Governor’s revised housing proclamation caves to NIMBYs
by Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, September 22, 2023
State and county leaders need to take “bold action” to fix Hawaii’s housing crisis in response to Gov. Josh Green modifying his emergency proclamation on housing, said Ted Kefalas, speaking on Sunday with H. Hawaii Media radio host Johnny Miro.
“It is a shame to see the governor and his administration kind of backtracking on their original commitment to solving the housing crisis,” Kefalas said. “We can’t have half-hearted solutions, because then you’re only going to have half-hearted results.”
The proclamation, first issued in July, aimed to cut through the red tape that hinders homebuilding across the state. But Kefalas said the revised version restores “some of these things [that] are exactly what have kind of gummed up the development process in the past” — such as environmental impact statements, historical resource conservation and the authority of the state Land Use Commission.
Kefalas credited the “not in my backyard” crowd with influencing the governor.
“While I share a lot of the concern that the governor has resorted to issuing an emergency order, I also have concern that some of the same bureaucracy and NIMBY-ism is happening with that emergency proclamation,” he said. “They’ve really taken over, and they’ve become almost way too involved to the point where the governor obviously felt the need to make these changes in his emergency proclamation.”
Kefalas also said that “unfortunately, it looks like the updated proclamation specifically is not going to cover development in Lahaina” anymore.
“If we don’t take bold action, we’re going to lose our friends, we’re going to lose our family to the mainland,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that the Legislature and/or the county councils are going to consider the governor’s proclamation as a catalyst to change some of these housing laws and reduce the red tape.
“So, let’s not only rebuild Lahaina, but let’s permanently solve this housing crisis and be a guiding light for the rest of the country.”
9-17-23 Ted Kefalas with host Johnny Miro on the H. Hawaii Media radio network
Johnny Miro: Happy Sunday morning to you, I’m Johnny Miro. It’s once again time for our public access programming on our five Oahu radio stations: 101.1 FM, 101.5 FM, 97.1 FM, 107.5 FM and 96.7 FM.
I am glad to be joined once again by the director of strategic campaigns from Grassroot Institute, Ted Kefalas. Good Sunday morning to you, Ted.
Ted Kefalas: Hey, good morning, Johnny. Thanks for having me again.
Miro: Yeah, I want to get an update on what’s taking place on Maui. Some new developments: the governor [Josh Green] just made an announcement and also, of course, the resignation of, I believe, the housing director, Nani Medeiros, and anything else that you can add.
So I guess it’s been about a little over a month since the devastating fires, and what it did to Lahaina and Kula and other areas of Maui — especially those two areas. Where do things stand currently, and what has, in your opinion, been the federal, state and local government response?
Kefalas: Well, unfortunately, it seems like the dust is still kind of settling while cleanup efforts are still underway, especially in Lahaina. I know a lot of people in the community are very clearly angry, and they have every right to be.
You know, I’m sure you saw, Johnny, but the president — President [Joe] Biden — pledged an immediate $700 to Lahaina residents affected by the fires. But, you know, I also want to highlight some of the work of some private organizations that have been doing great things.
Groups like Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund. They’ve raised over a hundred million dollars for victims of the fire. You know, the Maui United Way has raised over $10 million. And about half of that has already gone to about 5,000 victims, I believe, through a one-time $1,000 payment.
You know, in addition, Gov. Green recently floated the idea of what he’s calling the Lahaina Fund, and that would contain potentially billions, contributed by groups that might have some sort of liability in this. That includes groups like Hawaiian Electric, Maui County and even the state. Nothing’s been formalized on that end, and it’s important to note the victims would have to agree not to sue. So it’s kind of like a settlement agreement.
But as I mentioned, you know, the cleanup efforts are still ongoing. The disaster area is filled with crews dressed head-to-toe in hazmat suits, and they’re sifting through the rubble right now.
Originally, officials had warned that people weren’t going to be able to return to their land for quite a while as crews searched for hazardous materials like propane tanks, batteries, fertilizers. But recently, Maui County officials announced that they’re preparing to allow property owners and tenants who lost homes to re-enter that burn zone later this month.
So, residents should be able to apply, I believe, for passes starting on September 22nd. These passes are going to grant them access to the disaster area, and they’ll be able to actually go there starting September 25th.
