In a closely watched proposal to toughen penalties for operating illegal short-term vacation rentals, Maui voters were strongly favoring a measure to increase penalties for operating unpermitted short-term vacation rentals.

The measure on Maui ballots would increase from the current $1,000 to up to $20,000 the amount a person could be fined for operating a short-term rental without a permit. The measure also would impose a $10,000 fine for each day the illegal rental persists. It also applies to Lanai and Molokai, which are part of Maui County.

As of Tuesday night, results showed 51.6 percent favoring the penalty increase and 37.8 percent opposing it.

Voters have a direct say in the matter because the Maui County Charter generally limited fines to $1,000, and amending the charter requires approval of the voters.

Voters approved/rejected a charter amendment that would have imposed penalties of up to $20,000 on owners of  unpermitted short-term vacation rentals on Maui. Airbnb

Specifically, the ballot asked voters, “Shall the Charter be amended, effective January 2, 2019, to increase the penalty for the operation of a transient accommodation without a necessary permit from the current $1,000 amount to a civil fine of up to $20,000 plus $10,000 per day for each day the unlawful operation persists?”

The proposal comes as Hawaii counties are struggling to deal with an explosion of unlicensed short-term vacation rentals.

On Oahu, for instance, there were approximately 8,500 short-term rentals being advertised online in August, according to Airdna, a site that provides market data for landlords wanting to rent out their properties. The vast majority were outside of the resort zones where the short-term rentals are allowed.

Public officials face a difficult task of balancing the need to enforce zoning laws with the growing popularity of online services like Airbnb and VRBO. Despite the obvious demand for such alternative accommodations, housing advocates say the rentals are taking away housing for residents and exacerbating already high rents.

Maui generally allows far more short-term rentals than Oahu, said Mike White, a councilman who is also general manager of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. The vacation rentals are generally OK in the resort areas of Kapalua, Kaanapali, Wailea and Makena, White said. That results in some 10,000 permitted short-term rentals, he said.

“I think that’s great,” White said about the early results. “It will give us another tool in our toolbox for dissuading illegal vacation rentals in Maui County.”

Meanwhile, on the Garden Isle, Kauai voters were rejecting a proposal to eliminate term limits for County Council members. The Kauai County Charter limits council members to two four-year terms. But the Kauai County Council in March voted to give the electorate the chance to change that.

Election results showed 74.2 percent of voters opposing the change with 16 percent favoring it.

Council chair Mel Rapozo, vice chair Ross Kagawa and members Arthur Brun, Arryl Kaneshiro and Derek Kawakami voted in favor of letting voters weigh in on the measure, which was introduced by Kagawa. Council members Mason Chock and JoAnn Yukimura opposed it.

“What is good for the President of the United States, the Governor of the State of Hawaii, the Mayors of all counties in Hawaii, and the other County Councils in Hawaii should be good for the Kauai County Council, too,” Yukimura said at a March council meeting, explaining her opposition.

“Ironically, just a few days ago, China moved in the other direction and changed its constitution allowing the current leader to be President for life, and I do not think that is the right direction. I think it is healthy to rest after a certain period of service and I also think that an open-ended political incumbency is not healthy for society.”

Kagawa, meanwhile, had framed the issue as not about open-ended political incumbency, but about giving newcomers the chance to get elected.

“Do we need term limits to give new people the chance?’ he said. “I think the facts show that we do not need term limits.”

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