By Noreen Evans
Our multi-state legal team is in the process of filing complaints as the first step in our fight to recover survivors’ economic losses from the devastating Lāhainā Fire.
Our complaints are being filed in the Second District Court in Maui, Hon. Peter T. Cahill presiding. Judge Cahill has circulated a proposed Case Management Order for review by all counsel. As is typical in such disaster cases, Judge Cahill is considering appointing a “leadership team” composed of attorneys for various plaintiffs in the case to coordinate discovery, investigation, court appearances, and filing of briefs on legal matters. The judge may appoint various subcommittee such as a steering committee and liaison committee.
Counsel for Maui County has advised that Maui County is insured for losses up to a maximum of $10 million and may need to seek the protection of the Bankruptcy Court.
On Tuesday, October 24, Hawai’i governor, Josh Green, revised the Emergency Proclamation Relation to Housing that was first signed on July 17, 2023. The Proclamation deems Hawai’i’s lack of affordable housing an emergency and attempts to prioritize and streamline many state and county affordable housing projects. The newest revision to the Proclamation restores county council oversight over most affordable housing projects and creates a stakeholder working group called “Build Beyond Borders” to review affordable housing applications.
The Proclamation does not apply to the area affected by the Lāhainā wildfire. More information on the governor’s proclamation can be found here:https://dod.hawaii.gov/hiema/gov-green-issues-second-proclamation-relating-to-affordable-housing/
Other Significant Developments and Important Information
Phased re-opening of West Maui
Last week Mayor Richard Bissen announced that the phased re-opening of West Maui to visitors will continue November 1 with the re-opening of the remaining area from Kahana to Kaʻanapali. The first reopening phase, from Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua to Kahana Villa, began October 8. The phased approach established by the Mayor calls for a staggered focus on the return of visitors to the west side hotel properties and the area. The Mayor emphasized the focus on housing for displaced Lāhainā residents and assured that housing for those staying in hotels is secure. The phased approach aims to facilitate residents' return to work, establish childcare facilities, and address housing needs for those in temporary shelters.
More information on the phased re-opening can be found here:
Right to Rebuild? No Building Permits Issued Since Lāhainā Fire
The article at the link below reports that since the disaster on August 8, 2023, not a single building permit has been granted within the Lāhainā burn zone, and no permit applications have been submiLed. This situation has raised worries about property owners' ability to rebuild their homes and businesses. Unlike Sonoma County, California, Maui County has not passed any ordinances granting property owners the right to rebuild after the fire. As a result, common law applies to residents attempting to rebuild. Under common law, if a property is damaged less than 50%, the owner may repair the structure even if the structure does not conform with existing zoning and other restrictions. However, if a property is more than 50% damaged, there is no right to rebuild/repair a structure if the structure does not conform with current zoning regulations and restrictions. The lack of clear procedures or regulations has left property owners in limbo, awaiting decisions from local authorities. The Maui County Building Permits Division has not yet provided a concrete plan or procedure for rebuilding in the burn zone.
Hawai’i Officials Learned Little From a 2018 Fire That Foreshadowed Lāhainā
Part of the severity and devastation of the Lāhainā Fire appears to be due to failure by local government to learn from the fire that spread through Maui in August 2018. While not as severe as the Lāhainā Fire, the August 2018 files burned through dry grasses and spread with the forceful winds from Hurricane Lane, raising concerns about inadequate warnings, non-functioning emergency systems, and unclear evacuation routes. No publicly-available emergency action review was completed by government officials after the 2018 fire, and only a summary sheet of an apparently confidential report was provided. It is unclear whether the county implemented those actions recommended in the alter-action report.
The full article can be found here: https://www.civilbeat.org/2023/10/hawaii-officials-learned-little-from-a-2018-fire-that-foreshadowed-lahaina/#:~:text=Hawaii%20Fires-,Hawaii
Maui Recovers – Resources for Maui Wildfire Survivors
Fire survivors can find resources and important information on the recovery efforts following the Lāhainā Fire at the official County of Maui website: https://www.mauirecovers.org/