Economists seem to live on a different
planet. Their model is like that of cancer cells; that the economy must
grow forever. But we’ve used up what should be the rightful legacy of
our children and grandchildren.
– David Suzuki, scientist and environmentalist
David Suzuki is a riveting speaker. The night of Wednesday, Mar. 14,
the scientist addressed an overflow crowd at the Maui Arts and Culture
Center’s McCoy Theater as part of the Focus Green lecture series. His
topic was our narrow window of opportunity to alter the collision
course we are on with the planet that sustains us. Or, as he quoted his
daughter: “This is the moment when we will define the future of
humankind and all species.”
Absent from the listening audience were members of the Maui County
Council, who were busy deliberating a rezoning application from Wailea
670 (Honua`ula) to develop 1,400 new housing units and a golf course in
Given the urgency of Suzuki’s message and the apparent folly of
constructing a seventh golf course in the Kihei-Wailea-Makena region,
perhaps the Council Members’ time would have been better spent
listening to Sukuki.
David Suzuki received his doctorate in zoology in 1961 and conducted
genetic research with fruit flies. He is the popular, respected host of
the Canadian television series The Nature of Things,
as well as the author of 34 books, half of them for children. He has
spent the last 35 years fighting logging in British Columbia.
Suzuki told his audience that the environment did not exist as an issue until 1962, when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
detailed the deadly effects of the pesticide DDT. Today, scientists at
the South Pole can detect every toxic chemical released into the
atmosphere. Ninety percent of commercial fisheries are gone. Fifty-five
thousand species become extinct every year.
Human beings are now the most numerous mammals on the planet. In
1900, just 16 cities worldwide housed more than a million people.
Today, half the world’s population lives in big cities. More than 400
cities hold more than a million residents. The 10 largest cities each
have a population greater than 10 million, with Tokyo the largest at 26
“In the real world, everything is connected to everything else,”
Suzuki said. “In the urban setting we forget that we are biological
Since 1980, big money investors have dreamed of developing 670 acres
of South Maui scrub pasture into a luxury golf resort community.
Originally, two golf courses were conceived in the project area. That
changed in 2000, when WCPT/GW Land Associates purchased the property.
They proposed a gated community holding 600 single-family and 800
multi-family housing units.
Hiring former county Public Works Director Charlie Jencks, they
began addressing traffic, water, sewage and other concerns to bring
their Project District plans forward to the Planning Commission and
County Council for approval. And in a public relations move, they
changed the project name from the dry though technically correct Wailea
670 to “Honua`ula,” the old Hawaiian name for the South Maui land
stretching to Makena and all the way to Kaho`olawe.
Of course, the adoption of the traditional name did not make the
owners any more local. In fact, the investors in WCPT/GW Land
Associates LLC, registered in California, are among the biggest fish in
the global investment pond. Lehman Brothers ranked 62nd on the Fortune 500
list in 2006, with assets topping $503 billion. Cargill Group is part
of the world’s largest privately owned corporation, and as such is not
required to file Security and Exchange Commission reports on income
profit, or executive salaries. The third largest worldwide agricultural
conglomerate, Cargill brought in revenues of $66 billion last year.
It’s easy to see Wailea 670 as just another Monopoly board piece in
a familiar community debate over losing open space, cultural sites and
quality of life while over-stressing our infrastructure. But
contractors, realtors, landowners and investors seem ever willing to
support even the largest projects. And as they do, high-end luxury
developments have widened the chasm between the haves and the
have-nots, adding elements of stress to our island’s social fabric.
The Maui News reported that
the Maui County Council, which deferred the zoning request until early
summer, focused their discussion on two topics: a private water system
and potentially needed highway improvements. But the paper missed
reporting on testimony on native plant habitat, community needs versus
developer wishes and specifics of affordable housing promises. They
also failed to note a vintage performance by Councilmember Michelle
Anderson, who took issue with the Planning Department’s failure to
require a complete zoning application or to assess cumulative impacts
of all South Maui planned developments.
Given how most of our elected leaders like to follow the status quo,
South Maui Councilmember Anderson is an exception. At the Mar. 14
Council meeting, she highlighted zoning application requirements that
were inadequate, or missing altogether: no Department of Transportation
comments on the traffic analysis; no baseline study or preservation
plan for environmentally sensitive areas; no state-mandated provision
for access trails for native gathering rights; no details of water
delivery plan; no cumulative impact analysis of all South Maui
developments, especially on over-stressed beach parks.
She noted that Alan Arakawa, during his tenure as Council Land Use
Committee Chair, declared he would not accept incomplete applications.
Things got better for about six months, she said, and then the Planning
Department reverted to their old ways.
Deputy Planning Director Colleen Suyama retorted that they rely on
other agencies to provide comments on impacts. It’s easy to pass the
buck, Anderson shot back, if you don’t have enough info in the
application to provide worthwhile comments in the first place.
Committee Chair Mike Molina attempted to hold the debate in check,
but Anderson held her ground. “I won’t belabor the issue, Mr. Chair, I
just want to make a point,” she said. Jencks, sitting three rows behind
Anderson in the Council gallery, snickered and feigned histrionics to
the supporters and consultants sitting with him.
Anderson noted that there is just one road in and one road out of
the area. The only consideration for an emergency evacuation plan would
be to, as she put it, “put on your tennis shoes and run.” With no
current plan for a reliever two-lane road, planning for an alternate
road should be happening right now. But no mauka road corridors were included in project maps.
“We should have maps showing surrounding properties,” Anderson said. “Good grief!”
Council member JoAnne Johnson chimed in where Anderson left off. She
noted that five more traffic signals would be required on the Pi`ilani
Highway. She couldn’t fathom how that would work since there seems to
be a disconnect between the specific project and the Big Picture.
Relegated to the back burner of the Wailea 670 discussion was a
recent study by University of Hawai`i Professor Lee Altenberg of a
remnant native dryland forest community, located on an a`a lava flow at
the property’s south end. The habitat is one of only three sites on
Maui where Rock’s nehe, Lipochaeta rockii, survives, and one of only five sites on Maui where you can find candidate endangered species awikiwiki, Canavalia pubescens. There are also wiliwili trees 40 feet tall and likely hundreds of years old on the property.
Wailea 670 hopes to construct a portion of their golf course in this
area, with a wastewater treatment facility at the southeast corner.
Testifier Kehau Filimoeatu said that Hawaiians are not content to have
their culture put in a museum or preserve. They need real, living
places where they can practice the culture, she said.
Suzuki, who works with Canadian indigenous people, or “First
People,” said that elders are a repository of knowledge that we
desperately need now. It remains to be seen whether that urgency will
be recognized by those wanting to cash in on Maui with luxury
developments, or by the elected officials entrusted with planning our
island’s future. MTW