Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)
Since the Lahaina, Maui fires on August 8th, there has been a question of “just how much is it going to cost to restore Lahaina?” It’s not an easy question to answer because there are so many factors to consider when approaching that question.
After a few weeks, though, Bloomberg came out with its first dollar estimate of what restoration of Lahaina would cost. They pegged it at $6 billion. But again, without any framework as to what $6 billion buys you, the news felt more like the result of someone throwing a dart at a wall and finally hitting a number to report on.
The framework, it turns out, was buried in at least one of the lawsuits that was filed mere days after the fire. In the August 24th lawsuit filed by Maui County vs. Hawaiian Electric, the filing goes into some detail as to what the damages will cost the county. Considering that a lot of damage was done to public property and public utilities, it stands to reason that the County would have a pretty good idea of what it lost in the fire.
(Either that or, because of prior fires and subsequent lawsuits, lists like the one you are about to see have already been used, and all the law firm did was cut and paste for their initial filing).
Since reporting on the specifics of what was damaged, destroyed, or disrupted, read what Maui Is claiming in their filing,
As a result of Defendants’ actions and inactions, Defendants have caused Plaintiff MAUI COUNTY to suffer injuries and damages including, but not limited to, the following: loss of natural resources, open space, and public lands; loss of public parks; property damages including real and personal property; staff labor costs, including overtime labor costs; fire suppression costs including, materials, and other fire suppression damages; emergency response and rescue costs; evacuation expenses; loss of tax revenue including property, sales, and transient occupancy taxes; losses from impacts on business-like activities; costs associated with response and recovery including debris removal, and other costs; damage to infrastructure including but not limited to roads, sidewalks, water, stormwater and sewer systems, and underground infrastructure, and other public entity-owned infrastructure; damages based on soil erosion and loss of soil stability and productivity; damages related to water contamination including water quality preservation and correction expenses; loss of water storage and increased sedimentation; loss of aesthetic value; and other significant damages and losses directly related to and caused by the Maui Fires.
A further enumerated list of impacts to MAUI COUNTY includes, but is not limited to, the following:
a. Fire suppression costs;
b. Administration, funding, and operation of emergency operations centers;
c. Administration, funding, and operation of evacuation centers and shelters;
d. Securing and managing burn areas, including safe re-entry for the public;
e. Staff overtime, labor costs, personnel, and other materials;
f. Additional law enforcement costs;
g. Lost work and productivity due to public entity employees unable to return to work;
h. Loss of natural resources, open space, wildlife, and public lands;
i. Loss of parks, including damage to real property and recreational opportunities and programs, and the revenue generated therefrom;
j. Destruction or damage to public infrastructure, including but not limited to roads, sidewalks, water storage facilities, water distribution systems, sewer collection systems, stormwater systems, fire stations, and other infrastructure;
k. Damage or harm to facility and infrastructure lifespan, including water treatment facilities and landfills;
l. Costs of debris removal and related administrative obligations;
m. Costs of facilitating/administering community rebuilding efforts, staffing and administration of permitting centers;
n. Costs of administering community outreach efforts, including revisions to new ordinances, guidelines, and rules, and housing assistance programs and policies;
o. Costs of watershed, waterway, and water body management and protection;
p. Damages related to soil erosion and mitigation, loss of soil stability and productivity, including management of risk of debris flow and landslides;
q. Damages related to water contamination, including water quality preservation and correction expenses, including but not limited to repair and/or replacement of water treatment facilities or systems;
r. Loss of tax revenues such as property, sales, business, and transient occupancy taxes;
s. Loss of business like or proprietary revenues, such as airport use, facility rentals, educational and recreational programs, and others;
t. Damages related to loss of workforce housing;
u. Damages associated with tourism and economic development, such as overall branding and reputation;
v. Damages resulting from short- and long-term public health impacts, including costs to provide educational, outreach, and other services; and
w. Other impacts, injuries, and damages not yet identified, including those unique to public entities.
As a humble blogger, I find it challenging to fully comprehend the narrative and impact list of events such as the Lahaina fires. Nevertheless, when such a calamity occurs, the destruction and damage caused to a vast area are significant. It affects everything from structures to public infrastructure. Each item has a material name, and most of them come with a particular cost.
Now whether $6 billion will cover all of this, the only comparison Hawai‘i has is how much it cost to rebuild Kaua‘i after Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
Initial reports after the storm pegged the recovery at about $1.5 billion.
An Economic Research Organization report from the University of Hawai‘i (UHERO), published in 2009, pegged the actual cost of Kaua‘i recovery at $7.4 billion.
Doing the math, that is about 7 times the initial estimate. So taking the initial amount of $6 billion for Lahaina, and times that by 7 – this price list that is presented by just one entity for the damages suffered could be as much as $42 billion.
The UHERO report also said that it took 7 to 8 years for Kaua‘i’s economy to recover from Iniki.
