Mayor Charmaine Tavares fulfilled one of her campaign promises last week, making Molokai one of the first places she visited during her inaugural term of office. Topping the list of discussion was the long standing issue illegal vacation rentals which the Mayor has vowed to assess.
The informal meeting was co-hosted by County Councilmember Danny Mateo and held in Kaunakakai School Cafeteria on Tuesday evening, August 28. It marked the first time in Hawaii that a district member and a county member have ever held a joint public meeting together.
“Hearing the same things at the same time will help us work together for you,” said Tavares.
The purpose of the town hall meeting was not to discuss taxes, the budget, or anything else specifically. Rather it was a forum where any member of the community could speak out on any issue of their preference.
“We’re not here to solve the problems tonight,” said Mateo. “We’re here to listen so we know what your concerns are when we go back into session.”
Vacation Rentals and Enforcement
In the first testimony heard, Cheryl Corbiell voiced her concerns over the dissipated tourism industry on Molokai. Corbiell is upset by the recent shutdown of many vacation rentals on the island, saying that the income from tourism is essential to the local economy.
“What is driving this?” asked Corbiell.
“Community complaints,” Mateo said in response. The crowd broke out in applause, and Mayor Tavares addressed the issue further.
“Vacation rentals are also against the law,” said Tavares. “If its time to change the law, we will but right now, it is what it is. Three planning commissions decided that vacation rentals are only allowed in specifically zoned areas.”
Those who operate vacation rentals illegally often go un-prosecuted due to lack of enforcement by Maui County officers. The county does currently only employs three officers for the entire county, which is not enough to properly impose zoning and building laws.
Real estate agent Diane Swenson stated that if the county was going to begin enforcing laws regarding vacation rental properties, to be fair, it should also start cracking down on residents who are illegally operating businesses out of their homes.
In addition to the vacation rental concerns, there was also concern amidst east end residents over illegal building on wetland properties on the east end.
Mahea Davis said that she obtained council to take legal action against people illegally building homes on wetlands in the east end. Construction on wetland properties is not permitted due to potential harm to the environment.
“The east end complaints are legitimate, especially with building on wetlands – which is unacceptable,” said Tavares. “We need to stiffen the fines so it hurts, and hopefully that will discourage people from building illegally.”
But builders cannot be fined if the laws are not enforced, which is why Davis also requested more enforcement on Molokai.
“The whole county has huge enforcement challenges,” said Tavares.
However, changes are being made. The Maui County budget for the 2008 fiscal year approved spending for the hiring of three new enforcement officers, doubling the force. Although none of the enforcers will be on island full time, the increase will allow for more regular visits to Molokai.
Many of concerns voiced were about Molokai’s keiki and their future.
One major concern was drug activity on the island. Wayde Lee, the director of Alu Like, Molokai, helps families and children with addiction issues and has seen how destructive drugs are first hand
“We fight so hard for the things we don’t agree on (La`au or the Plan) but we don’t fight so hard for the things we agree on, like drugs. We need more fighting against drugs so our families can be pono again,” said Lee.
Puolani Akaka is a 6th grade teacher on Molokai. She thanked the county for the support systems available for addicts and their families, but said that it was not enough. Akaka is concerned that there is not a youth therapeutic center on the island. Children suffering from ramifications of a family member’s addiction, such as reactive attachment disorder, they have no place to go for help.
Mahea Davis was also an advocate for the island’s children. She believes the county needs to provide more parks and playgrounds so that the keiki have a safe place to play. She also stated that a bikeway was needed in between urban areas and school, especially Ranch Camp and Kaunakakai School, in order to keep keiki from riding their bikes on dangerous roadways.
Davis brought up the need for on island vocational training for the community’s young men. She believes that this is greatly needed for the young fathers here who are trying to provide for their families.
The Aina, Ag & Animals
The land was also a key component of many of the issues brought up at the meeting.
Steve Morgan, Eddie Medeiros and Joe Pentak are all residents of the west end who asked the county to build a fire station in their area. It has been reported that the county was given two lots (five acres) by Molokai Ranch to build a station near the Moana Makani subdivision. The lots sit at the top of the hill at the corner of Hwy 460 and the road to Kaluakoi Resort. This same area burned in a brushfire earlier this summer.
East end residents voiced concern over the recreational use of Jet Ski’s and the effect it may be having on the fish.
Lori Buchanan said she would like for Molokai to have its own offices for the Dept. of Lands and the Dept. of Agriculture (DOA). As the local director of the Molokai/Maui Invasive Species Committee, Buchanan frequently receives calls to attend to matters that should be handled by the DOA.
“On an island that promotes agriculture, there is no Ag office, no Ag department, no Ag nothing for the past 10 years,” said Buchanan.
Monsanto’s genetically modified corn farm on Molokai is also an issue of concern that was voiced on several occasions last Tuesday night. Though it was recognized that the company employs many islanders, residents still have health and environmental fears of the genetically engineered plants.
“We are afraid of what is happening and we have no guarantee from the State or the feds that it is safe, there is no proof,” said Walter Ritte.
Animal control and support for the humane society on Molokai was also mentioned. Moke Kim said that he’s had 30 puppies at his house in the past six months. Molokai pet owners must take their animals off island to be spayed and neutered, which is expensive. Mateo said that there is money in the 2008 budget to establish a spay and neuter program on island.