- Special Projects
A well-connected lobbyist is asking the Honolulu City Council to exempt large dog kennels and tents from the city’s permitting requirement so she can continue operating an animal rescue shelter at her Ewa Beach home.
Alicia Maluafiti, the president of animal welfare nonprofit Poi Dogs and Popoki, told the council’s zoning committee in September that she’s rescued animals from all nine of Oahu’s council districts. Maluafiti, who has also worked for years as a lobbyist for genetically modified seed companies, has kept animals in large kennels for the last seven years.
“I’m rescuing these animals left and right,” she said. “We use these tents and kennels to secure the animals that we rescue.”
The noise and odor caused by her many dogs and cats has for years prompted complaint calls to the office of state Rep. Bob McDermott, who represents Ewa Beach.
In June the city’s planning department cited Maluafiti for having the animal cages on her property without permits. In October the department cited her for running a business in her home and parking Poi Dogs and Popoki vans across from her house.
Bill 71, which has already passed two of three required readings from the council, would exempt prefabricated animal kennels of up to 100 square feet from requiring permits. It would also get rid of the 14-day time limit on canopy tents often used in Hawaii for family parties and church gatherings.
“They’re changing the zoning code for one person,” said McDermott, a real estate agent. He estimates the animals harbored on Maluafiti’s property lower the value of neighboring properties by $50,000.
Maluafiti’s neighbor, Sandi Javar, declined to comment, saying she feared retaliation. She said in testimony that more than 70 cats and 10 dogs live on Maluafiti’s property.
Council Chair Ernie Martin, who introduced Bill 71, offered no explanation of the intent of the measure at two City Council meetings nor at a zoning committee meeting. He did not respond to requests for comment from Civil Beat.
Maluafiti developed strong ties with local politicians over the years as a lobbyist for biotech firms, pesticide companies and property management groups and through her animal welfare nonprofit.
She is not registered as a lobbyist with the city but has come before the council on matters related to Honolulu’s Neuter Now program, which subsidizes the cost to spay and neuter cats and dogs. Poi Dogs and Popoki held the Neuter Now contract for one year in 2015 before losing it to the Hawaiian Humane Society.
Lawmakers have given several hundred thousand dollars in grants-in-aid funds over the last few years to the nonprofit and two state lawmakers sit on the organization’s board of directors. One of those lawmakers, Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani, gave $4,000 to Maluafiti’s bid for state Senate this year representing Ewa in the August Democratic Primary.
Maluafiti lost to state Rep. Matt LoPresti despite support from a number of powerful state lawmakers and an embarrassing video released before the election that showed LoPresti stealing Maluafiti’s campaign material.
Just as money flowed from politicians to Maluafiti’s campaign, so too has it flowed to lawmakers from Maluafiti or her company Loihi Communications. Data from the campaign spending commission shows $51,576 donated by Maluafiti or Loihi to various political campaigns since 2008.
She’s given $9,775 to sitting City Council members including $5,725 to Martin.
Councilman Ron Menor, who represents Ewa Beach, said people have contacted his office with concerns about the property and about Bill 71. So far he’s joined other council members in voting in favor of the measure, but he said he plans to review the testimony and if it appears the measure is intended to benefit only one person he would “have concerns.”
Maluafiti told the City Council that she was cited by the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting as part of a political plot orchestrated by neighbors who are related to LoPresti, her former opponent in the primary.
“The law as written rewards the vindictive neighbor and it just so happens that my neighbor is the family of Matt LoPresti,” she told the council on Oct. 3. “Bill 71 will ensure that people can live in peace, free of harassment by vindictive neighbors and dirty campaigning by politicians who will stop at nothing to win an election.”
LoPresti, who vacated his House seat to run for state Senate, said his distant relatives live next to Maluafiti but said he is not involved in the matter.
Maluafiti, who did not respond to requests for comments, argues tents are already ubiquitous in neighborhoods across Oahu.
The planning department hardly has the manpower to enforce zoning laws that prohibit egregious land use violations, she said, including so-called monster homes — large residential structures used as apartment complexes in bedroom communities — or gentleman farms, when wealthy people build a country home on land zoned for agriculture.
“Get it off the books,” Maluafiti said. “Let’s make it easier for DPP to get away from wasting time and resources and energy, taxpayer monies coming out to cite well-intentioned people like myself who do this just for love.”
The department constantly gets dragged into neighborhood disputes, said DPP Deputy Director Tim Hiu. Neighbors are increasingly reluctant to work things out among themselves and look for a third party to get involved.
On the other hand, Hiu said the department prioritizes responding to citizens’ concerns and inspectors issue citations when they find complaints are legitimate.
Maluafiti also said kennels are a better option than chaining a dog to a leash, which “breeds aggression” in the animal.
Eleven other people or organizations testified on Bill 71, and some echo Maluafiti’s sentiment. Five of those who submitted written testimony also testified in support of Maluafiti’s reappointment to the state Board of Veterinary Examiners earlier this year.
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to email@example.com and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.
You can also comment directly on this story by scrolling down a little further. Comments are subject to approval and we may not publish every one.
There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing unbiased, investigative journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?