Coastal vs. Postal

Letters I’ve written/Never meaning to send

-The Moody Blues, “Nights in White Satin”

I once fancied myself as a steadfast letter writer. I would take great care to keep in touch with family and friends in far away places, all via the U.S. mail.

Years have passed, and postal rates continue to rise. Faxes, emails and text messages—previously enjoyed only by George Jetson and family—have supplanted handwritten letters and cards. Seemingly, everyone has less time than they once had, and the immediacy of communication often trumps that carefully crafted epistle of days gone by.

Still, letters can be powerful, moving, nostalgic, or just thoughtful. There is much truth in the adage penned by 19th century author Edward Bulwer-Lytton: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” (The playwright and novelist is often lampooned for his clichéd beginning of a novel, “It was a dark and stormy night,” but that’s another story).

As I sit in my office on President’s Day, a federal holiday with no U.S. Postal Service delivery, I ponder the events of recent days and weeks, and letters I’d write—if only there were time…

Dear Councilmember Gladys Baisa,

Just a quick note to let you know I appreciate your dedication to serving the Maui community that elected you. I see you often at public events, like the recent Sierra Club annual meeting in Spreckelsville. Your demeanor is so filled with aloha spirit that it’s little wonder you have been so successful in your previous endeavors of serving our island’s people.

Thanks also for including me in your Planning Committee panel discussion on Biomass Energy and related topics. That was a wonderfully lively discussion of issues that really matter, including renewable energy and food security.

I’m writing to find out if it’s true that the quote attributed to you in The Maui News regarding your “yes” vote on Wailea 670 is accurate. You said you were torn between leaving the project area undeveloped and providing housing for the “real people of Maui.” “Our children have no homes,” you said. “Our carpenters have no jobs.”

Is that really what you believe? Because my understanding is that there is so much construction work that workers are coming from elsewhere, like the $95 million remodel of the Ritz Carlton Kapalua by Ledcor Construction, Inc. Ledcor is a huge firm with 14 satellite offices across the Mainland, one of which is in Honolulu.

Alexander & Baldwin received approvals to build their Kahului Airport Hotel across from Costco back in 2002. But construction bids from six companies came in so high that the plans to build a 134-room Marriot Courtyard Hotel on that site have been stalled indefinitely.

Roy Katsuda, Executive Director of Hale Mahaolu, recently told me that bids for Phase II of their senior affordable housing project in Kihei came in 80 percent higher than Phase I. Construction workers I know tell me they have been guaranteed work for years to come.

So why is it that this sympathy card of no jobs gets played again and again? More to the point, why is it that council members are buying it?

The 700 luxury homes Wailea 670 plans to build around a private golf course could easily command $1-3 million each, making this approval worth somewhere upwards of a $2 billion project. The 700 “affordable” units are either poorly located rentals or out of reach for most of the local families you hope to accommodate. I could go on about why I think this approval is ill conceived, as many, many testifiers have done over the past several years.

I’m not picking on you, Gladys, as I really do like and admire you. I realize that your vote wasn’t exactly pivotal, as there still would have been five votes to pass first reading. I just had hoped for better decisions from you, and wanted you to know.

Sincerely,

ROB

Dear Ted Liu,

Mahalo for your many years of service to Hawai‘i through your work and guidance with the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. As someone who spent a four-year stint as a county employee, I can sympathize with the rigors of working within a bureaucratic structure as well as in the political arena.

Thanks also for your recent Viewpoint contribution to The Maui News, “Innovative thinking a must for energy independence.” What I liked about it the most is that it could have easily been fluff and PR, but that you actually touched on some pivotal issues for our energy future.

Like you, I see a bright economic future for utilizing our locally abundant renewable energy sources. The announced support of the U.S. Department of Energy in signing an initiative with Governor Linda Lingle to raise our capability of using non-imported energy sources to 70 percent by 2030 is laudable, even if the mechanisms on how to get there are fuzzy. That is to say, unless there are real shifts in the “power structure” (pun intended), I’m not confident that the outcome will represent fairness and equanimity to the people of Hawai‘i. Corporate and political powers have an uncanny way of blurring our vision for the future.

I cringed when I read that UPC/Kaheawa Wind Farms had to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission to bring attention to the brick wall they ran into with Maui Electric Company (MECO), trying to get them to accept more clean, local energy. MECO claimed they have reliability issues, due to the variations in output, even though UPC hopes to overcome that with battery storage.

Your published comments indicate that rather than taking a stance of choosing the Shell Wind project in Ulupalakua over UPC expansion at the Kaheawa site, “MECO should utilize as much renewable energy instead of imported oil as possible. It should take more wind projects. Instead of focusing on reliability to the exclusion of other important issues, MECO should vigorously pursue engineering and technical solutions to make renewable energy sources as reliable as possible.”

Thanks for saying that, Ted. It’s not often a government official has the guts to tell our public utilities what to do. I have no big issue with MECO, as I believe the people there are good folks, but beholden to larger decisions made by their parent company, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). If we are to be successful in attaining our self-sufficiency goals, your leadership and willingness to call out our “power brokers” on their poor, “business as usual,” choices will be crucial.

With aloha,

ROB

Dear Mayor Charmaine Tavares,

I had the opportunity to attend the Maui Coastal Land Trust’s seventh annual “Buy Back the Beach” luau on Feb. 16 in Lahaina. Thank you for being there, and for supporting this worthy cause.

I must say, I was somewhat shocked by your introductory comments. You told the audience of developers, conservationists, locals and visitors, “Don’t believe everything you read in the Letters page of the newspaper. Those people aren’t the real people of Maui.”

Forgive my expressing this in a letter, but I believe constructive criticism of elected officials is a constitutionally protected right. Hearing you try to deflect the fallout over transient vacation rentals and other issues at an event such as this strikes me as being way off topic.

This was an evening for celebrating the successes, in a short seven years, of a truly collaborative effort to preserve precious coastal lands and easements throughout Maui County. The evening was about preserving conservation resources for the future, not defending a political decision to shut down a viable economic sector in our community.

The bright spot was that even development factions see the wisdom in preserving our beachfronts and coastal properties. For example, Wailea 670 representative Charlie Jencks had the winning bid on an auction item.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share my mana‘o with you and hope you will be more willing to accept, and not insulate yourself from public input in your next three years of serving our community.

Mahalo, malama pono,

ROB MTW

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