Where There Is Smoke –

The glimmering coals of a campfire in the mountains, barbequing shrimp and ribs (with cold beer in hand) in the front yard with family and friends and ringing in the new year in front of a roaring bonfire on the beach at Kealia – are some of my fondest life memories.

Even when the memory is so faint you may not remember other details, you never forget the flickering of the flames and the pungent smell of the smoke.

To be clear: I will never ever support taking this away.

Bill #2573 is intended to narrowly address situations in our community where individuals intentionally or recklessly bring harm to someone else through their constant burning.

Unfortunately there are situations in neighborhoods where the homes are very close together, certain residents’ burn wood and other items in their fireplaces day after day year-round, even on the warmest days of summer – flooding neighboring homes with smoke on a regular basis to a degree where medical attention is needed.

Myself and other council members have attempted to engage the Department of Health and other agencies to help resolve one particularly egregious example. Even though there is an abundance of evidence pointing to negative health impacts, these impacted residents have been repeatedly told “there is nothing the agency could do”. These families offered to participate in mediation and they even offered to purchase a gas fireplace to replace the wood burning one – all to no avail.

Two years ago these families reached out to me for help. I explained as best I could the complexity of the issue but promised to investigate and explore different ways that this might be addressed. In my research I discovered that this issue was not a new one and that many communities around the nation have laws dealing with this type of situation including Maui County here in Hawaii.

Bill #2573 which is modeled almost identically after that existing Maui ordinance was my attempt to fulfill my promise to these families that I would try to help. My original drafts did not criminalize the action, limited the ordinance to only neighborhoods where homes were very close together, and required impacted residents to prove harm via an affidavit from a medical Doctor.

However in discussing the options with the Kauai County Attorney it was his recommendation that instead we simply mimic the existing Maui law which has been in existence since 1949 apparently with no negative consequences.

The normal practice involved in passing a county ordinance is that there is a “First Reading” which occurred this past Wednesday and then a public hearing is scheduled (February 11th). After the public hearing is held the Bill is then referred to a committee where the measure is either passed, amended, deferred for further review or killed.

Passing a Bill on “First Reading” merely authorizes the conversation to occur. Unless the Bill is passed on First Reading there can be no public hearing and no discussion of the issue among council members.

It is against the Sunshine Law for more than two council members to meet privately to have this type of discussion. The only way to engage a full, robust and legal discussion seeking solutions to various challenges within our community is to place the item on the table which was done in this case via the introduction of Bill #2573.

The act of putting a Bill like this on the table for public consideration and debate by its nature causes the Council and to some extent the public to think through the various options and implications, and to seek alternative solutions.

The actual additional cost to the County to have this discussion is minimal or zero as most costs are built in to the regular day to day operations.  To be clear I understand we could all be doing other things, but tangible budget impacts are negligible.

I agree that the language of Bill #2573 can be greatly improved.  It is my intention to take into consideration all of the public input and work with the County Attorney and my colleagues on the Council, and ultimately craft language that completely exempts all traditional, customary and everyday cooking practices and keep the focus only on the very tiny egregious incidents where people actually have to seek medical help because of the constant, intentional or reckless burning of a thoughtless neighbor that

Many in our community have raised excellent points as to how this measure might be improved. As the process moves forward many of these suggestions will likely be dealt with via the amendment process as determined by the Council Committee and then the entire Council. Or, at the end of the day if consensus on the Council and in the community cannot be reached, the matter could be deferred for more study or killed completely – such is the process of lawmaking.

Of course my preference is that we pass no law at all, that mutual respect and consideration be the norm among neighbors, and that the golden rule prevails without the need for Bills, public hearings or other such nonsense.

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About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person. I presently serve now as a volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org In a past life I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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