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PUC chairwoman investigated for illegal rental operation

By Star-Advertiser Staff

LAST UPDATED: 06:52 p.m. HST, Mar 11, 2014

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission chairwoman is being investigated for allegedly illegally building and operating a Hanalei bed and breakfast for more than a decade, the Kauai Garden Island newspaper reported Tuesday.

Hermina 'Mina' Morita and her husband, Lance Laney, ran the vacation rental Taro Patch Hale without permission, and built the secluded North Shore vacation getaway in a state conservation district without the proper permits, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The allegations are expected to discussed at the land board's March 28 meeting, the newspaper said.

Alex Roy, planner of the department's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, wrote that the ongoing investigation -- initiated by an anonymous complaint in 2008 -- "recently afforded new information and evidence that supports this alleged violation claim.

Laney said he has shut down the bed and breakfast facility.

Morita, who represented East and North Kauai in the Legislature from 1997 to 2011, did not return calls to the newspaper.

In a Dec. 16 letter to the couple, William Aila, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said: "We have evidence that the following land uses were conducted on the subject parcel without our knowledge or authorization: clearing of vegetation; grubbing, construction of three building structures; construction of one large carport/building; on-going vacation rental of the Lii Cottage and Nui Cottage." 

Aila ordered the couple to cease further land uses and activities, including all current and future vacation rentals.

Taro Patch Hale is on a 3.18-acre parcel within the State Land Use Conservation District Protective Subzone, at the end of Ohiki Road.

Morita's future as head of the PUC regulatory agency has been in  doubt recently after an Abercrombie staff member reportedly said the governor did not intend to reappoint her. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has declined to say whether he plans to reappoint a Morita when her term ends June 30.

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Maneki_Neko wrote:
Morita got plenny public support when Abercrombie tried to axe her for messing with the fat cat deal for Aian Koa Pono. Faced with so much public opposition, the next thing is to drag her down, make her a one of the bad guys and give Neil ammunition to kick her out.

Eh Neil...we won't forget...Morita was the one that saved us rate payers from the scam that was Aina Koa Pono and fuel costs based on $200/barrel oil and all the other bad parts of that deal.

on March 11,2014 | 09:34AM
star08 wrote:
The state loves B&B and rarely does anything to enforce. That they are on this one... Neil we thought we knew ya. There literally thousands across the state that could be prosecuted easily and they choose the one popular chairwoman? Waimanalo has dozens and dozens of illegals. Easy to map'em but state wants that tax stream... Here, why? We know why.
on March 11,2014 | 11:55AM
KekoaBradshaw wrote:
Forget tghe conspiracy theories, star08. This is an issue because the B&B was built on State land without permission. The issue for illegal vacation rentals and B7B's ion Oahu is that they're on land zoned "residential". Same thing for other island if the illegal renatl is on private property. It's a matter on conforming to zoning laws.
on March 11,2014 | 03:38PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
Except there's dozens of people doing this on Kauai and they don't get letters from the head of DLNR singling them out right as the governor is trying hard to make her disappear and replace her with a more compliant crony.

Don't get me wrong. I think conservation land should only be used as intended and I think the law and rules should enforced, but enforced equally for everyone. Not just the governor's adversaries.

