LAHAINA, Hawaii (KHON2) — The planned return of tourists to West Maui is only five days away and many Lāhainā fire survivors believing and feeling that this date is too early.

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, the group Lāhainā Strong will be joined by West Maui lawmakers as they deliver over 10,000 petition signatures to Governor Josh Green, M.D.

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“Our community is in pain, deep in grief, and physically and emotionally exhausted. The decision to reopen tourism on October 8th, when many of our residents neither feel prepared nor capable of extending the aloha spirit to incoming tourists, seems ill-timed on the part of our government. The day-to-day uncertainty that plagues our community must be addressed as a top priority before we even consider reopening,” said Lāhainā Strong organizer Jordan Ruidas.

The petition is asking the governor to delay the reopening to tourism pointing out that the community is far from ready, both mentally and physically.

We urgently need long-term housing solutions and the assurance of safe schooling and childcare facilities right here in Lāhainā. What we don’t believe in is a hasty, makeshift approach by the government, just so they can claim they’ve offered solutions and rush toward reopening. It’s imperative that this process is executed thoughtfully and prioritizes the well-being of our community members over tourism industry profits.”

The petition is asking for the following:

  • Come to West Maui and hear directly from the community: Governor Green and Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke are invited by community leaders to a community meeting and listening session this Friday, October 6th at Hanakao’o Beach Park at 4pm to listen to the voices of West Maui on why they need more time.
  • Allow survivors more time to Grieve: Our West Maui ‘ohana needs time to grieve. The community has repeatedly expressed that they are not mentally and emotionally prepared to welcome and serve tourists, following the traumatic impact of the fires. 
  • Stabilize Housing and Rent for Impacted Residents: Thousands of Lāhainā residents were displaced by the wildfire, most of whom are still in temporary housing. The temporary shelter process has been additionally traumatizing, with families receiving bills, facing evictions, and experiencing multiple relocations in a matter of weeks. People don’t know where they will be living a week from today, yet are expected to return to business as usual. Rent also continues to spike and must be stabilized. This is unacceptable and must be resolved before expecting survivors to return to serving tourists.
  • Ensure Safety and Schooling for our Children: Plans to move children back to the Lāhaināluna school complex are raising new safety concerns about evacuation routes and the uncertainty surrounding the impact of disturbed ashes during the future cleanup efforts below the schools and the shifting winds.
  • Provide a COVID-level Safety Net for Working Families and Local Businesses: Returning to work because you have no choice isn’t the same as wanting to return, especially for families who are still grieving and haven’t had the chance to address their personal affairs. They need financial aid, mental respite, and protection from creditors. We are asking that Governor Green utilize the $200 million of general discretionary funds provided by the Legislature to extend direct unemployment assistance to workers and grants for small businesses. In addition, Governor Green and Hawaii’s federal representatives should call upon the federal government to extend their assistance beyond FEMA block grants and TANF to allow impacted residents and small businesses. The federal response during the COVID crisis has demonstrated that we can hit pause for 300 million Americans. Surely, we can provide a similar safety net for the people of Maui during their darkest hours.
  • Enact a Moratorium on Foreclosures: A three-year moratorium on foreclosures is critical to fend off land grabbers and reduce anxiety for displaced residents. No one should be forced to pay a mortgage for a home lost to this disaster or lose their familial land as a result of being unable to pay. Similar protections must also be extended to commercial properties owned by Maui residents.
  • Allow Tensions with Tourists to Subside: there is a growing concern about incidents involving tourists and local residents. We believe that pressing forward with the reopening—without first ensuring that our mental, emotional, and physical needs are met—could have long-lasting consequences for residents, businesses, and visitors. Any expectation that grieving workers should serve tourists during this moment of grief is extractive and morally reprehensible. 
  • Market other Maui Regions to Tourists: There is a lack of visible efforts to pivot our tourism marketing towards other areas of the island that are better able to welcome visitors. Insisting on reopening West Maui in its current state risks damaging the reputation of Hawaii tourism as a whole, and deepening the trauma resulting from the wildfires.

“Many people I have spoken to are really struggling with all of the unknowns; many have already had to move 3 or 4 times with their family and all of their belongings, sometimes from one end of the island to the other. They have gotten conflicting information from different workers in the same agency, they have filled and re-filled out countless forms and they are not in a place mentally or emotionally to put a smile on their face and host strangers and answer intrusive questions. We need marketing for other parts of Maui like Wailea welcomes you and Makena misses you but please let West Maui grieve,” said Maui County Councilmember Tamara Paltin.

Speakers will include Lāhainā Strong community representatives, West Maui County Councilmember Tamara Paltin, and Senator Angus McKelvey (Senate District 6, West Maui, Ma’alaea, Waikapu, South Maui.)

Area lawmakers have joined the call to prevent the worsening of hardship for Lāhainā residents who lost family, homes and businesses in the Aug. 8 inferno. 

“While we understand the pressing need for revenue for our small businesses and financial support for our workers, it becomes a daunting task to ask our community members, especially the wildfire survivors, to set aside their grief and trauma to make way for outsiders,” urged Senator McKelvey in a September 29 letter to Governor Green. “Pitting the needs of the tourism industry against the needs of a community trying to heal is not the solution we seek. It is vital to ensure a balance by creating a solution that does not exacerbate the issues of an already fragile community.”

Speakers for the group intent to address the concerns of residents and present a compelling case for delaying the reopening of tourism in West Maui.

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They also said that the community’s plea is backed by more than 10,000 signatures on a petition to delay the Oct. 8 reopening date/ This includes more than 1,000 attendees at the recent Maui County Council meeting.