Thursday, December 10, 2015

Musings: Forbidden Fruit I

In early February 2013, a visitor drowned after jumping off an unpermitted dock at a Wainiha vacation rental. That incident, which I wrote about here, led to the Abuse Chronicles, a 20-part investigative series that detailed the illegal shenanigans associated with transient vacation rentals (TVRs) on Kauai.

Following the series, the County Council threatened to investigate the county planning department. The administration of Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. promised to reform. Both sides were loath to go after the people who gotten their TVR permits improperly. Instead, the department was told to get its act together and go after the “low-hanging fruit” — the folks who were running totally illegal TVRs.

Fast forward to last week, when the Council began its review of a proposed law regulating homestay/B&B operations on Kauai.

As Council Chair Mel Rapozo noted:

This is an opportunity to craft legislation going forward. The TVR issue … really was an embarrassment. It's just horrible what has happened. The low-hanging fruit that has been promised, what has been done? It makes it difficult trying to pass B&B legislation when owners say you cannot even enforce the TVR law. There's violations everywhere you look in the TVR neighborhoods. It's horrific what we're finding, and where's the enforcement? It's not there.

He then asked Planning to attend a January meeting to update the Council on its TVR enforcement efforts.

Though I hate to spoil the surprise, the answer is simple: Not very much. In fact, it's pretty much same-old, same-old. Business as usual, and all that.

The Kauai Paradise House — the TVR where the visitor drowned, and which I revealed as having been fully renovated without permits — remains open.

According to county documents, owner Victoria Leadley was issued a cease and desist order for “failure to meet ordinance requirements.” But she's appealing that order, and continues to operate in the meantime. The house is booked through the holidays.

In fact, the county has yet to revoke a single TVR certificate, even though it's sent out 13 cease and desist letters for a range of violations. These include: failure to renew, some of them for years; failure to meet ordinance requirements; failure to meet special management area requirements; illegal conversion of a guest house; and failure to meet ownership authorization requirements.

All of the owners are appealing the cease and desist orders, which apparently were not issued until FY 2015, even though the violations occurred much earlier.

Another seven TVR owners voluntary relinquished their certificates.

Meanwhile, it appears that problems remain with the Planning Department's record keeping. For example, in response to my public records request, Planning sent me a list that included all the TVR certificate holders who had been sent cease and desist letters. The list included the owners' names, TMK numbers and TVR certificate numbers.

That list includes Aloha Kai Beachfront Rentals, a Haena house owned by Laura and David Bancroft. Problem is, they never actually got a TVR certificate. The county's TVR log listed the TVR application for that property as denied on June 27, 2009, denied on Sept.18, 2009, denied on Nov. 2, 2012 and closed on Nov. 15, 2012. It was designated a “dead file” on Sept. 17, 2013.

So if they never even got approval, why are they being allowed to appeal the cease and desist order?

The owners know they aren't legit, because they don't post a TVR number on their Internet ads. Instead they misleadingly advertise “Hawaii Vacation Rental Registration Number W87848647-01,” which is their general excise tax number.

And if they aren't legit, how come they can continue to operate, with bookings through the Christmas holidays?

The Bancroft property tax records also tell an interesting story. The property was classified “homestead” in 2010, 2011 and 2012. That changed to “vacation rental” in 2013 and 2014. For 2015 and 2016, it's designated “commercialized home use.”

Tax records also describe the property as having three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a half bath, with the only additions a deck and solar panels. Yet Aloha Kai variously bills itself as a 5-bedroom, 5-bath, sleeps-12 vacation rental “just 20 feet from the sand and a “charmingly rustic home … with 4 bedrooms and 3 baths.“ It's actually a main house and what appears to be an unpermitted cottage with its own kitchen. The “romantic upgraded” cottage is rented separately, which makes this an illegal multifamily vacation rental.
And according to FlipKey reviews, not everyone is happy with the arrangement:

We couldn’t figure out what was going on with the house that this studio is attached to. The house is above and next door, basically surrounding the studio. Sometimes it seemed like a local family was staying there with all the local vehicles parked behind the house. Lots of chatting and some work seemed to be going on. At the end of our stay a huge wedding party moved in. About 15 young people with 5 cars and they kept blocking us in. We lost all privacy and it became very loud. You could hear every foot step above and the toilet flushing down the wall. They even set up a tent in the front yard right in front of our patio. The worst part was that the property management company gave this group the key code to our unit instead of the attached house and they walked right in to our unit by mistake while we were there. I felt unconformable knowing that 15 20-somethings had access to our studio. There was no additional deadbolt or chain to secure the front door. I wouldn’t recommend staying here if the attached house is occupied. And I wouldn’t take the gamble staying here again.
An October guest was similarly displeased:

I wouldn't recommend this place to most people, but if you aren't super picky, want to be steps from the beach and don't want to be in the condo world this place might be worth a try.

Other reviewers dissed the main house, too:

We gave property 4 stars overall because of location, but dirty towels were folded on towel racks for our use, 3 lights out in one bathroom making it very dark & light fixtures very dirty, old junk left around property making it look shabby. It is obvious owners use this as a rental property lacking personal loving care. FYI - there is no hammock as shown in photo.

