Smoke — hyperbole, reality and politics

Contrary to what recent letters to The Garden Island have stated, Bill #2573 does not and will not ban life as we know it on Kauai. Bill #2573 does not ban backyard barbecue’s, smoke meat, cooking in imu, or the roasting of marshmallows on an open fire. Nor does it ban spray painting, torch lighting, weed poisons, smoking of cigarettes, body odor, the wearing of excess perfume, fireplaces or the burning of wood, charcoal or gas.

Neither myself nor any of other member of the Kauai County Council would ever vote to pass such a measure into law. 

Bill #2573 mimics almost entirely an existing Maui ordinance that has been in place since 1949. It is my understanding that barbeques, imu and smoke meat still thrive on the Valley Island and these practices have not been banned, limited or restricted by the existence of this ordinance. 

Unfortunately, there are situations in Kauai neighborhoods where the homes are very close together, certain residents’ burn wood and other items in their fireplaces day after day, even on the warmest days of summer – flooding neighboring homes with smoke on a regular basis to a degree where medical attention is needed.

Myself and other council members have attempted to engage various state and county agencies to help resolve one particularly egregious situation occurring on Kauai’s east side. Even though there is an abundance of evidence pointing to tangible negative health impacts, these impacted residents have been repeatedly told “there is nothing the agency could do.” These families offered to participate in mediation and they even offered to purchase the neighbor a gas fireplace to replace the wood burning one – all to no avail.

For many, many years, these families have been asking the State and County for help in resolving this issue. While acknowledging the complexity, I promised to do my best to help and to investigate and explore different ways that this might be addressed. In my research I discovered that many communities have laws dealing with this type of situation including Maui County here in Hawaii.

Bill #2573, which is modeled almost identically after that existing Maui ordinance was my attempt to fulfill my promise to these families that I would try to help. 

In short, Bill #2573 is intended to narrowly address situations in our community where individuals intentionally or recklessly bring harm to someone else’s health.

The normal practice involved in passing a county ordinance is that there is a “First Reading” and then a public hearing is scheduled (Feb. 11). After the public hearing is held, the bill is then further discussed and reviewed in subsequent committee meetings where the measure is amended, passed into law, deferred for further review or killed. 

Passing a Bill on “First Reading” merely authorizes the conversation to occur. Unless the bill is passed on First Reading, there can be no public hearing and no discussion of the issue among council members.

It is against the Sunshine Law for more than two council members to meet privately to have this type of conversation. The only way to engage a full, robust and legal discussion seeking solutions to various challenges within our community is to place the item on the table, which was done in this case via the introduction of Bill #2573.

The act of putting a bill like this on the table for public consideration and debate by its nature causes the council and to some extent the public to think through the various options and implications, and to seek alternative solutions.

Many in our community have raised excellent points as to how this measure might be improved. As the process moves forward many of these suggestions will likely be dealt with via the amendment process as determined by the Council Committee and then the entire council. 

It is my intention to work with my colleagues on the council and amend the measure so that there is absolutely no ambiguity and that all traditional, customary and everyday cooking practices are clearly exempted. Further language changes will also be proposed to ensure that the measure only applies to dense residential neighborhoods and ultimately only impacts those very egregious incidents where people actually have to seek medical help because of the constant, intentional or reckless burning of a thoughtless neighbor.

Of course my preference is that we pass no law at all, that mutual respect and consideration be the norm among neighbors, and that the golden rule prevails without the need for bills, public hearings or other such nonsense.

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Gary Hooser is a member of the Kauai County Council.

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