LAHAINA - Lahaina business and community leaders said Saturday they were disappointed with a decision not to close Front Street to vehicles Oct. 31 but still hope Halloween will return for 2011 in full force.
Maui County Police Chief Gary Yabuta said last week that a last-minute effort by two West Maui groups to get the road closed didn't follow the required legal channels and didn't leave enough time to put in place all the officers and planning needed to create a safe event - although there will still be a police presence for the night.
The Lahaina Town Action Committee (LAC) and new West Maui Community Association had appealed to the Maui Police Department to have Front Street closed between Dickenson and Papalaua streets from 6 to 11 p.m. in what was supposed to be a compromise that would help control the crowds and encourage people to return to en masse to Lahaina on Halloween.
From 1989 to 2007, Lahaina's Halloween party grew into one of the most profitable days of the year for the West Maui town - but critics complained that it got way out of hand.
The Cultural Resources Commission voted to revoke the Lahaina Town Action Committee's permit for the organized Halloween celebration in 2007, after a number of kupuna and Native Hawaiians spoke out against the event for being rowdy, risque and culturally insensitive.
Proponents of Halloween say the decision to keep the road open - and the extra police, music stages and porta-potties out of the area - continues to keep many revelers away from the still-struggling bars and restaurants.
"Oh absolutely, we're disappointed, but we're going to keep our application (for a full celebration) intact, and they know it," said LAC Vice President Joan McKelvey on Saturday about efforts to work with the county to restore Lahaina Halloween. "It's very disheartening strictly from a safety point of view. We've already seen so many close calls with cars almost hitting people.
"It's a perfect excuse to deny the permit because it would take 80 to 100 (police) officers for the night that the county doesn't want to pay for anyway," McKelvey said.
But that doesn't mean thousands still won't flock on Halloween to one of the Valley Isle's few communities with a concentration of bars and restaurants within walking distance of one another.
And Lahaina business owners as well as the LAC are still advertising bands, DJs, drink specials and costume contests indoors.
But several business owners have said that Lahaina draws maybe half as many as the 20,000 folks who were coming out when the festivities were a bigger, more organized event.
In an Oct. 12 letter to the Lahaina Town Action Committee denying the permit application, Yabuta said the plan was too little and too late to be workable.
"The time frame for this permit request does not give adequate time to effectively plan and for staff operations to provide a safe event," Yabuta wrote in his explanation.
Yabuta also said there is a process in place that must be considered. Lahaina is a state and nationally recognized historic district as the former capital of the Hawaiian monarchy.
The governing body for the district, the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission, needs a "design review" on its agenda in order to take a vote on whether to approve the Lahaina Town Action Committee's plans, Yabuta said.
But committee officials and members of the West Maui Community Association said the county administration asked them this summer to withdraw their full application for the event from the Cultural Resources Commission.
County spokeswoman Mahina Martin confirmed that officials with the Planning Department had met several times with the community groups to discuss plans for the event, but they had determined they could not give their support to the application because it was incomplete and didn't address community concerns.
McKelvey, said West Maui groups weren't given enough guidance about what exactly they needed to do to make things right with past critics of the event, a charge Martin has said is not the case.
"It's very simple, really," Martin said. "We just want the organizers to be inclusive of those who were clearly against it . . . There are just too many unanswered questions still."
In addition, she said that the county gave the groups the names of people who previously spoke out against Lahaina Halloween.
Event supporters said they were able to change the minds of at least five leading Native Hawaiian families who were against Halloween.
In a time of economic crisis, the county would need the businesses or community groups to chip in to pay for extra police, firefighters, ambulances and public buses - to make sure people got home safely and Lahaina doesn't become a parking nightmare. Martin said that in the past the county had the money to absorb those costs, which could run up to $80,000.
"We don't provide police for free to the Maui Marathon or county fair either," Martin said. "We don't have that luxury anymore, and you can't just pick and choose."
In the meantime, Lahaina business owners have said they are losing out on much of the $3 million the night would generate for local bars, restaurants and cabs. Maui Hotel & Lodging Association Executive Director Carol Reimann said that most people who stay in Lahaina hotel rooms for the events are locals who don't want to worry about driving home.
Since all the amenities disappeared, more revelers have been hitting celebrations in Paia and Kihei, Lahaina business owners complain.
McKelvey said with Front Street open to cars for the past two Halloweens, the number of visitors that night have been cut by half, at least. Now the curious also cruise Lahaina's streets, increasing the likelihood of someone getting hit by a car, she said.
Martin said they are well aware of that risk, and police do what they can to keep people on Lahaina's historic - and narrow - sidewalks.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article contains a correction to the one originally printed on October 17, 2010. Joan McKelvey is not the owner of the Pioneer Inn. She was incorrectly described as the owner in a story about Front Street on Page A1 on Sunday. The Maui News apologizes for the error.