In addition to the financial toll, the Lahaina fires in Hawaii have resulted in a tragic loss of human life with 97 reported deaths, a factor not included in the price list from Maui County. It is crucial to consider the impact of this loss when determining the total cost of the fires for both Hawaii and the United States as a whole.
At times, an article for Politics Hawaii with Stan Fichtman comes together because of a question from a friend. In this case, an email asking about the recent “retirement” (or resignation) of Hawaii State Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran, who represents Maui.
So, circling back to the email from a friend, this blogger provided his manaʻo to the friend about the resignation of Keith Agaran.
Here is what was said, which surprisingly seemed good enough for the latest post, with some words changed to make it a bit more sophisticated, but not changing any of the context of the piece.
So, I have been trying to discern the news, the comments and just seeing the overall landscape at Senate Ways and Means/Senate leadership to see what is the “story below the story” on this one. As you know the current narrative is that Agaran is resigning to become a litigator in cases stemming from Lahaina and that he will get a lot of money from it.
And if you left the story at that level, you get about 60% of the total story, enough for the layman and, frankly for most people who are already stretched like a rubber band over all this.
But what is that 40%, you may ask?
The answer is where he sits, who his bosses are, and in essence, what is more impactful with this circumstance now upon us. If you play this scenario out, he probably looked at where he sits now, vice chair of Senate Ways and Means (WAM), and realizes that leadership in the Senate is not going to move (Current WAM Chair Donovan) Dela Cruz, nor is leadership going to change anytime soon. (State Senate President Ronald) Kouchi has that chamber locked up and could stay there until the day he dies. So if I were Agaran, and looking at the “biggest bang for the buck” regarding making a mark in this situation, being Vice Chair of WAM is not going to get there. Dela Cruz is going to do whatever he wants to do, and it may be against what Agaran thinks should be done. So better to just call it a day in the Senate and go into the litigation world, make money and reputation for being a Robin Hood in the community during the time of litigation.
Now what does that recognition get him? Let’s play this out.
Agaran is a litigator, gets on TV tons of times at court cases and his name is all over the place. He gets judgments that help the people and the people fawn all over him. People who see that he was genuine in his work even though he became a millionaire doing it, will say that “this is the type of leadership we want for Maui”, and drag him to run for Mayor.
Now could that happen in 3 years or so…. if the litigation goes fast and he has won, sure! He gets two things out of that move 1. Name notorieties not just at the Senate level, but statewide because of his role in this; and 2. The ability to try for even higher offices after the mayor.
And what office is that…Governor. US House, US Senator. The man just opened opportunities for him that are not available to him being Dela Cruz’s second in command that gets him limited influence and even less name recognition. And since the bench feeds into the Governor. Lt Gov. and US House/Senate are not exactly brimming over with good talent, Agaran could be setting himself up to be an A-list choice when offices come open.
Now I know that this is highly theoretical after the first paragraph, but it is something that makes complete sense if Agaran wants to stay in the political reams, but needs to level up for bigger prizes. This is what I suspect the 40% is all about.
The response from this interested friend was as follows.
. . . Historically, a Neighbor Island Gubernatorial candidate was challenged — until Linda Lingle, former Maui County Mayor, won the Gubernatorial election. Then former Senator/Lt. Governor Josh Green, from Kona, was elected Governor, so there is now greater potential for a Neighbor Island Governor.
Thanks to this “interested friend” for the question to Politics Hawaii with Stan Fichtman.
And happy Labor Day 2023.
Proposing a solution for Lahaina’s recovery.
As with every other person that calls Hawaiʻi home, the events of the last eleven days with the burning of Lāhainā from a wildfire, it’s been hard for this humble blogger and many of us to wrap our heads around the true magnitude of this event.
From the property toll to the human toll, from the response mode to the recovery mode, and just seeing the sheer destruction in photos and videos, Hawaiʻi is now experiencing an event it was warned about but never thought it would ever see – the absolute destruction of an entire town due to a wildfire.
While the political, financial, and social issues play out in day-to-day news, there will be a point very soon when the initial response will be over and the long road to recovery will begin, the federal presence will reduce and we as a state will be left with answering the question of “what now?” Of course, the Governor has said emphatically that there will be rebuilding, and those in the Native Hawaiian community demand a say in that rebuilding and rebirth.
All of this will inevitably sort itself out.
But going back to “what now?” As a Kamaʻāina and person born in Hawaiʻi (my family has been in Hawaiʻi, and birthed 2 generations of my family here) I would hope that we can now start looking at recovery with a big-picture vision and that the leaders of this State can pivot to being those once-in-a-lifetime leaders to rise to the occasion and lead that vision.
First off there needs to be something to address the concern that has been raised with such destruction, that uncouth land investors would swoop in, cash in hand, and buy up large portions of Lāhainā for itself and drive locals out.
