Director of Planning and Permits Department recuses himself from working on short-term rental bill

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Department of Planning and Permits Director Dean Uchida recused himself from working on the controversial short-term rental bill after advice from the Honolulu Ethics Commission advised against his involvement, although they found unlikely that he violated any of the city’s ethics laws.

The DPP sent the Honolulu Star-Advertiser documents from the Honolulu Ethics Commission which explained that a complaint had been filed, alleging that Uchida had a financial conflict of interest on Bill 41 due to his wife, Joy Uchida being an executive at Aqua Aston Hospitality, LLC.

Honolulu Ethics Commission Deputy Executive Director Laurie Wong-Nowinski wrote that because Uchida would not take any official action on the bill and his wife’s job did not depend on the passage of the bill, it would not violate any ethics law in the city. However, the commission encourages public officials to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. This is why Wong-Nowinski recommended that he withdraw from Bill 41 and hand over his responsibilities to his staff.

Uchida filed a conflict of interest disclosure form on January 25, where he wrote, “I am filing this disclosure out of caution.”

Bill 41 has been highly controversial as it would notably change the minimum length of stay in a short-term rental from 30 days to 90 days.

The Oahu Short-Term Rental Alliance wrote in a statement that it believes Uchida’s recusal is overdue.

“The entire process for Bill 41 was done behind closed doors in an effort to support the hospitality industry and the hospitality industry alone,” they wrote.

“To restore the integrity of the law-making process and begin to rebuild the trust of our community, we need to start from scratch with transparency and genuine collaboration from all stakeholders. We call on City Council to institute a balanced advisory council on short-term hire to carefully examine all laws, with data and facts, with all voices heard and represented, and with a focus on solutions that will actually work for everyone.

A provision in a previous version of the bill would have required certain short-term rentals to be managed by a hotel, but it has been removed from the current version.

Bill 41 was passed by the Zoning and Planning Committee in late March and is awaiting third and final reading before the full council.

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