North Shore Pushes Back Hard Against Proposed Development

Valerie ("Sista Val") Toro, a Maui radio personality who was among the many to speak in opposition to the TEACH proposal. She observed pointedly: "What do you think? Do we have S-T-U-P-I-D written on our forehead?"

WOW, that was some meeting in Paia last night!

At its height, there were between 400 to 500 people present packed into the Paia Community Center. They were there young and old, seated on folding chairs, packed three deep standing against the walls, hanging through the windows, jammed into the entrances, mingling on the outside walkways, holding signs along the road where bumper-to-bumper traffic crawled past in both directions.

Almost without exception they were not happy about the proposal to lease the long-neglected old Maui High School campus, a site of about 23 acres at Hamakuapoko (aka H’poko) not far from the the famous surfing mecca at Ho’okipa, for a dollar a year for 60 years to a for-profit Mainland hui of self-proclaimed “visionaries” known as TEACH.

Those who attended were a large and unhappy group. Not only unhappy but vocal. Not only vocal but angry. Not only angry but when all present joined hands to pray at the end of the night the auntie leading the pule (prayer) called on God, in the nicest possible way, to smite the evil in our midst, “Amen.”

Not the kind of language you hear every day at your average community gathering.

The informational event was co-hosted by the County Office of Economic Development and the proposed developer TEACH (which stands for Technology Education Agriculture Community Health … Mom and apple pie and probably the kitchen sink). On hand was the TEACH CEO Mark Chasen; whose business card bears the slogan “Shifting paradigms through regenerative, innovative education & collaboration.”

He used these and a string of other impressive high sounding politically correct buzzwords throughout the night, but imparted precious little hard information or actual specifics of what his group intended to do or how they expected to do it, saying those were all “planning” technicalities that could be reviewed once the lease had been signed. If anything his presentation hurt rather than helped his cause, and did little to sell the wildly unpopular proposal to the overwhelmingly hostile crowd. It didn’t help that he mispronounced Paia and other local place names.

The prevailing sentiment in the room was that if there were going to be any long-term $1 leases handed out they should go to Maui folks…. and at least one person who spoke against the deal offered the “visionaries” a ride to the airport.

Others who spoke had equally pointed recommendations against the “gentrification” of the North Shore by outsiders who were long on promises and short on details.

There was substantial testimony about what increased traffic, density and as yet to be defined “commerce” would do – not only to the future of the North Shore – but to existing businesses in Paia and Makawao, considering the build out called for over 200,000 sq ft of new uses, a size equivalent to the present town of Paia.

There were also multiple objections to the formatting of the evening which allowed the advocates of the project to monopolize the floor while confining the Q&A to a format which asked respondents to state: “What would you like to see incorporated into the TEACH project that would be meaningful to you and your family?”

Said one who answered that question after reading it aloud word for word:,”It would be really meaningful if TEACH would pack up and move away.” The room cheered. The time for actual questions and answers was brief, came at the very end of the meeting by which time the riled up crowd wasn’t buying any of it. No way. No how. Not now. Not ever.

Most of all they objected to the lack of hard information. Though Chasen repeatedly asserted that he and his group had “no intention to build a theme park or hotels,” but instead to make $56 million infrastructure investment to the area which presently lacks water, electricity, waste treatment and roads and repurpose the site to a host of benevolent uses.

But the doubters were plentiful and they wondered individually and collectively how TEACH could project an ongoing profit of $17 million annually within the first five years if there was to be no increase in commercial use. Just where was the money going to come from? The answers to those and similar question were not forthcoming. Nor were the assurances that the goals which were proclaimed would actually be met, aside from some very general comments from OED about “benchmark” requirements, and the ability of the County to revoke the lease should those benchmarks not be met.

In all, there was precious little factual data presented: The one visual that was shown in two different versions was dated 2007. There was no explanation of what the fancy sounding individual projects captioned with titles like: “regenerative agriculture,” “food innovation hub,” and “optimal wellness & personal development center” actually meant, what they would look like or who they would serve? That information has yet to surface either in the one-page sheet given out at the meeting or the hundreds of pages previously submitted to the County by TEACH. (see links to entire files and prior testimony below)

Lonely and vastly outnumbered were the all-volunteer group known as Friends of Old Maui High, School, represented by Richard Lucas. He was the sole voice in the TEACH corner; but if popular sentiment is any indicator this is one RFP (Request For Proposal) that’s DOA (Dead On Arrival).

Two elected official were present in the crowd. They were Kalani English, a state senator from Hana who represents the district at the state legislature. English said the first he had heard of the project was when he received a large printed invitation salted with all the “right sounding words” but lacking a telephone number or any way to respond. English was among the majority who felt that much more information was needed.

Also present was County Council member Yuki Lei Sugimura, whose Economic Development Committee at the council will hear future incarnations of the proposal. Sugimura said she had learned a lot by “listening,” but declined to state any further impressions.

Whether Maui’s enlightened political leaders in their infinite wisdom see fit to move the TEACH lease forward remains to be seen, but Teena Rasmussen (head of OED), who sat on the platform at the front of the room went from being an anonymous public official who was just doing a job, to someone who had inadvertently made hundreds of brand new enemies for life in just one night.

Or as one of the speakers said pointedly: “What do you think? Do we have S-T-U-P-I-D written on our forehead?”

The Office of Council Services provided Maui Watch with links to the entire history of the project ranging from the initial request for proposal to the present day. These files are extensive and include testimonies received to date. They are long and as previously mention much specific detail is absent.

Here’s the county communication:

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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