Rob Parsons

The big one-double-oh

Rob Report reaches the century mark

By Rob Parsons, Conservation Chair, Maui Sierra Club
January 08, 2009

Many of us are fascinated by numbers - big numbers, round numbers, square numbers. The number 100 qualifies on all accounts. We think of giving 100 percent, living to be 100, the Billboard Top 100 song list.

This week hails the 100th Rob Report column in Maui Time Weekly. My, how time flies when you're having a good time.

Rob Report 100th Article

RobRepor t1 .

But how did we get here? Well, the Rob Report was resurrected in late 2006, in the waning days of Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration. Since January 2003, I had been serving as Maui County's Environmental Coordinator, as an executive assistant to the mayor. Charmaine Tavares had beaten Arakawa in the November election, and would take the reins in 2007. .

Maui Time editor Anthony Pignataro phoned and inquired whether I would be staying on in my same role with the new administration. He and I had talked often over the past couple years, and I appreciated his ability to read between the lines of the goings-on in local politics. .

"Nope. She's bringing in her own team," I told Pignataro. It felt a bit more harsh than what I let on, having received my "pink slip" just three days before Christmas. Though the resume and application I submitted were bolstered by 20 letters of supportletters from county, state and federal agencies, local nonprofits and Maui Community College (MCC)-I wasn't even afforded an interview. I had become a political casualty. .

Pignataro offered his sympathies, and very quickly offered, "Maybe you'd like to consider doing some writing for us." .

The abiding impetus behind the Rob Report is to provide information which will allow everyone to do something/anything to improve the community in which we live. .


The abiding impetus behind
the Rob Report is to provide
information which will allow
everyone to do
to improve the community
in which we live.

And thus the Rob Report was born-or, more accurately, reborn. .

You see, back in 2000, the Rob Report began as a broad e-mail outreach to keep community members apprised of planning issues, upcoming meetings, and ways to provide input to our decision makers. E-mail addresses were culled from those who had signed petitions in support of efforts to "Save Baldwin Beach/Stop Spreckelsville Sprawl" and similar efforts island-wide. Modest attempts were made to keep the e-newsletter concise and interesting, including colorizing some fonts and inserting inspirational quotes, so that readers wouldn't merely hit their "delete" button. .

The response was heartening. Many on the list forwarded the Rob Report to family, friends and neighbors. People showed up at meetings, wrote letters to the paper and mailed in testimony when they couldn't be there in person. .

"The abiding impetus behind the Rob Report," I wrote back in 2002, "is to provide information which will allow everyone to do something/anything to improve the community in which we live. Awareness is the first step, and coupled with action, creates the empowered `ohana. Having key people in leadership positions is essential, and we also need to each do our part, whatever we choose it to be. Whatever you choose to do, I applaud your efforts!" .

The early e-mail Rob Report also served as a campaign outreach tool, to inform and inspire environmentally conscious citizens. I tossed my hat into the political ring, first running for a County Council seat in 2000, then for Mayor in 2002. In both cases, our strong environmental platform brought enough votes for a third-place finish, sufficient to help the second place challengers (Michael Molina in 2000, Arakawa in 2002) defeat the incumbents seeking re-election. .

During the 2002 mayor's race, we launched an ambitious print ad campaign, and were one of the only candidates who advertised with Maui Time Weekly. At that time, they were featuring food, music and surfing articles, and had not yet found their political voice. We deemed the young reader demographic as vital to landing votes. .

Armed with great photography by Robie Price, my wife Heather and I met with MTW owner and Publisher Tommy Russo, who was tremendously supportive in collaborating on our print ad strategy. Our final ad before the primary election was the icing on the cake. With the same font as the popular bumper sticker, it read, simply, "Eddie Would Vote." .

Shortly after the 2002 primary, my computer unceremoniously dumped a few of my e-mail lists, comprising hundreds of names of Rob Report recipients. Shortly after, it crashed completely. .

