Fact Check: Hawaii's Governor Green Did NOT Announce State To Take Ownership Of Lahaina To Turn It Into A 'Smart City'

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: Hawaii's Governor Green Did NOT Announce State To Take Ownership Of Lahaina To Turn It Into A 'Smart City' Didn't Say It

Did Hawaii Gov. Josh Green announce in mid-August 2023 that the state will take ownership of Lahaina to convert it into "a smart city"? No, that's not true: The governor discussed a range of measures aimed at protecting housing security for local populations in response to people's concerns about displacement in the aftermath of wildfires.

The claim appeared in a reel published on Facebook on August 15, 2023, under the title:

Governor Green wants to turn Lahaina Maui into state lands. All planned for smart city.

The video opened with a shot of Hawaii's Governor, telling journalists the following:

...already thinking about ways for the state to acquire that land so that we can put it into workforce houses.

Here is what it looked like at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2023-08-17 at 1.17.29 PM.png

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Aug 17 17:17:29 2023 UTC)

However, that was not what the governor said, even in the post that is the focus of this debunk.

A longer version of the same video capturing the governor's visit to Lahaina shows that he did not even mention the concept of smart cities while discussing the state's further steps in response to Lahaina's destruction and the loss of human lives:

I'm already thinking about ways for the state to acquire that land so that we can put it into workforce housing, to put it back into families, or to make it open spaces in perpetuity as a memorial to people who were lost. We want this to be something that we remember after the pain passes.

A local TV station report posted on August 13, 2023, includes the continuation of the governor's words that further clarifies the intended meaning of his words:

We want this to be something that we remember after the pain passes as a magic place, and behind it, we'll rebuild. A tragedy right now is the loss of life. The buildings can be rebuilt over time. Even the banyan tree may survive. But we don't want this to become a clear space where people from overseas just come and decide they're gonna take it. The state will take it and preserve it first.

That was largely a response to the concerns locals shared with journalists, that long-term residents would be priced out from the area if it starts to attract major developers.

Another potential measure voiced by the governor was a temporary sales ban on all fire-damaged homes to protect people from permanent displacement.

As of this writing, a search across the official website of Hawaii's governor did not produce any matches for the exact phrase "smart city":

Screen Shot 2023-08-17 at 2.01.33 PM.png

(Source: Governor.hawaii.gov screenshot taken on Thu Aug 17 18:01:33 2023 UTC)

While the exact details of a rebuilding plan haven't been determined yet, the island of Maui, as of this writing, is receiving federal emergency grants. For example, they include resources for covering the cost of home repairs and temporary housing.

The summary of the White House response to the Maui wildfires says nothing about a "smart city" in Lahaina:

Screen Shot 2023-08-17 at 1.56.40 PM.png

(Source: White House screenshot taken on Thu Aug 17 17:56:40 2023 UTC)

The woman who appears in the video on Facebook wearing a camouflage cap right after the governor did not offer any evidence to corroborate the claim. She only vaguely mentioned that the governor is "involved" with the Digital Summit.

The Digital Summit is an annual conference taking place in a different location in Hawaii. It focuses on discussing various aspects of incorporating new technologies into governance.

In the aftermath of the wildfires, social media saw an influx of false claims implying that there was some kind of plot involving the recent fires either in the city of Lahaina or on the entire island of Maui to expedite innovations. Lead Stories debunked that here.

As similar claims about the Digital Summit multiplied on the Internet, the conference added a statement to the front page of its website:

Screen Shot 2023-08-16 at 7.08.51 PM.png

(Source: Events.govtech.com screenshot taken on Wed Aug 16 23:08:51 2023 UTC)

Other accounts that shared the same shortened video quote from the governor paired with the same claim about turning Lahaina into a "smart city" implied that this theory was supported by the trees still standing in the damaged areas (for example, here; achieved here), but as Lead Stories wrote, some plants do develop natural protections to survive in fire-prone environments and tree survival does not prove the fires were set by a shadowy cabal engaged in a conspiracy to take over Lahaina, a town of 14,000 on an island of 165,000 people.

Other Lead Stories fact checks about wildfires can be found here.

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