With just less than six weeks until the new councilmembers-elect take office and the ideological balance of the local governing body flips, the current council is not showing signs of slowing down. In fact, the council is moving forward on a number of controversial items. While a lame duck session can be seen as a time when a politician has less influence, it’s also the council’s last call to pass items that might meet roadblocks under new leadership – a window for current members to advance the work of the establishment before the ideological slant of the council is adjusted against them. Two particular items caught my eye this week as bills that are likely to sway with the direction of the 5-4 balance of the council – bills that are approaching their last chance for passage before the new council shakes things up.
Additional $40-million appropriation for Wailuku Civic Complex advances
The Wailuku Civic Complex has been a key component of Wailuku’s redevelopment plan for many years as a project for a growing area in need of updated parking and infrastructure. The complex has evolved from a parking structure to a massive plan to rev the economic engine in Central Maui. Because of the project’s scope, the Wailuku Civic Complex has drawn questions regarding its impact to the current community, from concerns of gentrification to the loss of the small-town character of Wailuku.
Following the election, Mayor Alan Arakawa wasted no time trying securing the future of the $80-million Wailuku Civic Complex project with the transmittal of a $40-million appropriation budget amendment request to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee. The appropriation would increase the total fiscal year 2019 funds for the complex to $80 million, the full amount originally requested by the Arakawa Administration at the start of FY2019 budget deliberations. The amount was halved by the council in the final budget passed in May.
“The state is finishing up big projects,” Budget and Finance Committee Chair Riki Hokama said when introducing the proposed bills to increase funding. “There is a concern about whether the employment base will continue at the levels. This is a good time for us to go out and seek potential bids to see if we can be the recipient of better bid results.”
“It’s smart for the county to place itself in a position to potentially negotiate a better price,” he added, noting “interest of the private sector in investing in Wailuku is advancing faster than I had projected.”
“Are there plans or designs or phases already in place for all of this funding?” Councilmember Stacy Crivello asked Hokama.
“I would say we would need to adjust the scope of the project to really encompass and broaden it to the regional component,” Hokama responded, suggesting that the civic complex project could be way for the council to address larger regional planning in Central Maui, without explaining why expanding the project’s focus to a broad vision of a regional plan requires an additional $40-million appropriation.
“There’s a big chunk of money already set aside for it to continue but I think to try and fulfill the full amount at this time is premature, and I feel there are more top-priority needs for $40 million,” said Councilmember Elle Cochran, referencing public suggestions to redirect the massive funds for more practical purposes like housing.
“I also have heard from a lot of people in the Wailuku community that they don’t feel like the meetings have been inclusive of all citizens who live there, that they’ve been top-heavy on the planner’s side,” Councilmember Kelly King agreed.
“I’d like to get a report on how that money’s being spent. If we put out [request for proposals] and the work hasn’t actually started then why are we jumping ahead to the next $40 million at this time and obligating the next council and the next mayor for this expense?” King asked. “I think we need to defer this item until we get more information about where the money that we already appropriated has gone or is going.”
The committee voted 5-3 to move the appropriation forward for a full council vote on December 7. Members Hokama, Robert Carroll, Crivello, Yuki Lei Sugimura, and Don Guzman voted yes, with King, Cochran, and Alika Atay dissenting.
“We take it as a direction moving forward with the project,” said County Budget Director Sandy Baz. “Once the details are better laid out and we have a better understanding of how the money’s gonna be spent, then we come back with that authorization.”
A Kihei-Makena Community Plan amendment is considered to green-light parking lot construction near Keawakapu
10 years ago, Western Apartment & Supply Co. requested a permit to construct an off-site parking lot near Keawakapu in South Maui. The bills that were discussed in the Nov. 11 Planning Committee were an extension of this decade-long request, pursued by Ruby & Sons Hospitality, LLC, the present owners of Sarento’s on the Beach and Maui Oceanfront Inn. The proposed parking lot incited response from Kihei residents concerned about beach access, disturbance of cultural heritage sites, and parking.
Complicating the request to permit construction of the new parking lot is a discrepancy between the Kihei-Makena Community Plan and county zoning that must be corrected before a conditional use permit can be granted. The county zones the Ruby & Sons property as H-M Hotel while the Kihei-Makena Community Plan labels the property as single-family. The bills to amend the community plan to designate the parcel for hotel use and to permit construction of an off-site parking lot across the street came together as a package for the committees deliberation and public input.
Representatives of Ruby & Sons stated that the original designation of the parcel as single-family was a mistake or mapping error. Former Councilmember Wayne Nishiki disagreed with that characterization.
“There was no mistake made; we had the discussion about designating the particular parcels to single-family in that area” Nishiki said in his testimony. “If you look at Keawakapu Beach: continuous single-family residences except for a few parcels. So we needed to keep it contiguous. The other concern was, because we heard from even the Kihei Community Association in testimony, they didn’t want any more hotels.”
“What is more important is what I would call short circuiting this process,” the former councilman added. “As two professional planners say, either vote it down or refer it down to the Kihei community and that community can decide what to do with that particular parcel… The change is so intense from hotel to single-family that you must give the community a chance to voice their feelings. What you’re doing now is eliminating the community plan process which is law, and just short-circuiting it.”
“Thank God Mr. Nishiki and others are here to recall the day and how this got to be where it’s at. I’m really not in favor,” said Councilmember Elle Cochran. “This is the perfect item that should be waiting for [the community plan process].” Cochran expressed concern that a chain reaction could result from bypassing the community plan process, including the development of hotels despite the community’s wishes.
Because of the volume of testimony, the committee was unable to reach a vote on the item in the scheduled time. The meeting was recessed and is scheduled to resume on Wednesday, Nov. 21.
At the November 13 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Councilmember Alika Atay questioned the drastic moves of the council its final days. “Knowing that six of us will not be here,” Atay said, “I think the best for today is to not move forward and give that decision [to appropriate an additional $40 million for the Wailuku Civic Center] to the new council.”
“We still have our kuleana until we all pau,” Councilmember Stacy Crivello countered. “Do I say because I will no longer be sitting in here that I will shirk my responsibilities?”
No, definitely not. But the council should remember: Whether the election is coming or past, lame duck session or not, there are still those of us that are watching.
Image courtesy County of Maui
Discussion 11/26/2018 : Do you think the Maui County Council is trying to push last-minute decisions through before the new members take office?
Last week we talked about the council’s deliberation of controversial items (like the appropriation for $40m for the Wailuku Civic Complex) in the last few weeks before the newly elected councilmembers take office.
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