My environmental outreach broadened during my four-year tenure as Maui County Environmental Coordinator. I spoke on the mayor's AKAKU-TV shows, on radio call-in programs, at community and service organization meetings. I submitted Viewpoint articles to The Maui News on eco issues, and wrote for the county newsletter, the High Street Journal, the brainchild of Lynn Araki-Regan of the Office of Economic Development. I contributed information to Maui Time's Pignataro and freelance writer Cheryl Ambrozic on environmental topics ranging from cruise ships to (the lack of) a Ma'alaea Harbor pump-out facility, and from coqui frogs to Kapalua Hotel demolition. .

Still, I was new to the rigors of meeting a weekly newspaper deadline, and the challenge of keeping my columns fresh, interesting and accurate. It seemed that as soon as one article hit the streets on Thursday, it would be time to sit down and write for the following week. .

I tossed my hat into the political ring, first running for a County Council seat in 2000, then for Mayor in 2002. In both cases, our strong environmental platform brought enough votes for a third-place finish..

My writing often fell on weekends to meet a Monday deadline, making it necessary to research info, make contacts and solicit comments during the regular work week. And on more than a few occasions, I was well into the weekend without any good idea of the topic of the upcoming column. It gave me great appreciation for those who toil at daily newspapers, where deadlines are often condensed into a 24-hour period. .

Quickly I fell into a rhythm with Pignataro, who invariably made my weekly submissions tighter and better. That good fortune has continued over the past several months with MTW's new editor, Jacob Shafer, who succeeded Pignataro. .

At first, I wrote about what I knew best: environmental issues, island planning challenges and possible solutions beyond the status quo. I was fortunate to land some temporary grant funding that allowed me to continue researching and advocating for some of the most vital topics: renewable energy; water resources and allocation; South Maui planning, especially the large projects of Makena Resort and Wailea 670; and local food security. All are recurring themes of the Rob Report, which has become a persistent voice calling for that often-touted but rarely implemented concept: sustainability. .

The 2007 Focus Green lecture series provided ample subject matter, with some of North America's foremost eco-speakers on-hand. Robert Kennedy, Jr. warned of the two-pronged dangers brought about by corporate-controlled media and lack of campaign spending reform. He related the distressing legacy of President George W. Bush's systematic dismantling of environmental legislation, at the behest of the big business cronies he appointed to key administration positions. .

I did an interview with James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency. Both are sobering accounts of how cheap oil fueled nearly every significant societal shift of the 20th century, including the American-born design of roads, highways and urban sprawl, built around easy access to malls and big box stores (which in turn grew to prominence because of cheap transportation and shipping costs). .

I wrote of Canadian scientist David Suzuki's plea to act quickly to reverse the environmental degradation wrought by Homo sapiens. "We have arrived not just at the eleventh hour," said the creator of the PBS series, Nature, "but it is the fifty-ninth minute." I juxtaposed his comments with the County Council majority's apparent willingness to approve a private golf course and 1,400 housing units on the arid South Maui lands at Wailea 670. .

That planning issue grew into a cover story, "Ho'ala, The Awakening" (8/23/07). Three local activists shared their insight and feelings of being awakened to the dangers posed by over-development, after exercising their Native Hawaiian rights to access the as-yet-undeveloped land for gathering and spiritual purposes. The four-page spread, with Pietro Ortiz's chicken-skin cover photo, was, in my humble opinion, one of the most compelling layouts ever in Maui Time. .

Apparently the ever-present call for construction jobs and to expand real estate inventory superceded any urgency to preserve remnant native Hawaiian plant habitats and cultural sites-as the project was approved in March 2008. .


The ongoing examination of the potential for biofuels to replace our huge dependence on imported petroleum gave rise to a number of columns. Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) claims that building biodiesel mega-refineries on Oahu and Maui would jumpstart local agribusiness ventures for growing oil crops didn't stand up to number-crunching or public opinion. When it became apparent that HECO and Maui Electric Company (MECO) planned to replace imported petroleum with palm oil, the issue grew into a second cover story. .

