A year of climate and political change 2018

Storms of all persuasions, even an actual firestorm, descended upon the county

Mike and Joycelyn Victorino pose with sons Mikey (right) and Shane as things wind down at their campaign headquarters election night in Kahului on Nov. 6. Victorino was elected Maui County’s new mayor. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Climate change and political change took Maui County by storm in 2018.

Oh, and there was that end-of-the-world thing.

In most hurricane seasons, storms brew far to the southeast, churn toward the Hawaiian Islands and then lose steam over cooler ocean waters or get torn apart by upper-level winds. 2018 year was different.

During a nearly 10-hour span from Aug. 23 to 24, chaos reigned in West Maui as then-Hurricane Lane made its approach to the county, whipping up winds and churning up wildfires that broke out in three areas from Maalaea to Kaanapali, the first in Kauaula Valley.

Hundreds of West Maui residents were evacuated. There were fears that wildfires could jump Honoapiilani Highway and burn Lahaina town. More than 20 homes were damaged or destroyed, but no injuries were reported.

Maui firefighters mop up at the Hawaiian Dredging baseyard in Puamana on Aug. 24. A wildfire whipped up by then-Hurricane Lane damaged or destroyed more than 20 homes. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Eventually, after a hair-raising night and early morning, Lane fizzled into a tropical storm, but not before wreaking damage with winds in excess of 50 mph.

Lane had been predicted to pass directly over Maui County, but at the eleventh hour it took a near 90-degree turn, sparing the islands the full brunt of its winds and rain. If it hadn’t, at least one weather forecaster said, Lane could have inflicted the kind of catastrophic damage Kauai suffered when Hurricane Iniki struck in 1992.

But hurricane season wasn’t finished with Maui County. Hurricane Olivia approached and was downgraded to a tropical storm, and made landfall at 9:10 a.m. Sept. 12 near Kahakuloa. After passing over the West Maui Mountains, Olivia made landfall again 6 miles northeast of Lanai City at 9:54 a.m.

Olivia hit Molokai hard, leaving about 700 customers without electricity on the island’s East End and in Kaluakoi. Floodwaters also inflicted damage in Honokohau Valley and Waihee.

Olivia was the first tropical storm to make landfall on Maui since modern record-keeping began, and it approached Maui from the north, where ocean water is usually not warm enough to sustain a hurricane or tropical storm.

The southern terminus of the Lahaina bypass, dubbed Route 3000 by the state Department of Transportation, was opened in April. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

State climatologist Pao-Shin Chu said: “I have a climatic atlas of hurricane tracks . . . (and) I have never seen anything like that before.”

Political changes

Meanwhile, a storm of a human kind was brewing in Maui County politics.

In late January, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui announced his resignation, returning home to Maui and joining a public affairs, communications and research firm, the Seattle-based Strategies 360, which has offices in Hawaii, 11 other western states and Washington, D.C. He also announced he was not running for elected office, including the open office of Maui County mayor.

His announcement would open political opportunities for others.

Alexandria Duval was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of her twin sister, Anastasia, on Feb. 1. Judge Peter Cahill rendered the verdict in a case that drew national media attention. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

It became even more obvious that change was in the wind when Maui County Council Chairman Mike White and Vice Chairman Bob Carroll announced separately that they would not seek re-election to their respective Makawao-Haiku-Paia and East Maui council residency seats. And, Council Members Don Guzman and Elle Cochran declared their candidacies for mayor, leaving open their respective Kahului and West Maui seats.

That guaranteed that at least four council seats would be open.

Meanwhile, Mayor Alan Arakawa was completing the second of two consecutive four-year terms, and term limits meant he would not be able to seek re-election. After flirting with the idea of running for lieutenant governor, Arakawa decided to seek his former Kahului council seat. With a hefty campaign war chest and abundant name recognition, he looked like a shoo-in to return to the County Council.

Arakawa’s open seat drew seven candidates, including former five-term Council Member Mike Victorino. In the Aug. 11 primary election, Victorino and Cochran finished first and second with 39.8 and 30.6 percent of the vote, respectively. Guzman took third place with 24 percent of the ballots.

But the most surprising primary election night shocker was that Arakawa finished as runner-up in the Kahului council race to longtime community activist Natalie “Tasha” Kama. She grabbed 37.3 percent of the vote, Arakawa received 34.6 percent, and Deb Kaiwi took 13.3 percent. Arakawa explained his poor showing by saying that he had not campaigned while serving as mayor. “I actually have a day job,” he said.

