Council overrides mayor veto on hotly debated visitor lodging moratorium
Maui County Council voted tonight to override Mayor Michael Victorino’s veto on one of the most hotly debated measures in recent times: A pause on building more Maui visitor units while studies can be done on how to handle over-tourism.
After a groundswell of passionate public testimony that went from morning until evening, the council decided to override the veto by a vote of 6-3, with Council Members Alice Lee, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Tasha Kama dissenting.
Bill 148, which takes effect on approval, places a moratorium on new transient units until the council implements recommendations by a Tourism Management Temporary Investigative Group, or in two years, whichever is sooner.
The rule will not affect existing accommodations or ones that received final approvals prior to the vote.
Victorino after the meeting “expressed disappointment” with the decision but added that he intends to “make the most” of the two-year pause.
“We need to move on and focus on the future of our people and our commitment to economic diversification and recovery from this crippling pandemic,” he said in a news release tonight.
Bill 148 was drafted to help mitigate the under-regulated growth of transient accommodations tied to an increase in tourism, “which causes negative impacts on the environment, overwhelms existing county infrastructure, and negatively impacts residents’ quality of life,” the legislation said.
Saying it lacked transparency and public input, however, Victorino in late December vetoed the measure after it was approved by council on second and final reading Dec. 3. He also said the move would spur illegal vacation rentals.
However, council members today pointed to many previous meetings where the public came out in strong support of the moratorium. They echoed that the bill will maintain existing units, and previous moratoria have been successful.
“We need to shift the paradigm and shift our economy,” Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said before the vote. “We are in a crisis, as we all know, as we heard from our testifiers, as we heard from the community, as we see on social media, we read it all the time.”
Chairwoman Lee, though, said that in order to diversify the economy effectively, revenues need to be diversified.
“And nobody, and I mean nobody, has come up with one single idea on how to replace revenues from the visitor industry,” she said ahead of the vote.
Lee added that the visitor industry generates more than 50 percent of real property revenues. The county garners about $385 million and the visitor industry contributes more than $200 million of that.
“So with all their faults, we need to be careful on how we scale back on that industry before we have something to replace it with,” she said.
Council’s decision tonight caps many months of robust public support and fervent pushback from industry leaders over whether placing a pause on building new units will help manage over-tourism.
“So many have testified — some of us four or five times now,” said Maui resident Sara Tekula, who was among more than 50 testifiers on the topic today. “Move forward with the will of the people.”
Supporters of the moratorium say Maui has been overwhelmed by tourists, whose arrival numbers have been inching closer to pre-pandemic levels. They’ve cited concerns about visitor impacts to residents’ quality of life, infrastructure and the environment and the need to diversify the economy.
Critics, meanwhile, say the construction industry and other local jobs will be negatively impacted, the moratorium will not keep tourists from coming and that illegal rentals will proliferate as a result.
Introduced by Rawlins-Fernandez in June, the bill places a moratorium on new transient accommodations — including hotels, timeshares, short-term rental homes and transient vacation rental units — across the island of Maui.
Council members passed an original proposed moratorium by Council Member Kelly King on building permits for visitor lodging in South and West Maui last July, but it was vetoed by the mayor. The council later decided not to override the veto over legal concerns with the bill.
“I started hearing Maui residents’ unhappiness with the growing numbers of tourists in my first term on the council, but it took a more progressive body to actually support the idea of a moratorium,” King said after the meeting today. “A pause is necessary in order to stop adding to the problems of over-tourism while we’re creating solutions that work for all residents of Maui Nui.”
Council Member Tamara Paltin ahead of the vote said everyone must collaborate to find solutions for the negative impacts of tourism.
“It’s not solely on the (temporary investigative group) to come up with all the solutions to the problems that have been going on for decades,” she said. “And the brainstorming on solutions should never end when the TIG ends. . . . It’s on everybody that’s passionate about this to come up with solutions and propose solutions and work together with us on solutions.”