April 29 marked the three-year anniversary of the fight to preserve open space at Mala. To celebrate, the local community held a peaceful demonstration on Front Street. A few days before everyone took to the street, activist Momi Keahi was making signs in her kitchen when I stopped by to ask her about the event.
“We need to let people know about this issue,” she said. “Since this fight began to save this open space a lot of people have moved out of the neighborhood. It makes it more difficult. Nobody knows what is going on.”
Eventually about 20 people showed up, many holding signs saying, “No White House on Open Space,” “Save This Open Spot—We Need It For Future Generations” and “Open Space, No Chains, No Fences, No House.” Passersbys honked and yelled to show their support. More than a few pulled over and signed the petition going around to save the land.
Mala Resident Lynn Ho’s sign simply read, “Correct the Map.” Earlier in the week she sent an email to all County Council members letting them know that the community members would be out picketing for open space. None appeared at the Mala site during the protest.
The contested parcel is owned by Doug White. It runs along the oceanside of Front Street from the north side of Mala Restaurant to just beyond the culvert butting up against Cille MacDonald’s property. White wants to build a house on the property, but local residents have been fighting it, citing the “open space” designation the county originally gave the property—a designation officials don’t seem to be paying much attention to anymore.
“It is wrong that the county has not made any move to correct the map,” Cille MacDonald told me.
The problem goes clear back to the 1996 West Maui Community Plan. When the County Council—under then-Mayor Linda Lingle—adopted the Community Plan, part of the half-acre White property was listed as residential with the remainder designated as open space. In fact, the entire property should have been labeled as open space. In a lawsuit White filed against the county in 2004, the court found that the land was indeed all open space, but the county has yet to fix the mapping error.
Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson, who represents West Maui, responded via email stating that though she supported the acquisition of this property and keeping it open, the decision wasn’t hers to make.
On June 18, 2004, Patty Nishiyama of Na Kupuna O Maui sent a letter to then Council Chairman Dane Kane calling for the correction to the mapping error. He never responded. At the April 29 demonstration, she lamented the new fencing around the property.
“How are we supposed to access this area to fish and to enjoy the ocean in this area?” she asked. “There is no place to park, no way for the older people who have been coming here for years to come to the ocean. This is a problem.”
We could find no county official to comment on this issue. But talk at planning headquarters is that White’s going to get to build his house after all since county doesn’t have the $2 million to buy the property off him. Needless to say, that’s got Mala residents frustrated and disappointed.
For the time being, open space in Mala continues to hang in limbo as it sits in the county’s lap. In fact, it’s beginning to look like the map correction idea seems to have been shelved forever. MTW