This alert popped up on many cellphones in Hawaii on Jan. 13. It was mistakenly sent out by the state Emergency Management Agency and caused panic statewide. AP file photo

In November, after voters had their say at the polls, Arakawa ended up with no job.

Kama took an early lead on election night and never gave it up, ending with 56.4 percent of the vote to Arakawa’s 34.8 percent.

Kama was a bright spot on the ‘Ohana Coalition ticket that also featured victories for coalition-backed candidates Council Member Kelly King (South Maui) and Shane Sinenci (East Maui), Tamara Paltin (West Maui) and Keani Rawlins-Fernandez (Molokai). That gives the ‘Ohana candidates a 5-4 majority on the council, upsetting the long reign of traditional, establishment-backed candidates.

Aside from King, the only returning incumbents will be Council Members Yuki Lei Sugimura (Upcountry) and Riki Hokama (Lanai). Former Council Member Alice Lee defeated sitting Council Member Alika Atay for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu seat and former Council Member Mike Molina reclaimed his former Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat, defeating ‘Ohana-backed candidate Trinette Furtado.

In a historic milestone, women will make up the majority (six members) of the nine-member Maui County Council for the first time in its 114-year history.

While the ‘Ohana Coalition flexed its muscle by winning a majority of County Council seats, it wasn’t able to get its candidate, Cochran, on to the ninth floor of the county building. On general election day, Victorino emerged victorious, taking 53.6 percent of the vote to Cochran’s 43.8 percent.

Victorino did well in Central Maui, where he won twice as many votes as Cochran. He also defeated Cochran in voting Upcountry and on Molokai and Lanai.

Cochran outperformed Victorino in West, South and East Maui, although Victorino made gains in West and South Maui compared to his showing in the August primary.

Comparatively speaking, Maui County’s state House and Senate seats were a safe place for incumbents; there were no upsets and office holders generally cruised to victory. An exception was West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker, who eked out a 106-vote Democratic primary victory over progressive challenger Terez Amato. Another was Upcountry Rep. Kyle Yamashita, who fended off a strong challenge from ‘Ohana-backed candidate Tiare Lawrence, defeating her by 240 votes.

Another political development came before elections and away from the ballot box when House Speaker Joe Souki was forced to resign from his 8th House District seat (Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu) because of a state Ethics Commission settlement of a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Souki’s departure ended his 36-year career as a Central Maui representative that included two stints as House speaker and service as chairman of the powerful House Finance committee. His exit left an open seat before the end of the legislative session, and Gov. David Ige ultimately appointed Troy Hashimoto, executive assistant to council Chairman White, to serve out the remainder of Souki’s term.

Then, in the primary election, Hashimoto came out of top of a four-candidate field, winning the seat outright with 51.8 percent of the vote. Former Council Member Dain Kane was runner-up with 32 percent.

‘This is not a drill’

Outside of politics, the weirdest and most alarming event of the year came blaring through cellphones.

At 8:07 a.m. Jan. 13, the state Emergency Management Agency sent out an alert, warning residents and visitors to seek immediate shelter because of incoming ballistic missile strike. It was followed by: “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

It wasn’t a drill. It was a mistake, although it alarmed people because it came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea.

It took state emergency agency officials 38 minutes to send out another notice over the alert system that there was no threat. In the meantime, people panicked. There were reports of motorists speeding on the roads and people taking shelter in manholes. Some stores told shoppers to leave.

Several agency workers resigned or were fired in the wake of the false alarm, including the “button pusher,” who reportedly believed the islands were under attack. Measures were put in place to prevent a repeat incident.

Trump, trials, treatment

On Jan. 20, a peaceful Maui Women’s March that had been a spiritual, progressive liberal political rally to denounce President Donald Trump turned confrontational when counterprotesters showed up with a bullhorn at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Paia resident Annie Nelson, wife of country singer Willie Nelson, was among 100 marchers who confronted three counterprotesters, who condemned abortion, feminism, homosexuality and “being obsessed with vaginas.”

On Feb. 1, 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill found Alexandria Duval not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of her twin sister when they went over a cliff in East Maui on May 29, 2016.

Duval was the driver of the vehicle that veered off Piilani Highway and fell more than 100 feet to rocks below. Anastasia Duval was thrown into the backseat and killed.

Prosecutors argued that Alexandria Duval pressed the accelerator and went over the cliff without braking. The defense argued that she lost control of the vehicle and did not intentionally cause the crash. Witnesses had seen the two women fighting in the sport utility vehicle before the crash.

In February, musician Willie K disclosed he had lung cancer. He underwent chemotherapy as his fans on Maui and statewide rallied to support him. The entertainer decided to limit his performances during his treatment.

