The organization formerly known as TEACH (Technology, Education, Agriculture, Community, Health) disappeared so quickly this week that the door couldn’t even hit its butt on the way out. In much the same way as it arrived last year, TEACH vanished in a haze of hubris and new age babble. Frontmen Mark Chasan and Jason Hobson made no public statements, opting only to write a letter to the County of Maui stating–inexplicably–that it reached its decision to withdraw its proposal despite “clear alignment of vision.”
Those four words explain almost everything that has gone wrong with TEACH since its idea to develop the 23.5 acre Old Maui High School in Hamakuapoko for a dollar-per-year, 60-year lease first came before a County Council committee last August. Although TEACH clearly aligned with Friends of Old Maui High School and Teena Rasmussen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, nobody bothered to contact North Shore residents about a potential 200,000 sq. ft. for-profit development located between the over-trafficked Hana Highway and Baldwin Ave, right outside Paia, which only has 150,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.
Residents and community leaders weren’t clearly aligned, and in fact grew more un-aligned through two council hearings and a November community meeting where Hobson and Chasan offered big picture platitudes but little in the way of hard core details, promising to give over more information as soon as the lease was signed–but only after the lease was signed.
Ah yes, the lease. That didn’t seem very clearly aligned with anyone outside of county administration either. Real estate professionals wondered at the paltry 10-page document drafted by TEACH and the county that pretty much gave away the farm to this mainly off-island group of investors, most of whom work for defense-related enterprises near Washington, D.C. At the time, one commercial realtor pointed to a tiny building in Wailuku and said, “If I rented this to you, the lease would run at least 40 pages.” Others wondered what the county was thinking to offer a dollar-per-year lease to a for-profit organization without ever asking for a percentage of profits [TEACH projected $17 million in profits starting in Year Five]. You would think even Rasmussen might have challenged the $1 per year figure–after all, she and her husband pay almost $2,000 a year for the 50-year land lease they have with the County. But she remained firmly aligned, justifying the terms of the lease to anyone who would listen.
Even the County Council grew unaligned, as the degree of community upset over the proposal quickly expanded. Councilman Don Guzman finally told Hobson and Chasan to go out and make some friends. “Don’t give us the heavy lifting,” he told the two lawyers. “We are not going to go out and do your job to make the community trust you–you’ve got to do that.”
North Shore residents who met with Chasan were largely underwhelmed. Their questions about how TEACH would address the traffic-exhausted, vacation-rental infested, overworked community were met with a thousand-yard stare from the man who calls himself the “Chief Visionary Awefficer” of one of his companies. When asked about traffic issues during an interview, he told me that Uber could solve the problem. To someone else, he suggested that traffic wasn’t such a big deal: “I sit in it all the time in L.A.” His official TEACH spiel evolved not one iota between November and February, despite numerous meetings and input from long-time residents, organizations and business leaders. Despite their mantra of “working with the community,” Hobson and Chasan continued to avoid specifics and seemed puzzled why the community subsequently reacted with skepticism.
By the time the highly publicized community meeting was held at the Paia Community Center in February, TEACH and the community were about as aligned as a Haleakala switchback. By the end of the evening, with the crowd shouting disapproval, it was obvious to all that TEACH had no future on the North Shore, not when Chasan couldn’t even pronounce Paia.
However, just as Donald Trump blamed the Democrats when his fatally-flawed Obamacare repeal failed, Teena Rasmussen now faults the community for TEACH’s failure. She said TEACH had “a good vision” and “were very willing to work with the community.” In an interview with The Maui News, she queried those who grew angry during the February meeting without considering how her patronizing attitude and TEACH’s arrogance might have inflamed the crowd. “Is this the Maui we have become? So intolerant, so angry, so disrespectful?”
Rasmussen apologized to TEACH for the less-than-successful outcome. She did not apologize to members of the North Shore community for bringing such a half-baked idea so close to a 60-year leasehold. Bizarrely, the letter from TEACH to the County claims that the group has “had several meetings with key community leaders and members to discuss the assignment, transition and evolution of the Project” to local non-profits and community members, although there’s really nothing to transfer. The lease has been formally withdrawn from Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura’s committee.
So what’s next for the Old Maui High School property? Hard to say. Questions about it seemed to align with officials about as well as the Mayor’s disparaging comments about sacred rocks resonated with the Hawaiian community. Rasmussen hung up on me when I contacted her for comment. County communications director Rod Antone refused to directly address the matter, saying that he was too busy to pay attention to TEACH, what with the budget and the controversies over the possible closing of the Waiehu Golf Course and the recent decision by the Liquor Commission to permit home delivery of alcohol and the expansion of hostess bars.
In December, Antone suggested that the Mayor would give the high school land back to the State if the county didn’t approve the TEACH lease (the State owns 22.158 acres of the property, which it has loaned to the County). This time, he flippantly suggested, “Maybe he’ll move all the homeless up there.”
What a great example of the County’s continued dedication to clear alignments of vision with its electorate.