During the past two months we could read reports and even editorials about the high revenues resulting from the increased visitor counts on our island. The predictions call even for more visitors this year and the next. While the visitors spend their money for the benefit of our island we will have some consequences too. New developments, more traffic, more new settlers, and a more urbanized lifestyle. These are the consequences that most of our island residents don’t want.
Apart from the job opportunities the problem is that only a small circle of residents or investors will enjoy the tourism-generated benefits and a large number of residents will pay for it by losing the once-preferred laid-back island lifestyle. Back-to-back traffic and serious congestion on the roads, which is now almost everywhere, not just in the Kapaa corridor.
It is best not even to talk about the condition of most of the roads that are being constantly patched over and over instead of being repaired for good. No parking space at our North Shore beaches. Neglected county parks that are below all standards. Illegal vacation rentals by the hundreds. Due to Kauai’s popularity the real estate prices have escalated so high that young local families can’t even dream about buying a house.
The reasons have been spelled out too many times by the public: very high number of rental cars on the roads, no alternative roads on the island, too many tourists, too many new settlers who want to change the island to what they were escaping from, plus over-development.
The local people see the seriousness of the issue and let their voices heard in The Garden Island and in form of testimonies at public meetings and the weekly sessions of the County Council. The County Council acknowledged the problems. However, their reaction does not prove their intent to remedy the causes with urgency.
Many people recommended to limit the number of rental cars on the island and add a rental surcharge earmarked for road maintenance. The answer was: we don’t have the power to do it. Another recommendation was to open the cane roads for local vehicles with four-wheel-drive and issue special permits for those who wish to travel on them.
No comments from the council. Limiting the number of visitors on the island by limiting the number of lodging places, especially the vacation rental properties. The county said that they don’t have the power.
It was also suggested to make an ordinance to require property owners to live on the island for at least one year before they apply for vacation rental permits and to live here during the permitted time to rent. No response to this proposal from the county either.
An ordinance was suggested by the public to impose high fines on illegal vacation rentals just like in Iceland. The county’s answer was that they don’t have the power to do it plus they don’t have the money for enforcement.
I have to stop here listing the county’s reactions or the lack thereof. Let’s try common sense. If they get a public suggestion and they find it unacceptable, tell the public the reason at least in one sentence, because if they don’t react, the public will think that they don’t give a damn about it.
If they don’t have the money to carry it out, tell that, too. But don’t just dismiss the idea without a statement. If they don’t have the power to implement the suggestion tell us who does and what action we, the residents of Kauai have to take to turn the idea into reality.
And please stop giving us lame answers like we don’t have the money for enforcement. Think out of the box! For example, let’s see this complex issue of reducing the available lodging by limiting the vacation rentals and wiping out the illegals. You introduce an ordinance to impose $10,000 fine for each violation for any illegal, unregistered rental place. I guess that will stop some illegals right there if a few of them are caught and publicized.
You hire two enforcement officers at an annual salary of $50,000 each. Your total costs for the two including their benefits and retirement fund will be $160,000 per year. If they issue fines for 16 violations per year you have already recovered their costs, but since we have hundreds of illegal vacation rentals on Kauai finding two violations per week will be easy. Thus, the fines for the 104 fines will bring in $1,040,000 revenue in one year.
So, your costs are covered, plus you have a high gain. The gain is exponential, because by reducing the number of lodging places you are not turning away visitors. If they plan to come here this year, but no place to stay, their desire to visit Kauai will remain, and they will make their reservation for later when lodging is still available. So, you are spreading out the occupancy and helping the entire island.
The same thing is with opening the cane roads for permitted vehicles. Collect fees for the special permits and for a special, highly visible license plate. Your costs are already covered. Fine the violators, of which there will be some definitely, and you are in the gain. Is it too hard to implement?
As it stands now, the updated General Plan is approved. S so the county has a vision for the next 20 years, and a backlog of projects not carried out during the past 20 years. In the meantime, the traffic is getting worse and the residents are losing their patience.
In summary, if the County Council does not comment or act upon, nor does it recommend a course of action for beneficial suggestions, it is ignorance, or a true sign of political impotence.
And if the County Council is impotent, it is up to the community to take things in their own hands and resort to actions that will remedy the ever-increasing problems within a reasonably short time with ingenious ways to lower the overflow of the visitors and new settlers to our island. Other communities in the world have done it with success. Yes, it can be done here, too, and it can be done with aloha. Watch for signs and watch the results!
János Keoni Samu is a resident of Kalaheo.