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Mayor vetoes hotel moratorium bill

Measure to halt building permits garnered strong testimony over weeks of debate

Eugene Ramanov, a mason for Hilltop Contractors, fits a piece of coral stone onto a wall at the AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea in February. Mayor Michael Victorino vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would place a moratorium on visitor accommodations development in West and South Maui. The Maui County Council, which passed the bill on July 2, must now decide whether it plans to override the veto. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Saying the measure won’t pass legal muster and lacks efficacy, Mayor Michael Victorino on Tuesday afternoon vetoed a highly debated bill to address overtourism concerns by pausing visitor accommodation development in West and South Maui.

The Maui County Council voted 6-2 on July 2 to approve Bill 60, which would place a moratorium on building permits for hotels and other visitor accommodations in South and West Maui until community plans in each area are updated or two years have passed, whichever is sooner.

The pause would allow the county to find solutions for the visitor industry’s negative impacts and then implement those plans, Council Member Kelly King, who introduced the bill, has said.

Victorino, though, said that the bill won’t relieve crowds at Kahului Airport, reduce traffic on roads and solve illegal transient vacation rental woes.

“While the mayor appreciates the council’s intent and sentiment behind Bill 60, he believes it is more important for legislation to be effective and legal than for it to be fast,” county Managing Director Sandy Baz said during Tuesday afternoon’s news conference when the veto was announced.

King said after the announcement that she was “surprised” and “disappointed” in the mayor’s decision.

Community testifiers amid weeks of debate came out in strong support for the measure to mitigate overtourism and the only opponents were industry and union representatives, she said.

“Emergency situations call for quick action,” she told The Maui News. “It’s really disappointing that the mayor has called for a pause in tourism. . . . He wants less tourists to come here, but he wants more places for them to stay.”

As Maui County experiences some of the highest influxes of visitors in the state, Victorino last month asked that airlines voluntarily reduce air seats to the county. Airlines did not reduce seats, and visitors legally cannot be prevented from coming to Maui.

Victorino said in the announcement Tuesday that the bill will have unintended consequences, such as feeding illegal transient vacation rental operations and opening legal loopholes for litigation.

He contended Bill 60 did not go through “proper reviews” required by the Maui County Charter, adding that the county’s Corporation Counsel did not sign the bill.

“So its legal deficiencies pose a significant risk, and it will languish in litigation if Bill 60 is allowed to become law,” Baz said during the news conference.

King said the bill is legally strong and was modeled after moratorium legislation from other municipalities that has withstood legal challenges.

“So we’re very confident that this bill was bulletproof,” she said. “Of course anybody can sue for anything. They can try and sue but it will likely fall short.”

She added that the bill only pertains to building permits and not land use approvals or entitlements.

The purpose of Bill 60 is to “temporarily maintain the status quo.” It cites the Maui Island Plan’s policy that calls for a daily visitor population not to exceed one-third of the resident population.

The moratorium would not apply to developments that have received their final approval prior to the bill taking effect, nor would it apply to renovations or repairs at existing visitor accommodations that do not increase capacity.

During the council’s July 2 meeting, Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Council Members King, Mike Molina, Shane Sinenci, Tamara Paltin and Gabe Johnson voted for the measure. Council Chairwoman Alice Lee and Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura were opposed. Council Member Tasha Kama was excused.

When asked whether mayor believes he has the votes for his veto to stand, Baz said that was not part of the mayor’s decision making.

“The mayor looked at the bill itself and looked at the impacts of it and decided it was something that needed to be vetoed,” he said. “Whether or not the council overrides that veto is in the council’s purview and whether or not there is enough votes on it is really up to the members themselves.”

Rod Antone, executive director of Maui Hotel and Lodging Association and an industry lobbyist, said on Tuesday that instead of allowing Bill 60 to pass, he hopes that collaborative solutions can be found on ways to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism.

“The industry, government and the community must work together to come up with legislation that helps us better manage tourism,” he said.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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