Funding for the long-awaited yet controversial Wailuku Civic Complex was subject to scrutiny Tuesday, as councilmembers of the Economic Development and Budget Committee debated the scope and need of Phase 1B of the project, the parking structure. Councilmembers voted 6-3 to cut the budget for the parking structure in half, allowing for a down-sizing of the proposed four-story structure, and for plans to be made for alternatives to house cars for county employees. Public testimony on Aug. 22, before the council went into recess, represented mostly landowners in the Wailuku Town area, who emphasized the need for parking to serve their customers and welcome more business.
On that first day, concerns began to surface about the parking structure, including questions about a change in culture from free parking to normalized paid parking, which will be used in the structure. The cost for the structure, estimated in 2018 to total just over $29 million, was also examined. Given a net gain of 171 stalls from the current available on-street and municipal lot parking, the estimated value of $172,000 per stall was enough to give some members “heartburn.”
Councilmembers Tamara Paltin and Kelly King were eager to ask questions about alternatives to the high cost. At one point, King even mentioned that she didn’t want to encourage more cars on the road. Paltin quoted Harrison Rue, Transit Oriented Development administrator for the City and County of Honolulu, who was recently a resource person for the Council’s Multimodal Transportation Committee. “Eventually all our parking is going to look like dumb decisions,” he said. “Eventually within somewhere 12 to 15 years, you know, we’re going to have autonomous vehicles running around. Some people say soon or my best guess is more like 12 to 15 years. So, you know, our parking garages are going to be kind of empty and being converted sometime, certainly within the next 20 years.”
Erin Wade, lead planner of the Wailuku Civic Complex agreed that this was the trend, but argued that Maui County has a long way to go culturally before transitioning away from vehicles, and that historically the county has been slow to adapt to technology. She added that the parking lot was designed with future transportation models in mind, and has the potential to be converted into office space.
Still, with the cost to temporarily shuttle county workers from Wells Park to the Kalana O Maui (County) Building amounting to an estimated $184,000 a year (for one 50-seat dedicated bus operating four hours a day, 260 days a year) and just slightly more than the cost of gaining a single parking stall in WCC Phase 1B, councilmembers were eager to explore alternatives to the parking structure.
Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said a better answer than building the large parking structure would be to move county workers into another parking lot, citing a 2011 Wailuku Town Parking Study, which said that 12-hour parking in the municipal parking lot is being consumed by county and state employees. “Other than the 210 parking spaces provided in dedicated county employee lots, Maui County does not provide parking for any of its remaining 400 employees in Wailuku,” the authors of the study wrote. As with the state employees, the remaining workers without a parking permit are asked to find parking in nearby on-street or municipal lot parking.
Rawlins-Fernandez’s proposal to reduce the funding for the WCC parking structure was supported by Councilmembers Sinenci, Molina, Lee, King, and Paltin. Councilmembers Hokama, Kama, and Sugimura voted against it. County managing director Sandy Baz posed no objections to the down-sizing of the project at the meeting, even lauding Councilmember Rawlins-Fernandez’s attention to the Kalana O Maui Building campus, which itself has been the subject of redevelopment plans. Baz mentioned that he would have to discuss the reduction in funding with the mayor and the administration before formally taking a stance, however.
The bill will now go to the full County Council for a vote.
[Editor’s note: The Aug. 29, 2019 print version of MauiTime incorrectly stated that Councilmember Rawlins-Fernandez’s proposal would reduce total bonding for the WCC from $76,589,680 to $62,355,992. That is actually the amount the total bonds approved in fiscal year 2019 would be reduced. The difference, $14,233,688, is the amount proposed to be cut from the parking garage structure funding and would reduce total funding approved for the WCC Phase 1 from $42M to $27,766,312. We apologize for the error.]
Image courtesy Maui County