Now, I think it’s important to let people grieve and seek closure. I can only imagine how I would feel if that was my house and the government was telling me I couldn’t access it for well over a month after this devastation.
You know, Johnny, I do want to mention, too, that FEMA reports almost 6,000 people are currently staying in hotels and motels. And they’re working with partners like the American Red Cross and companies like Airbnb to try to house victims.
So, you know, it’ll be really interesting to see how these organizations and groups work together to move some of these victims from temporary solutions into more long-term housing solutions.
You know, there’s also been talk at the state level of a potential special session. We haven’t really seen a ton of movement there, but [House] Speaker Scott Saiki and [the] state House recently announced several working groups that are going to be tasked with gathering more information on the disaster response and trying to see what we can do in the future to make sure that something like this doesn’t ever happen again.
Miro: Yeah. Director of strategic campaigns from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, and they can be found at grassrootinstitute.org. It’s Ted Kefalas joining us this morning.
The committee to study disaster spending to fraud and inefficiencies,Ted, do we know the financial impact of the fire on local and state revenues yet?
Kefalas: No. You know, we don’t, unfortunately. I mean, as everybody’s seen, the fires caused billions of dollars of destruction in Lahaina, and I think they’re really trying to still figure out that amount of destruction. But it does look as though Maui County stands to lose between $40 [million] to $50 million just in property taxes.
In addition, the property destruction has been obviously well-documented, but Maui is also dealing with a loss of visitors. You know, compared to the days before the fire, Maui is seeing about 5,000 fewer arrivals per day. And why that’s important: So, on average, each arrival contributes about $20 in taxes. And so that means that the county is losing about $100,000 in tax revenue per day.
The Council on Revenues met last week, and for those that don’t know, the Council prepares revenue estimates of the state government for each fiscal year, and they meet four times a year. Legislators use these projections from the Council to determine future budgets.
At that meeting, though, they announced overall tax revenues were actually down 1.4% for the state. And, you know, that’s crucial because those figures are from before the fire. These are taxes that were collected from businesses in July. We really won’t know exactly how much the state lost from fire-related tourism for a while.
And so, you know, it’ll be interesting to see and keep up with this to see how much this fire has impacted, not only just Maui County, but the state as a whole.
Miro: So they haven’t been able to calculate — HTA [Hawaii Tourism Authority] or whomever involved in this — with any new bookings compared to the cancellations once the — some statements were made to stay away from Maui.
As of now, they haven’t been able to calculate if the news has gotten out to come to Maui, and then they’ve seen bookings to Kahului Airport at this time?
Kefalas: Yeah, you know, Johnny, the numbers are still down. And I know Gov. Green has expressed his desire to reopen West Maui, but I think that there are still, there’s divisiveness in the community, quite honestly, amongst people that are worried that it may be too soon.
And I understand it’s a tough balancing act because, you know, no one wants to make this crisis worse than it is. But it is really important that some of these hotels reopen. You know, there’s nearly 3,000 hospitality workers in West Maui, and without tourism, a lot of those hotels are going to be forced to lay people off.
If you remember, there’s about 7,000 new unemployment claims from Lahaina residents that lost their jobs in the devastation. So we need to try to keep as many people working as possible. And like I said, I understand that that’s a difficult balance, but we can’t necessarily shut down the state for tourism for the foreseeable future.
Miro: I mean, I wonder about the apprehension still from people, say, on the mainland. I wonder if they’re still apprehensive about traveling to Maui, but yet they’ll come to Oahu or the Garden Isle or Hawaii Island. That’s, that’d be interesting to find out.
But any details on the reopening of West Maui? He’s gonna stick with that October 8th, you think?
Kefalas: That’s what we’ve seen. I mean, as I previously mentioned, you know, residents are actually going to be allowed back starting at the end of the month through a pass system. But for the rest of us, it looks like it’s going to be October 8th. I believe the governor mentioned it at the Council on Revenues meeting recently, where he would like to reopen West Maui on October the 8th.
And you know, I think, as I mentioned, right now, a lot of the West Maui hotels are full of a lot of the displaced residents. So it will be interesting to see what types of longer-term housing solutions will be available by then, and kind of how the community is able to balance both this recovery as well as the tourism aspect.
