Inaction by council could lead to loss of land

Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White’s Oct. 27 Viewpoint, “New appraisal needed for Launiupoko land,” is inaccurate, and illustrates White’s lack of understanding of the negotiating process that has taken place thus far.

It is unfortunate that the entire Maui community stands to lose this truly priceless opportunity to preserve 186 acres of prime shoreline property for recreational use and open space at the unheard of cost of $70,000 per acre. The reason for this loss? The council’s inaction, led by White’s unfounded criticism, and the self-confessed game of chicken that he said he is willing to play with taxpayer dollars.

The seller of the pali-to-Puamana land, Makila Land Co., had agreed to extend the closing date of June 30 to Dec. 31 with the understanding that this date is non-negotiable. A letter from the seller to White, dated Oct. 17, asserts, “As previously stated, Makila is unwilling to extend the deadline.” White has effectively killed this proposed land purchase by not allowing members to vote on the purchase.

Again, who will suffer the consequence of this egregious inaction? Our entire community.

In fact, anyone watching the televised proceedings would gather that the seller’s non-negotiable price of $13 million (approximately $70,000 per acre) was fair, professionally established and in urgent need of response to close the deal before the seller’s offer expires on Dec. 31. In a letter sent to Council Chairwoman Gladys C. Baisa, dated Sept. 20, the seller affirms that, “As I stated in my previous testimony, an additional appraisal will not make a difference in the purchase price.” The letter went on to say, “At this point the majority interest in the partnership has agreed not to modify our agreement with the county and no additional price or time concessions will be made.”

Even at the seller’s initial offering price of $22 million, the purchase would have been a good deal: Where else on Maui can you buy prime beachfront for $118,000 an acre? Through the process of negotiation, the seller’s willingness to accept the appraisal price of $13 million as the new selling price was greatly appreciated by all community organizers who have supported this vital open space acquisition.

White’s effort to sabotage this important purchase by pursuing an additional appraisal will have absolutely no bearing on the sale, and will cause the deal to fall apart. The ultimate result of his failure to act will open the door for the seller to pursue its alternate pursuit: developing the same land for high-end homes and commercial use. Mayor Alan Arakawa’s vision for the pali-to-Puamana parkway gives all of us a chance to enjoy recreational activities and open space along this scenic and natural shoreline that, once developed, will never be the same.

The mayor first transmitted this proposed purchase as an agenda item to the Budget and Finance Committee in January. Why has it taken so long to reach a vote on the floor? I urge council members to request a vote on this urgent matter before we miss this chance to acquire open space once and for all. To allow politicking to impede such an invaluable opportunity would be a shame, not just for us but for generations to come.

* Danny Agsalog is the county director of finance.