WAILUKU - No additional hostess bars will be allowed in Maui County, as Mayor Alan Arakawa recently signed off on administrative rules to leave a hostess bar cap in place at 12 establishments.
Arakawa decided to bypass a decision by the Liquor Control Commission, which in March voted to lift the cap on the number of hostess bars. Arakawa has the last say on the administrative rules.
"Mayor Arakawa felt that removing the hostess bar cap was not the right thing to do for the community," said County Communications Director Rod Antone.
Arakawa stated his position even before his office received around 10 to 12 letters against removing the cap, Antone said.
He added that the letter writers alleged that the hostess bars drove families apart and promoted sex trafficking. There were no letters in support of removing the cap, Antone said.
In a hostess bar, employees are allowed to sit with and entertain patrons, although the employees are not allowed to consume alcohol.
Wailuku attorney Douglas Sameshima, who submitted written testimony to the commission in support of lifting the cap, declined to comment on Arakawa's decision.
In his letter, Sameshima said his client believed that there is no reason, "legal or practical," to keep a 12-license limit for hostess bars.
Robert Tanaka, immediate past chairman of the Liquor Control Commission, whose members voted to lift the cap during Tanaka's recent term, said he understood Arakawa's decision, knowing that Arakawa had letters urging him to not remove the cap.
Tanaka said the commission voted to lift the cap because of "free enterprise" reasons and thought that the licenses "should be open to everybody."
He added that no one verbally testified for or against lifting the cap at a public hearing in March.
Tanaka said the hostess bar licenses have become very valuable, and when they are transferred, it involves an "enormous amount of money."
He said the commission thought it wasn't fair for those wanting to open a hostess bar to pay more than what an actual license is worth. A basic annual fee for this type of liquor license is $600, while Tanaka has heard of the license being transferred for many times that amount.
Tanaka, a longtime periodic member of the commission, said that removing the cap wouldn't necessarily mean a deluge of hostess bars and that "supply and demand" would regulate the numbers.
For example, Tanaka said that back in the 1980s there was a limit of 50 liquor licenses in Lahaina. People were afraid that there also would be more bars if there was no limit on liquor licenses in the old whaling town.
Like the hostess bar license today, the Lahaina liquor license became worth a lot of money.
But the limit has since been lifted, and there are only around 35 liquor licenses today in Lahaina, Tanaka said.
A Department of Liquor Control official said that over the years the department has received letters with requests to lift the cap on hostess bars, with one person citing "commercial-free enterprise reasons" and that Maui County's population has increased over the years since the cap was put in place.
Liquor Control Director Franklyn Silva had said previously that prior to the cap of a dozen hostess bars, which went into effect in the early 1990s, the county had a "policy" of no more than five hostess bars. At that time, there was a lot of discussion on whether the community wanted hostess bars or not.
But when an applicant applied for a hostess bar license and was turned away because five licenses already had been granted, the applicant mounted a legal challenge and won in state court.
Then a county rule was established that capped the bars at 12.
In addition to keeping the hostess bar cap in place, Arakawa on April 11 signed off on some rule changes that went into effect April 22.
Liquor Control Deputy Director Traci Fujita Villarosa said it was important to do some rule amendments, as the rules had not been revised since 2007.
She said some rule changes were housekeeping matters, while others were changed to help the county implement state liquor laws currently on the books.
Among the rule changes, Villarosa said, the one that would probably affect the public the most is the rule that will now allow people to bring in wine to food establishments, if those businesses allow customers to do so.
Previous rules didn't allow customers to bring their own wine to establishments with liquor licenses.
Villarosa said the change was encouraged by the public.
This past week, the Liquor Department held meetings with liquor licensees to explain the amendments to the administrative rules.
The amended rules can be found at www.mauicounty.gov/index.aspx?nid=1004.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.