Arakawa critical of county’s Peahi land acquisition

Mayor tells Kula group it was ‘lousy purchase’

Mayor Alan Arakawa addresses a Kula Community Association audience Wednesday night at the Kula Community Center. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KULA — Calling the purchase of nearly 270 acres of land near Peahi “lousy,” Mayor Alan Arakawa provided his thoughts on several burning questions facing Maui County on Wednesday night at the Kula Community Center.

“I told them (County Council) it was a lousy purchase. They put money in the budget — it’s up to them to deal with it at this point,” Arakawa said to about 75 people at the meeting hosted by the Kula Community Association.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who holds the council’s Upcountry residency seat, also attended the meeting and gave a presentation.

The county purchased Alexander & Baldwin’s former pineapple plantation land near the famous “Jaws” surf break for $9.49 million in September. The land has four lots and includes a heiau and an access easement to the Jaws lookout.

Council Members Don Guzman and Elle Cochran have been tasked to come up with a master plan for the area, which the council refers to as the “Hamakualoa Open Space Park Preserve.” The preserve will include the community’s first organic agricultural park.

About 75 people listen to and ask questions of Mayor Alan Arakawa on Wednesday at the Kula Community Center. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Arakawa said Wednesday that the area lacks water and electrical service — a concern brought up during council committee discussions. He said he believes it’ll end up costing the county $20 million to build necessary infrastructure.

“I don’t think it will ever develop into a great ag park,” he said. “With 36,000 ares, I think we could’ve selected a much better place for nine-and-a-half million dollars.”

Homeless people are in the area, which has been used at times as a dumping ground for abandoned vehicles. Arakawa added that motocross groups plan to use the area, which could damage lands and drive away farmers.

“I think it will fail miserably, but they (council members) wanted to do it. The people of the community signed a petition for it. It’s there. We’ll see what happens,” he said.

On Thursday, Guzman defended the council’s purchase of the Peahi property.

“Every year we’re losing our open spaces, especially our shorelines, and here was an opportunity to purchase property that that had already been on the market,” he said. “It was either we try to preserve our coastline over there or let it fall into privatization.”

The council listened to the community to preserve open space that’s “valuable and beautiful land,” Guzman said.

“Whether the mayor feels that it’s a bad purchase is his own opinion,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of other people . . . who would say otherwise.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, hundreds of residents packed the Paia Community Center to express staunch opposition against TEACH, the group that plans to turn Old Maui High School into a center for agriculture, housing and education. Many questioned the motives of the for-profit organization and left the meeting with more questions than answers. (TEACH stands for technology, education, agriculture, community and health.)

Arakawa told Kula residents that his vision for his alma mater is to transform the campus into housing and spaces for social services and treatment of people with mental health and chemical-dependence problems. Many of Maui’s homeless people suffer from mental illnesses, and the campus would be well-isolated and a safe place for adults in need of treatment, he said.

“I’m stepping back to allow the community to have the facility it wants, even though, I believe in a campus for adults, long term,” he said. He added that the property is the right size and scope for such a project. “Otherwise, if we don’t create an area like that, all the homeless on the beach and Paia have no place to go. We have to create some place to house the homeless.”

On the proposed county purchase of the Wailuku ditch system, the mayor said that he plans to keep the area zoned conservation to prevent dirt bikers from “cutting up the mountains.” He noted that the county would not manage the ditch system and is looking at Hawaiian Islands Land Trust to oversee operations.

“We don’t have the expertise or manpower or the capabilities of really managing it,” he said of the $9.5 million agreement tentatively reached in December. “But, at the same time, if we don’t purchase it when it’s offered to us, if someone else wanted to buy it then we could lose control of that entire watershed area.”

The purchase would pay for itself within 10 years and would improve the efficiency and capacity of the county’s public water system, Arakawa added.

Pukalani residents asked the mayor for his advice on a Verizon cellphone tower proposed for a private golf course. Residents expressed concerns over possibly harmful radio waves, and one woman said she would have to sell her home and move if the tower were approved.

Arakawa said that the community can determine if it supports the cellphone tower, and people would need to speak with council members and members of the Maui Planning Commission if they oppose it.

“When I was on the council, we actually stopped three cell towers in Haiku,” he said. “We put regulations and requirements on it. Your council members are the ones who set the laws and rules . . . they’re the ones who have control.”

No updates of the Makawao-Pukalani-Kula community plan were presented Wednesday night to residents. In October, Arakawa suspended work on all upcoming Maui island community plans after it became obvious that the county Planning Department would not be able to complete them within the 10-year deadline. Lanai’s plan is the only one completed so far, and the council enacted it last summer.

“I’ve asked them to go back and redo the plan. Work with the council, work with the community to come up with something more workable and makes sense,” he said. “There’s no sense in continuing and putting all our staff time into it unless we’re going to have a plan that’s working. We cannot have a 10-year-plan that’s 20 to 30 years old when its done.”

Planning Director Will Spence and officials with the department’s Long Range Planning Division answered questions and detailed the goals and strategies of revamping the long-range planning process.

“It’s the desire of the department to go as fast as we can without taking shortcuts and cutting out the community,” he said. “Everybody here has the same goal of getting these done in a timely manner so everyone feels included.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at