– Council Land Use Committee Chair Mike Molina
“Politicians are the ultimate creatures of the moment.”
– New World New Mind, Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich
Everybody knows by now that the Land Use Committee approved Everett Dowling’s request for zoning changes to parts of the Makena Resort area by a 7-2 vote (with Councilmembers Joanne Johnson and Michelle Anderson providing the dissenting votes). The changes would make the area compliant with the Kihei-Makena Community Plan, which is meant to guide future policy on a number of fronts. The changes also make room for around 1,000 new single- and multi-family housing units in an area of South Maui that is home to Oneloa/Big Beach State Park.
But more importantly, the vote brings into sharp focus the ongoing tug of war that has come to define Maui politics at many levels: the environment versus the economy.
The Land Use Committee had originally planned to begin hearing public testimony on the issue at 1:30pm Wednesday, but later moved the start time up to 8:30am.
Nearly 150 members of the public signed up to deliver four-minute chunks of testimony on the project. Most represented unions, places of business and environmental groups, but some spoke solely on their own behalf. Speakers ranged greatly by age, background and stance on and knowledge of the issue. While one speaker mistakenly urged the Land Use Committee to think twice about Wailea 670 (a different controversial development in the area), others approached the podium armed with facts about the dwindling water supply in the Iao Aquifer and details about archaeological sites.
Nearly every bit of testimony was a dramatic plea in one direction or the other.
“It makes my heart heavy,” said Reverend Alalani Hill. “So much has been given. One hundred and fifty acres”¦ There are archaeological sites everywhere. They cannot speak. [The resort expansion] will change the mana. Lawa. Enough.”
The economy was the primary driving force behind the testimonies of those favoring the project, but their arguments ranged in depth and tone.
Ron Chapman, an employee of Dowling’s Maui Prince Hotel, gave one of the day-long session’s most emotive speeches.
“How am I going to feed my family?” he asked Councilmember Michelle Anderson, who voted against the zoning changes. “What am I going to tell my kids?”
Another speaker used the ultimate argument in favor of the resort expansion and the jobs it will likely create: Christmas.
Ever present was the struggle between environment and economy. Blue and white T-shirts, respectively, signified the two sides of the issue. The blue shirts sported the environmental group Save Makena’s logo while the white ones bore the logo for the Maui Prince Hotel. The Maui News reported that many workers were paid a regular day’s wage to attend.
When anti-development speakers pointed to the endangered species that call Makena home, among them the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, which comes to Oneloa/Big Beach to nest, some pro-project attendees scoffed at the notion that protecting endemic species that are hanging by a thread is as important as creating jobs for out-of-work Mauians as soon as possible.
A few audience members waved signs sporting phrases like “Support Maui’s Future” whenever someone spoke against the development.
The conflicting viewpoints on developer Dowling’s expansion of Makena Resort reflect a greater debate, one that pits the immediate needs of Mauians against those of the long term.
“We’re really caught between a rock and a hard place,” said South Maui resident Daniel Kanahele, who delivered public testimony Wednesday afternoon. “Our economy is at the mercy of unpredictable market forces. What would happen if the boats stopped coming?”
A number of people suggested alternative means for job creation, including putting people to work on capital improvement projects and projects slated to take place in areas already zoned for development.
In the end, minds were spoken but not changed.
“We need Makena,” said Donald Poepoe Sr., who spoke on behalf of himself. “Makena is building up the way it’s supposed to.”
The full council will likely vote on the changes in early December, and some are already gearing up to testify then.
“We cannot let a hidden screen of development divide us,” said Zeke Kalua. “Oahu is Disneyland and we want to be Knott’s Berry Farm here.” MTW
This issue is big enough to warrant coverage from multiple angles. For more on the Land Use Committee meeting and the proposed Makena development, see this week’s Rob Report.