The year 2017 in review
Liquor rules, county budget dominated year’s headlines
Only time will tell how 2017 will be remembered in Maui County.
Other than the chronic controversy over actions by the county Department of Liquor Control, there were few stories that drew attention through most of year. It was a nonelection year, although politicians were making some early moves to position themselves for campaigns in 2018.
Much of the news of 2017 was a mixed bag of development proposals and government reviews of them, Maui County Council budget deliberations, council proposals to ban foam polystyrene food service containers and sunscreen, crime coverage and sentencings of offenders, a school bus fiasco, businesses closing or preparing to launch and Alexander & Baldwin striving to transition from its closed Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar plantation to diversified agriculture.
In March, the county Department of Liquor Control and liquor commission came under what would be nearly nine months of public scrutiny and criticism after the commission approved rule changes eliminating dry hours for alcohol sales at retail stores and hotels, permitting home delivery of alcoholic beverages and removing the more than three-decade-old cap on the number of hostess bars in the county. The panel’s actions in February and March raised questions about whether there was adequate public notice about the changes, not to mention the decision to make them. Mayor Alan Arakawa approved the changes.
In May, the commission heard testimony from about 50 people opposed to the new rules, including recovering alcoholics and victims of drunken drivers. In July, the commission submitted to public pressure, reversing its rule changes from months earlier.
“It’s a good day for the community,” said Wailuku resident Mahina Martin, who led the Coalition to Repeal 24-Hour Alcohol Sales.
But, even before its reversal, the department began taking flak in May from nonprofit groups about procedural changes in the way the department processed permits to sell alcohol at one-day events. Nonprofit officials said that the administrative rules, which included a requirement for background checks and fingerprinting, were onerous and jeopardized their fundraising efforts.
The department maintained that it was required to follow state laws for the nonprofits’ single-day permits, but that was later refuted by the state Department of the Attorney General, which said the rules were not a requirement.
In September, the commission dialed back on requirements for nonprofits — adopting changes proposed by Maui County Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura that eliminated background checks, Social Security numbers and fingerprinting.
Here’s a month-by-month rundown of news highlights for the year.
• The U.S. Coast Guard suspends its search for a downed small plane off Molokai’s Ilio Point. Pilot Michael Childers and passengers John Mizuno and Whitney Thomas were aboard (Jan. 1).
• The Maui County Council has a rough first day (Jan. 2). Instead of a largely ceremonial opening of the year and routine confirmation of leadership posts, it took the council more than 13 hours to settle its leadership and staffing matters. Council members heard from 75 testifiers, had five failed nominations and two hourlong executive sessions.
• On Jan. 12, Mark Sheehan of SHAKA (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina) filed an ethics complaint against Maui County Council Chairman Mike White over White’s declaration in November that he would continue to serve as council chairman. (The case was dismissed in April.)
• Hana grandmother Teresa Shook is credited with igniting a “Women’s March on Washington” that drew 200,000 people to Washington, D.C., on the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
• The Family Life Center’s new state contracts for emergency shelter and other homeless services forced the facility to reduce its number of beds from 50 to 18 (Jan. 20).
• Charged with murder in a crash that killed her twin sister, Alexandria Duval, 38, is released Feb. 10 from Maui Community Correctional Center after her father posted $200,000 cash bail. Duval remains accused of second-degree murder in the May 29, 2016, crash that killed Anastasia Duval. (In November, 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill denied Duval’s request to have the murder charge dismissed. She agreed to waive her right to a jury trial and will be tried by the court beginning Jan. 29.
• On Feb. 12, Maui singer/songwriter Kalani Pe’a wins a Grammy Award in Los Angeles for the Best Regional Roots Music Album category for his debut album, “E Walea.” It was the first time a Native Hawaiian artist topped the category since it was created five years earlier.
• Work begins on the first phase of Alexander & Baldwin’s Kamalani housing project in Kihei (Feb. 21). The first phase of the master-planned community includes five buildings and 35 units. Upon completion, the project will include 630 units.