on March 11,2014 | 04:47PM
Mikehono wrote:
Doesn't say built on state land. Could be their land zoned conservation.
on March 11,2014 | 09:06PM
lwandcah wrote:
Sounds like she was spending more time on her personal illegal business then she did doing her job such as keeping HECO in line. What was her pay as head of the PUC?
on March 11,2014 | 09:36AM
pueohonua wrote:
Put things in perspective. She might have a land use issue in a lil B & B operation. So what! She should get a penalty. But to say she hasn't done her job as the PUC Chair is a bunch of B.S. There has been more accountability on the Aina Ka Pono, biofuel that HECO is trying to stuff down our throats because of this PUC Chairwoman and Commissioners. WE all make mistakes we're not all perfect. And I can guarantee neither are you. This sounds like a "railroading"!
on March 11,2014 | 11:35AM
nalogirl wrote:
You are absolutely correct pueohonua. Having Morita on the PUC is a breath of fresh air for us ratepayers.
on March 11,2014 | 11:55AM
islandsun wrote:
Too bad for ratepayers. ABA&M.
on March 11,2014 | 01:00PM
lee1957 wrote:
There are mistakes and there are whoppers. This one is a whopper and her performance as PUC chair has no bearing on this issue.
on March 11,2014 | 12:56PM
localguy wrote:
Actually it does. It calls in to question her professional judgement, or in this case, lack their of. We can't have people on the PUC who willfully thumb their noses at applicable rules and regulations as it could spill over into their job. She willfully put herself in this position, she needs to resign for the good of the Nei.
on March 11,2014 | 08:15PM
localguy wrote:
Not so fast. Hermina was in a leadership position, knowing she must follow all rules and regulations. Then she willfully operates an illegal B&B. Now she is tainted, damaged goods. Her professional judgement is in question. She needs to admit her incompetence and step down. We can't have incompetent people on the PUC. Well, we have some, just need to clear out as many as possible.
on March 11,2014 | 08:13PM
mura4life2000 wrote:
Just another corrupt former politician. When in position of authority they feel like they can get away with anything. It seems all politicians start off with good intentions but in the end, after seeing what they can do with their position they change for the worse. There is no such thing as an honest politician.
on March 11,2014 | 09:42AM
Kate53 wrote:
"Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." It's one reason term limits sometimes make good sense. (After all, there are term limits for the President of the United States.)
on March 11,2014 | 09:54AM
busterb wrote:
Apparently successful Kahuku coaches have term limits too.
on March 11,2014 | 10:17AM
Ulalei wrote:
oh no you di-in't!
on March 11,2014 | 10:10AM
fiveo wrote:
Too early to determine if Morita is doing something improper. Fact that this is coming out now when the Gov is getting a lot of heat for not reappointing Morita to the PUC is somewhat suspect to me. Personally, I do not have a great deal of trust in the Gov and his fellow travelers. Lets see where this all goes.
on March 11,2014 | 10:11AM
shawnchun wrote:
too early? i'm surprised it took this long. running a b&b for ten years!? you bet there should be a lot of records for the courts to sort thru.
on March 11,2014 | 10:53AM
lee1957 wrote:
Guv probably had some inside scoop which led to his decision.
on March 11,2014 | 12:56PM
localguy wrote:
Too early? What part of running an illegal B&B do you fail to understand? No special favors for her. Guilty as charged, she needs to resign from the PUC as her professional judgement is in question.
on March 11,2014 | 08:17PM
Bully wrote:
I watch the House of Cards and I know how these things work, the abercrombie administration wants her out so they look for dirt on her to justfy her ouster. She must have been doing too good of a job and not subject to political pressure from Hawaiian Electric.
on March 11,2014 | 10:12AM
nalogirl wrote:
Yup, that is exactly what is happening but the public can see right through this.
on March 11,2014 | 11:56AM
lee1957 wrote:
She is covered in dirt, so they didn't have to look hard.
on March 11,2014 | 12:57PM
droid wrote:
That doesn’t make it right that they were looking. It’s rare to get a PUC chair who will stand up for the general public and not cater to big business (i.e. HECO). Because she was so good, she is being punished for something that almost everyone else gets away with daily.
on March 11,2014 | 01:50PM
puuloke wrote:
Amazing coincidence that the State went 10 years without any action - okay, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt since they are to busy to enforce land use laws, but SIX YEARS after a complaint. Now the governor needs a reason to dump his popular appointee, so he can take care of his campaign manager and other connected flunkies. People of the State of Hawaii deserve this type of government, because we can't take the time to vote out these corrupt politicians.
on March 11,2014 | 10:15AM
DAGR81 wrote:
What the heck! The investigation was initiated in 2008. This is 2014.
on March 11,2014 | 10:27AM
nalogirl wrote:
Its because Neil wants her out because she didn't endorse his pet project. This is Neil's way to not appoint her because of this minor infraction.
on March 11,2014 | 11:58AM
Tarakian wrote:
Complaint in 2008? So it took six years to resolve? How much money was made? $500,000 my estimate. Oh, did she claim it on her taxes? Another federal investigation?
on March 11,2014 | 10:33AM
Skyler wrote:
Well I guess that settles it - cya, Morita.
on March 11,2014 | 10:47AM
4sanitysake wrote:
Looks like Abercrombie and the Star Advertiser are teaming up to get rid of Morita. Too much coincidence in the timing of this story. Funny how the governor became the very person he so passionately and publicly spoke out against before he was accepted into office...a manipulative politician. auwe.
on March 11,2014 | 10:53AM
Wazdat wrote:
initiated by an anonymous complaint in 2008

