ARAKAWA AND WHITE FIGHT A LAND WAR!
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.
Arakawa has been advocating both those things since his first administration.
Land acquisitions of this magnitude are tricky affairs under the best of conditions. Add a heaping bowl of political animosity, and you’ve got the makings of a real tragedy.
Since the summer of 2012, Arakawa’s administration has been proposing to buy the land. According to information provided by the administration, Makila first offered to sell at $16 million. This Arakawa’s people found far too high, and they countered with $8.7 million. Makila apparently found this too low, and returned with a counter-counter-offer of $13 million–a price that comes from an appraisal conducted by certified appraiser Ted Yamamura. The administration also said that Makila wants the 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 has squared off against Arakawa in the past over such controversies as the decision to demolish the old Wailuku Post Office–doesn’t accept the $13 million appraisal figure.
“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 an 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 Nov. 15 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–with 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. 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 and the county might consider just condemning the land. After all, what’s the value of a mansion built on land that’s dissolving away?
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HAWAII SUFFERS FROM POOR HEALTH
Just 257 people in the entire State of Hawaii have so far signed up for insurance using Hawaii Health Connector, according to a Nov. 15 Pacific Business News story. That’s right–after all the political fighting and election campaigning and Supreme Court arguing, that’s what we get.
The thing’s been up and running since Oct. 15 (it was supposed to go live on Oct. 1) and, so far, less than 300 people across Hawaii have succeeded in using it to find health insurance. These numbers track nationally, with only about 106,000 Americans across the country able to purchase new insurance through Healthcare.gov, the federal government’s web portal that provides most people access to President Barack Obama’s beloved Obamacare (otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act or ACA).
“It didn’t have to be this way,” David Sirota said in Salon.com on Oct. 31. Left-leaning Sirota is proof that not all ACA opponents are Tea Party members.
“Back when Obamacare was being negotiated, Congress could have circumvented the private insurance industry by simply expanding Medicare to cover everybody,” he wrote. “Medicare isn’t perfect, of course, but it remains one of the most popular institutions in America because its single-payer model guarantees access to decent, cost-effective health care rather than just meager health insurance. It also does a good job of preventing profit-taking middlemen from getting between patients and their physicians.”
Medicare (and the Veterans Health Administration) are both examples of single-payer healthcare. Congress and Obama ditched any discussion of that (the famed “public option”) years ago during ACA negotiations. Perhaps someday the big insurance company subsidy program known as the ACA will finally work as promised, but for now, we can only dream of what might have been had Washington not killed the Public Option in the crib.