Rob Parsons

What's Alan Been Up To?

Talking with former Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa

by Rob Parsons

August 02, 2007

After being a ubiquitous and familiar presence at community events during his four years as Maui County Mayor, Alan Arakawa's latest whereabouts have been a bit of a mystery. I've seen him a few times at Akaku studios (he's a volunteer cameraman for two different programs) and recently heard that he helped a friend change her flat tire as she was leaving the county building. But other than that, I've been unable to answer the frequently asked question, "What's the former mayor been up to?"

I served four years as Arakawa's Environmental Coordinator, so one sunny weekend morning I decided to find out how he was doing. I found him and his wife Ann working in their yard on a busy corner in the heart of Kahului. Looking tan and healthy, Arakawa took me on an extensive backyard tour of his turtle and fishponds, shade houses and vegetable and flower plantings.

He's been repotting hundreds of orchids and anthuriums, and showed me his method: lots of gravel in the bottom for proper drainage, an equal amount of wood chips, then just a little bit of potting soil and time release fertilizer around the top roots. He's also planted roses, gardenias, gladiolus and akulekule-part of an overall strategy to, as he put it, "keep my wife happy."

Indeed, one of the questions I intended to ask was how he was progressing with his "honey-do" list. As we moved inside, I found that such a list actually existed, written on an apron and tacked to a door: Fix the toilet; Clean garage and yard; Repair the pipe under the sink; Clean the attic. Written three times were the words "See Ann for more."

MAUI TIME WEEKLY: I've been asked many times, "What's the former mayor up to? How's he doing?"

ALAN ARAKAWA: My foremost goal in life is to keep my wife happy. Besides my chores, I've been volunteering with Akaku, Hui Malama, Kahului School and the Kenjin Kai Maui Okinawan group. I'm on the board for the first time of the Mayor Arakawa Kokua Fund, which has disbursed over $60,000 to needy groups and individuals. I'm doing some consulting, and just finished a bowling league. I'm also enjoying life, and playing bridge three to four times weekly. I'm happy to say I'm "improving." I'm enjoying a healthier lifestyle now that I'm not under constant pressure. Ann and I have been finding time to do some walking. We've also been care-giving for Ann's father, who has had some health problems.

Now to business. Much of Maui is again experiencing drought conditions, and discussion of the usage of Hamakuapoko wells has again arisen. Any thoughts or solutions?

We actually had a comprehensive program to drought-proof Maui. First and foremost, I still believe that water on Maui should be under the control of government. Without that control, it will be very difficult to direct growth. If the developers control water, they can build anyplace. If the county controls water, the county can dictate where and when that growth will occur. I still believe that our water systems need to be connected so that we can manage them.

With all the private systems, there's no rhyme or reason to the current water management. If the private sector is allowed to develop water sources, then only the rich will be able to build and develop. This is what's happening with Wailea 670, and with Kula projects, too. They drill wells and circumvent the water meter list.

While there were great efforts to discredit the use of Hamakuapoko wells, the same sort of contaminants will be found in water sources all over the island. Is it achievable to have water with zero contaminants? No. We have to ask ourselves what is most practical and obtainable, and realize that it won't happen overnight.

Is it my imagination, or have things been exceptionally quiet from the new Mayor's office?

It seems that the new administration is trying to put off for at least a year the projects we started: South Maui gymnasium ($10 million) and police station. They've allowed the Olowalu to Puamana acquisition to lapse. Ultimately, if the economy takes a downturn, they're going to have a lot of problems.

The previous County Council often held a contentious or adversarial stand with your administration's initiatives, such as One Main Plaza, Hamakuapoko wells and a proposed Environmental Center. What do you expect from the new council and mayor?

I expect they will quietly approve leasing a lot more office space to meet the demand of 126 new positions. I'm curious to see exactly how much it will cost versus what we would have paid to own the building. The county could have acquired One Main Plaza for $10.5 million, but it sold for around $20 million, so leases will cost even more.

I think the public should be asking, how much more money are we going to spend? Po'okela well is online and we're still in drought. I would hope [councilmembers] Mike Victorino, former chair of the Board of Water Supply, and Gladys Baisa, whose husband worked in the department, will work to make our water planning right.

You consistently sought to see full studies done for Kahului Harbor and the Superferry. You once told state Department of Transportation officials, "I don't care what you say, it's not all going to fit here." Any thoughts, with Superferry service probably about to begin, even with two court rulings coming up in August?

I still believe the harbor plans should be done, long term. I have some very strong fears about the situation at the harbor as it exists today. I believe there are some major improvements that must be done.

I don't believe we will stop the Superferry. I believe the exemption was a mistake, but with the governor and legislators supporting it, we have to be practical. They sort of took it out of our hands at the county level. I have some fears of the spread of invasive species, but that applies to all manners of shipping, including Young Brothers.

What's one thing you would do immediately if you were still mayor?

Purchase the pali to Puamana for a coastal park. If not, the developers will use it for leverage to get whatever they want. I'd be looking very strongly to pave the cane haul road for an alternate route when there are road closures.

I'm also concerned about the overspending in the budget this year, despite the $50 million in carry over saving we left for them. It's going to be tough on them next year, especially with the huge amount owed to balance the employee retirement benefits fund.

One action we have heard about is the enforcement on vacation rentals. Your views?

The council and the administration had an agreement and they reneged on it. That's very bad policy, and they could lose if there is a lawsuit. The intent of the agreement was proper. With home occupation, if they're going to enforce one business, they should enforce across the board. Delaying enforcement until legislation was passed was correct. We must keep the integrity of our commitments.

What are the critical environmental issues facing Maui?

Two major issues: Continue eradication of coqui frogs is one, and only because it is attainable. We need the funding to finish the job. Another concern is the axis deer population. They're spreading up into the watershed areas, causing problems with farmers, and being spotted in West Maui.

What about sustainability? Food and energy security?

Crops need to be grown here, not imported. We need to continue to convert the county fleet to biodiesel. Ultimately, we need to become self-sufficient. Food is really difficult, due to the alien invasive species. There are a lot more pests here in Kahului than in Kula, and it's really challenging.

Have you considered your political future? Council? Mayor? State office?

How about, gardener, handyman, and staying on Ann's good side? I'd only consider running again if I'm too frustrated at things going wrong. If things go right, I'd just as soon leave it alone.

Lastly, what did four years as Maui's mayor teach you?

If you really work hard, you can actually get something accomplished. And that there are a lot of really good people out there who want to see things done the right way. It's easy to be an armchair quarterback, but difficult to do the actual work. It was a great experience being Mayor and I learned a tremendous amount. I am deeply grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve this community.