Board to oversee rebuilding on Maui is proposed

The aftermath of a wildfire is visible on Aug. 17 in Lahaina, Maui. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

A proposal to facilitate rebuilding fire-ravaged Lahaina, perhaps with new land-use rules and funding governed by a community-based board, is slated for discussion today at the state Legislature.

Two Senate committees are scheduled to hold an initial public hearing on a bill to have rebuilding in Lahaina take place under a new community plan that in part might involve rules pertaining to affordable housing, rent control, wildfire prevention, underground utility placement and shoreline setbacks, among other things.


The envisioned board also would have the power to acquire real estate, to charge landowners fees to help pay for board operations and to use $100 million in state general fund revenue for projects if an equal sum can be raised from the private sector.

Senate Bill 3381 proposes to establish the board under the Hawaii Community Development Authority, a board-led state agency established in 1976 to facilitate redevelopment of what was then a largely near-blighted industrial area of Honolulu with neglected city infrastructure.

The new board envisioned by SB 3381 would have sweeping powers largely similar to what is available for other HCDA development districts, which include Kalaeloa on Oahu and Pulehunui on Maui.

However, all nine board members for what the bill calls the Lele Community District would be West Maui community members, unlike other HCDA district boards, which include multiple state agency leaders and only some members from a district.

State Sen. Angus McKelvey (D, West Maui-Maalaea-South Maui) said the legislation is an effort to fulfill wishes of many Lahaina community members to guide rebuilding instead of leaving it largely to county and state administrators.

“Let’s explore the idea of giving the liquidity and agency to Lahaina that people were asking for from the very beginning of the disaster for the rebuild,” he said.

McKelvey introduced the bill with state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who said members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee also met in January with Lahaina community members who helped shape the bill.

“Based on the discussions and requests, we drafted the bill trying to address the issues that were brought up,” said Dela Cruz (D, Mililani-Wahiawa-Whitmore Village). “This would allow the community to decide the vision for rebuilding and restoring (Lahaina).”

McKelvey acknowledged that some aspects of the proposed legislation might have detractors with concerns, and he therefore expects much discussion on the bill.

The bill would have the new board create and implement, as expeditiously as possible, a community plan for rebuilding in the Lele district stretching from Kaanapali to Maalaea.

“If the area is not rebuilt in a deliberate, coordinated, and expeditious manner, the area may languish in the long term and affect the well-being of the land, the people, and the economy,” the bill states. “However, there is an opportunity to rebuild Lahaina by preserving and reintroducing its valued resources in a manner that reflects the values and priorities of its residents and businesses, and addresses future challenges, including climate change and affordable housing.”

Board members would be tasked with establishing the community plan “in coordination with” other stakeholders, including Maui County, residents and businesses, but would serve as the “master coordinator for recovery” in the district.

Attributes of the rebuilt community, as described in the bill, would:

—Reflect values, aspirations and goals of residents.

—Include a significant number of affordable homes.

—Encourage a thriving, sustainable business sector that includes tourism.

—Restore community assets, including schools, parks, gathering places and ocean-based recreation.

—Be in accordance with wildfire prevention strategies.

—Have neighborhood designs that include pathways, bikeways, public transportation and other strategies reducing dependence on private vehicles and providing redundant travel routes.

—Mitigate the threat of sea level rise and other climate change impacts through strategies that include shoreline setbacks and underground utility placement.

The bill also would allow the board to establish limits on the amount of rent that landlords of properties in the district may collect from tenants.

To serve on the board, members must have residential or business ties to the district and include one area cultural specialist and one small-business owner or nonprofit organization officer or director.

The governor would appoint board members subject to advice and consent of the Senate, according to the bill. However, an amended version of the bill proposed ahead of Wednesday’s hearing calls for board members to be elected by voters in 2026 and in subsequent general elections after initial appointments.

Today’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. before the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism and the Committee on Water and Land.

SB 3381 is one of several bills introduced in January at the Legislature in an effort to guide rebuilding in Lahaina.

One of these other measures is House Bill 2696, which would establish the Lahaina Recovery Oversight Commission within the state Department of Accounting and General Services “to oversee and guide the recovery of Lahaina” from the Aug. 8 wildfires.

Two House committees, the Committee on Water and Land and the Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, held a hearing Monday on HB 2696 and advanced the measure with amendments.

No one submitted testimony on the measure in person or by videoconference, but in written testimony leaders of the community group Lahaina Strong favored this bill over others.

“HB 2696 distinguishes itself from the Cultural Cor ­ridor and Lele Community District bills in several key aspects, aligning more closely with our preferences for effective oversight and recovery management,” wrote Jordan Ruidas, Pa ‘ele Kiakona and Courtney Lazo.

Tamara Paltin, a Maui County Council member representing Lahaina, also said in written testimony that the bill to establish a Lahaina Recovery Oversight Commission stands above Cultural Corridor Authority and Lele Community District bills.

The referenced Cultural Corridor bill is HB 2693 and would create a Cultural Corridor Authority to develop plans for redeveloping areas affected by disaster while maintaining historic and cultural preservation.

Powers of this authority would include acquiring land through condemnation and offering income tax credits to incentivize voluntary relinquishment of real estate in disaster areas.

The Cultural Corridor Authority initially would focus on Lahaina and create a plan for the district that focuses on historic and cultural preservation while also considering state energy and sustainability goals along with climate change mitigation measures.

HB 2693 was heard Feb. 6 by the Water and Land Committee, which deferred the measure.

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