Shades of Mediocrity

Is it possible that I am a
simpleton? I have never thought so myself; and no one must know it now
if I am so. Can it be, that I am unfit for my office? No, that must not
be said either. I will never confess that I could not see the robes of
silk and gold.

–Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor’s New Clothes

There is no joy in pointing the finger of blame at what isn’t
working in our community, government, country or world. Yet sometimes
we must reveal the pervasive follies and pompous tendency to call them
something else.
On Tuesday, Apr. 24—the same day the Dalai Lama offered a free
teaching at War Memorial Stadium—the Maui Planning Commission met, as
they usually do, at the ground-floor conference room in the Kalana
Pakui building in Wailuku. The Planning Commission, like other arms of
Maui County government, has minimally risen to the challenges set
before them in advising and adjudicating responsible planning for our
island. With the bar set so low, County planners and private
consultants have little incentive to provide more than cursory guidance
to assist them in their jobs.
My reason for attending was to testify on a request by Hawaiian
Cement to continue excavating sand from inland dunes between Wailuku
and Waikapu on a parcel owned by Alexander & Baldwin. An
application for a County and State Special Use Permit had been pending
since July, 2003—nearly four years—and finally the measure had found
its way onto the agenda.

Back in early 2003, while serving as County Environmental
Coordinator, I inherited management of six grants for beach and dune
restoration, a one-time appropriation totaling $100,000. Inquiring as
to the source of clean sand for these beach replenishment projects, I
learned that both Ameron and Hawaiian Cement mined the central Maui
dunes and that barges left Kahului Harbor regularly to supply sand to
Oahu. That made me question resource conservation, given the high rate
of extraction.
Concurrently, the Maui-Lanai Islands Burial Council was conducting a
review of more than 20 burials encountered by Hawaiian Cement (today
the number of disturbed burials has topped 60). Examining the Maui
County Code, the Burial Council noted that excavation of sand was not a
permitted use in the agricultural district and that the Planning
Department should require a Special Use Permit, not just a grading
I reviewed the Hawaiian Cement application and provided official
comments in October 2003. I noted that the application fell short of
meeting the County Code and Hawai`i Revised Statute criteria, and
should be deemed incomplete. I listed more than a dozen omissions,
inadequacies and inaccuracies, then called for resubmission of a
detailed Project Assessment. Among the missing elements were a
Biological Inventory Survey for rare plants, traffic analysis and a
review by the Cultural Resource Commission.
In December 2003 the interested parties discussed the matter in the
Mayor’s lounge. Hawaiian Cement’s lawyers argued that a grading permit
was sufficient to manage the resource, while noting that Ameron had
removed more than three million cubic yards of sand on adjacent Maui
Lani parcels in the urban land use district. A representative from
their planning consultant, Chris Hart and Partners, postulated that
there might still be 50 years of sand left at current extraction rates.

Over the next year, I was part of an ad hoc group that defined the
scope of an in-depth study that the County sent to a contractor at a
cost of $12,000. Two years later, in February 2006, the Maui Inland
Sand Resource Quantification Study was finished. It differed sharply
from Hawaiian Cement’s assurances. In fact, it indicated that there
might be no more than five years of sand left and that 70 per cent of
excavated sand is being shipped to Oahu.
Mayor Alan Arakawa then sent the study to County Council and called
for a moratorium on exports until they could craft legislation to
conserve the resource. The Council took up the discussion last fall,
but was unable to find a way to create an ordinance to limit sand
During this time, sand exports accelerated. According to Kahului
Harbormaster Steve Pfister, there were 63 sand barge trips in 2004; 96
in 2005; and 86 in 2006, though a much bigger barge went into service
in July. The sand study estimated that a barge load of 4,000 tons of
sand is equivalent to 133 semi-truck loads. In other words, nearly
34,000 truckloads of sand left the island in just the past three years.