Miro: All right, Ted. It was a few months ago the governor, Gov. Green, announced an emergency proclamation to cut through some of the red tape. There was some new news on that today, and this was to promote more homebuilding. Can this emergency proclamation be used to help rebuild Lahaina, you think?
Kefalas: Yeah. You just mentioned it, Johnny, but the governor actually recently just changed his emergency proclamation. And so previously, yes, the proclamation could have been used as a tool to rebuild Lahaina much quicker. Unfortunately, it looks like the updated proclamation specifically is not going to cover development in Lahaina.
There’s a few other new aspects to this revised proclamation too, like, you know, it’s going to restore Hawaii’s environmental review statute, which requires environmental impact statements for certain developments. It’s also going to bring back a statute related to conserving historical resources, including Native Hawaiian burial grounds.
And then there’s also — it removes a provision that alters the authority of the Land Use Commission, which is a state-level zoning authority. You know, unfortunately, some of these things are exactly what have kind of gummed up the development process in the past. So only time will tell how effective this new proclamation will be.
One good aspect, though, about the updated proclamation is it looks like the governor is going to add back the sunshine law. So that means the public will have the opportunity to testify at working group meetings, which will be held virtually. And so it just gives the community an opportunity to be heard in that situation.
And, you know, we are hoping that, despite some of the changes to the emergency proclamation, that we will still be able to push through and see some housing being built and really trying to address this housing shortage that we’re dealing with.
Miro: With Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, it’s Ted Kefalas joining us here. I’m Johnny.
And part of this was the resignation recently of Hawaii’s chief housing officer, Nani Medeiros — an ugly situation. And how will that impact the governor’s emergency proclamation on housing, moving forward?
Kefalas: Yeah. Nani’s resignation, I mean, let me just start by saying it was very unfortunate, and it’s really sad to see somebody, you know, that I know is very committed to addressing the housing crisis — it’s really sad that she’s not necessarily going to be leading the charge anymore.
But that being said, I think Nani made some really great strides, and it’s now up to us to carry that torch. When I watched the most recent Build Beyond Barriers Working Group a few weeks ago, it was very evident that there’s still a lot of anger in the community.
And I do think that there’s justifiable concern about executive action at the state and county level. We should always seek transparency from our elected officials. But this emergency proclamation and the working group were created after years of inaction from our legislators, both at the state and county level.
So we are really encouraged by the administration’s effort to try to cut through some of this red tape. We cannot continue to do nothing and expect the problem to just go away. I think everybody in Hawaii knows somebody that’s moved to the mainland. And why is that? Well, because housing is so expensive.
A lot of it has to do with these exclusionary zoning laws that, quite frankly, are racist in their origin. They’re explicitly designed to make housing unaffordable for the working class. These are things like single-family zoning, minimum lot sizing and minimum parking requirement[s].
You know, I understand that everybody wants to have a big green yard and a white picket fence, but that isn’t the reality for so many people that are scraping by just to make it in Hawaii. So that’s why we need to get rid of some of these restrictions.
You know, the problem is only going to get worse in the wake of the Lahaina fires, where thousands of people are left without their homes and jobs, so it’s critical that we take action today.
Miro: There’s been a lot of concerns, Ted, about this emergency proclamation we’ve been discussing, and there’s been a few lawsuits already been filed about this. So what’s going on here?
Kefalas: Yeah. So as you mentioned, the ACLU of Hawaii, the Sierra Club and a few other groups, I believe, a member of the Hawaii Land Use Commission, they recently filed a lawsuit against Gov. Green’s emergency housing proclamation.
And the lawsuit essentially alleges that Hawaii’s housing shortage does not constitute an emergency, and it actually goes as far as challenging the authority of the working group. There’s been similar, a similar lawsuit filed by a group of Hawaii residents as well.
But as I mentioned earlier, it seems like the governor has kind of changed his emergency proclamation to specifically appease these groups and avoid any sort of lawsuit.
I don’t want the emergency proclamation to have to exist. I actually think that the counties need to take the lead and change the laws so we can build affordable housing now. But that being said, it is a shame to see the governor and his administration kind of backtracking on their original commitment to solving the housing crisis.
