of the industry going forward,” King wrote.
She continued saying, “Bill 60 is an opportunity to give the South and West Maui communities a pause in visitor accommodation growth until Community Plans are enacted, to ensure development follows the input of area residents.”
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Maui Managing Director Sandy Baz outlined reasons for the Mayor’s action saying, “We are confident we are on our way to developing a better, more thoughtful approach to managing tourism in a way that will improve the experience of both residents and visitors. While the mayor appreciates the council’s intent and sentiment behind Bill 60, he believes it is more important for legislation to be effective and legal than for it to be fast. For these reasons, Mayor Victorino has decided to veto Bill 60,” said Baz.
According to King, the current volume of visitors exceeds the guidance of the Maui Island Plan. “Residents know this in a very personal way when they are crowded out of their favorite places, stuck in traffic, or dealing with ill-mannered tourists,” she said.
Earlier this month Maui Mayor Michael Victorino acknowledged the a need to address issues of over tourism, asking major airlines to reduce flights to Maui. “As the Mayor himself mentioned, the County has no authority over airlines or airports,” said King. “The County Council stepped up to proactively use one of the legal tools afforded us. It is a sad contradiction for the Mayor to state publicly that he wants a pause in the influx of visitors and yet fight for the development of more places for them to stay.”
Managing Director Baz said the mayor does not believe Bill 60 will relieve crowds at Kahului Airport, reduce traffic on Maui’s roadways, or solve the problem of transient vacation rentals operating in neighborhoods. “Bill 60 will simply limit the choice of visitor accommodations in West and South Maui for the next 5-10 years,” said Baz.
King explains that the moratorium would apply to the areas of South and West Maui, only for a period of two years or until the relevant Community Plan is enacted. “Within the Community Plan process, area residents will be able to decide for themselves the amount, type, and location they would like for visitor accommodations,” according to a “Point by Point” Q&A outlining key issues surrounding the legislation.
King pointed to a survey conducted by the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority in which it gauged Resident Sentiment. One question posed was: “Using a 10-point scale where 10 means Extremely Important and 1 means Not Important at All, how important is it that the state not allow building of additional hotel/condo/timeshare units on my island to help better manage tourism?” King assessed the response saying, “Maui County residents gave an average score of 7.90, the highest of any county in the state, indicating that stopping the building of additional accommodations is an important priority for the community.”
“We have heard that we are on our way to better managed tourism for years while little serious action followed, visitor numbers skyrocketed, and the quality of life and our unique environmental resources continue to erode. The moratorium pauses visitor accommodation construction, addresses the injury residents are feeling, and gives stakeholders an opportunity to create solutions without simultaneously making things worse,” said King.
She called the administration’s comments about legal deficiencies “unsubstantiated,” and saying, “the Mayor is using Corporation Counsel as an agent to impose policy opinion rather than provide impartial legal advice to both the Council and Mayor as mandated by the County Charter.”
She thanked her colleagues on the Council and members of the public for submitting testimony. With the vote of six supporting Councilmembers, King said the body has enough backing to overturn the Mayor’s veto.