WAILUKU - Members of the Cultural Resources Commission said Thursday they had no authority to restrict planned Halloween festivities on Front Street, even as Native Hawaiian leaders urged them to put the brakes on an event they called disrespectful.
Commissioners and county officials confirmed that the celebration planned by the LahainaTown Action Committee and the county Office of Economic Development did not require the panel's review. While the commission in previous years was asked to approve permits to construct a large stage in the historic district and allow vendors in Banyan Tree Park, those were removed from this year's Halloween plans, noted Department of Planning Director Will Spence.
The commission's approval was not required for the event itself, he said.
Ke‘eaumoku Kapu expresses his anger Thursday that kupuna and Native Hawaiian groups weren’t included in discussions about Halloween celebrations in Lahaina.
The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo
Uilani Kapu testifies before the Cultural Resources Commission on Thursday morning in Wailuku. She raised questions about the county’s permit for Halloween celebrations in Lahaina.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"There was nothing to trigger the review of the Cultural Resources Commission in this instance," he said.
Mayor Alan Arakawa announced last month that the county had secured a special management area minor permit and shoreline setback approval for the event, which would include closing Front Street to vehicle traffic, providing portable toilets and assigning scores of police officers for crowd control.
On Thursday, commissioners discussed a petition to intervene in permits for the event, submitted by attorney Richard McCarty on behalf of Native Hawaiian rights group Kuleana Kuikahi.
But after consulting with county attorneys, commissioners determined they could take no action on the petition because they had no permits to review. They voted to draft a letter to Arakawa and the LahainaTown Action Committee, urging them to meet with Kuleana Kuikahi and other community groups to discuss their concerns.
"If there's no permits, from our purview, there isn't anything to say," said commission Chairman Erik Fredericksen. "I know it's frustrating. I'm frustrated about that."
McCarty also was frustrated.
"What I'm hearing is that if kupuna want to set up a little table under the Banyan Tree and sell their crafts they cannot do that without asking you," he said. "There's going to be an estimated 30,000 people under that Banyan Tree, and apparently you as a commission are voiceless to say if it's appropriate for something like that to be going on in a national historic district."
The commission heard hours of testimony from members of Kuleana Kuikahi and others who felt the celebration known as the "Mardi Gras of the Pacific" in the 1990s and early 2000s had become offensive.
"Take it out of Lahaina town," said Leilani Chock. "Please keep the national historic district clean and pono so the children can go store to store for trick-or-treat, like it used to be."
Richard Dancil said Arakawa had "bypassed" the required approvals for the event.
"I feel sad about the Cultural Resources Commission," he said. "I feel for you guys, taking a slap in the face."
Ke'eaumoku Kapu of Kuleana Kuikahi agreed, and said the event disrespected the host culture and the historic significance of Lahaina, which was once the seat of power for Hawaiian ali'i.
"Our culture, our kupuna also got slapped in the face by this individual who made a campaign promise to bring something to the historic district, without even talking to the host," he said.
He said the event was only about "money, money, money," and that businesses and corporations were what had nearly destroyed the Hawaiian people.
"They genocided us," he said. "They're back, and we're mad."
Foster Ampong also criticized the mayor for moving forward without the blessing of the commission.
"He sidestepped you guys," he said. "Why? To serve corporate greed."
Ampong said the county should compromise by moving Halloween celebrations to a resort area.
"I'm not telling nobody not to celebrate Halloween," he said. "I'm saying change the venue. That's reasonable and logical."
Spence said the mayor has heard the concerns about returning Halloween festivities to Front Street.
"I know the mayor has listened," he said. "I know people will disagree with that, and I respect that opinion. But he's listened and heard the concerns for safety."
Administration officials have said previously that their goal is to hold a safe, family-friendly event.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@maui news.com.