A recent vote drew national attention to a rare Hawaii effort opposing tourism business. But board members only want the law enforced.
The Kailua Neighborhood Board passed a resolution on March 5 opposing any new permits for short-term tourist rentals in residential neighborhoods. The vote continued a line of action that the board has been engaged in since September 2013, when it formally requested that the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) stop promoting Kailua neighborhoods for visitor accommodations through its marketing materials.
Why? The Kailua Board has consistently argued for the protection of its residential-zoned areas and for increased zoning enforcement. All of Kailua’s neighborhoods are zoned residential, not resort. Resort zoning is provided elsewhere on the island, and communities like Kailua are recognized as areas to provide housing solely for local residents.
Visitor lodging businesses — hotels, motels, transient vacation rentals, and bed & breakfast lodges — are not permitted in residential-only zoning. While there are 65 transient vacation units (TVU’s) and B&Bs in Kailua that are grandfathered in with “non-conforming use” certificates that enable them to operate legally, more than 85 percent of the estimated 500 TVU’s and B&B’s in Kailua are illegal.
Prior to the neighborhood board resolution, the HTA marketing materials made no reference to the fact that the vast majority of TVU’s and B&Bs in Kailua are illegal. More importantly, those materials did not inform vacationers on how to know if their accommodations were legitimate or not.
In addition, the Kailua Neighborhood Board explained to HTA that short-term rentals reduce the rental housing supply for local residents, contribute to escalating rents and housing prices, promote crime and negatively impact safety as well as the social, environmental and cultural residential character of Kailua’s neighborhoods.
Shortly after our vote, an Associated Press article picked up by many mainland news outlets drew broader attention to the resolution. Many outlets ran misleading headlines, such as, “Hawaii Town to State: Stop sending tourists here” and “Kailua Residents Want Tourists to Stay Away.” As expected, the media wants to attract readers and sell ads, so they feel compelled to use sensational, over-the-top headlines. The truth is the Kailua Neighborhood Board never said daytime visitors aren’t welcome. The resolution simply asked the HTA to stop promoting illegal visitor lodging businesses in Kailua’s residential zoned neighborhoods.
Who is to blame? Certainly HTA and their marketing experts are responsible for their blunder. They have always been aware that the vast majority of Kailua’s TVU’s and B&Bs are illegal and that the community opposes them, but they did nothing to inform visitors to stay away from these scofflaw businesses. After the resolution was introduced, HTA should have explained to the media that the resolution represented the community’s objection to the promotion of illegal visitor accommodations in residential-only zoning and informed visitors on how to determine whether their accommodations are legitimate. Instead, HTA ignored the issue of the illegal businesses and said they want to “bring balance” to the Kailua community.
Politicians and city officials should also be held responsible for not publicly explaining the intent of the resolution and emphasizing the fact that all visitor-lodging businesses are non-conforming in residential zoning. They could have easily defused the issue by sympathizing with the neighborhood board’s desire to have zoning laws enforced and assisting HTA in educating visitors on legal lodging choices.
But ultimately, the majority of the blame should be directed at the owners of the illegal TVU’s and B&Bs. These individuals and businesses are breaking the law. It’s time for greater enforcement against these illegal activities so that residents have the enjoyment of their neighborhoods that they deserve.