FYI: There's still something very fishy going on with Kauai TVRs. Will the Council finally press more vigorous enforcement? What will it take to clean up this mess? 


Anonymous said...

Joan "Meanwhile, it appears that problems remain with the Planning Department's record keeping. For example, in response to my public records request,"

Talk about hypocrisy! You criticize others making public records request of pro-GMO "scientists" yet for years you have harassed our overworked planning department even though you know nothing will change. Enough of your vendetta already.

Anonymous said...

What has the County budgeted for Planning Department enforcement.
Can't have it both ways. Gotta fund the enforcement if u want it.

Anonymous said...

9:58 Can't have it both ways. Gotta fund the enforcement if u want it.

Gimmie a break! Everybody should know by now especially Joan that THEY DON'T WANT IT!

Anonymous said...

The county gave planning money for enforcement, but they spent it on something else. Great reporting, please keep shining the light on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Let's turn these folks into cash cows and milk them like the KPD click it or ticket season that shakes down residents by enforcing the seat belt law that they should have enforced all year round. Might be more effective than eight years of Joan's excellent reporting on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Yes Joan. How DARE you bother the planning department?! Let them do nothing in peace!

Anonymous said...

Side cASh will always rule on Kauai. It seems to me that every election year they like to drum up topics that the council has no plans on enforcing. It's silly for anyone in Kauai to believe that these cronies are representing the people and creating laws that will be enforced.

Anonymous said...

The council can only fund enforcement, they can't do it, but it makes sense to hold planning accountable for their failures.

Dawson said...

9:14AM wrote:
...You criticize others making public records request of pro-GMO "scientists" yet for years you have harassed our overworked planning department even though you know nothing will change....

And people wonder why Trump is so popular.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I see you have a few comments from those working in the planning department as well as illegal TVR owners. Please continue to stay on top of this. Enforcement doesn't take much. After all, somebody is already paid to do just that. We're simply asking them to do their damn job. How much money as lined the pockets of county officials to look the other way? I can't believe that this is a simple case of incompetence or laziness. Nevertheless, it does make the county look like total idiots entirely incapable of even basic processing and enforcement of TVRs.

Wonder if you have ANY evidence of bribes or kickbacks. Curious to know what your theory is on why this has gone on for so long.

Anonymous said...

Mel is correct. Enforcement of illegal TVRs and B&Bs is bad. Under pressure, Planning did start with locating some illegals, sent cease and desist notices, and may have even had a hand in closing a few. Overall the program has barely scratched the surface. The fact that Planning doesn't even know how many illegals are out there, tells you how serious they are about enforcement. Meanwhile, before the council is another proposal to allow even more transient rentals, this time B&Bs, into residential areas. This defys common sense and fairness to island residents. Everyone knows we have a crushing problem with runaway vacation rentals many of whom are flaunting the law. Couple that with the lack of will to enforce the law creates the disaster we are forced ti live with everyday. Stand strong Mel and Council. Do not allow a bad situation to get worse. Demand enforcement, which at a minimum must require all illegal TVUs be they TVRs or B&Bs be closed down. For new B&Bs, do not allow them to spread into our already overburdened neighborhoods. Keep them in the VDA

Anonymous said...

Beer Gate is evidence of corruption in the planning dept and the county planning dept attorney and director was involved.

Anonymous said...

The BEST way to be a CRIMINAL on Kauai and get away with it, is to work for the county or state.

Anonymous said...

Ask former Mayor Kusaka what did she get in the Kealia Kai DEAL.

Anonymous said...

Zoning? Permits? Legality? After all this is KAUAI. Just drive any neighborhood and see all the violations. R2 with 3 full homes? You name it... we got it in buckets full.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect? Too much money generated by the "sustainable industry" Get it while you can and too bad for you other suckers.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that the brown bags went back and forth regarding several TVR's that had received forfeiture letters and are still operating. Those kinds of allegations are hard to prove, but people were bragging about it.

Anonymous said...

Beer gate started this whole mess, ask Dickie Chang.

Anonymous said...

what was beer gate?

Joan Conrow said...

You can read about "beer gate" in these two posts:

Anonymous said...

frightening stuff. same names popping up over and over again. involved with questionable activities and mumbo jumbo explanations.. proves that some government employees bow to the money and the power. to hell with the citizens. beer gate should be required reading for everyone who believes our county works for the people. considering the B&B issue before the council, maybe a rerun of beer gate? Its pertinent .

Anonymous said...

Did you read about the POHAKU (progressive opportunity helps all Kauai unite) scandal?

It was a preferential treatment program for criminal family and friends to pay $200 and GET out of JAIL for FREE.

You can't make this shit up any better than on Kauai.

It's the Wild Wild West of the Pacific.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least Dickie is out of government. Need to get Mike D out. Ultimately, this falls on the mayor. If he really wanted enforcement, there would be enforcement. Period. Mel is frustrated but he'll stop short of saying what he knows goes on behind closed doors.

Anonymous said...

Mel is playing the Kaipo role. You people are fooled. If you people knew what he was doing as a side job, you all would be shocked like KPD Blue shocked.

