Mayor: Time for action on Coco Palms

  • Contributed photo

    Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami

LIHUE — Saying he is “frustrated” by a lack of progress in the reconstruction of the former Coco Palms resort in Wailua, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami said Thursday that “we have to remind the developers that there comes a time when they have to fish or cut bait.”

Expressing little confidence that the hotel project will get to completion, he said the time may have come for the Coco Palms Hui, the developer, “to cut bait and figure out something else to do with that property.”

Kawakami made the remarks in an appearance before the Lihue Business Association, which offers monthly public forums on key county issues at Duke’s Canoe Club.

“I’m just frustrated,” he said of the Coco Palms situation, in which the hulk of the resort has loomed over Kuhio Highway since it was damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. “It has been a continuous eyesore. We’ve had developers come through with big promises, promising our people they would deliver on the project.

“They haven’t. We have done everything as a county to bend over backwards.”

Kawakami’s broadside came in response to a question about the status of Coco Palms. The audience included several dozen community business leaders, as well as most of the new mayor’s cabinet, including the two officials most directly concerned with the Coco Palms situation, Planning Director Ka‘aina Hull and Deputy County Engineer Lyle Tabata.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Kawakami also said the county is deploying new contractor-supplied software to combat illegal vacation rental activity by, in particular, Airbnb.

“One in eight homes on Kauai is a vacation rental,” he said.

While he said many operators of transient vacation rentals operate within the law, many others do not. He singled out Airbnb as representing a large number of “illegal” rentals.

“Millenials love Airbnb, but you’ve got to play by the rules, and what Airbnb does is make it very hard for our enforcement division to get the actual physical address of a property.

“We’re engaging third-party vendors that are deploying technology to help us flush those addresses out. We will tell them the time to cease and desist is now.”

He said the new administration will devote a great deal of attention to cutting down the county’s road-repair backlog, which he agreed is far higher than it should be. He said Kauai residents will soon see the fruits of last year’s half percent increase in the state General Excise Tax, which was enacted to generate $25 million in new annual revenue — 65 percent for roads and 30 percent for public transportation.

“It’s a social-justice issue,” he said. “We need to realize that we need a good, vibrant and robust public-transit system.”

“Anyone telling you we should spend that money on building new roads is either not educated or misleading,” he said, if for no other reason than that the federal and state governments, which pay as much as 80 percent of the cost of road projects, have made repair and maintenance the priority, almost to the exclusion of new construction.

“I cannot be here as your mayor telling you I’m going to build you a new road,” he said. “The majority of the money is going toward repairing potholes.”

On other issues: Kawakami said:

• He will focus new attention on the ways county employee pensions are calculated, in particular in terms of limiting an existing practice that computes pension payments based on the combination of salary and overtime during a worker’s final years on the job. Reform, he said, must include changing the system so the pension benefit is based on base salary only, without overtime.

• The county is beginning a series of department service audits, starting with the performance of the county’s largest department in terms of employees, the Department of Public Works, and its Roads Division in particular.

• His administration will institute new steps to streamline the building permit process. “When we delay a project, we have laborers sitting on the bench. The construction industry is one of the biggest economic sectors on our island.”


Allan Parachini is a journalist, Kilauea resident, furniture-maker and retired public-relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.

  1. kimo March 1, 2019 7:41 am Reply

    Thank you Mr. Mayor, regarding your Coco Palms comments. These lying BS artists have wasted out time and energy for too long. Cancel all permits that have not been started and fully paid for. Begin condemnation process. Fine the owners for weed abatement, attractive nuisance, and everything else the legal department can think of.

  2. Kauaidoug March 1, 2019 7:51 am Reply

    Majority of money going to fix pot holes? We don’t need new roads we need the ones we have now but modified to existing and future needs which are not and have not been meet for years. Fix the road and n front of Coco Palms then it will be a much more attractive property on which to build. Who wants to build there not knowing when the state/county feds get their act together for access to the Coco Palms.

  3. Palani March 1, 2019 8:22 am Reply

    The unfair practice of having a different property tax rate for non-residents as for residents forces the non-residents to seek ways to pay for that property tax by renting out their properties when they’re not occupying them. If Kauai wants to cut down on the number of home vacation rentals, then make the property tax rates affordable for non-residents. Otherwise, people will always find a way to rent out their property to be able to pay the taxes.

  4. Charlie Chimknee March 1, 2019 9:04 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    Good article.

    1.) Coco Palms: have the developers paid the rent ($6,000/Yr on the land) to the state? If the State owns the land don’t the citizens have a Some say as to the future of this unproductive “ghost” hotel and land?

    If the insurance company refused paying damages over $7 million on a contractor bid of $27 million isn’t the insurance company still financially responsible to Coco Palms, the State, or the citizens who ultimately own the land, if not the Hawaiians?

