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.