Imagine Maui in 2040.
A reporter for a national news organization sits in the office of William "Coba" Costalana. The reporter is doing a story on how Maui County became one of the world's most successful visitor destinations.
Costalana is a professional administrator hired to be managing director of the County of Maui. His office is on the top floor of the county's newest office building, a 15-story structure that had replaced the old county building. Through the windows, there is a sweeping view of Central Maui. Kaahumanu Avenue is lined with bustling businesses from Sand Hills to beyond the busiest airport in the state. Green fields separate Wailuku-Kahului from Upcountry.
On the mountain, the island's "second city" encompasses the Paia business area, a string of housing developments stretching over to Maliko Gulch and up to country town centers in Haliimaile, Makawao, Pukalani and over to Kulamalu, where ranchland takes over. Here and there, low-rise apartment buildings and boutique hotels stand out among individual houses.
Kihei-Makena is a park-dotted, mostly residential area. A few of the old hotels and apartment buildings have been replaced with structures set back from the ocean. Most of the beaches are bordered by tree-shaded green lawns.
The sun sparkles off the tracks of a light-rail train. The third section of the system is being built out to the "second city." The other two lines connect Kahului with Makena and Kapalua. Bicycle and horseback riders are enjoying themselves under the elevated tracks. Out of sight, the west-side line runs around the pali above the sightseeing highway and a miles-long shoreline park.
"To what do you attribute Maui's success against all of the sun-and-sea resorts around the world?" the reporter asks.
"The short answer is public will," says Costalana. "The future of Maui was very much in doubt before a few of the county's elected leaders supported by a variety of environmental and industry groups convinced voters the environment was the economy. Please excuse the cliche."
"But isn't administration of the county up to the managing director? I understand you have a 10-year contract and the elected officials just set policy in addition to hiring the managing director."
"You're right. Taking administration of the county out of politics was one of the major reasons local government has been able to operate efficiently. Before the charter was changed, the council and the mayor were constantly squabbling over the smallest details at the expense of controlling development."
"How did that change take place?"
"Community leaders finally convinced the public. An intensive grass-roots campaign got the charter amended. Finally, the master plan was implemented after a decade of debate. A succession of changes demanded by the public was needed later."
"How was the voting public motivated? I understand that at the beginning of the century the voter turnout was down to around 40 percent."
"That's an interesting story that would take too long for this interview. Basically, all of the groups, both for-profit and nonprofit, understood what was at stake, joined forces and literally went door to door and person to person. In the last election, 90 percent of registered voters actually went to the polls.
"How long did that take?"
"More than a decade. The construction trade unions had to be convinced limiting sprawling development was in the best interests of their membership, which slowly began to grow as the master plan was implemented. The jobs involved in tearing down aging resorts and rebuilding them was big factor. Don't forget how ocean preservation created hundreds of jobs in small, locally owned businesses."
"I understand the underlying idea of making Maui attractive to wealthy visitors is nearly 100 years old."
"Yes, it was formulated in the 1950s. At one point, it was nearly forgotten. Don't forget the contributions made by the state Legislature, Congress and Hawaiians. After getting political recognition, Hawaiians were in the forefront of the most important policy changes."
"Well, thank you, Mr. Director. I need to talk to industry leaders and some ordinary citizens to round out the story."
"Pick just about anyone. I think nearly everyone will agree the best of Maui's past has been preserved while keeping up with worldwide changes."
Walking through the bustling outer office, the reporter thinks, "This is one helluva story."
* Ron Youngblood is a former editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.