Sure moved quickly on that one.

on March 11,2014 | 11:17AM
cojef wrote:
Politicians mimic each other. A freshman rookie politician has to spend some time looking over the lay of the land and watch the veterans rip the taxpayers off. Then after a couple years of observation, notice that they have become gluttonous fat cats. He then decides why not get like those fat cats and joins them at the public trough. Some smarts ones know when to quit, only the fat cats that remain at tough gets slaughtered.
on March 11,2014 | 11:21AM
Mythman wrote:
My, my, so true - same for folks who go to prison - they come out better crooks.
on March 11,2014 | 01:13PM
roadsterred wrote:
" initiated by an anonymous complaint in 2008" It only took about six years for the State to follow up. This is what happens when you don't "play ball" with Abercrombie's cronies. His campaign chair's business venture on the Big Island was shot down by Morita in her official capacity as the PUC's Chairperson.
on March 11,2014 | 11:21AM
KKawa wrote:
To roadsterred: Precisely
on March 11,2014 | 11:54AM
nalogirl wrote:
This has Neil Abercrombie written all over it. Since she wouldn't play ball with him, he will destroy her. We don't need a governor like him.
on March 11,2014 | 11:53AM
MichaelG wrote:
Did you ever think she may have political enemies as well?
on March 11,2014 | 12:29PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
Yeah. Neil Abercrombie.
on March 11,2014 | 12:57PM
Denominator wrote:
We don't like Abercrombie. We also don't like people who cheat. Using their positions of power to cheat the rules and the public is inexcusable. Are there really no honest people? Shame to her and her husband!
on March 11,2014 | 12:54PM
ryan02 wrote:
Abercombie appoints a lot of politicians to higher-paying state jobs. But that's what you get when you appoint politicians -- people who think the law doesn't apply to them, and even if it did, their friends will let any violations slide.
on March 11,2014 | 11:55AM
Mythman wrote:
Indictment. Conviction. Warning to every other insider scum bag - you will be caught.
on March 11,2014 | 01:10PM
akamaiperson wrote:
So it's OK for Mike Wilson to benefit from an illegal vacation rental but not Hermina Morita?
on March 11,2014 | 01:23PM
Paco3185 wrote:
It's not OK for anyone to benefit from this illegal industry - the question is why one out of thousands was chosen to be flashed on the front page. The next question is why something our visitors like so much is so hard to be made legal?
on March 11,2014 | 01:47PM
Huivaa wrote:
It's illegal because B&B hotels and vacation rentals harm neighborhoods and communities by damaging their residential character and reducing the housing supply for local residents!
on March 11,2014 | 10:50PM
Opelu wrote:
Oops, something in the Kauai air. Sounds similar to the DHHL Hanchett situation with the exception of he was a DHHL Commissioner when he did it.
on March 11,2014 | 02:03PM
Barefootie wrote:
In a Dec. 16 letter to the couple, William Aila, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said: "We have evidence that the following land uses were conducted on the subject parcel without our knowledge or authorization: clearing of vegetation; grubbing, construction of three building structures; construction of one large carport/building; on-going vacation rental of the Lii Cottage and Nui Cottage." Right, the DNLR is so slow and oblivious to anything around it,. you could drive a tour bus full of Japanese visitors through it and none of the DLNR people there would blink an eye or notice it at all!
on March 11,2014 | 02:29PM
Mikilai wrote:
all I can say is "Auwe" shame on you
on March 11,2014 | 03:12PM
holumuahawaii wrote:
To those who are choosing to somehow cast blame on the governor for this one, it is going to take a considerable amount of twisting the facts. This has reportedly been going on, secretly, for about 12-14 years! And throughout her entire career as a member of the House and her Chairmanship of the Environmental Committee.
on March 11,2014 | 04:46PM
Waterman2 wrote:
As Mina M was so active in using zoning and DLNR rules to destroy those who opposed her desires when the boating industry in Hanalei was railroaded out of town it seems almost comically karmic that she is now shot down by the same gun. Have to give it to some of the owners of those destroyed businesses, they have long memories. If you want to play politics, best keep your skirt clean.
on March 11,2014 | 04:58PM
MichaelG wrote:
More then likely these are the ones who complained and not the governor. BB for 10 years....it didn't happen yesterday.
on March 11,2014 | 05:11PM
Waterman2 wrote:
Yup, or their landlord.
on March 11,2014 | 08:01PM
Waterman2 wrote:
Lots of old grudges in beautiful Hanalei.
on March 11,2014 | 08:02PM
AndrewWalden wrote:
Meanwhile, just ignore this: Zoning Board: Abercrombie's Supreme Court Pick Operating Illegal TVR for Over a Decade http://www.hawaiifreepress.com/ArticlesMain/tabid/56/ID/12099/Zoning-Board-Abercrombies-Supreme-Court-Pick-Operating-Illegal-Enterprise-for-Over-a-Decade.aspx
on March 11,2014 | 07:54PM
ThinkFirst wrote:
I want to hear what Morita has to say. If anybody deserves the benefit of the doubt, it's her. She does care about doing what's right, and she will tell the truth. If you want to see DLNR's rules for conservation land, they're here: http://www6.hawaii.gov/dlnr/occl/Rules.php. Some buildings are allowed in some areas, with different requirements and restrictions. Some rules were put in place in 2006, some in 1994, and areas were designated at different times. We don't know when the couple acquired the land, when the buildings were added (or who did), when or if the rules changed, how or if they were notified.

