Keep focus on assisting Maui wildfire victims

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By Keli‘i Akina

As we continue to learn more about the tragedy in Lahaina, the priority should be clear: We must continue to help the victims of the fire.

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Cleanup and aid — among the hardest tasks of all — are already underway, and will continue to be the center of emergency efforts for some time to come.

Yes, many of us want to know more about the cause of the fire and what might have gone wrong in the response. Eventually, the facts will come out. But for now, we need to focus on the most immediate problems.

Gov. Josh Green and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen have announced a series of measures to help Lahaina families. I especially want to praise the mayor for waiving property taxes for the affected property owners — including giving back the money from those who already paid. This is a practical and generous measure that will provide real financial relief to victims of the wildfires.

The governor, meanwhile, has used his emergency powers to help bring medical care to Maui and find places for displaced families to live. I especially appreciate the way in which he cleared the way for out-of-state medical professionals to attend to the needs of those affected by the tragedy.

Moreover, the governor has been very responsive to concerns about scams targeting Lahaina property owners and possible complications in rebuilding the area.

In response to those concerns, the governor has instructed the state attorney general to impose enhanced penalties on anyone who tries to take advantage of the victims while purchasing property in the affected area. This is a reasoned and focused approach that should help protect Lahaina property owners from fraud or predatory real estate schemes.

Some people have advocated a moratorium on all property sales in the affected area, but that would be overly broad and risk hurting the very people it intends to help. Many of those people are going through the worst days of their lives. Any moratorium could put them through more pain and difficulty. That’s not what anyone wants.

Looking ahead, we should take the time to think about the best way to ensure that a rebuilt Lahaina is prosperous and safe.

My colleagues and I at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii already are researching and discussing recommendations we will make — especially regarding state and county policies that could help Lahaina and the rest of the affected areas on Maui recover.

But meanwhile, let’s stay focused on the cleanup and aid efforts on Maui, to help the survivors of this terrible tragedy regain their footing and rebuild their lives.

As I mentioned in my column last week, if you are looking for ways to help, Honolulu Civil Beat has posted a list of organizations that are actively involved in the recovery efforts, which you can see here.
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Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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