KAHULUI - Democratic candidates for the South Maui 11th House District seat expressed opposition Tuesday night to Eclipse Development's work on two mega-malls in Kihei, with one candidate taking some flak for seeking to accommodate anticipated heavy traffic and for not opposing the projects outright.
Four Democratic candidates - former Rep. Joe Bertram III, Netra Halperin, Colin Hanlon and Kaniela Ing - are vying for their party's nomination to challenge Republican incumbent George Fontaine. He is unopposed for the GOP nod to return to the South Maui House seat for a second term.
The Kihei mall projects now under construction are located mauka of the busy Piilani Highway-Kaonoulu Street intersection.
Maui County Council Member Joe Pontanilla (left) and Kahului state Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran prepare to answer questions Tuesday night from moderators Ilima Loomis and Jon Miller during a televised candidate forum. The winner of the Democratic primary Aug. 11 will win the race because the party’s nominee will be unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Stephen Luksic prepares to direct Akaku: Maui Community Television’s production of a series of live televised candidate forums Tuesday evening. The candidate forums were sponsored by Akaku, The Maui News and the Kula and Kihei community associations and held at Akaku studios in Kahului.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
During a candidate forum televised live Tuesday on Akaku: Maui Community Television, Hanlon, the chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Maui, drew attention to the intersection when answering a question about development projects aggravating traffic congestion on Piilani Highway.
"As everybody in South Maui is aware, that intersection . . . has been looked over by multiple engineers, and it's failing," he said. "We have to make sure that we as a community start to talk about public safety if we're going to allow developments on that side of the highway, especially a mall that is going to attract our youth and our teens, because youth and teens love to be at the mall."
Hanlon suggested advocating for a pedestrian bridge over the highway.
Traffic mitigation needs to be among the project conditions developers must comply with "to make sure our road systems are taken care of," he said.
Ing said he was an early opponent of the mega-mall projects.
"I had a bumper sticker that said, 'Respect Kihei, oppose outlet malls,' '' Ing said. "To me, it's not a matter of whether you want it there or not. The scale of it was just outlandish to me."
Ing said he was born and raised on Maui and "through my lifetime I've seen South Maui change more than any other district."
"This is where I caught my first wave," he said. "This is where I caught my first fish. It's where my parents settled down, and I just want to make sure that my children and grandchildren will be able to experience the place as I have."
Ing said he found it curious that Hanlon mentioned the mall because "from meeting with a lot of unions I was told that he is a strong supporter of the construction of this mall."
He charged that 80 to 90 percent of Hanlon's campaign contributions come from developer and construction interests.
"That's not the kind of campaign I want to run," Ing said. "It's going to be grass-roots style from small fundraising.
. . . I really think that together we can fight those special interests and really do responsible development in a scale that makes sense for our community."
Hanlon did not have an opportunity to respond to Ing's comments during the forum's panel discussion.
But he later said that he's not a pro-development candidate, although he has received endorsements from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3 and the Hawaii Masons Union.
"I'm pro-South Mauian, pro-Kihei," he said Wednesday.
Hanlon said his fundraising has come from relationships he's developed with people after more than 20 years of living on Maui. His donors include retirees and people working in construction, trade unions, restaurants and small businesses, he said.
"I didn't target any specific groups," he said.
He said he's "not outwardly pro-mall" and doesn't have a position on the malls.
"I'm trying to get out in front of this issue for the community to make sure we can mitigate some of the traffic and public safety needs if it does come to fruition," he said. "The community needs to start focusing right now on public safety issues if the mall does come and make sure that we're dealing with what is being proposed as the busiest intersection in the county."
Hanlon said that he found it "a bit unprofessional for a fellow candidate to try to speak for me on a position. I thought that was slightly bush league, to be quite frank."
Ing said Maui's commercial centers have record retail vacancy rates.
"Pretty much every retail outlet right now in South Maui has pukas, has empty stores," he said. "That we're going to build this doesn't make much sense."
Halperin said she is "very, very concerned about the proposed outlet mall."
"It just doesn't even make any sense . . . the biggest mall in the state of Hawaii for a population of 140,000," she said.
Halperin said she hopes the development will receive a public airing before the Land Use Commission when it hears challenges to the project in August.
She said she agrees that permits should not be issued "to build these huge, huge projects until the traffic is addressed."
The state should not allow projects to advance when developers "aren't adding their fair share to the infrastructure so that all of us don't have gridlock," Halperin said.
Bertram arrived at the Akaku studio in Kahului after the South Maui House panel began its discussion. He took part in the next panel discussion with West Maui Democratic state Rep. Angus McKelvey. His Democratic opponent, Edward Kaahui, for the District 10 seat was a no-show.
Bertram said that if voters returned him to the state House, he would continue advocating for bikeways and greenways.
"The National Governors Association has said walking and biking are fundamental for both recreation and transportation," he said. "If we want to alleviate traffic, we've got to give people a different way to get around. Walking and biking are excellent. It's good for your health, and it means you have greenways instead of a highway. It's really important that you start building around people. Kihei is known for its big parking lots and lots of cars, and we've got to start planning around people instead."
Site work has already begun on the Maui Outlets and Piilani Promenade projects, which have drawn fire from residents and a legal challenge from community groups, contending plans for the retail centers have gone beyond what was originally intended as a light industrial park. The California landowner maintains that proposed development at Kaonoulu was always described as commercial and light industrial, and the state Land Use Commission did not limit the property to any particular use.
The state Office of Planning has recommended, however, that the commission revisit the project because the landowner has "failed to substantially comply with its representations" of the project now under construction.
Other candidates also took part in the candidate forum sponsored by Akaku, The Maui News and the Kihei and Kula community associations.
Democratic state Sen. J. Kalani English shared a panel with challengers Barbara Haliniak, a Democrat, and Kanohowailuku Helm, a nonpartisan candidate. They are seeking the District 7 state Senate seat that includes Upcountry and East Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Kahului state Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran faced off with challenger Joe Pontanilla, who has reached his limit of five consecutive terms on the Maui County Council. The winner of that Democratic primary for the state House District 9 Kahului seat will win the seat because there is no Republican candidate in the race.
In council races, Council Member Mike Victorino, who holds the council's Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat, discussed issues with challengers Joseph Blackburn II and Lisa Gapero; and Kahului council contenders Alan Fukuyama, Don Guzman and Erin McLaughlin fielded moderator questions. Two of the three council candidates in each race will be moving on following the Aug. 11 primary election to the general election on Nov. 6.
Panel moderators included Dick Mayer of the Kula Community Association, Maui News Staff Writer Nanea Kalani and former Maui News reporter Ilima Loomis, now managing editor of Spirituality & Health magazine. Other moderators were Jon Miller, Mike Moran and Victor Reyes.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.