    2.). We’ve heard landlords of vacation rentals say it is better to lose money on rents vía AirBnB since occupancy is spotty and often less rent income than a month of a long term tenant. Because some long term tenants leave Rentals after a few years of damages costing repairs greater than the rent collected.

    People must understand that landlords, especially with 1 or a few rentals is their business and is their sole income just like your wages or your Social security check. To lower that income, and some already do by providing affordable rents (Aloha), and then suffer damages above the value of the Security Deposit makes for loss of income.

    How would you like it if your employer paid you 1/2 your paycheck?

    With AirBnB landlords are insured, get their money on time, County and State 14.75% excise and transient taxes are paid by AirBnB on time every month including County $$$ for our roads, versus only 4% tax on a regular long term rental. And if a tenant is a nightmare it can be a problem for years, but with Vacation rentals it is a only a few days nightmare and they are gone…forever.

    Is there an actual law against vacation rentals or is it an unenforceable ordinance like the Ag Poison issue that ended up unenforceable, and that was cancerous poison going into schools, hospital, and homes. If property rights guarantee the right to a short term rental why is there an issue.

    Like the mayor said at Council one time, we need 3 and 4 story homes…and can we add to that apt buildings, for affordable housing? It’s not like when Adam and Eve were the only inhabitants of earth, or when Kaua’i had only one canoe load of occupants, and it is only gonna get worse from here on out more people more cultural differences more change more traffic more unaffordable housing more crowding more less land more ouwe…!

    3.) Paving the roads entire surface is a luxury, filling the puka is relief. Relief Now…Luxury Later…! The doors are falling off my truck…! My Windshield cracked…! Yes Mayor Derek, fill the puka’s now…!

    4.) Yeah to pension based on base salary. Our social security checks don’t base our pension on overtime…why favoritism for our county workers when their neighbors are not treated equal…hey…it’s unfair discrimination when it’s supposed to be a Democracy…!

    5.) Traffic…100 vehicle “Car Trains” non stop from ABC Store in Kapa’a to Rice St. (Only gonna be 10 cars left when it gets to Rice St.)

    6.) Pesky building PERMITS taking over 1 year for small houses alegged to be affably affordable. One of the primary problems in delay is the Electronic Plan Review software is junk. There are at least 100 Building Permit software programs on the market and this one Kaua’i has is not user friendly unless pinball machines are your thing. Someone knowledgeable needs to investigate and evaluate what software programs are available and choose one suitable for Kaua’i.

    Mayor Caldwell of Honolulu, now has a system in place wherein if you do not have a permit in 2 months and you have an engineer or architect stamp on your plans, that stamp is your permit…you may begin building immediately. After all there are building inspectors for each segment of construction that make sure things get done right. Besides most homes are built by guys who ain’t doing their 1st Rodeo. Anyone heard of a check off list for building requirements, while buildings have an infinity of style and design, Thur all,require the same things. A same check off list for the owner, builder, architect, engineer, and county departments would be a big help. All check offs must be done and OK’d by all sides.

    Also when waiting a year for a permit there is loans, often interest only, meaning that money is lost to the bank by the home owner or the builder, that has to be paid monthly, some times that interest paid can be equal to the cost of the house when it takes a year for a permit and especially when that is a smaller house, and the mayor is right, construction crews are waiting to work while losing wages and eventually having to find another job resulting in lost income over a year, and the county is losing property tax on buildings not built…a veritable shooting oneself in the foot.

    Like Mayor Caldwell did on Oahu, our Mayor Derek should follow that good lead and make the 2 month maximum,waiting period permit a standard.

    Our Planning, Building, and Engineering Departments are over worked and this would be a Pressure Relief Valve and Expediter for construction job security, Contractor survival, less bank interest $$$ paid and more paid into loan principle, increase in county property tax, more affordable homes, more owner occupied housing, more rentals, less homeless, and a more user friendly building permit software could be had. Seems like a no-brainer, we know our Derek Can do this.

    Mahalo Mayor Derek for stepping up and doing a great job already improving things in the County.


  5. Kona March 1, 2019 9:06 am Reply

    I guess I am not educated because our roads plain suck. Fixing potholes does nothing! It is a waste of money! You fix a pothole and that same hole just reappears again about 5 months later. FIX THE ROAD!!! THE ENTIRE ROAD!!!

    1. Charlie Chimknee March 1, 2019 2:48 pm Reply

      Aloha Kona,

      A puka patch on the road lasting 5 months, wonderful, bless those road workers for doing a good


  6. randy kansas March 1, 2019 9:25 am Reply

    good luck trying to out smart Airbnb….2 factor authentication and other advances will make the vendor software out of date, about the same time the county buys it most likely;

    not saying I agree, just pointing this out for the tax payors;

    I actually called the federal environmental agency today and filed a complaint about Coco Palms and the leaching and pollution its causing; the landowner and the county will be hearing from them soon;


  7. ConcernedKauaian March 1, 2019 9:47 am Reply

    Really Mr. Mayor? You raised out GET to repair potholes? What about the traffic? Here we go again.

