Press Conference Advisory: West Maui Lawmakers Join Lāhainā Fire Survivors In Delivering Over 10,000 Petition Signatures Calling for Delay of West Maui Tourism Reopening

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 2, 2023

Contact: Jordan Ruidas, (808) 793-9097, officiallahainastrong@gmail.com

Press Conference Advisory: West Maui Lawmakers Join Lāhainā Fire Survivors In Delivering Over 10,000 Petition Signatures Calling for Delay of West Maui Tourism Reopening

Governor Green is invited by community leaders to hear from the community himself at a gathering in West Maui on October 6th 

HONOLULU, HI – West Maui residents are delivering a petition with more than 10,000 petition signatures to Governor Green’s office in an urgent plea to delay reopening Lāhainā and area hotels to tourists. 

WHAT: Press Conference and Petition Delivery

WHERE: Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda

WHEN: Tuesday, October 3, 12:00 PM (HST)

WHO: Speakers will include Lāhainā Strong community representatives, West Maui County Councilmember Tamara Paltin, and Senator Angus McKelvey (Senate District 6, West Maui, Ma’alaea, Waikapu, South Maui.)

The requests presented at this press conference are deeply rooted in the needs and welfare of the Lāhainā community, as shared during the 10 hours of testimony by Lāhainā residents on Wednesday, September 27 in front of the Government Relations, Ethics, and Transparency Committee of the Maui Council Council, which was the first public forum to hear from displaced Lāhainā residents that took place in West Maui since the fires. 

Speakers will address these concerns and present a compelling case for delaying the reopening of tourism in West Maui. The community’s plea is backed by more than 10,000 signatures on a petition to delay the October 8 reopening date and over 1,000 attendees at the recent Maui County Council meeting.

Following the press conference, a delegation of West Maui residents will deliver the petition to the Governor’s office on the 5th floor of the state Capitol Building.

Asks:

  • Come to West Maui and hear directly from the community: Governor Green and Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke are invited by community leaders to a community meeting and listening session this Friday, October 6th at Hanakao’o Beach Park at 4pm to listen to the voices of West Maui on why they need more time.
  • Allow survivors more time to Grieve: Our West Maui ‘ohana needs time to grieve. The community has repeatedly expressed that they are not mentally and emotionally prepared to welcome and serve tourists, following the traumatic impact of the fires. 
  • Stabilize Housing and Rent for Impacted Residents: Thousands of Lāhainā residents were displaced by the wildfire, most of whom are still in temporary housing. The temporary shelter process has been additionally traumatizing, with families receiving bills, facing evictions, and experiencing multiple relocations in a matter of weeks. People don’t know where they will be living a week from today, yet are expected to return to business as usual. Rent also continues to spike and must be stabilized. This is unacceptable and must be resolved before expecting survivors to return to serving tourists.
  • Ensure Safety and Schooling for our Children: Plans to move children back to the Lāhaināluna school complex are raising new safety concerns about evacuation routes and the uncertainty surrounding the impact of disturbed ashes during the future cleanup efforts below the schools and the shifting winds.
  • Provide a COVID-level Safety Net for Working Families and Local Businesses: Returning to work because you have no choice isn’t the same as wanting to return, especially for families who are still grieving and haven’t had the chance to address their personal affairs. They need financial aid, mental respite, and protection from creditors. We are asking that Governor Green utilize the $200 million of general discretionary funds provided by the Legislature to extend direct unemployment assistance to workers and grants for small businesses. In addition, Governor Green and Hawaii’s federal representatives should call upon the federal government to extend their assistance beyond FEMA block grants and TANF to allow impacted residents and small businesses. The federal response during the COVID crisis has demonstrated that we can hit pause for 300 million Americans. Surely, we can provide a similar safety net for the people of Maui during their darkest hours.
  • Enact a Moratorium on Foreclosures: A three-year moratorium on foreclosures is critical to fend off land grabbers and reduce anxiety for displaced residents. No one should be forced to pay a mortgage for a home lost to this disaster or lose their familial land as a result of being unable to pay. Similar protections must also be extended to commercial properties owned by Maui residents.
  • Allow Tensions with Tourists to Subside: there is a growing concern about incidents involving tourists and local residents. We believe that pressing forward with the reopening—without first ensuring that our mental, emotional, and physical needs are met—could have long-lasting consequences for residents, businesses, and visitors. Any expectation that grieving workers should serve tourists during this moment of grief is extractive and morally reprehensible. 
  • Market other Maui Regions to Tourists: There is a lack of visible efforts to pivot our tourism marketing towards other areas of the island that are better able to welcome visitors. Insisting on reopening West Maui in its current state risks damaging the reputation of Hawaii tourism as a whole, and deepening the trauma resulting from the wildfires.

“Our community is in pain, deep in grief, and physically and emotionally exhausted. The decision to reopen tourism on October 8th, when many of our residents neither feel prepared nor capable of extending the aloha spirit to incoming tourists, seems ill-timed on the part of our government. The day-to-day uncertainty that plagues our community must be addressed as a top priority before we even consider reopening,” said Lāhainā Strong organizer Jordan Ruidas.

“We urgently need long-term housing solutions and the assurance of safe schooling and childcare facilities right here in Lāhainā. What we don’t believe in is a hasty, makeshift approach by the government, just so they can claim they’ve offered solutions and rush toward reopening. It’s imperative that this process is executed thoughtfully and prioritizes the well-being of our community members over tourism industry profits.”

Area lawmakers are joining the call to prevent worsening the hardship for residents who lost family, homes, and businesses in the inferno on August 8, 2023. 

“Many people I have spoken to are really struggling with all of the unknowns; many have already had to move 3 or 4 times with their family and all of their belongings, sometimes from one end of the island to the other. They have gotten conflicting information from different workers in the same agency, they have filled and re-filled out countless forms and they are not in a place mentally or emotionally to put a smile on their face and host strangers and answer intrusive questions. We need marketing for other parts of Maui like Wailea welcomes you and Makena misses you but please let West Maui grieve,” said Maui County Councilmember Tamara Paltin.

“While we understand the pressing need for revenue for our small businesses and financial support for our workers, it becomes a daunting task to ask our community members, especially the wildfire survivors, to set aside their grief and trauma to make way for outsiders,” urged Senator McKelvey in a September 29 letter to Governor Green. “Pitting the needs of the tourism industry against the needs of a community trying to heal is not the solution we seek. It is vital to ensure a balance by creating a solution that does not exacerbate the issues of an already fragile community.”

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About Lāhainā Strong: Lāhainā Strong is a community-driven, grassroots organization dedicated to supporting the recovery and resilience of Lāhainā, Maui. It was originally formed following the devastating wildfires during Hurricane Lane in August 2018. 

officiallahainastrong@gmail.com