The Looming Battle Over B&Bs
Wednesday - June 22, 2005
Dear City Councilmember: You thought you took some heat on the new city fees and the transit tax? You might have to walk some neighborhoods in disguise before you’re through with this vacation rental and B&B matter.
People may get upset about taxes, but they’re getting downright threatening about what’s OK and not OK use of their property.
It’s couched as a rights issue, but we all know it’s really about making money. Lots of money. Money the tax man often cannot see.
You’ve seen the letters to the dailies.
“If you own your own property, no one should have the right to tell you who can stay on your own property.”
“Transient accommodations such as B&B or vacation rental operations impose substantial monetary and cultural costs when they are allowed in single-family residential neighborhoods while contributing very little or nothing.” It’s pitting neighbor against neighbor and getting fearsome in Kailua. Oahu’s already put a clamp on B&Bs, and the state tax department is hot on the trail of unregistered operators or all types not paying the transient tax, excise tax or income tax.
Vacation rentals generate the most animosity and defense. Pro-rental activists lobbied lawmakers this year to require the counties to sanction such rentals. The solons wisely said they need more facts before stepping into that cow pie. There are thought to be about 12,000 vacation and B&B units in Hawaii — some legal but the largest chunk probably not.
B&Bs really shouldn’t trouble us, and I wish the county would just open that up so long as the house is always owneroccupied and there’s a reasonable limit on the number of rented units on one property. B&B tenants are quiet, not criminal and who cares if there’s an extra car or two parked on the street?
The vacation rentals are the problem (and maybe now I’ll have to wear a disguise, too). The owners aren’t there. The renters often pay $5,000 or more a month and feel they’re entitled to have a give-em-hell hootenanny. They can be very neighborhood-disruptive and they don’t give a damn because they aren’t staying around for long.
They pre-empt scarce fulltime rental space for working residents. Look at what’s happened to such space anywhere in the Hanalei district of Kauai.
And the tax department knows many people renting out their houses to vacationers are skipping on the taxes.
We need a serious campaign right away to snare the illegals (both for zoning violations and tax dodging) and then some long-term solution that impedes vacation rentals while encouraging long-term rentals. We simply rewrite city law to say any stay less than 60 or 90 days is vacation rental and illegal in a residential neighborhood. While I’m on a rip, do we really have a State Public Library system or a public employment project to keep the paid holidays rolling for the HGEA and UPW?
My local library was closed four days over the Memorial Day weekend, and three days for the Kamehameha holiday.
Maybe our library system is going extinct. I seem to see more kids and adults reading over drinks and pastries at Barnes & Noble and Borders these days.
Maybe our library system is aiding its extinction by having such irregular hours and extensive holidays — and no pastries or coffee. How can you be a public library and be closed four straight days? Walter Ritte of Molokai is an interesting guy, but sometimes I think he has smoked too much kalo leaf.
He claims Hawaiians have a right to place a kapu on all genetic engineering of taro, which he calls “our genealogical brother,” that there must be “limits to academic and research freedoms” vis-a-vis indigenous culture, and that “you cannot change the genes of the Hawaiians without their consent.”
That isn’t informed discussion. That’s voodoo academics. You’ve gotta love the mayor’s press guy, former reporter Bill Brennan, explaining away Mufi Hannemann’s phone call to the police chief about Gail Hannemann’s speeding ticket. Brennan would have scorned his own baloney when he still did honest work at Ch. 2.
The mayor wasn’t thinking, Bill. A thinking mayor would have written the chief: “One of your officers ticketed my wife for speeding while I was a passenger. Many officers might have said ‘Oh, sorry, mayor’ and let us go. This officer did his duty and I commend him and hope you will, too. We need more no-favors-given civil servants. Mufi.” Hotel Street downtown between Bishop and River has become a zoo of pedestrians, many frail, elderly, mentally unstable and who can easily fall under the wheels of city buses brushing near them on those crowded sidewalks.
It’s time to install waist-high railings along the street frontage there, except at traffic- light crosswalks.
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