On Feb. 23, Mayor Arakawa declared a state of emergency in Waihee, where the home of Maureen and Stanley Naganuma was inundated with floodwaters, mud and debris. Downstream, a man lost 15 goats, much of his property and all his ducks and chickens.

Other residents suffered severe flood damage as well.

In March, the county received word that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had denied a full-panel review of its Feb. 1 decision that the county violated the Clean Water Act by pumping treated wastewater into injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility since the early 1980s.

The county said it would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, although the county Department of Environmental Management was engaged in multiple projects in West, South and Central Maui to reuse wastewater and phase out the use of ocean-polluting injection wells.

In late March, it was announced that the 776-room Grand Wailea resort would be sold April 17 to BRE Iconic Holdings, another name for the New York-based Blackstone Group LP, a private equity firm. In January, there were reports about the pending sale of the resort for $1.1 billion, reportedly the second highest amount ever paid for a hotel in the United States.

The 42-acre Grand Wailea opened in November 1991 as the Grant Hyatt Wailea. Built for $600 million by developer Takeshi Sekiguchi, the fantasy mega-resort featured pink stone walkways, bronze sculptures, flowers, pools and a spa.

At the end of March, a report surfaced that Kalaupapa Rare Adventures had been evicted from land it had used to operate a mule ride on the 3.5-mile Kalaupapa Trail. The announcement came from landowner R.W. Meyer Ltd.

Since the early 1970s, guided mule rides had taken visitors down the 26 jagged switchbacks on a cliffside to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula.

On April 5, Maui’s Shalia Kapuau’ionalani Kikuyo Kamakaokalani won the Miss Aloha Hula competition at the 55th annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo. She was under the direction of kumu hula Napua Greig.

Also in April, a report by Colliers International detailed retail and office vacancies in 2017. The report said Maui’s retail market saw its second consecutive year of rising vacancies, ending with a 20-year high of 15.57 percent unoccupied store space.

Earlier, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. broke ground on its 94,000-square-foot Ho’okele Shopping Center, located near Kahului Airport and the gateway to the company’s Maui Business Park. The new shopping center will be anchored by a 57,400-square-foot Safeway store, expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2019.

In February, A&B announced it had acquired the nearby Pu’unene Shopping Center, anchored by Target, as part of a $254 million, three-property deal with California-based Terramar Retail Centers.

Rocky road to Lahaina

In April, another portion of the Lahaina bypass (dubbed Route 3000 by the state Department of Transportation) opened, while improvements continued at its northern and southern termini. The opening meant that all Lahaina-bound traffic was diverted from Honoapiilani Highway near “cut mountain” to Route 3000 at the southern terminus.

Meanwhile, Lahaina merchants and residents complained about traffic flow at the northern Keawe Street terminus of the bypass.

In April, the Hukilike No Maui: Together for Maui Coalition organized an online petition and rally aimed at persuading A&B to open its former sugar cane lands to more affordable housing, small-scale farming and conservation.

As part of its “15 percent for the future” campaign, the group asked A&B to make at least 15 percent of its Central Maui land, or about 5,000 acres, available for Maui to “plan its own future.”

A&B officials said they met with coalition members, shared their values and had demonstrated leadership on Maui in similar issues.

In early June, developers announced the demolition of the former Maui Prince Hotel in Makena to make way for a $324.3 million, high-end condominium project on 24 acres. Demolition work continued well into December.

And, in June, it was disclosed that Maui County paid former Film Commissioner Harry Donenfeld $60,000 in late 2017 to settle a federal lawsuit filed in July 2016 against the county and Mayor Arakawa. The county also spent $96,815 for special counsel for Arakawa.

The lawsuit stemmed from Donenfeld’s firing as film commissioner in September 2013.

Also in June, the Waikapu Country Town project went before the county Urban Design Review Board to consider design guidelines for the 500-acre project that calls for building a “complete community” with 1,433 residential units and 146 ohana units, about 200,000 square feet of commercial and employment space, a 12-acre elementary school, parks and open space. The project’s next step is to seek a change of zoning and community plan amendments, first before the Maui Planning Commission and then the Maui County Council.

In early July, fired Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor reached an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit with Maui County. The terms were undisclosed, but county budget documents showed that an energy/countywide capital improvement project coordinator position was being held open as part of a settlement in a pending legal matter. The position was in the Department of Management.

Taylor suffered a heart attack in June. Before that, he had sued the county to regain his position as water director. Mayor Arakawa had earlier removed him, putting him on administrative leave with pay.

The County Council later rejected Taylor’s termination, but Arakawa refused to reinstate him.