Dahilig and Jung are the 2 that should be quit/fired asap then go after the rest of the side cash boys and girls.

Anonymous said...

Why has the mayor let this go on for so long. it's a sad joke, no wonder there is no housing . Shameful.

Anonymous said...

according to beer gate. walaau got screwed big time. the mayor ain't gonna do s--t about dahilig or anybody else. he got 2 more years and its all down hill.

Anonymous said...

this is mel's last term. he got nuttin to lose. blast em .

Anonymous said...

Question, and be objective. What has this sitting mayor accomplished? (Infrastructure, health / social issues, business climate, basic services, cooperation within government, cooperation between government and business, etc.)

Anonymous said...

He's a part of the Gas Theft scandal and the missing million dollars that miracously reappeared.

Calling the kettle black wouldn't work in his case.

Anonymous said...

NOTHING but all his people got JOBS.

This is the major reason why Kauai needs a county manager and let the mayor sit on council and be the puppet.

Carvalho is the definition of FAILURE as a Mayor.

All of those consultants fees and where's the new solid waste landfill? Where's the drug rehab? Where's the new Kilauea gym roof? Where's the bus stop shelters? Where did all the money for every year he's been office go to? The patch up works has been job security for 50 years, it's time for Kauai to get qualified leaders.

Glenn Mickens posted a great piece on TGI letters to the editor about how the beautifying of Lihue is a COMPLETE WASTE. That 12 million is to line the pockets of the big unions for election support.

Anonymous said...

insult to injury. the county won some kind of planning award for Rice st. you fuck things up and you get an award?

Anonymous said...

Improving rice street is a forward looking thing to do, revitalization is always needed in places. Now they need to get control of the rest of the neighborhoods by doing some enforcement that isn't lame.

Anonymous said...

They create a problem just to get more money to fix it.

The scheme is great for those getting the cash but the people who have to drive and live in those areas suffer.

The PORK is gravy in the bank for these fraudsters.

That's why the unions have so much power on Kauai and the of Hawaii.

Tens to hundreds of millions supporting Luxury Bike paths given transportation titles.

It's just like any grant or nonprofit, you need great grant writers to fool the government to fund the scheme.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a wing of a hotel!

Anonymous said...

Glenn Mickens doesn't like walking or biking.

Anonymous said...

making rice street narrower by 2 lanes is improving rice street? you crazy or what? after drivers start screaming , make another project to widen again. mebbe the county will get a award for that too. to 3:45. kauai must have plenny good grant writers cuz you see non profits all over fooling the government to fund half ass ideas with whose money?

Anonymous said...

That's 99.9% of people on Kauai that travel. So show me the numbers on how many people actually use these transportation paths to travel to and from work.

Another interesting thing is that the county bus has to supplement their monthly income by charging KCC's students $30 semester fees each and every semester.

It's another scheme to fraudulently support a program that doesn't have sufficient funding.

Anonymous said...

The county of Kauai hired these grant writers full time to find ways to extract useless paper from the fed government.

Why do I say useless paper? Because the county will spend most of the money on other things and create a bigger problem.

Case in point being, in Lihue when they did the 3 mile stretch that last almost 5 years, they shave the hill by German hill and the mill bridge twice and broke the concrete highway up twice to do one job.

This is also relevant for the half percent GET tax increase that the county will find ways to spend money on other things and hire more unqualified family and friends.

The county of Kauai during Mayor Carvalho's reign has accomplished nearly nothing. Look at the list that he proposed and see how many real projects were accomplished. You will see more pork luxury projects and consultant fees being spent and also asking money for a executive position and then cutting it into 2-3 lower level positions to fund the county welfare family and friends project. This family and friends project has been eating the county of Kauai's budget ever since the Mayor has taken office and that's why nothing has been done. How many bus stops are there? And how many shelters were built? Where's the drug facility? Where's the new landfill? Where's the new gym's roof? Where did all the county money go each and every year? Almost $200 million each and every year wasted on nothing but payoffs. Taxes go up and county benefits and raises go up while the rest have to suffer and get nothing in return.

Did any of you see the proposals for the salary increases for the county employees that are entry level positions? The county of Kauai is going to push hard for the GET increase and the people of Kauai better fight back because little Lani that has no degree and only a high school diploma is getting a raise from 35K to 70K by the county. That by definition is FRAUD.

Anonymous said...

9:02. the answer is zero people who live and work around lihue will park their cars and walk or bike to work or or walk or bike to go shopping or to the movies.. . I can't imagine my japanese, chinese, filipino, hawaiian, portuguese neighbors suddenly riding bikes. or walking up and down Rice street. ain't gonna happen. Lihue is not Boulder, or some college town. Its kauai. dummy. another multi million dollar boondoggle on the back of taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

You think $13 mil for Rice street is bad. Thass peanuts. Wait til you see the tab for the Holo Holo byway; a BIG bucks tax payer funded ripoff to make the south shore the Waikiki of Kauai. Good deal for locals? Not even.

Anonymous said...


Define revitalization. Shrinking Rice street to 2 lanes is revitalization ?