• A police officer fires at least one shot as a stolen vehicle flees following a confrontation at the McDonald’s restaurant on Main Street in Wailuku (March 6). No injuries were reported in the incident that began when officers responded to a report of a stolen vehicle.
• On March 24, convicted murderer Steven Capobianco is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole plus 10 years for killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Carly “Charli” Scott, and setting fire to her vehicle on the night of Feb. 9, 2014.
• Alexander & Baldwin shows a general map outlining possible uses of fallow former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. fields (March 31) — including areas for possible biodiesel-producing tree orchards, coffee and cacao crops and livestock pastures. Although A&B faces a challenge for use of East Maui stream water from taro farmers and Native Hawaiian practitioners, the company is seeking 115 million gallons of water per day for a 30-year lease from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
• Hawaiian and Na Kai ‘Ewalu canoe paddlers complain April 1 about how Ho’aloha Park has become a hot spot for trouble with homeless people and vagrants.
• Two Maui halau take home honors from the Merrie Monarch Festival (April 23), Hawaii’s premier hula competition in Hilo. Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, led by kumu hula Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes, earned third place overall in the kane division and second place in the kane ‘auana, or men’s modern hula, category. Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, led by kumu hula Napua Greig-Nakasone, earned fifth place in the wahine kahiko, or women’s ancient hula, category.
• On April 29, the Maui High School Sabers defeat Waiakea 6-1 to win the school’s first state baseball championship since 1982.
• The Maui County Council (May 2) approves its final version of the county’s fiscal 2018 budget, calling for operating expenditures of $562 million and capital improvement projects amounting to $142 million. The budget saves the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course, which Arakawa had proposed axing.
• Longtime state House Rep. Joe Souki of Maui is ousted as speaker (May 4), a post he held since 2013, in a shake-up engineered as a power grab by Oahu lawmakers with the assistance of Neighbor Islanders, including Reps. Kaniela Ing of South Maui and Justin Woodson of Central Maui.
• On May 10, Gov. David Ige declares that the “tide has turned” on the state’s homelessness crisis. He points to a study of Hawaii’s homeless population that showed double-digit decreases of homeless people in Maui and Hawaii counties.
• Police and park rangers clear out a homeless encampment at Baldwin Beach Park on May 23 that was believed to be one of the largest on the island.
• Arakawa (May 26) says he intends to seek the lieutenant governor’s seat in 2018. He made the announcement on the “Hawaii News Now Sunrise” TV news program on Oahu and later confirmed it on Maui. He also said he’s considered retiring and running for governor. On Nov. 9, the mayor says he’s “leaning very strongly” toward running for his former Kahului residency seat on the Maui County Council.
• On June 5, Arakawa signs into law a bill banning foam polystyrene food service containers, which include popular plate lunch containers and certain types of coffee cups. Small businesses opposed the ban while proponents said it would benefit the environment. Later, the County Council considers banning sunscreen to protect island reefs.
• An audit (June 14) of Maui County pCard (procurement card) procedures finds that Department of Finance Director Danny Agsalog booked two family members’ airline tickets using his county-issued card, in violation of procedures his department was in charge of enforcing. Agsalog paid for his family members’ tickets in advance. Agsalog resigned as finance director Sept. 30, citing “personal reasons” unrelated to the pCard matter.
• “Kuleana,” a locally produced film set on Maui in the early years of statehood, gets a showing at the Maui Film Festival’s Celestial Cinema on June 23. The film, which was written and directed by Brian Kohne and produced by Stefan Schaefer, features a host of local talent in its cast and crew.
• On July 14, a 2nd Circuit Court jury convicts former Maui Community Correctional Center prison guard James Siugpiyemal for sexually assaulting a female inmate in her car at the Maui Tropical Plantation in August 2014. On Nov. 14, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
• Public school classes begin Aug. 7, but many students and parents need to figure out alternative ways to and from school after Oahu-based Ground Transport won a seven-year contract to provide school bus service to the Baldwin, Maui and Lahainaluna school complexes. But the new contractor had difficulty finding qualified drivers. Normal bus service was restored Oct. 13.