"Deadly Price" (4/3/08) detailed how Southeast Asia's rainforests, endangered species and indigenous people are suffering while the rest of the world debates turning food crops into fuel. Another stunning layout, with images provided by the U.K.'s NatureAlert.org, framed the article. .

Seven months later, I scooped a story, "Biofueling the Fire" (11/6/08), revealing a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas, Texas. BlueEarth Biofuels, which had proposed building a 120-million-gallon per year biodiesel refinery on Maui filed suit against HECO, MECO, Aloha Petroleum and HECO's Senior Vice President Karl Stahlkopf, claiming breach of contract and disclosure of proprietary information. .

Columns about wind, solar, wave energy and energy conservation served up better ideas than the misguided HECO palm oil plan. .

In addition to the Rob Reports and cover stories, I added some shorter news pieces over the past two years. "Ferry Godmother" described Governor Linda Lingle's plan to grant Hawaii Superferry's wish and allow the vessel's backers to ignore a Supreme Court ruling that would have kept it anchored until an EIS was completed. .

I did campaign profiles for promising state legislative hopefuls Summer Starr and Tasha Kama, and "Ain't No Sunshine" covered court proceedings on a legal challenge as to whether Wailea 670 hearings abided by state provisions for open meetings. .


Rob with President-elect Obama's half-sister, May Soetoro-Ng. Preceding her visit to Maui, I did a phone interview with Maya Soetoro-Ng, Barack Obama's half-sister. On her way to the airport for a rally in Hilo, she was generous with her time and gracious in praise for her older brother. "Sister Act" (9/25/08) offered a candid glimpse into the family of the President-elect. .

That article prompted an e-mail weeks later from a Polish TV network that was sending a correspondent to Hawaii. Lukasz Chatys asked me to help their reporter make contact with key people on Oahu. Although Maya was on the Obama campaign trail at the time, the news of her and Barack's ailing grandmother brought him back to Hawaii unexpectedly, a sad though serendipitous turn of events for the Polish news program. .

Long distance response came in on two other columns. David DuByne is a former Maui resident who was living in Thailand when he wrote back with input on biofuels. Now living in China, DuByne writes English as a second language books, and has a keen interest in the Asian push toward biofuels. .

Just last week, a flash from the past crossed my computer screen. David Paquette delighted audiences at Lahaina's Pioneer Inn for a decade with his New Orleans-style jazz and blues piano artistry and growling vocals. I mentioned him in my Christmas memories column, and he wrote back to share the latest news of his gigs in Sydney, Australia, and at jazz festivals in New Zealand and Europe. .

Those international responses are reminders of how far and how fast things travel on the information superhighway. Information is powerful, and can help us make educated choices in our lives. As the Rob Report enters a new year, my thanks go to all of you faithful readers. My hope is that you will share these columns widely and that we may all join together to help influence positive change, both here on marvelous Maui and across this amazing planet. MTW .


Aloha kakou! .


"If voting could really change things, it would be illegal." --(restroom graffiti), Revolution Books. New York, New York. .


Of course, that's the cynical view; our voice doesn't really matter. However, it is the goal of The Rob Report outreach of information to overcome that belief. .

The Rob Report was born nearly two years ago, as a means to connect concerned community members with campaign issues. When my own campaign for Council ended at the primary election, TRR continued. With e-mail outreaches varying from every two weeks to two months, I aimed to not add to the deluge of unsolicited e-mails many of us often face. Feedback has always been the greatest part, as TRR takes on a life of its own each time any of you send it along to your `ohana. Mahalo to all of you who have participated in any way by reading this report, and especially to those who have chosen to take actions to defend our precious `aina! .

(Disclaimer: The Rob Report is in no way, shape, or form intended to imitate, or lampoon The Robb Report, which is a very different sort of publication!) .


FRIDAY, JULY 26, 11AM--4:30PM.

