What is it with Mayor Alan Arakawa’s obsession about banishing Maui’s homeless to Old Maui High School, a 23-acre venue on the far side of traffic-clogged Paia with no sewer, water or social services? The lame duck mayor emphasized the “lame” part of that title this week by pontificating in a May 4 Maui News opinion piece about the County Council’s decision to cut the $2.5 million Arakawa had proposed giving to Project Aloha, a “project” that currently consists of the name, Project Aloha, and a three-page proposal that looks like the result of a hastily convened brainstorming session.
“We need this project and more like it on Maui,” the Mayor scolded.
Is he kidding? In March, when MauiTime interviewed John Tomaso, the man who brought Arakawa the Project Aloha idea, he admitted that the idea was barely formulated. Tomaso is the executive director of Tri-Isle Resource Conservation & Development, a non-profit that usually acts as a fiscal agent for groups that don’t have non-profit status. He acknowledged that his organization was a relative newcomer to homeless issues. He also acknowledged that he didn’t know how much the project would cost, how many homeless he could actually accommodate and admitted, “I don’t have—in the Western way—a plan.”
Two months later, Tomaso still doesn’t have a plan, he said in an interview this week. He also said he had nothing to do with the $2.5 million figure that was buried in a footnote near the end of the budget—a shadowy area usually visited only by policy wonks. How did the mayor arrive at that figure, Tomaso was asked. “I don’t know, this is the mayor’s budget. We don’t have anything right now,” Tomaso said.
Apparently, the mayor wasn’t going to let a silly detail like no plan from the nonprofit he’s designated to run Project Aloha stand in the way of asking the council for $2.5 million to get the ball rolling. Tomaso did not appear with Arakawa when he showed up to present his plan at about 10:30pm on April 17, at the end of an eight-plus hour meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee. His proffered materials consisted of a map of the Old Maui High campus, and three pages of “proposal.” Arakawa wanted the Council to approve $1.8 million for 12 modular “units” for the Hamakuapoko campus and another $650,000 for “site prep.” Those were the only numbers on the page.
The modular idea is based on the Kauhale Kamaile project on Oahu. But the modular homes in that project were built in Waianae, across from the high school, and were rented to low income families. Arakawa’s modular units would basically be dropped in the middle of nowhere, as the Old Maui High School campus lies two miles up the semi-paved Holomua Road, between Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue.
And here’s the other weird thing: although Arakawa claims this is a solution to the homeless problem, his one-page list of ideas mentions that “rental income will not likely cover expenses.” And, he wanted his $2.5 million to come out of the Affordable Housing Fund, not from the Department of Housing and Human Concerns budget, where most of the other homeless expenditures are made.
Arakawa wants the Council to reconsider Project Aloha’s merits, “for the good of the community,” he said in his Maui News opinion piece. Judging from the muted responses his idea drew from council members on April 17, he shouldn’t hold his breath.
[Editor’s note: This story was updated a few hours after we first posted it to include additional reporting.]
Photo: Purple Slog/Flickr