The transient vacation rental issue is back before the Kauai County Council tomorrow, with planners presenting an update on (chuckle) enforcement and a public hearing on the proposed homestay B&B law.
The Council will also consider a bill requiring lobbyists to register. It's been introduced, with no hint of irony, by a Councilman who actually engages in unregistered lobbying — Gary Hooser. He contends his bill is driven by a desire for “full disclosure.”
Yet he refuses to reveal who is funding his HAPA group, nor how much it spends on lobbying — like its opening day “food justice” event at the state Legislature — under the guise of education. Hooser also engages in the highly unethical practice of using county letterhead to advocate for positions that support HAPA's agenda.
Hooser tells The Garden Island:
We usually know who the lobbyists are because we’ve been here for a couple of years, but the public doesn’t know who they are. The public is watching John Smith on TV, they don’t know whether he’s a lobbyist or not, and it’s important for them to know also.
You know, like when Hooser goes to the Lege — or crashes the Sygenta shareholder meeting in Switzerland — and makes like he's speaking on behalf of Kauai and/or the Council, when he's really just shilling for the anti-GMO Center for Food Safety, which provides a hefty chunk of HAPA's funding.
Yeah, li' dat.
Which is not to say the county shouldn't have a lobbying disclosure bill. Only that it's amusing to see someone with zero ethics, like Hooser, trying to waddle his way over to the high road.
The Council will also squander more valuable time on the barking dog bill, which has been rendered toothless. But that hasn't stopped Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura from tracking down “new information” to belabor in a presentation to colleagues who have long since tuned her out.
If only she and Gary had spent some time boning up on the real big issue before them tomorrow: the proliferation of visitor accommodations in residential areas, which has had a direct impact on housing prices, real property tax rates, long term rentals and a sense of community.
But then, JoAnn and Gary apparently have no qualms about letting the problem escalate through adoption of the proposed homestay/B&B bill, which they support and want loosened up. This bill would allow the county to permit an unlimited number of overnight accommodations, so long as the owner supposedly lives on site. It also bans these uses on ag land, a restriction that JoAnn and Gary oppose.
But since the county has no real enforcement, the bill basically opens the door for another flood of legalized hoteliers outside of the designated visitor destination areas where all tourist accommodations are supposed to be.
Here are some things the Council needs to consider in deliberating on the B&B/homestay bill:
In the TVR Enforcement Update that Planning Director Mike Dahilig made to the Council on Oct, 15, 2014, one of the main operational challenges cited was “illegal TVR’s now seeking safety in homestay use conversion.” This bill serves to legitimize, rather than curtail, these activities. And until county planners can get a handle on monitoring the permitted TVRs — much less the hundreds of illegal TVRs — it's unwise to add more to their workload.
B&Bs/Homestays have always required a use permit, and as I previously reported, the planning department did issue some in the past. Any existing operations that lack use permits are illegal and should not be “grandfathered,” a term reserved for uses that were previously legal until a new law subsequently outlawed that use. As we saw with the TVR debacle, the illegal guys were made legal, and the guys who had been following the law were forever barred from getting a lucrative TVR permit. That is morally wrong, and it was a mistake that should not be repeated with homestays.
More than 50 percent of Kauai's TVRs are located between Hanalei and Haena, an area that is in the tsunami zone, subject to frequent floods and lacking adequate emergency response capabilities. The TVRs have already irrevocably altered the North Shore. Let's not worsen the problem by adding in homestays/B&Bs.
The county General Plan states: "Alternative Visitor Accommodations permitting processes should consider the cumulative impact that a large concentration of alternative visitor units can have on a residential neighborhood.”
The county has never looked at this cumulative impact. Indeed, 65.2% of the permitted TVRs on the North Shore are within the special management area, which has its own cumulative impact requirement, but not one has an SMA permit. Why is that?
It's extremely poor planning to allow an unlimited number of B&Bs/homestays to seek permits without looking carefully at the impacts. In its reports to planning, the county Housing Department has alluded to the impacts that visitor accommodations are having on long-term rentals. This is a serious problem that is adversely impacting local residents.
The Council should request that Housing conduct a full assessment of the impact of TVRs/homestays on the long-term rental market before allowing any more visitor lodging in residential neighborhoods.
As Caren Diamond of the Protect Our Neighborhood Ohana observed in written testimony submitted to the Council:
This proposed ordinance needs substantial work as it does not take into account the many challenges that have been created due to the passage of the TVR ordinances to Kauai’s residential neighborhoods, infrastructure and safety. Adding to those challenges at this time would be imprudent. Please do not consider permitting more resort units outside of the VDA in these residential areas.