Agenda Items: Molina opinion reconsideration, and anonymous complaints filed against Jo Anne Johnson. Where: Planning Commission Meeting Room, Ground Floor, Kalana Pakui Building (next to the County Building, just south, same parking lot.) Ethics in Government??!! Is it an oxymoron? What will the new mayoral appointees to the Board of Ethics do with the reconsideration of the Molina opinion? The original unanimous decision was that his ownership in a family trust property less than a mile from Seibu-Makena lands constitutes a conflict of interest, and that he must recuse his vote on Makena rezoning. While Pat Kawano was absent due to his illness, Molina represented the swing vote on Makena. His inability to vote stymied Makena zoning approvals. Inside scoops believe that the original decision will be overturned. As earlier reported, two of the new Board of Ethics members (Realtor Tamio Iwado, and Riki Hokama's brother-in-law, Barry Helle) actually faxed their applications for the BOE the day after the February 8-0 opinion. Coincidence?.


Recent messages forwarded regarding the complaints lodged against Jo Anne Johnson precipitated several wonderful letters to the editor, and a great Maui News editorial, "Council Conflict Requires Swift Resolution." I loved the letter from Amy Chang of Haiku, which concluded with, "Jo Anne Johnson is the shining light of our Council!".

While Jo Anne's ethics complaints are on the Friday agenda, it is entirely possible that the Board may not get to them by the time independent counsel (from the Big island) has to leave. Still, it is important to be there to demonstrate support. Hope to see you! .


1) Kahului Sprawl: Council Approval of 177 ag acres for more light industrial/ retail usage..

A huge "Sprawl-o Mahalo" to everyone who used the easy Maui Tomorrow Web site click-on link to e-mail council members about this matter at the end of May. Despite at least 80 e-mails opposing the late re-insertion of this Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan redesignation, and a dozen testifiers (no one in favor), the Council passed this A&B request. Wayne Nishiki and Jo Anne Johnson made a valiant effort to move not to include this plan without an Environmental Assessment, (which can only be excused during Community Plan revision). Six other councilors voted to approve. .

Their votes for the short-sighted plans of the island's largest landowner (A&B owns 69,000 acres on Maui alone) ought to be challenged at every upcoming campaign forum. 'Tis the season to expose this folly! .

2) Seibu-Makena Rezoning Requests.

Word has it that this political hot potato will not resurface until after the 2002 campaign. The Molina decision, as well as the appointment to fill the Moloka`i Council seat of the late Pat Kawano may possibly change that. Kawano's choice to succeed him, former Council aide Danny Mateo, might be expected to follow Kawano's previous vote to approve Makena rezoning as proposed. Or, Mateo could prove to be his own man, and represent the broader wishes of the Maui community, which has grave concerns regarding the ability of infrastructure (water, traffic, schools, etc.) to support ANY more development there. .


"Politics is the entertainment branch of industry." --Frank Zappa.

"It's a marvelous night for a Moondance." --Van Morrison .


Who might be lunatic enough to enter the big dance for a political seat? Read all about it in the Maui News. Sift through the political ads, the rhetoric. Read the alternative press, especially the Haleakala Times. But above all......REGISTER TO VOTE!!! .

Mark my words, there WILL be some good candidates running, representing positive change from the bureaucratic, big money-run crap we usually associate with politics..

There is still a full month to register for the September 21st primary election, or to re-register if you have moved in the past years (as we have). The Verizon phone book has an easy registration form in the front pages. Or, sign up at the Wednesday night movies at the MACC. Or, call the County Clerk's office at 270-7749 and ask them to send you a form. DO IT TODAY!! .

Yes, the abiding impetus behind The Rob Report is to provide information which will allow everyone to do something/ anything to improve the community in which we live. Awareness is the first step, and coupled with action, creates the empowered `ohana. Having key people in leadership positions is essential, and we also need to each do our part, whatever we choose it to be. Whatever you choose to do, I applaud your efforts! .

Malama pono,.

Rob & Heather Parsons .