We talk a lot about Maui County planning issues. Even before The Maui News published their Oct. 16 story on Mayor Alan Arakawa’s decision to suspend the county Planning Department’s work on community plans because of his belief that the planning process is “broken,” we were looking at the intersection of land and power in the county. A great deal of Maui is owned by just a handful of interests, and that tends to leave the public without much say in the island’s evolution.
So when we read a letter from the mayor to County Council Planning Committee Chairperson Don Couch that starts off with the demonstrably false assertion that “no one is happy with our planning process,” we get nervous (click here for our Nov. 7 story on this). When we see The Maui News write about that assertion without quoting a single voice (and there are many) who feel that it isn’t the “process” that’s broken, but rather the administration’s whole approach to the Planning Department, we get anxious. And when we saw bills that we believe would weaken the county laws governing the importance of community plans endless lurk in the county’s corridors, we get angry.
Yes, community plans–most recently, the Lanai Community Plan–are taking far too long to get approved. But there are complex reasons for this that transcend the simplistic notion that the “process is broken.”
In 2015, the County Council Planning Committee began discussing a bill that would weaken Maui County Code Section 2.80B. Not a huge weakening, but a weakening nonetheless. “The purpose of this ordinance is to clarify and confirm that the land use designations contained in county plans shall be interpreted to be consistent with the corresponding zoning districts established under Title 19 of this Code,” states the bill.
Even I’m bored reading that. The problem is that right now, community plans have the force of law–designed with great community input, they are supposed to be the guiding documents that shape the future of Maui County. But many in the administration–notably Arakawa and Couch–don’t believe that this is the case. They believe community plans are mere advisory documents, and that the true guiding force is zoning, which is far more removed from community input.
This is not merely our view, or the views of a few disgruntled activists. On May 20 of this year, Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Albert Perez made exactly this point in his written testimony to the Planning Committee.
“Properly implemented, the existing community plan update process encourages community involvement in the planning process,” Perez wrote. Properly implemented, community plan updates are certainly achievable every ten years. Properly implemented, the Lanai Community Plan could have been updated in a reasonable time frame.”
Properly implemented–meaning, the problem lay not with the abstract process, but with the Planning Department and administration itself. Perez added that while the administration’s view may be “technically true,” it is nonetheless “a slap in the face to the many citizens who have spent significant portions of their lives working for a better future for Maui County.”
At 9am on Thursday, Dec. 1, the County Council’s Planning Committee will meet. The agenda shows an array of issues that the committee will either file or refer to the Council Chair for the term beginning Jan. 2, 2017. These issues include further amendments to Chapter 2.80B, the above-mentioned bill and proposed changes to the community plan process. Even given that three Council members (including Couch) won’t be returning in 2017, these issues clearly aren’t going away.
Click here for the Dec. 1 Planning Committee agenda.
Photo: Forest & Kim Starr