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County departments need to work together to improve Baby Beach

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

For many of us who grew up around Maui’s North Shore, Baby Beach — also known as Wawau Point — holds precious memories as a place where we went to swim, snorkel, explore, fish, exercise or just enjoy time with family and friends.

With convenient beachfront parking, Baby Beach for years offered easy access to the type of coastal recreation that is ideal for young children and families. The beach’s long reef calms breaking waves and creates an inshore pool that allows for safe swimming by people of all ages.

This unique setting has attracted those seeking refuge from the larger and more turbulent surf that much of the North Shore is known for. Baby Beach is a treasure of the Paia-Spreckelsville coastal region.

Keeping this valuable public resource as a viable recreational site for current and future generations is critical. But for at least a couple of years, concerns have grown with parking, public safety issues, shoreline erosion and other problems at Baby Beach, as seen on social media, in conversations with residents and in media reporting (“Problems at Baby Beach,” The Maui News, June 9, 2019).

A community group sought to install boulders and gravel at the Baby Beach parking lot. But improvements must be made within legal requirements, for everyone’s protection and to ensure long-term success.

While the property is owned by a private entity — Alexander & Baldwin Properties Hawaii LLC — the parking lot is within a shoreline that is protected by the Coastal Zone Management Act and related state and county laws and regulations. A permit is required for shoreline construction.

A&B has received the necessary special management area permit from the county to pursue nearly $204,000 in improvements, including installation of instructional signs, placement of boulders, installation of a gate, planting of naupaka and dedication of shoreline access paths. As conditions of the permit, the proposed development must be initiated by Nov. 30 and completed within one year.

While these improvements will alleviate some problems troubling this area, they don’t offer solutions for all the concerns the community has raised. With decreased parking availability and increased homelessness, unpermitted camping, trash and other unsanitary and unsafe conditions, residents don’t feel welcome.

It’s time for the County of Maui to act.

Improving the parking and public safety conditions at Baby Beach requires a multi-departmental effort, led by the Office of the Mayor and the Department of the Police. The Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee, which I chair, is authorized to perform legislative oversight of both agencies.

The county’s purchase of the 30 acres encompassing the parking lot and other property around Baby Beach may be warranted. I urge Mayor Victorino to continue pursuing negotiations with A&B, which has indicated their interest in selling the property, and consider accessing the Open Space Fund to finance the acquisition.

Objectives for using the Open Space Fund include promoting public outdoor recreation, preserving beaches and coastal areas and improving public access to recreational facilities. The Baby Beach acquisition would satisfy all of these purposes.

To exhibit the county’s resolve, I will consider introducing a resolution to authorize proceedings in eminent domain. Eminent domain, also known as condemnation, is a form of litigation in which the county can go to Circuit Court and obtain title to property for a public purpose upon payment of just compensation.

My committee has jurisdiction over litigation matters, including eminent domain. If it appears eminent domain would be beneficial, the council can authorize the Corporation Counsel to condemn the property.

So, the county has many tools to preserve and improve Baby Beach. To foster open discussion, I have placed a communication on Friday’s council meeting agenda for referral to my committee.

I pledge to schedule the matter promptly to allow members of the public to testify with their ideas for Baby Beach and for Mayor Victorino to brief the committee on his plans, including the status of any land-acquisition negotiations.

I encourage community members to join me in an effort to protect Baby Beach and share their knowledge and input via testimony, first at Friday’s council meeting and then later in committee. For information on how to testify, please visit mauicounty.us/testify.

* Mike Molina is chair of the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee. He holds the council seat for the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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