Respect property rights in Lahaina rebuilding process

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By Keli‘i Akina

Policymakers and various interest groups began sharing plans for rebuilding Lahaina just days after wildfires destroyed the iconic seaside town.

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In the month that has passed since the Aug. 8 fires, rebuilding ideas have varied widely — from taking over land to build affordable housing or leaving some of it vacant as a memorial to placing reconstruction efforts in the hands of a special board, just to name a few.

Keli’i Akina

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on these ideas. After all, rebuilding plans are usually the product of good intentions.

But we have to remember that peoples’ homes and businesses are at stake, and their right to those properties must be defended. That is to say: We cannot infringe on or ignore their constitutional right to freely acquire, use, manage and dispose of their property as they choose.

This is why the Grassroot Institute has made a deliberate choice to not present any plans of our own — because whether, where or how to rebuild properties should be up to the people of Lahaina, and the government should strive only to give them the freedom to do so.

Our team certainly has solutions in mind that could be applied to help Lahaina rebuild. We have long urged county officials to expedite permitting processes and suspend certain zoning and building code provisions to encourage more homebuilding. And we champion loosening restrictions on occupational licensing, lowering taxes and introducing policies to reduce bureaucratic barriers for local entrepreneurs and small businesses.

But while we have much more to say on the topic — and the time will surely come for us to do so — I believe we remain in a sensitive period for listening.

Most importantly, we need to keep in mind the humanity of the situation. We’re not just talking about a fundamental right that deserves to be respected on principle — we need to consider the different desires of those struggling to rebuild their lives.

Maybe they want to sell their land as soon as possible to fund a new start somewhere else, or maybe they would benefit from the freedom to rebuild as quickly as possible without the expenses and delays that often come with government intervention. Those decisions are theirs — and theirs alone — to make.

Ultimately, we can suggest policies that will ease the rebuilding process, but we must allow the people of Lahaina to move forward on their own terms. Yes, that means allowing them to make decisions others might not like. But that is their right. And the Grassroot Institute plans to defend that right from any intrusion, no matter how well-meaning.
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Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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