Friday, February 1, 2008

Musings: Do Nothingness

The wind whipped up again last night and ushered in a few showers as Koko and I were walking this blustery morning. During the heaviest rains, we took shelter first beneath a hedge of shell ginger, whose glossy leaves offered excellent protection, and then a stand of ironwoods.

When it eased up a bit, we headed home, as small patches in the sky turned faint pink, hinting at a sunrise somewhere behind gray clouds.

I was looking for a bit of brightness, a flash of inventiveness , a dash of leadership and courage, as I read today’s account of the County Council action — to use the word very loosely — on a vacation rental bill.

I looked in vain.

Instead, the Council took a timid do-nothing approach. The Council has known for eight years it needed to deal with this critical issue. Citizens have devoted countless hours to this matter, and in the end, the Council passed a bill that does absolutely nothing to address the deep issues associated with the proliferation of vacation rentals outside the visitor destination areas.

Why? What else but money?

Vacation rentals are reportedly good for the economy — although I’ve seen no real facts to back up that assertion — so nobody wants to shut them down. So what if they’re taking up good ag land, destroying neighborhoods and allowing people to build equity in homes they couldn’t otherwise afford, all at the public's expense?

At least Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho tried, proposing “’to phase out all single-family transient vacation rentals outside designated visitor destination areas after 18 months,” an article in The Garden Island reports. But she was shut down by Councilmembers Tim Bynum, JoAnn Yukimura, Ron Kouchi and Jay Furfaro.

As for allowing vacation rentals on ag land, the bill is “kind of moot” on that issue, the article quotes Bynum as saying. Never mind that his comment makes no sense. Such activities are prohibited by state law, and the county has not bothered to enforce it, due to pressure from the real estate lobby.

I know of a few legitimate farmers who depend on their vacation rentals to help pay the mortgage. I have no problem with them seeking special use permits to continue their operations, which would at least give their neighbors a say in the matter. But the vast majority of ag land rentals are owned by people who are simply trying to build a personal investment while doing absolutely nothing related to agriculture.

At the very least the county should have dealt with them.

Instead, we have a do-nothing Council that once again did nothing but maintain the status quo — while acknowledging that yes, a big problem does exist.

Auwe! It’s a total joke, but nobody’s laughing except the land speculators and realtors, who once again held sway.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Shame!

Anonymous said...

I am in complete agreement with you on this issue. What's more, I think you have articulated the Council's action (or inaction) better than anyone I have heard or read so far. I don't for a moment believe this is the end of this. TGI revealing, for many, that the number of rentals are roughly 50% of parcels in Hanalei is powerful.
Regards, Pete Antonson

Anonymous said...

one more example of why council voting by district needs to be seriously considered. if there were districts and elected officials to represent them(whether they council members or neighborhood boards) citizens may see better results in a more timely fashion. three years to pass weak and ineffective legislation is poor performance by any group.

charley foster said...

I watched some of the televised meeting and it seems there was a question whether it would be legal to shut down current rentals. I only heard one side of that debate, and I don't know how strong the arguments are one way or the other. But if there's a serious chance it is, that would be something opponents of the bill (on gounds that it does not shut down existing rentals) would have to reckon with.

Anonymous said...

The bill passed by the County Council Does:
Stop any new Vacation Rentals outside of Visitor Desinated Areas (VDA).
Require registration and regulations for ALL TVR's.
Reguire owners to apply for a Non Conforming Use Permit every year.
Only allow Use permits for TVR's that are CURRENTLY LEGAL.
Revoke permits of any TVR that stops operating.

Joan said...

You're right Anonymous, it does hold the line, but doesn't do anything to address the existing problems caused by TVRs outside of VDAs. As for "legal," that refers to businesses paying the proper taxes; it does not mean they are actually legal. Although now they are, thanks to this bill.

As to Charley's comment, don't you think the Council should have resolved the legal issue of their ability to regulate this industry during all the years it's been in discussion? And that concern hasn't stopped other Hawaii counties from regulating this industry.

Anonymous said...

As to Charley's point, it seems to be about whether non VDA rentals can be declared illegal. They were in past, they are now in the future...what is the difference in making the same declaration in the present?
Regards, Pete Antonson

charley foster said...

I didn't hear the testimony of Jonathan Chun who according to the paper argued that phasing out rentals would violate state law. I heard only part of Harold Bronstein's testimony. I did not hear him argue that phasing out current rentals would be legal, and the paper does not say he argued as much - and had he I would think it would warrant reporting - but only that he argued that the county could require current operators to get a use permit. The story is different, I understand, on ag lands.

Beyond that I don't pretend to understand the legal rationale of either claim.

Anonymous said...

In order to help clarify some misimpressions here about the current legality of VR's, try looking at the Kauai County Zoning Ordinance (CZO). That's the zoning law that currently governs transient vacation rental units (TVRs)...at least until the Mayor signs the new bill. The CZO defines TVRs as “rentals in a multi-unit building for visitors over the course of one (1) or more years, with the duration of occupancy less than thirty (30) days for the transient occupant.” The key words here are multi-unit building, i.e. bed & breakfast-type operations with more than one rental unit under roof. It, therefore, does not cover in any manner, single family residences, i.e. single unit residences, used for transient rental. Lawyers on both sides of the issue agree that single family vacation rental units are not restricted to VDAs simply because the heretofore existing zoning laws did not address them. Hence, the current council initiative to change the zoning laws to include and regulate them. So, to say that they have been illegal is simply incorrect.

VR's on ag land is a more complex issue. VR's will not be permitted once the County identifies "important agricultural lands". Ms. Yukimura admitted as much in her own (formerly) proposed Enforcement Suspension Amendment:

"(September 12, 2007)
P R O P O S A L
BILL NO. 2204 Relating to Transient Vacation Rentals and Bed and Breakfast Operations, as proposed to be amended in proposed Floor Amendment dated August 6, 2007
Introduced by JoAnn A. Yukimura
1) Proposed new 8-17.10(d) to read as follows: .....

ADDITIONS to Section 1 'Under Findings and Purpose'
The County is embarking on a process to designate 'Agricultural Lands of Importance to the State' ('Ag-Rural planning process') and the mayor has proposed a moratorium on the subdivision of agricultural lands during this time. This process was mandated by Act 183, and had the process been completed by now, it is possible that certain units presently in 'Agricultural' districted lands under state law would be eligible for grandfathering under this ordinance. To allow for the process to be completed and to recognize the nuances and ambiguities of State law regarding farm dwelling units, this ordinance allows an enforcement agreement to suspend enforcement as to vacation rentals illegal under this law by the requirement of a 'farm dwelling' until the Ag-Rural Planning process is completed, but only as to vacation rentals existing legally (with the exception of the 'farm dwelling' requirement) at time of enactment of this ordinance." Hope this helps.

Joan said...

Thanks for the info, Anonymous. That's very helpful.