Though Planning Director Mike Dahilig feigned surprise to find his department's files in disarray and the vacation rental process a shambles, it's all an act. As the July 14 and July 28, 2009, planning commission minutes reveal, problems documented by the Abuse Chronicles were raised way back then. And Mike was sitting right there, advising the commission as deputy county attorney.
At both meetings, residents of Hanalei, Wainiha and Haena pointed out that many of the 33 TVRs up for approval on those dates had enclosed the ground floor in the flood zone, gotten homeowner tax-exemptions for the years they claimed to vacation rental, and were operating illegal multi-family dwellings. Yet the citizens were totally stonewalled, and all the permits were approved.
“If you live in a flood zone and your downstairs has been enclosed and advertised as a vacation rental are you going to be considered for a permit?” asked Mary Lucas. “Can someone answer those questions for me?”
Dick Parks said that he had met with former planning director Ian Costa and his deputy, Imai Aiu, “twice, privately, behind the walls” and had come away with the impression “that you fellows felt that you didn't like this kind of thing [zoning violations] going on. And it is going on. So I find it strange that now we are in a meeting where you are going to blanket rubber stamp all these through. Some I think deserve to go through, others I know darn well do not and I find it strange that your recommendation is that they be accepted. I would like to know why, if you can answer that, why the change of tune all of a sudden about accepting these?”
Replied Chair Jimmy Nishida: “We wouldn't be answering questions today. We are only accepting public testimony.”
Councilman Mel Rapozo objected to Mike, Ian and Imai asking the Commission to issue permits with the caveat that approval doesn't mean the applicant is in compliance with zoning and land use laws.
“They are basically asking you folks to condone the illegal activity or the unlawful activity,” said Mel, who went on to discuss the Council's rationale in passing the 2008 TVR law. “The intent was simply to make sure that these people were in compliance before we issue the registration certificate, that is the intent of the legislation. So this is basically a non-enforcement agreement, again, we have seen this coming out of the Planning Department. I think if you are not in compliance you deal with the non-compliance, you don't allow them to continue while you sort it out.”
Yet here we are, four years later, and not only are they still operating, but the planning department and commission still have not sorted it out.
As for those problematic files, people on both sides of the issue pointed out four years ago that key information was missing.
“When I inspected the few files that were available there were no inspection reports in those files, there was nothing in that file to indicate approval,” said Caren Diamond. “The files were really bare.”
Avery Youn, a former county planning director who now works with landowners, expressed concerns on behalf of TVR owners charged with violations. “Well what we have been doing is we have been going into old files and trying to find the original permits that were issued just to prove that the as-built plans submitted at time of the vacation rentals were legal. However, we are finding a lot of the files are missing so it is difficult to prove these.”
Planning Commissioners, however, chose to follow the department's recommendation and approve all the permits, while putting the onus on the public to rat out the perps. As Vice Chair (and former County Attorney) Hartwell Blake intoned (emphasis added):
"To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, [the quote is actually Thomas Jefferson's] he said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance so the price of tranquility and the peace and quiet enjoyment of your home is eternal vigilance also. We can't realistically expect the government to take care of everything.... So it takes all of us to, especially the people in the neighborhoods and the people being immediately, personally adversely impacted to keep track of what is going on and to help us to help each other. And so if something is happening then report it and report it in detail and take it upon yourself to police your own neighborhood to ensure the tranquility and peaceful enjoyment of your own home. I think that is absolutely necessary and it is not a shifting of responsibility from the County to the homeowner because once we are informed of what is happening and given enough information to act upon so that it is not all personal manao because you happen not to like your neighbor, then certainly the responsibility falls upon the County to take enforcement action."
Well, Hartwell, we've been vigilant like you and Thomas Jefferson said, and we've given the county extensive information for years now, culminating in the 19-part-and-counting Abuse Chronicles. And we're still waiting for the County to exercise its responsibility to take enforcement action. So I'm sorry Councilmembers Nadine Nakamura, JoAnn Yukimura, Ross Kagawa and Jay Furfaro, but giving planning another 90 days to come up with one enforcement action just isn't gonna cut it.
As Leilani Josselin astutely noted:
“And we've had these Aunties coming for up for how many years already trying to let you guys know where you guys are wrong, where we might be wrong, where those people might be wrong and still we just want to give them more time, more time, more time and enough is enough. And that is it.”