Fast forward to the Apr. 24 Planning Commission hearing. Outspoken
new commissioner Joan Pawsat arrived a half hour late. When asked if
she’d care to make any remarks at her first official meeting, she
leaned forward to the microphone and said, “Not really.”
Two hours into the hearing, a Planning Department staffer offered
the report on Hawaiian Cement’s application. Chris Hart himself gave a
Powerpoint presentation. Commissioners Jonathon Starr, Dr. William
Iaconetti and Pawsat expressed concerns that overall export numbers,
including Ameron’s totals, were not provided.
The Commission adjourned for lunch, but announced that another
agenda item would be taken up next, so an Oahu consultant could be
assured of making his plane flight. After lunch, discussion of the Pali
to Puamana Environmental Assessment dragged on for a couple more hours.

By now, I had abandoned my hopes of seeing the Dalai Lama. Finally
the Commission resumed discussion of the sand item and public testimony
I asked for leniency in the three-minute time limit, given my
background and knowledge of the issues. I said the Planning Department
report still had numerous errors, including the size of the parcel—it
was 434 acres, not 494—which I had pointed out three years earlier.
Also, a map shown in the Powerpoint presentation did not conform to
the one in the report. In fact, the new proposal was for an entirely
new 56-acre area within the larger parcel, not the 58 acres originally
studied. But no agency comments had been solicited since 2003 to study
the new area, except for an archaeological assessment. Basically, I
said the application was actually less complete than before.
Hedani asked if I felt denying the application was wise, as it would
restrict the construction industry. I replied that I hadn’t asked them
to deny the application, but just to defer it until they had enough
vital data to make informed decisions. Then they might be able to
approve it with conditions.
Recommended conditions in the Planning report included that Hawaiian
Cement not export sand off Maui, and that they make sand available at
cost for approved beach nourishment projects. I said that I believed
these conditions were great, but didn’t go far enough.
Presenting a copy of the 1954 Doak Cox report, The Spreckelsville Beach Problem
to the Commission, I said I believed that A&B has a kuleana to
provide sand for beach replenishment free of cost, as they had mined
sand from the North Shore for at least seven decades in the past
Hedani cut me off, saying his question had been answered.

Then Mercer “Chubby” Vicens, a representative of A&B, stood and
addressed the commission. “Anytime you give something for nothing,” he
said, “you fail both parties.”
Say what? Allocating sand for replenishment to replace what was
taken from the public beach sure sounded like a win-win to me. But
then, my thinking isn’t limited to economics, but extends to
sustainability and environmental fairness.

As the clock ticked closer to 5 p.m., the commissioners grew
restless. Starr moved to defer decisions until more detailed
information was provided, but the motion failed.
The staff planner then read proposed conditions. She amended the
wording in two of them, to reflect “fair-share” contributions to pave
shoulders on Waiko Road, and to change, “approved beach nourishment”
projects to “County funded” projects.
Commissioners had no quibbles with the changes.

But I did. “County funded” rendered the condition impotent, since
there is no existing funding for beach replenishment projects, nor is
any proposed for fiscal year 2008. With a motion on the floor to
approve the application as is, I stood up to call a point of order,
saying that the last minute change meant that the public did not have
legal notice to review this proposed condition.
Chair Johanna Amorin banged her gavel and stated that public
testimony had closed. Exactly my reason for bringing it to their
attention, I countered, since the public couldn’t comment on this
significant change.
Amorin asked if it was the will of the commissioners to reopen
testimony to discuss it. It was not. “He already had more than his
three minutes,” one grumbled.
That was that. I left, frustrated that at every level, everyone
seemed content with insufficient data and a minimum of actual public
participation in the process.
Awareness that something isn’t working is the first step to changing
it. Our system of appointed commissioners, approved by County Council,
has assured a pro-development Planning Commission for years. Former
Commissioner Diane Shepherd, known for doing her homework and asking
tough questions, recently resigned, saying she was working too hard and
achieving too few positive results.
Our system of government works best when citizens participate,
beginning with voting. Short of that, we’re unlikely to achieve the
level of proficiency required to face a fast-changing future. MTW