The ongoing war between Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa and the bulk of the Maui County Council really got heated today over a huge stretch of West Maui coast.
At issue is the Arakawa Administration’s proposed purchase of 186 acres of oceanfront property stretching from the Pali to Puamana that’s currently owned by the Makila Land Company (that would be Peter Martin, James Riley and Glenn Tremble). Doing so would protect this prime coastal land from further development. It could also, assuming sea levels in the future continue to rise, make it a great deal easier to move the highway inland.
Land acquisitions of this magnitude are tricky affairs under the best of conditions. Add a heaping bowl of political animosity, and you’ve the got the makings of a real tragedy.
For months now, Arakawa’s administration has been proposing to buy the land for $13 million, a price that comes from an appraisal conducted by certified appraiser Ted Yamamura. Arakawa also says Makila wants to deal to go through by Dec. 31–or the whole thing’s off.
But a sizeable chunk of the County Council–led by Mike White, who’s squared off against Arakawa in the past over such controversies as the decision to demolish the old Wailuku Post Office–doesn’t accept that appraisal.
“The valuation is surprising when compared to an appraisal done on the same 214-acre parcel five years earlier by the same appraiser,” White wrote in this Oct. 27 Maui News op-ed piece. “The appraised market value in 2007 was $6.25–even though overall prices were 40 percent higher than today. Adjusted to today’s values, the price could be $4.2 million.”
White also questioned the Dec. 31 deadline. “Is the 90-day time frame part of a strategy to allow the clock to run on the council making an informed decision,” he asked in the op-ed piece. “Why? We should take the time and do everything possible to make sure we have the value right.”
In a new op-ed published in today’s Maui News–which is also the day the County Council took up the matter–Arakawa fired back, defending the $13 million appraisal and attacking White by name.
“For many residents, this area is priceless,” Arakawa wrote. “But White doesn’t think it is worth the $13 million price tag, and questions how the administration arrived at that figure. In his mind, our negotiations were flawed.”
In his op-ed, Arakawa then laid out–all the mind-numbing tedium that typically accompanies real estate negotiations–exactly how that $13 million purchase price came into being. In fact, Arakawa said the “spirited, and oftentimes heated” negotiations “ultimately saved the county about $5.5 million.”
As it turned out, White and five of his colleagues failed to find Arakawa’s defense compelling, and today they voted to call Makila’s bluff and ask for a new appraisal, according to this Maui Now story published this afternoon. Only Don Couch and Don Guzman voted against it (Riki Hokama took a pass on the matter).
For Irene Bowie, the executive director of Maui Tomorrow–which lives to see land parcels like these preserved from development–the fight has been troubling and demoralizing.
“It’s been a tough one,” she told me today by phone (she’s currently on the Mainland). “It’s really unfortunate that an important conservation project has become a political football.”
As far as which side was right on the purchase price, Bowie couldn’t say, though she acknowledged that some members of her organization did feel that the $13 million price tag seemed “inflated.” That said, she also said preserving the land was extremely important.
Maui Tomorrow’s inability to arrive at a consensus on the land acquisition is understandable. White’s and Arakawa’s op-eds notwithstanding, the bulk of the land deal negotiations remain secret–as is the case with most real estate transactions. But Bowie also pointed out an important fact about the land in question: it’s going away.
Sea levels are rising, which erodes the coast. We’re seeing this at Ukumehame, which has already seen recent realignment. From the Pali to Puamana, Maui residents can see the worn concrete barriers and toppled trees that come with the climate change that’s altering our world.
Given such a reality, and a long-term view of land use, then both Arakawa’s and White’s proposed values are severely overstated. What’s the value of a mansion built on land that’s dissolving away?
Photo of Ukumehame: Forest & Kim Starr/Wikimedia Commons