You know, we can’t have half-hearted solutions because then you’re only going to have half-hearted results.
The problem, for the most part, has been inaction by the state Legislature and the county councils. And any kind of reform proposals end up typically drowning in debate or getting lost in committee hearings.
So, you know, while I share a lot of the concern that the governor has resorted to issuing an emergency order, I also have concern that some of the same bureaucracy and NIMBY-ism is happening with that emergency proclamation.
And for those that don’t know, NIMBY-ism, or “not in my backyard” folks, you know, they’ve really taken over, and they’ve become almost way too involved to the point where the governor obviously felt the need to make these changes in his emergency proclamation.
But, you know, Johnny, if we don’t take bold action, we’re going to lose our friends, we’re going to lose our family to the mainland, and we don’t have to. I’m really hopeful that the Legislature and/or the county councils are going to consider the governor’s proclamation as a catalyst to change some of these housing laws and reduce the red tape.
So, let’s not only rebuild Lahaina, but let’s permanently solve this housing crisis and be a guiding light for the rest of the country.
Miro: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s Ted Kefalas, director of strategic campaigns. Not only in Lahaina town, but that harbor around it — there’s talk now of a lot of subsistence living was utilized in that harbor.
The fishing, and then just the livelihoods that what-have-you — so that definitely was part of Lahaina town. So what else can be done to help the residents of Lahaina get through this?
Kefalas: Well, I think the Legislature — one of the things that they should look to do is pass a Uniform Emergency Volunteer [Health] Practitioner Act. And essentially, what this does is it suspends licensing requirements during emergencies. It allows health professionals to practice without having to go through the month-long process — months long, excuse me — to obtain a new license from the state.
There’s 19 other states in the country that do this, and in fact, Gov. Green’s emergency orders in dealing with the Lahaina fires actually contain a similar suspension. But, you know, in a state like Hawaii, where we constantly see emergencies related to these natural disasters, I think this is a pretty straightforward reform.
Another that I’d like to see would be to increase the apprentice/journeyman ratio. So, for those that don’t know, an apprentice is kind of like an entry-level position. In Hawaii, there’s over a hundred registered apprenticeship programs that are, that represent a wide variety of occupations. And after completing the training, an apprentice becomes a journeyman.
Well, right now, some of those professions require a certain ratio of apprenticeships to journeymen, which makes it really difficult to hire new apprentices that want to get into the industry. So, this is something that could really help in rebuilding Lahaina after the fires because you’re allowing more apprentices the opportunity to work, whether it’s contractors, plumbers, roofers, etc.
Miro: It seems that there’s going to be a need for a lot of people to help, and in your opinion, what you’ve been hearing, is that going to be local labor workforce for the most part to help out with this?
I know it’s still in the early stages of that, but what have you been hearing?
Kefalas: That’s what we’ve heard — we’ve heard it is going to be a lot of local labor. But, you know, we can’t do it all by ourselves, and there are a lot of folks coming from the mainland that are willing and able to help.
And so, you know, I think being able to utilize those folks and work hand-in-hand with local residents is going to be crucial to being able to get Lahaina back, rebuilt and running better than ever.
Miro: Let’s wrap it up today. Anything else you’d like to add, Ted?
Kefalas: Well, if you didn’t listen to anything else I said today, I do hope you listen to this: I hope you get involved. It is crucial for people to understand what is happening in all levels of government in order to hold our elected officials accountable.
You know, while the federal government gets all the media attention, it’s actually the local and the state government that’s going to have the most impact on your day-to-day life.
So I would encourage your listeners to sign up for our newsletter on our website, it’s grassrootinstitute.org. That’s .org. We send out a weekly report every Friday and our president, Keli’i Akina, sends out a column on the weekend to make sure you stay up-to-date on everything.
And you can also follow us on Instagram and YouTube at @GrassrootInstitute, where we try to make policy a little bit more fun with different memes and videos.
So, I hope that we can share some of our insights with you and just continue to educate local residents on everything that’s happening in their government.
Miro: Ted Kefalas, director of strategic campaigns at Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. Appreciate you spending the time with us updating us on Maui. Have yourself a fantastic rest of your Sunday, and we’ll talk to you soon.
Kefalas: Thanks, Johnny. Take care.