Hawaii & Alaska
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green talks to local officials about Maui town of Lahaina. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)

HI - Hawaii investigates unsolicited land offers as the state tries to keep Lahaina in local hands

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Thursday his administration has opened several investigations into people who have allegedly made unsolicited offers for property in the fire-stricken Maui town of Lahaina in violation of a new emergency order.

Green prohibited such offers by signing an emergency proclamation on Aug. 19 aimed at preventing land in the historic coastal community from flowing into the hands of outside buyers. The order aims to give residents some “breathing room” as they decide what to do next, Green said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Even before the Aug. 8 fire, Lahaina was a rapidly gentrifying town and there’s been widespread concern since that Native Hawaiians and local-born residents who have owned properties in their families for generations might feel pressured to sell.

The fear is they would leave Lahaina, or Maui or the state, take their culture and traditions with them and contribute to the ongoing exodus of Hawaii’s people to less expensive places to live.

“We’ve seen that in a lot of different places in our country and in our world where people have lost everything but their land and someone swoops in and buys properties for pennies on the dollar,” Green said. “We want to keep this land in the hands of local people, and we want to give them at least a chance to decide whether they’d like to build back.”

Authorities say 115 people died in the fire, which tore through Lahaina in a matter of hours. About 1,800 to 1,900 homes were destroyed. The town of 12,000 people was home to many who worked in hotels and restaurants in nearby Kaanapali and Lahaina itself.

About 6,000 people are staying in hotels and vacation rentals while waiting for the toxic waste left by the fire to be cleaned up and rebuilding to begin.

Earlier this month Green, a Democrat, said he wanted to impose a moratorium on land sales in Lahaina to prevent people from being displaced. But the governor said a blanket ban “may not be doable” and he didn’t want to prevent people who are considering property sales from initiating those conversations.

The prohibition on unsolicited offers for property was a “de facto” moratorium, he said.

Green said people have reported unwanted offers to his attorney general, although he did not reveal how many investigations have been opened. Those found guilty of a violation may be imprisoned for up to one year and fined up to $5,000.

Lahaina resident Melody Lukela-Singh said she was disappointed the governor didn't impose an outright ban as he initially said.

“Outsiders should not have the opportunity to grab land or properties. Because emotions are running high, so everyone is vulnerable,” Lukela-Singh said.

She spoke near her temporary lodgings a few miles from the site of her Front Street home, which burned in the fire. Lukela-Singh said she would not sell her land if any offers were made.

“You know, it’s the only thing that we have left,” said Lukela-Singh, who is Native Hawaiian. She knows of three families, all Filipino, who are selling their homes and want to move away because they can't handle the stress of seeing Lahaina burned to the ground.

State Rep. Troy Hashimoto, a Democrat who chairs the House housing committee and represents the central Maui community of Wailuku, said the prohibition on unsolicited offers was a “nuanced” approach.

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