Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Thursday that his administration has launched multiple investigations into people who allegedly made unsolicited bids for property in the fire-ravaged Maui town of Lahaina in violation of new emergency orders.
Green signed an emergency proclamation Aug. 19 banning such proposals, aimed at preventing land encroachment in historic coastal communities. into the hands of external buyers. In an interview with The Associated Press, Green said the order was meant to give residents some “breathing room” as they decide what to do next.
even before Fire on August 8In Lahaina, a rapidly gentrifying town, there is widespread concern that Native Hawaiian and locally-born residents, whose families have owned properties for generations, may feel pressure to sell.
There is a fear that they will leave Lahaina or Maui or this state and take their culture and traditions with them and contribute to the world. continuous outflow of Hawaiians move to cheaper places to live.
“We’ve seen this in many different parts of our country and the world where people lose everything but their land and people take the opportunity to buy real estate for cheap,” Green said. “We want to keep this land in the Local people, we want to at least give them a chance to decide if they want to rebuild.”
Authorities said the fire swept through Lahaina within hours, killing 115 people. Some 1,800 to 1,900 houses were destroyed. This town of 12,000 is home to many who work in hotels and restaurants around Kaanapali and Lahaina.
Some 6,000 people are living in hotels and vacation homes, waiting for the toxic waste left by the fire to be cleaned up and rebuilding to begin.
Earlier this month, Democrat Green said he hoped pause Land sale in Lahaina to prevent displacement. But the governor said a blanket ban “may not work” and he didn’t want to prevent those who were considering selling their properties from initiating those conversations.
He said the ban on unsolicited property offerings was a “de facto” moratorium.
Green said people had reported the unpopular offer to his attorney general, but he did not say how many investigations had been opened. Those found guilty of violating the law could be sentenced to up to a year in prison and fined up to $5,000.
Lahaina resident Melody Lukela-Singh said she was disappointed the governor didn’t implement an outright ban, as he initially said.
“Outsiders should not have the opportunity to seize land or property. Everyone is vulnerable because emotions run high,” Lukla-Singh said.
She spoke near her temporary residence a few miles from her Front Street home, which was destroyed in the fire. Lukla-Singh said she would not sell her land if any offers were made.
“You know, it’s the only thing we have left,” said Native Hawaiian Lukla Singer. She knew three families, all Filipino, who were selling their homes and wanted to move out because they couldn’t bear the stress of seeing Lahaina burn down.
Rep. Troy Hashimoto, D-Calif., who chairs the House Housing Committee and represents the Wailuku community in central Maui, said the ban on unsolicited homes is a “nuanced” approach.
“You really don’t want to bother a lot of landowners, especially when they don’t have the mindset or the readiness to discuss it,” Hashimoto said. “But if the landowners want to take action, I don’t want to stop them, do I?”
There are two competing interests in the situation, said Robert Thomas, director of property litigation at the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation. One is that the U.S. Supreme Court found that people have the right to decide what to do with their property. The other is that it is in the government’s interest to ensure that people are not robbed.
“In my opinion, it’s just my observation that someone took a deep breath and said, ‘We can achieve our goal of protecting property owners here from predatory behavior without having to do it in drastic, potentially unconstitutional ways, just Throw that blanket away, says Thomas, who has practiced property and land law in Hawaii for 35 years.
Green came up with the idea earlier state expropriation of land A department in Lahaina to ensure locals are not excluded from rebuilding communities because of exorbitant prices, said Thursday that the state will not do so unless communities ask for it.
One possibility is for the government to set up a land trust that buys properties from families who can buy them back later.
“We are open to any option to block sales to those who suddenly take advantage of our employees,” Green said.
He’s also open to hearing from Lahaina residents about what they want the state to do with the town’s existing state land.
“The state government is not going to do anything or take any initiative to build anything unless the community asks for it,” Green said.
Green said he was considering creating a “victim assistance fund” similar to the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which would pay compensation to those who suffered losses. The goal, he said, is to compensate people without paying large fees to “middlemen” such as lawyers, who typically take 30% to 40% of the cost of legal settlements.
Green said it was too early to say who would put money into the project, but such funds typically take money from private, philanthropic and government sources. Green plans to announce the details in a speech scheduled for Sept. 8.
Kelleher reported from Lahaina, Hawaii.