Audience members listened to hours of testimony at the Maui County Council meeting Wednesday in Kaanapali. (Paula Dobbyn/Civil Beat/2023)
Walker-Baricuatro told committee members that she’s really struggling. She can’t stay at her mother’s house or her sister’s house as those were incinerated.
Echoing the sentiments of others, she said she’s exhausted from signing up for disaster assistance, shuffling between hotels and Airbnbs, worrying about bills, and desperately trying to find a place she can afford to start over.
“I can’t find a decent rental for less than $4,000 that allows pets,” Walker-Baricuatro said.
She’s worried about rising property taxes she won’t be able to pay. “How are we going to survive for the next few years?”
It was a question on everyone’s mind.
With her voice shaking, Walker-Baricuatro asked council members to make decisions that put the displaced residents of Lahaina before all others.
“Can you take care of the Lahaina people first before you open it up to visitors?” she asked, referring to Oct. 8 when a phased re-entry of tourists to West Maui is scheduled to begin.
“Show us that our government cares for us,” she said.
As a tearful Walker-Baricuatro concluded her testimony and left the podium, West Maui council member Tamara Paltin asked her to return. She wanted her to know about an upcoming council meeting where a measure to address property taxes would be on the agenda.
The proposal needs public support to move, said Paltin, committee vice chair.
“Why can’t you just give it to us?” Walker-Baricuatro said, questioning why it was necessary for her to rally in support of a bill to provide property tax relief for her home that burnt down.
“Because I need five votes,” Paltin replied. “There are nine people on the council. I’m one person.”
Walker-Baricuatro said her house is gone, she’s working part-time to support her kids, and she’s emotionally tapped out.
“You’re going to make me go to another meeting that’s going to take away from my income that’s going to provide for my family?” she asked.
Passionate views over Maui’s complicated history of water rights and the current way water is owned and distributed on the island, and particularly in West Maui, were a recurring theme at Wednesday’s meeting. Until longstanding feuds over the current system are resolved, it’ll be hard to heal Lahina and move forward, several testifiers said.
Many also called for better land management and heavy fines for land owners who neglect to eradicate invasive grasses and allow the soil to dry out.
“Why have we not learned from the 2018 fire?” one testifier said, a question raised by several others.
Several people said they’re worried about sending their children back to public school in Lahaina due to what they view as inadequate or nonexistent evacuation routes. State education officials announced Tuesday that Lahainaluna High School would reopen on Oct. 16, followed by Lahaina Intermediate on Oct. 17 and Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary on Oct. 18.