Still, I hate to break the news: The irregularities exposed by the ongoing Abuse Chronicles cannot be explained away as misfiled papers.
Nor can they be blamed fully on Mike. This issue, and its gross mismanagement, started well before Mike even arrived on Kauai. It also extends beyond Planning to include Public Works, the Council and of course, Mayor Bernard Carvalho. Because as Bernard made so clear in suspending Police Darryl Perry last year, he is the supreme authority in the county.
Which is why Councilman Gary Hooser kind of called out the Mayor, who was sitting behind Mike during the hearing, and asked him for some indication that he's committed to cleaning things up.
“Really, it's making a mockery of the county in terms of enforcement and TVRs,” Gary said.
Plus, as Councilman Tim Bynum so astutely noted, it exposes the County to liability when it granted TVR certificates to houses that have visitors sleeping in ground floor units in the flood zone.
Still, county officials shouldn't make like this caught them by surprise. As Councilman Mel Rapozo pointed out, he complained months ago about some of the TVRs I've chronicled, as did Protect Our Neighborhood Ohana (PONO), years ago. But nothing was done. In fact, PONO reported some of the perps to Public Works when the illegal construction was under way, only to get the cold shoulder.
So while it's encouraging that Council Chair Jay Furfaro has scheduled a May 8 meeting, in which Mike and Prosecutor Justin Kollar are directed to “come up with a plan, a strategy” for enforcement, the county needs to dig a bit deeper.
As in look at the staff and systems, policies and priorities, that filled this can with a mass of wiggling worms.
Starting back in 2008, when the first TVR law was passed. As both Jay and Tim noted, former Planning Director Ian Costa repeatedly assured the Council he had it under control and did not need additional staff to implement the ordinance. Yet the reality was much different, with the department essentially issuing blanket approvals. As Mike revealed, inspections were limited to looking for the lock outs that create an illegal multi-family unit. (And they missed some of those.)
The botching was compounded when the Council revised the TVR ordinance in 2010, under pressure from wealthy landowners who somehow convinced county officials that they had a legal right to violate their farm dwelling agreement and state law by operating deluxe TVRs on ag land. The mandatory inspection requirement was stripped from the new bill, which makes it easy for sketchy stuff to slide through.
By then, Mike was on board, and he said he focused on ensuring the ag TVR permits were properly processed, which is great. Meanwhile, however, the original TVR permits, the ones issued primarily for Hanelei, Wainiha and Haena, were allowed to fester unchecked into a larger sore. Some of these questionable properties have since been sold to unsuspecting buyers who paid big bucks for what they thought was a legit operation. Indeed, I recently heard from one such confused and upset buyer.
And as Gary pointed out, the TVRs with improperly granted permits are only half the equation. There's also the issue of all those TVRs that are operating with no permit at all.
Mel is calling for the Council to use its powers to conduct a special investigation, which could be the way to go. At the very minimum, there needs to be a careful audit/review of the TVR files, preferably by outsiders, and ideally before the renewal deadline of July 31.
There also needs to be a clear policy statement from the Council and Mayor on just how they want to deal with this, how deep they're willing to go. Are they willing to let the TVR owners settle up and come into compliance when they've intentionally gamed the system for their own massive profits, put unsuspecting visitors at risk and turned the North Shore into an upscale resort?
Or are they going to put down that damn carrot and bring out the stick? The county has the ability to levy $10,000 daily fines, issue cease and desist notices, withhold renewals and revoke nonconforming use certificates. How come that hasn't been done?
Justin has made it clear he's willing to at least explore criminal charges against some of the perps, and also prosecute county workers, if that's where the investigation takes him. And it sure sounds like the Council wants some solid enforcement action taken.
So I guess that leaves the mayor, Public Works and Planning. Are you guys in, or out?
Because while I'm hopeful, ever so hopeful, I'm also cynical. To borrow the words of labor leader and activist Tyree Scott: