Reality vs. Insanity

More than 200 people gathered at Kihei Community Center on the evening of May 14 to hear the possible impacts of continued South Maui development. Many had driven past the corner of Mokulele and Pi‘ilani Highways, where a banner in bold letters shouted, “13,000 more houses?” That’s according to regional data from the Maui County Planning Department on designated and proposed housing units.

Maui Tomorrow Foundation and SaveMakena.org organized the panel discussion, complete with great pupus. Six panelists gave answers to poignant questions regarding water, traffic, smart growth, affordable housing and distinctive cultural and botanical sites.  

They may have been “preaching to the choir”—the audience seemed to resonate with calls to slow down and limit growth. Still, the educational evening provided a rational counterpoint to well-funded developer sales pitches and claims that more luxury housing is in Maui’s best interest.

Wailea 670/Honua‘ula was most often cited as creating the biggest impacts. The proposal for 1,400 new housing units, a private golf course and wastewater treatment facility is likely to face County Council Land Use Committee hearings next month on their pending applications.

But a groundswell of community concerns may cause the Wailea 670 developers to address tough questions regarding potential impacts, much as Makena Resort did in 2004 when County Council members attached 42 conditions to their rezoning requests.

Isaac Moriwake, an Oahu attorney with Earthjustice, addressed water issues. Maui Tomorrow and Earthjustice are among the petitioners asking the State Water Commission to consider “designating” the stream waters of Na Wai Eha (‘Iao, Waikapu, Waiehu and Waihe‘e Streams) as a water management area. The groundwater of the ‘Iao Aquifer is already designated as such, having surpassed its sustainable yield of pumping to service Central and South Maui.

“Domestic water is tapped out,” said Moriwake. “It has been overdrawn for many years. Now there is a push to use the streams as a source. We need to support the streams and lo‘i [taro] and let the older generation know the party’s over. Don’t mortgage away our future.”

Moriwake said that treating Wailuku Water Company (formerly Wailuku Sugar and Wailuku Agribusiness) as a private water seller is, “antithetical to the State Constitution’s mandate that water be held in a public trust.”

Wailea 670’s representative has stated that their proposed development has “plenty of water” and will include a private water system. These assurances didn’t mollify Moriwake.

“There are many wells in South Maui, and all are brackish,” he said. “The water area is screaming for people to take action. We need to ask some ‘get real’ questions such as, ‘Does the developer have the right to build in a desert?’”

Moriwake spoke of the need for a water availability rule, or a “Show me the water law” such as the one California instituted. Councilmember Michelle Anderson, who chairs the Water Resources Committee, was in the audience and said that the Council is working on such a bill that would require a developer to provide complete water analysis and show that they have adequate water supply for the next 20 years.

Affordable housing was another big topic. Stan Franco of Housing for the Local Person said that even with the new Workforce Housing Policy passed last year—requiring 40-50 percent affordable units with any new development—“We’re in a crisis right now.” But he said cooperation is happening, and that an estimated 4,200 units are needed. He acknowledged that Councilmember Anderson was also working on an ordinance that would prioritize available water resources for affordable housing.

Maui Meadows resident Zach Franks, billed as a “smart growth” developer, said the key to visioning is to ask if a project proposal will improve things or make them worse. He said that urban infill is less expensive, and enables towns to become more vital and richer. He suggested that maybe the Wailea 670 developer could put in 200 units, a hundred each of affordable and market price, and “call it a day.”

Dr. Lee Altenberg, a University of Hawai‘i at Manoa professor and chair of Maui’s Native Hawaiian Plant Society, showed a presentation of the remnant native dryland forest that exists on 110 of the parcel’s 670 acres. He noted that 24 native plant species are found in this ecosystem growing on an a‘a lava flow that dates back to 8300 B.C. Native wiliwili trees perhaps hundreds of years old are found here, as are awikiwiki and nehe—rare enough to be considered as candidates for listing as threatened and endangered species.

Current plans call for a private golf course and wastewater treatment plant constructed in this portion, with a mere six acres set aside for native plants. Altenberg called for the developer to set aside the entire lava flow native plant habitat as a botanical preserve.

But the most compelling speaker of the evening was Ed Lindsey, a retired schoolteacher. Since 2000, Lindsey has been directing archaeological stabilization and reforestation in West Maui’s Honokowai Valley as part of Maui Cultural Lands, which formed as a non-profit in 2002. The organization has also recently begun replanting the native forest around the top three turbines of the Kaheawa Pastures Wind Farm project.

Lindsey was asked what areas of South Maui merit preservation.

“Golf courses and archaeological sites don’t mix,” he said, blaming off-island money. “I cry for what’s happening to Hawaiian people here. It’s a crime.”  

Lindsey addressed the move to rename the Wailea 670 project to Honua‘ula.

“It’s window-dressing,” he said. “You need to be worthy of that name. You had better put Hawaiian spirit and values in there before you do anything.”

He noted that the Honua‘ula area of South Maui was once the fourth most populated area on the entire island, but that little evidence of that remains.

“Some places gotta be left alone,” Lindsey said. “We think we own the world. Here’s a news flash: We don’t. We represent the plants and animals and spirits and stories that have taken place here. Don’t destroy any more of our cultural sites.”

“What can young local folks do?” someone asked him.

“To the kanaka maoli [Native Hawaiians],” he said, “onipa‘a [be steadfast]. Do your homework. Don’t be a wacko, don’t be angry. Maintain your credibility. Speak out. Sometimes pidgin is the best kine language… it cuts through the B.S. Speak from your heart. Work the land. Open up a lo‘i.”

After the meeting, a group of several young people gathered around Lindsey, eager to thank him for imparting his wisdom and advice.

Community participation in Maui’s planning process has often been painted as select citizens and environmental groups simply opposing everything. In fact, a Maui News story even referred to the evening as an “anti-development event.”

But on this evening, it was clear that both the speakers and audience members were there because of what they supported: cultural and native plant preservation, water conservation, traffic solution, affordable housing and a better quality of life. Rather than “development vs. anti-development,” the evening discussion more closely reflected “reason vs. insanity.” MTW

This is After Entry