Lee Cataluna: Honolulu can’t lose chance to control tourism after all

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October 3, 2021

The tourism industry is asking Governor David Ige to withdraw his request for travelers to stay away from the islands.

Vacation rental owners in Oahu’s residential neighborhoods complain about attempts to fill in the gaps that have allowed them to make money while seriously inconveniencing neighbors.

After a brief period of serious public discussion about taming the spiraling numbers of visitor arrivals to Hawaii, the voracious reliance on tourism money has once again set in.

The pandemic must be over if we go back to arguing about attracting more and more tourists to the islands, right?

The daily number of Covid-19 cases is ONLY in the 300s now. ONLY 193 Hawaiians died last month from Covid.

Yeah. We are approaching Pau.

Ouch.

So far during the pandemic, Hawaii has seen the tourism industry crumble to next to nothing, then walk away with the madness of inbound visitors vowing to quarantine themselves in their hotel rooms – a promise easily made, easily made. broken and almost impossible to enforce.

This summer it was as if the floodgates were opening and Hawaii had more tourists on every island than ever before. Tourists from Oahu were driving Kalanianaole down to Hanauma Bay because there were not enough rental cars.

It was madness. For some who earn their money from tourists, it was better than their wildest dreams.

Thank goodness the Honolulu Planning Commission serves as the voice of reason amid the clamor for tourism. The pandemic has provided a great opportunity to reclaim the parts of Hawaii that have been sold to the almighty visitor industry and restore a healthier, more orderly way of life for those of us who live here. Despite discussions about the impact of size tourism earlier this summer, this opportunity seemed to be wasted as visitor numbers plummeted in the fall.

The first step in mitigating the negative impact of tourism on Hawaii is to move tourism out of neighborhoods.

The Honolulu Planning Commission is proposing a new set of restrictions to limit vacationing to residential areas.

The bill begins with this paragraph which describes the situation well:

“Short-term rentals disrupt the character and fabric of our residential neighborhoods; they are incompatible with the land uses that are intended for our residential areas and increase the price of housing for the resident population of Oahu by removing the housing stock from the forest sale and long-term rental markets. The City Council notes that the economic benefits of opening up our residential areas to tourism are largely outweighed by the negative impacts on our neighborhoods and local residents.

Beachgoers are soaking up the sun on Waikiki Beach during the Covid-19 pandemic. Honolulu officials want to restrict vacation rentals in Waikiki and other resort areas to control tourism. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

The vacation rental industry has taken over islands in the same way mold can invade a building with poor ventilation and lax maintenance. State and local governments did not pay attention to it for a long time, and when residents started making noise that the problem was becoming untenable, too much time was wasted wringing their hands and studying.

Meanwhile, every measure discussed or adopted seemed to have big loopholes that have allowed vacation rentals in residential areas to continue to hold up. (Merriam-Webster defines a “loophole” as “an ambiguity or omission in the text by which the intention of a law, contract or obligation can be evaded”. Seems appropriate.)

The law project would require reservations of vacation rental units of at least 180 days. Exceptions would allow shorter stays in cases, for example, military personnel, medical personnel working temporarily in Hawaii, and full-time students. No new short-term rentals would be allowed in residential areas, including businesses located where the owner lives on the property and rents out part of their home. Vacation rentals would only be permitted in resort areas like Waikiki, Ko Olina, Makaha and on the north coast near Turtle Bay.

These rules would go a long way to ending the tourism problem that is seeping into all parts of the island. But it’s the money part that makes the proposition serious.

Fines for violating the new rules would drop from $ 10,000 per day to $ 25,000 per day. Additionally, and even more impactful, vacation rentals would be taxed at a higher rate for hotels and resorts, would be required to pay general excise taxes and transitional accommodation taxes, and maintain insurance. commercial liability of at least $ 1 million.

If members of the Honolulu Planning Commission and Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration can firmly maintain this position and reclaim Oahu neighborhoods for local residents, they will achieve something that the administrations of Kirk Caldwell, Peter Carlisle, Mufi Hannemann and Jeremy Harris might or might not. .

It would be an important moment, a return to prioritizing the housing needs of residents; and not just housing for rent to locals, but the need for people to have peace and quiet, security and stability in what they call home.


Honolulu Civil Beat is dedicated to being a group of informed citizens, all striving to make Hawaii a better place to live. We achieve this through investigative and surveillance journalism, in-depth corporate reporting, analysis and commentary that gives readers a big picture of issues important to our community.


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