Rob Parsons

Everything is Connected

The nature of Wailea 670

By Rob Parsons
Published in Maui Time Weekly
March 22, 2007

Economists seem to live on a different planet. Their model is like that of cancer cells; that the economy must grow forever. But we've used up what should be the rightful legacy of our children and grandchildren.       --David Suzuki

David Suzuki is a riveting speaker. The night of Wednesday, Mar. 14, the scientist addressed an overflow crowd at the Maui Arts and Culture Center's McCoy Theater as part of the Focus Green lecture series. His topic was our narrow window of opportunity to alter the collision course we are on with the planet that sustains us. Or, as he quoted his daughter: "This is the moment when we will define the future of humankind and all species."

Absent from the listening audience were members of the Maui County Council, who were busy deliberating a rezoning application from Wailea 670 (Honua`ula) to develop 1,400 new housing units and a golf course in South Maui.

Given the urgency of Suzuki's message and the apparent folly of constructing a seventh golf course in the Kihei-Wailea-Makena region, perhaps the Council Members' time would have been better spent listening to Sukuki.

David Suzuki received his doctorate in zoology in 1961 and conducted genetic research with fruit flies. He is the popular, respected host of the Canadian television series The Nature of Things, as well as the author of 34 books, half of them for children. He has spent the last 35 years fighting logging in British Columbia. Suzuki told his audience that the environment did not exist as an issue until 1962, when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring detailed the deadly effects of the pesticide DDT. Today, scientists at the South Pole can detect every toxic chemical released into the atmosphere. Ninety percent of commercial fisheries are gone. Fifty-five thousand species become extinct every year.

Human beings are now the most numerous mammals on the planet. In 1900, just 16 cities worldwide housed more than a million people. Today, half the world's population lives in big cities. More than 400 cities hold more than a million residents. The 10 largest cities each have a population greater than 10 million, with Tokyo the largest at 26 million residents.

"In the real world, everything is connected to everything else," Suzuki said. "In the urban setting we forget that we are biological creatures."

Since 1980, big money investors have dreamed of developing 670 acres of South Maui scrub pasture into a luxury golf resort community. Originally, two golf courses were conceived in the project area. That changed in 2000, when WCPT/GW Land Associates purchased the property. They proposed a gated community holding 600 single-family and 800 multi-family housing units.

Hiring former county Public Works Director Charlie Jencks, they began addressing traffic, water, sewage and other concerns to bring their Project District plans forward to the Planning Commission and County Council for approval. And in a public relations move, they changed the project name from the dry though technically correct Wailea 670 to "Honua`ula," the old Hawaiian name for the South Maui land stretching to Makena and all the way to Kaho`olawe.

Of course, the adoption of the traditional name did not make the owners any more local. In fact, the investors in WCPT/GW Land Associates LLC, registered in California, are among the biggest fish in the global investment pond. Lehman Brothers ranked 62nd on the Fortune 500 list in 2006, with assets topping $503 billion. Cargill Group is part of the world's largest privately owned corporation, and as such is not required to file Security and Exchange Commission reports on income profit, or executive salaries. The third largest worldwide agricultural conglomerate, Cargill brought in revenues of $66 billion last year. It's easy to see Wailea 670 as just another Monopoly board piece in a familiar community debate over losing open space, cultural sites and quality of life while over-stressing our infrastructure. But contractors, realtors, landowners and investors seem ever willing to support even the largest projects. And as they do, high-end luxury developments have widened the chasm between the haves and the have-nots, adding elements of stress to our island's social fabric. The Maui News reported that

the Maui County Council, which deferred the zoning request until early summer, focused their discussion on two topics: a private water system and potentially needed highway improvements. But the paper missed reporting on testimony on native plant habitat, community needs versus developer wishes and specifics of affordable housing promises. They also failed to note a vintage performance by Councilmember Michelle Anderson, who took issue with the Planning Department's failure to require a complete zoning application or to assess cumulative impacts of all South Maui planned developments.

Given how most of our elected leaders like to follow the status quo, South Maui Councilmember Anderson is an exception. At the Mar. 14 Council meeting, she highlighted zoning application requirements that were inadequate, or missing altogether: no Department of Transportation comments on the traffic analysis; no baseline study or preservation plan for environmentally sensitive areas; no state-mandated provision for access trails for native gathering rights; no details of water delivery plan; no cumulative impact analysis of all South Maui developments, especially on over-stressed beach parks.

She noted that Alan Arakawa, during his tenure as Council Land Use Committee Chair, declared he would not accept incomplete applications. Things got better for about six months, she said, and then the Planning Department reverted to their old ways.

Deputy Planning Director Colleen Suyama retorted that they rely on other agencies to provide comments on impacts. It's easy to pass the buck, Anderson shot back, if you don't have enough info in the application to provide worthwhile comments in the first place.

Committee Chair Mike Molina attempted to hold the debate in check, but Anderson held her ground. "I won't belabor the issue, Mr. Chair, I just want to make a point," she said. Jencks, sitting three rows behind Anderson in the Council gallery, snickered and feigned histrionics to the supporters and consultants sitting with him.

Anderson noted that there is just one road in and one road out of the area. The only consideration for an emergency evacuation plan would be to, as she put it, "put on your tennis shoes and run." With no current plan for a reliever two-lane road, planning for an alternate road should be happening right now. But no mauka road corridors were included in project maps.

"We should have maps showing surrounding properties," Anderson said. "Good grief!"

Council member JoAnne Johnson chimed in where Anderson left off. She noted that five more traffic signals would be required on the Pi`ilani Highway. She couldn't fathom how that would work since there seems to be a disconnect between the specific project and the Big Picture.

Relegated to the back burner of the Wailea 670 discussion was a recent study by University of Hawai`i Professor Lee Altenberg of a remnant native dryland forest community, located on an a`a lava flow at the property's south end. The habitat is one of only three sites on Maui where Rock's nehe, Lipochaeta rockii, survives, and one of only five sites on Maui where you can find candidate endangered species awikiwiki, Canavalia pubescens. There are also wiliwili trees 40 feet tall and likely hundreds of years old on the property.

Wailea 670 hopes to construct a portion of their golf course in this area, with a wastewater treatment facility at the southeast corner. Testifier Kehau Filimoeatu said that Hawaiians are not content to have their culture put in a museum or preserve. They need real, living places where they can practice the culture, she said.

Suzuki, who works with Canadian indigenous people, or "First People," said that elders are a repository of knowledge that we desperately need now. It remains to be seen whether that urgency will be recognized by those wanting to cash in on Maui with luxury developments, or by the elected officials entrusted with planning our island's future.