Taylor filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court alleging defamation, slander, wrongful termination and violation of his due process rights. Former Maui County Council Member Gladys Baisa stepped in as new water director.

In mid-July, disorderly conduct and other charges were dismissed against Native Hawaiian activist Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo because a judge ruled that more than six months had passed without the defendant going to trial.

Kaeo, a Kula resident, was among six people arrested in August 2017 as dozens of protesters gathered at Kula Highway and Old Haleakala Highway to oppose a large vehicle convoy carrying equipment for construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope at the Haleakala summit.

Kaeo had been scheduled for trial Jan. 24, but he repeatedly responded to questions in Hawaiian and asserted his right to speak the Hawaiian language. Eventually, he was granted an interpreter, but his trial was delayed again when he submitted a motion written in Hawaiian asking that his case be dismissed because his rights to a speedy trial had been violated.

Housing and more

In July, Gov. Ige signed a bill aimed at keeping rents affordable at the Front Street Apartments. Senate Bill 2293 requires the Hawaii Housing and Finance Development Corp. to begin condemnation proceedings for the ground lease of the 142-unit apartment complex. The measure also appropriated $30 million from the state’s rental housing revolving fund to build rental apartments on property in Lahaina.

The apartment complex owner, Front Street Affordable Housing Partners, precipitated efforts to save the affordable rental units after announcing its plans to use a federal tax code loophole that allows the owners to raise rents to market rates by August 2019 if the owners were unable to find a buyer for the development.

Also in July, developers of 88 acres in north Kihei formerly dubbed the “megamalls” project disclosed that they were returning project plans to “substantial compliance” with what the state Land Use Commission approved in 1995. So, instead of a retail and mixed-use development, developer Piilani Promenade North and South, owned by Texas-based landowner Sarofim Realty Advisors, would comply with the original development plan for a 123-lot commercial and light industrial subdivision.

In August, the owners of Kukui Mall in Kihei announced that Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar would move down South Kihei Road to the renovated mall. And, the mall’s former four-plex movie theater reopened and was leased to Regency Theatres with plans for a “state-of-the-art movie experience.”

In late January, Houle Financial Corp., a Maui company, announced it had purchased Kukui Mall for an undisclosed amount.

In September, the state Land Use Commission voted to revert the Waiehu property formerly planned for the Hale Mua housing development back to its former agricultural land-use designation because there had been no substantial commencement of the project.

Oahu developer Sterling Kim tried in vain to resurrect the project, telling commissioners he had lined up $47 million in financing to reacquire the property acquired in foreclosure by Southwest 7 and to develop the project’s first phase. But commission members were unmoved.

Project plans had called for building 238 affordable and 209 market-priced homes, an elementary school and park and to spend $15 million to $20 million in off-site improvements, including the construction of an extension of Imi Kala Street with a new bridge across the Wailuku River.

Also in September, Maui County and the Maui Visitors Bureau announced the implementation of a 10-year tourism strategic plan with, among other goals, the aim to discourage visitors from staying in illegal vacation rentals. The county hired LODGINGRevs, a Colorado-based company that specializes in rooting out illegal short-term rentals.

In November, Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp. broke ground for the $34 million, 165-unit Kahului Lani senior affordable rental housing development on 4 acres near the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center and the Kahului Public Library.

The project will be built in two phases with construction on the first phase — a six-story building with 82 units — set to begin by the end of the year. Completion is targeted for 2020. The second phase calls for building 83 units and a two-story multipurpose building.

The project is designed for people 55 and older who earn 60 percent or less of the county median income.

In December, A&B announced that it had closed one of the largest land sales in state history by selling 41,000 of former sugar cane fields in Central Maui for $262 million to Mahi Pono, a farming venture between a California-based agricultural company and a Canadian pension fund investment group.

A&B shut down the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plantation in late 2016 after nearly 150 years.

Mahi Pono is committed to sustainable agriculture and producing high-quality, non-GMO foods, the company announced.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mahi Pono purchased the farmlands; Kulolio Ranch, A&B’s grass-fed cattle project; and Central Maui Feedstocks, A&B’s energy crop project. The new company assumed all diversified agricultural leases previously entered into by A&B. And, A&B and Mahi Pono entered into a partnership to own and manage East Maui Irrigation Co., which manages A&B’s water-diversion system.

Also in December, Stephen B. Schmidt was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the stabbing death of 24-year-old Kehau Farias in a crowded Kehalani Foodland on the evening of April 19, 2016. Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill called the killing, in which Schmidt slit Farias’ throat and injured two bystanders who came to her aid, an act of terrorism.