Sitting outside Council Chambers in the late afternoon, Councilmember Shane Sinenci expressed disappointment. It was a rare moment for the usually cheerful councilmember, who hours prior was hopeful of passing a resolution out of the Environmental, Agricultural, and Cultural Preservation Committee he chairs. The resolution, as currently written, would require Mayor Victorino’s administration to conduct a “sustainable tourism assessment” for Maui County.
While meetings of the EACP Committee to address “Visitor Impacts to County Environmental and Infrastructural Resources” continually draw testifiers with grievances about visitor impacts who are supportive of legislation to manage tourist numbers, testimony during the Aug. 20 meeting called for amendments to the resolution.
“The ‘needs assessment’ part gives me severe anxiety,” said testifier Autumn Ness, who previously worked with former Councilmember Elle Cochran on tourism management. Ness held up copies of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Maui Tourism Industry Strategic Plans, which she said already did a good job identifying the problems. “We’re looking for concrete solutions and hard lines drawn now – no more studies, no more recommendations. Lines that actually affect the numbers of people that come here.”
“We’ve been talking about this problem for probably 30 years,” said Albert Perez of Maui Tomorrow Foundation. “And with all due respect, I think that we need to change the word on the top of this thing from ‘Resolution’ to ‘Ordinance.’ And I think that we need to take action instead of having another study.”
Perez suggested the council place a moratorium on approval of new hotels and other visitor accommodations. The council should prioritize “infrastructure capacity for truly affordable housing” and put the tourism industry to the back of the line, he added. “We are way out of balance,” Perez concluded.
The committee voted to defer the item so members could have time to consider community input and propose amendments, action steps, and guidelines for the resolution at a future meeting.
Outside Council Chambers, Sinenci quickly became hopeful once again, despite the stalling of his legislation. As a resident of East Maui, he said he understands residents’ frustration, but added, “It’s a great time to have this discussion. You know, last year, you couldn’t even have quorum to even have a conversation. So just including everybody, everybody’s input – that was successful today, that we start having this conversation.”