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There’s only one Maui, and Lori Sablas aims to keep it special

By Staff | Sep 10, 2009


KAANAPALI — Lori Sablas has a theory about life.

“I’ve always felt if you want to make a difference, you need to be where the decisions are made,” she said.

This philosophy, combined with a strong commitment to community, has taken “Sablas Girl,” as the kupuna lovingly refer to her, from Kahana Camp, where she grew up as a child, around the world and into the hottest seat in the county.

In April of this year, the 66-year-old director of Po‘okela at Kaanapali Beach Hotel attended her first meeting as a member of the Maui Planning Commission.

Considered one of the most powerful panels on the island, it has the sole authority in all matters relating to the Coastal Zone Management Law.

In addition, this is the most critical time to serve on the Planning Commission, with the Maui Island Plan on the drawing board.

“If I ever wanted to be on a Planning Commission and make a difference, I couldn’t have picked a better year,” the volunteer mayoral appointee admitted.

Sablas explained, “It took three years for the GPAC (General Plan Advisory Committee), a group of 35 volunteers, and hundreds of hours of meeting time to come up with a plan for Maui for the next 20 to 30 years.”

“It is now termed the Maui Island Plan, and this is what the Maui Planning Commission is working on, and we are meeting eight hours every week.

“After all of our deliberations,” Sablas continued, “we then turn over that document with our recommendations to the (Maui) Planning Department, and they will turn it over to the (Maui County) Council. They will deliberate for a year, and that’s what is going to become the guideline for planning all of Maui for the next two decades. It is very, very important now.”

The 1961 Lahainaluna High School graduate has earned this profound responsibility with over 40 years of experience serving Maui Nui.

Her volunteer career began as a Girl Scout leader when she was in early twenties working as a secretary “for the brand new Sheraton Maui.” In this role, as in all others, she took her kuleana seriously, with the Senior Girl Scout Troop growing in number under her guidance from three to 50 in just five years.

“Then I joined the Lahaina Business and Professional Women’s Club,” she commented, adding, “I was asked to also be on the Lahaina Credit Union.”

From there, the numerous foundations, associations, organizations, boards and commissions that Sablas has served on are too numerous to recollect.

She was appointed by Mayor Hannibal Tavares to sit on the Maui Historic Commission when Chris Hart was the planning director.

She served two terms on the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission.

She is on the Executive Committee of Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

She was, with Akoni Akana, co-founding member of the Friends of Moku‘ula and served on that board for about ten years.

“I was also a founding member on the board of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association,” Sablas commented.

She was the Kamehameha Day Parade commissioner for five years, appointed when John Waihee was governor

She is currently serving her second term on the Governor’s Advisory Council.

Among the other groups that have been blessed with her participation are the Hawaii Ecotourism Association, Maui Hawaiian Agencies and Organizations, National Ecotourism Association and the Mayor’s Transportation Committee

As a member of Lahaina Bypass Now, she walks the talk and commutes by bus from Kihei to work in Kaanapali.

Wayne Hedani is the current chairman of the Maui Planning Commission. He has known Sablas for the past 35 years.

“Lori brings new perspectives to the commission. She is immersed into the Hawaiian culture and understands its practices through her Po‘okela program at the KBH (Kaanapali Beach Hotel). She brings an appreciation of our host culture and its practices in being good stewards of the land. She also brings a woman’s perspective to the commission, as we were very underrepresented by women on the panel. Lori also has a genuine aloha for Maui and everything it represents both to visitors and residents alike,” Hedani said.

Fellow community leader Jerry Kunitomo agrees: “Through her unrelenting commitment to the culture, Lori’s work teaches Hawaiian values. Those values base decisions in the Po‘okela program and her committee work. This style of leadership is what makes Lori peerless.”

“Hawaiians think seventh generation,” Sablas explained. “We’re not here for just the one generation.”     

Kimo Falconer served with Sablas on the Cultural Resources Commission (CRC) and on the board of Friends of Moku‘ula. He has the highest respect for Sablas.

“Lori is probably one of the more level-headed people I have ever worked with in the community-based arena. That means it is voluntary in nature, but you make decisions that directly impact the community. The CRC and the Planning Commission are good examples of this,” he remarked.

Falconer, president of MauiGrown Coffee, described the veteran volunteer’s qualities: “She smiles always; when she says she is in, you can rest assured she will be there; and, almost always looks straight for the solution. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of those three things.”

Remarkably, Sablas considers herself just a regular person.

“I’m not a union person. I‘m not a real estate person. I’m not an environmentalist. I’m just someone who loves Maui,” she said.

“What is most important to me as a planner is really to maintain all that is special about Maui. That is really a broad statement that I’m making, but I’ve often said there’s only one Maui. Having traveled as many places as I have been to, I realize how special my home island is and how very fortunate that I was even born on this very special place. We need to do whatever we can to preserve everything that makes this place special and not just build and build and build and become another has-been destination.”

Sablas has two visions.

“A Maui that is 80-plus percent open space; with more people growing their own food, and getting sustenance from our ocean; no freeways; resorts running at 85 percent annual occupancy, TVRs (transient vacation rentals) and B&Bs (bed and breakfasts) doing well; high-tech centers thriving; and construction workers less dependent on the constant need to build and build. That’s my ideal, but not realistic,” she said.

“My realistic version is… A Maui which is more self-sustaining and energy-efficient, protecting its natural resources, free of sprawl and supporting its current inventory of visitor accommodations to keep Maui a high demand for visitors. Bigger is not necessarily better.”

Hedani summed up his peer’s qualifications: “Lori shows up for every meeting and listens with an open mind. She understands the needs of employees, employers, as well as the general public as a lifelong resident of the island community. She is open minded and pragmatic while maintaining a sense of Po‘okela — excellence in idealism, as well as realism.”