• On Aug. 17, the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule’a returns to Honolua Bay 41 years after it departed for Tahiti in 1976. The canoe and its crew were celebrating their first stop of a Mahalo Hawaii Sail, following a three-year journey around the globe.
• Kahului industrial area businesses and customers (Aug. 29) report an increase in vandalism and other criminal activity they link to the number of homeless people in the area.
• Molokai Ranch (Sept. 11) is selling nearly 56,000 acres on the Friendly Isle for an asking price of $260 million. The land for sale makes up a third of the island and 20 miles of coastline. It includes 4,000 acres of forest, a cattle-ranching operation and a shuttered golf course and hotel.
• On. Sept. 29, the state Public Utilities Commission approves Wailuku Water Co.’s request to sell 4,600 acres to Ting Ranch LLC, the company’s first step in ending its water-distribution services.
• On Oct. 7, Maui County Council members unanimously adopt a resolution to refer to county planning commissions a bill to protect sand dune areas with culturally sensitive sites from sand mining other than for on-site construction.
• Maui Electric Co. (Oct. 12) proposes a 9.3 percent increase to its base power rates — its first such proposed increase in nearly six years — to help pay for operating costs, including system upgrades to increase reliability, integrate more renewable energy and improve customer service.
• The Maui Planning Commission (Oct 12) recommends allowing Honua’ula Partners to build all or a portion of 250 affordable housing units at its master-planned community in South Maui.
• On Oct. 19, the U.S. Coast Guard suspends its active search for two missing men — Jeremy Dossetter, 27, and Oliver Kirsch, 25 — who went down with a helicopter that crashed in the ocean off the coast of Molokai.
• Wailuku property owner Jonathan Starr (Oct. 28) reports some success in handling homeless-related problems with a Clean & Safe program. Through a $200,000-a-year contract with the nonprofit Ho’omaika’i Services, run by retired police officer Lawrence Kauha’aha’a, the program put people to work sweeping streets and cleaning.
• On Nov. 1, Makila Kai, a 49-unit housing project proposed as a mix of residential workforce housing and market-rate agricultural lots in Launiupoko, comes to a halt when a Maui County Council committee recommends filing the proposal. The project mauka of the Lahaina bypass corridor in Lahaina had sought a district boundary amendment from agriculture to rural in the state land use district for the nearly 15-acre affordable housing project site. The state land use district decision was left to the County Council because the reclassification is under 15 acres.
• Former Maui County Council Member Mike Victorino officially announces his candidacy for mayor (Nov. 6). Among his opponents are Council Members Don Guzman and Elle Cochran, who announced their intentions to run earlier.
• On Nov. 9, Island Air announces it would stop flying after 37 years of commercial air service because of financial problems and litigation. The shutdown, which happened the next day, affected 400 airline employees and their families, including 33 on Maui.
• The Maui Planning Commission approves amendments to a special management area use permit to allow ATC Makena Holdings to demolish the former Makena Beach & Golf Resort hotel and no longer pursue a separate 76-unit boutique hotel at the nearly 24-acre site (Nov. 14).
• On Nov. 18, the Lahainaluna High School football team wins its second consecutive Division II state football title, defeating Konawaena 75-69 in seven overtimes at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
• Iao Valley State Monument reopens permanently (Nov. 22), following the completion of a second phase of repairs needed to repair massive damage caused by flooding in September 2016. The county’s Kepaniwai Park reopened April 10.
• On Dec. 7, the state Land Use Commission completes its evidentiary phase review of the Waikapu Country Town project. The commission orders the preparation of proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and a decision and order for the panel’s final action.
• Police arrest a 17-year-old Kahului boy (Dec. 15) on first-degree arson, second-degree burglary and fourth-degree criminal property damage charges arising from a Nov. 24 fire at Kahului Elementary School. The fire caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage and closed the school for more than a week. In Family Court, the boy was ordered to be transferred to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu.
• On Dec. 15, Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor earns the unanimous support of the Maui County Council to continue as director after Arakawa called for removing him Nov. 15. There was no allegation of wrongdoing, although Arakawa charged that Taylor lacked management abilities and had failed to complete certain projects.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.