It is not a theoretical concern. It is happening already with residents getting phone calls from people willing to buy their destroyed home, in cash, and play on the emotions of people who have lost everything to “churn and burn” properties and make a quick buck.
While the Governor has sought out a moratorium, and tasked his Attorney General to figure out the details, he has already figured out that imposing such a blanket restriction upon property owners and purveyors is “tricky,” and may not fly.
What is needed to respond to a crisis of this unimaginable magnitude is a big, bold, and outside-the-box idea to both protect Lāhainā from speculators and, in turn, protect those who call Lāhainā home and want to rebuild and return.
SUCH A BIG IDEA, relayed to this blogger by some in the legal community, starts with the State immediately considering condemnation of the entire disaster area of Lāhainā through its power of eminent domain. At first blush, such a scenario would immediately draw criticism as a blatant “land grab” by the State, leaving the landowner with little to no choice other than to accept “just compensation” for the property, be pau and move on.
What makes this a bold and doable vision, though, is that the State cannot simply flex its inherent authority under the Fifth Amendment to an end, but rather to begin and most importantly, a means to protect.
Lawyers and legislators and laymen will wrangle over the nuanced details of such a big idea but at its most basic level, such condemnation could compensate the landowners immediately, while placing the land in public trust for a specified time, with an explicit provision that allows the property owner to exercise an option to buy back their land from the State in a dollar-for-dollar buyback after the people of Lāhainā and Maui and the State and county have exhaustively explored and put forth substantive plans on how to rebuild in the devastated disaster zone without the worry or stress or strain of outsiders coming in and picking off residents piecemeal.
It’s not as if the government hasn’t done this type of action before, if one remembers the “auto bail-outs” of both Chrysler and General Motors in 2010, one would remember that the US Government bought out the companies in bankruptcy. They bought warrants of those companies and helped them restructure out of bankruptcy. When it finished, the government sold its warrants and got its initial investment back, with some profit from the endeavor.
In the Lāhainā land trust scenario, the state would not make any money back at the end, but ensure that the lands are protected and Lāhainā’s future course can be charted.
The alternative to this plan would be to just keep to the status quo and depend on a hodgepodge of landowners with different plans and ideas, to agree to keep their properties and build based on an overarching plan that addresses a myriad of issues including protection from future wildfires, making their properties “greener” and climate-change proofing the area from sea level rise and other weather phenomena.
If COVID and its lessons told the people of Hawaiʻi anything, is that while we all are on one canoe, we do not adhere to paddling the same way. In this situation, to recover Lāhainā, paddling the same way with all parties rowing the same way has to start now.
TO SET UP such an unprecedented plan, Hawaiʻi leaders in elected and appointed office must step up to implement this big idea, meaning Governor Josh Green, Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, and their appointees must pivot and leverage their power of office and power of persuasion to provide clear direction, promote trust amongst our people and promise the State’s unwavering support throughout the process.
If the elected and appointed leadership need an example of what that looks like, all they should do is turn on the television and watch the news coming out of Ukraine.
There, we all have seen its President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, go from being a television personality to becoming a wartime President leading its troops, galvanizing its people, and garnering resources from allies across the globe to continue to successfully fight off a fierce Russian invasion, which many thought could not be done.
Zelenskyy adapted quickly to his new role, as could Green rise to such a new role in a disastrous situation. What that looks like, theoretically, is that Green embraces the role of Governor more than that of a doctor. Sure, he can still save people on the side of the road when their truck drives off it, but he needs to make his presence on the podium more “Governor-like”.
One could say that Green started that pivot on Friday the 18th of August, with his short but emphatic speech from his office.
If so, he needs to continue and get good at selling that vision.
As for the others mentioned – Lt. Governor Luke and Maui Mayor Bissen, the same lesson applies but, in their cases, they are in the canoe rowing together, saying the same thing as the Governor, but using their unique je ne sais quoi, their unique charm that got them elected in the first place, to help promote the big idea and reassure that the state will come through on what it promised.
Starting the land trust project and shifting leadership to embrace the public trust doctrine in the State Constitution could create a new vision for Hawaiʻi. This would set an example of how leadership evolves in both the State Capitol and Maui County and would be the first step on the long journey ahead to truly realize the power (and promise) within the “public trust” doctrine enshrined in our State Constitution and restore the trust of the public in our government and its servant leaders.
And the nice thing, is, in closing, is that it can be done right now, with very little debate, starting with the Governor making a move to sign the declaration and get the process rolling to reimburse landowners fair market value and signal to everyone that Hawaiʻi can embrace the big vision for the rehabilitation of Lāhainā, and Hawaiʻi from this wildfire disaster.
Read past entries of Stan Fichtman and PoliticsHawaii.com!
Who am I reading/getting news from
I am very choosy as to where I get my news from, here are some dependable sources I refer to when reading up on topics
Here are my current thoughts of things going on.