WATERSHED WAR WAGED!
It shows how little power Democrats hold in the U.S. House of Representatives when I get a press release that says Congress member Mazie Hirono, D-2nd District, is right now “fighting” to restore “$3 million in funding to the Watershed Protection and Flood Program.”
That’s right. Three million dollars American. People, and not even really super-rich people, live in houses that cost more than that. But that’s apparently what it comes down to when Republicans control the House.
“This program supports our state and local governments’ ability to improve agricultural water delivery systems for farmers in Hawaii — especially along the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island and in upcountry Maui, and in developing flood protection infrastructure for Hilo and Lahaina,” Hirono said in her office’s June 16 press release.
According to Hirono (who next year will run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Daniel Akaka), the 60-year-old program (which was eliminated in Fiscal Year 2011) will help 170 farmers upcountry and protect 200 homes, 35 condos, 160 commercial buildings and four public buildings that lie within the Lahaina floodplain. Hirono says she won “strong bipartisan support” to keep the program funded.
In Washington, any appropriation less than a billion dollars is pretty much invisible. That Hirono had to battle so hard to keep such a tiny scrap of pork alive shows how serious House Republicans are about slashing government spending.
WAILUKU MUNICIPAL PARKING STRUCTURE REVEALED!
Well, sort of. On June 17, the Maui Redevelopment Agency met and discussed the design for the proposed Wailuku Municipal Parking Structure. It probably sounds pretty dull, and in fact kind of was (I stayed only an hour because of pressing editorial duties back at the office) but for those who work in Wailuku Town, there is nothing more important or controversial.
For many years now, the town has relied on a ragged 208-stall public lot bordered by Main, Market, Church and Vineyard Streets and ruthlessly patrolled by Maui PD meter maid Officer Keith Taguma to fulfill its parking needs. And for many years now, that lot has been totally inadequate for the needs of the town.
So a few years ago, county officials embarked on a plan to build a giant parking structure on the site of that lot (check out my June 26, 2006 story “Parking Lot of Trouble” on structure proposals at the time). They hired architects who drew up pretty pictures of giant garages that held hundreds of cars, along with shops and apartments and such, and Wailuku residents and business owners looked over those pretty pictures and verbally ripped them to shreds, criticizing their look, their reliance on commercial development, cost, etc. Everyone, literally, went back to the drawing board.
Which brings us to today, and the new design offered by the Honolulu-based architectural firm Alison-Ide. In practical terms, it works just fine: five levels offering space for 418 cars (48 of those stalls are in a “remnant lot” next to the structure designated “mixed-use”). It would be a mostly open structure, built of precast concrete, aluminum and fiberglass with no internal columns, planters, or fire sprinklers (the Maui Fire Department apparently signed off on this). The elevators would feature glass windows and the whole thing would be a “very open building,” said one architect. Another Alison-Ide architect said shoe-horning the 45-foot-tall structure into the current lot’s footprint was “complex” and “extremely difficult.”
What’s more, the total cost of the garage hovers between $13 million and $15 million, depending on whether the county wants the garage to have one or two elevators, a photo-voltaic roof that would generate nearly 20 percent of the building’s electricity, pretty skylights on the tops of the stairwells and elegant medallions on the structure that evoke the town’s Art Deco features (though these items are optional features, they all appeared in Alison-Ide’s presentation drawings of what the structure would ultimately look like). The garage would seem to be all that Wailuku Town is looking for.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the garage isn’t controversial. Two dozen people sat and stood at the MRA hearing during the architect’s presentation, and the collective mood among local business owners was pretty clear: it’s ugly. “It is big, boxy and tall,” said activist Barbara Long. “[It has] embellishments on facades that seem to mimic Kahului shopping malls. That green color is everywhere.”
Alison-Ide’s response was simple: to keep costs down, “it has to look like a parking structure.”
There’s also the issue of where everyone who currently uses the Wailuku lot would park during construction, but that’s even more open-ended than the garage itself. Even after five years, Wailuku’s parking plan still has a long way to go.
IN OTHER NEWS…
So I arrived back on island on Tuesday, June 14. There I was, waiting at Kahului Airport’s baggage claim when I noticed huge quantities of smoke wafting across the exit. A few minutes later I had my bag and was walking out to the parking lot when I saw the shrubs in the road median just across from Baggage Claim were burning like torches. “Pele welcomes you!” writer and friend Sara Tekula tweeted me a few hours later. Um, that’s a good sign, right?