  8. Mark Gibson March 1, 2019 10:44 am Reply

    Enjoying this site

  9. Rev Dr. Malama March 1, 2019 11:13 am Reply

    As a senior, retired, disabled woman…. technically homeless and living in poverty I send the “Mayor” my thoughts and prayers!!!

    Yes, rapid transit should be expanded and shelters erected immediately so that we who can’t afford to travel to events such as the upcoming Mokihana fundraiser ( as a volunteer) or other free events might be able to go to these locations….

    1. Maya March 3, 2019 6:57 pm Reply

      Any public transportation should be built just like the Disney World monorail system, no other style is acceptable or would work. They can get extensions built in record time! If they place the stops at key locations, they would help the people that need to get around, and hopefully force the tourists to use them, as opposed to cars. I would ride it in a flash, just make sure it goes right down the center of the current road, so you don’t cause issues with having to tear down homes and buildings. This will also keep the system on a strict schedule, building and ridership wise!

      This is a system that can also be put at ground level if need be, but don’t confuse it with light rail that requires above head wires!

      If I recall, the Hilton on the Big Island has something similar at their resort!

      When it comes to vacation rentals, determine if the current districts are sufficient for bringing the tourists money to the island.

      Yes you can tax non resident homeowners more, that is called a non homestead tax where they don’t claim the home as their primary residence, other states have it!
      You can only live legally in one location at a time.

      Start doing some serious fines to light a fire under the CoCo Palms developers ASAP! I can’t imagine anything else for that location, and I’m sure the residents don’t want a subdivision put in, or the place to be torn down to be an empty lot. Also make sure the developers pay for the proper road infrastructure to accommodate the extra traffic or illiminate cars on property and have a bus system to bring people to an offsite car rental place and back to the resort, if the people really want to drive the island. (Supply buses to take people to certain key locations on the island with a flexible schedule, so you don’t have to be committed to one bus.)

      Yes, I say fix the roads and if the island allows for more bypasses to be built, I say do it. There’s plenty of land still available to put in these bypasses without disturbing current homes and businesses! I’ve known the island for several decades and when the sugarcane fields became unused, a lot of land opened up!

      Yes, there does need to be more affordable housing built on the island with a very consistent transportation system that has a schedule that runs like shuttles at the major airports for those that need it and key locations for drop off and pickups. (Don’t forget about the person that works a late shift either!)

      So much can be done to improve on transportation on the island without disturbing the quaint and beautiful scenery!

      If some of these bypass roads have to run through a private property which is usually Ag, so be it! At least we can keep the traffic moving.

      I can see areas that a short hidden parking structure can be built to take the street parking away to allow for better traffic flow. I love to be able to park in front of a business, but if I’m offered an alternative place to park, I will accept that. Walking is good for you anyways! Like the multi purpose path! Love that, just wish it was longer!

      Don t forget that if Zuckerburg wants to take a giant plot of prime real estate on the island, he has enough money to help the island out financially! Tax him the highest rate on every square inch and airspace his non living permanent home is using!

      Make the non residents pay for the privilege to own a home and parcel of land! (Timeshare’s excluded, since they already pay enough as it is!)

      So many options available, just stop talking about it and do it!

  10. truth be known March 1, 2019 12:49 pm Reply

    I’m curious about the missing 10%. The article stated that 65% of the increase is allocated to roads and 25% is apportioned for public transportation. Where does the rest go?

  11. Haku March 1, 2019 2:42 pm Reply

    It should not be too difficult to figure out where all the short term vacation rentals are. Every time we come back to Kauai we have to fill out an ag declaration form and the location of where tourists are staying is part of that form. Just collect the forms and locate the tourist locations on a map–hire a high school student to put pins on a wall map and enter the data in a computer database. Sure, some people may lie, but most will not (esp. given that people are sensitive to lying to the gov. now).

  12. DT March 1, 2019 6:22 pm Reply

    Shows a lot off class to start your statement by calling people who disagree with your plan uneducated. Maybe he want uneducated on the current state of the roads?

    I agree with the previous comments. That is a lot of money to fix potholes. I watched yesterday, they were applying cold patches to asphalt, no rolling it in or nothing. The next big rain that patch is going to be gone. That money was to solve traffic problems. Potholes don’t cause traffic problems.

  13. AB March 1, 2019 9:29 pm Reply

    Coco Palms & other structures should not be fixed or newly built until our roads can handle MORE/current people. Fixing potholes is ridiculous. We need real roads that are engineered in a way that keeps them in pristine condition. Anyone been to Maui? Their roads are beautiful. We need real sidewalks that allow safe walking & a place for our children to walk to school. Fixing the potholes is not an answer, it’s just feeding into the ongoing problem. Side note – When are the county parks employees going to start taking care of county parks?? They are filthy & broken.

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