If you own the land, and there's already a house on there, and you get your building permits, you might think you're OK. Until, of course, you become a celebrity and everything you do becomes newsworthy.

Let's also be fair to DLNR. It's their responsibility to be fair and impartial. If they did not handle this the way they always handle these cases, something would be wrong.

Perhaps everybody should just.. calm down?
on March 11,2014 | 08:00PM
localguy wrote:
Hermina 'Mina' Morita hasn't got a clue what it means to be in an appointed/government position, paid by tax payers. You must have high ethical and moral standards, selfless service, placing the needs of others before yours. That said, Hermina willfully failed to work to these standards, operating an illegal B&B, knowing it was against all applicable codes and regulations. She has willfully violated the public's trust, no respect from anyone. Hermina needs to "Women Up" admit she can't make the cut, and step down from her position. She is damaged goods, no longer fit to hold this position. Sorry Hermina, you did this to yourself. No sympathy from anyone. Best of luck in your next career, what ever it is. Will not be on the tax payer's dime.
on March 11,2014 | 08:10PM
Papakolea wrote:
I thought when you're a political appointee those rules that govern the minions don't apply to you?
on March 11,2014 | 10:17PM
Anonymous wrote:
Thank you Mina for fighting for us for so long, standing up against power. Nobody is perfect. Mahalo piha for all the good you did and do. We remember!
on March 11,2014 | 11:40PM
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