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MEO programs, Honolua draw large crowd to budget hearing

By Staff | Oct 11, 2012

Leslie Garo, 17, asked the mayor to “please keep funding the Boys and Girls Club, because it’s a safe place for kids to go and not get into trouble.” PHOTO BY TOM BLACKBURN-RODRIGUEZ.

LAHAINA – Upwards of 150 people crowded into the Lahaina Civic Center on Oct. 1 to testify on behalf of community programs, raise concerns about funding levels and urge the mayor to preserve additional land in Lahaina from development pressures.

Among those who testified was May Fujiwara, president of the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Citizens Club. She urged Mayor Alan Arakawa to continue funding Maui Economic Opportunity’s (MEO) transportation program, saying that the ability to access transportation is a major concern of seniors, many of whom “cannot walk to the bus stops” in order to ride the Maui Bus.

Fujiwara also spoke in favor of continuing to fund the MEO rental assistance program, saying, “The recession has been tough for many families.”

She also thanked the mayor for the “Boat Day” funding in the current budget that has helped support welcoming ceremonies that have greeted 70 cruise ships this year. Lahaina is the only harbor that has such a program in place.

Ledia Gonzales and several others praised the MEO Head Start program that she said is “very important, so that the kids do not fall behind in their education.”

Maui County Budget Director Sandy Baz (standing) opens the county administration budget hearing held on Oct. 1 at Lahaina Civic Center. At the meeting, many residents requested support for Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. programs and preserving Lipoa Point. PHOTO BY TOM BLACKBURN-RODRIGUEZ.

Testifying in support of the Boys and Girls Clubs, Lehua Kealoha-Ka’auwai told the panel of county administrators, “My mom has eight kids. She works so much that her feet are always sore when she comes home. She mostly comes home and mostly sleeps, because she’s tired from work I come to the club every day my favorite thing about the club is my staff I like to do weight lifting with Aunty Tanya – she is the best staff ever. She mostly tells me that I am awesome!”

Erlinda Rodriguez spoke in favor of the MEO Enlace Hispano program. “The Hispanic community has been growing a lot,” she said. “We have been working with FACE (Faith Action for Community Equity), and we have been sending a lot of people to MEO with translations and going to court. Thank you for funding Enlace Hispano. I would like to see more help for Enlace Hispano. It used to take three days to get a paper translated; now takes it takes 2-3 weeks.”

Lynden John Kia’linaa Ho’opi’i was a participant in the MEO BEST (Being Empowered and Safe Together) reintegration program that helped him with job readiness skills and reconnecting with Hawaiian values.

The BEST program works with inmates at Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) and inmates who have been sent to the Mainland to help them successfully reenter society after they served their sentence. It is designed to break the cycle of recidivism, in which an inmate continues to re-offend and repeatedly wind up back in prison.

“I am here today to talk about MEO,” Kia’linaa Ho’opi’i said. The people there helped me to build my foundation when I got back from Arizona. I am reintegrating back into society. I have learned a lot of things that I can do right now.”

“Because of MEO, my family is very important. It’s about me building my foundation first, so I can have a healthy relationship with my family,” he added.

More than half of the crowd in attendance at the meeting were supporters or members of the Save Honolua Coalition. They want the mayor to continue the existing, set aside sum of $1 million from the county’s Open Space Fund to acquire Lipoa Point and to negotiate with Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc. (ML&P) to purchase of the balance of the land at Honolua.

Key to their advocacy at the meeting was the question of who would raise the money for the purchase. While testifiers said the Save Honolua Coalition officially accepted the challenge of raising $5 million toward the preservation of Lipoa Point in the next two years, that promise was conditioned on a letter of intent from the mayor that he is in negotiations with ML&P for the purchase of the property.

Arakawa told the group, “I don’t think the coalition can raise the $5 million.” He said he hopes the sale price would be reasonable, and that he did not think ML&P was “escalating the price, because they know we are interested.”

He also said, “Right now, the land may be worth about $20 million. That was what was offered to the (Mayor Charmaine) Tavares administration. But once we get an appraisal, then we will have a figure we can negotiate from.”

Glenn Kamaka, testifying on behalf of the coalition, said, ” we request that $3 million of what we raise goes toward an endowment fund to take care of the ongoing revitalization and maintenance (of Honolua) in perpetuity, and that $2 million goes toward the purchase price.”

The mayor explained that, “One glitch is that ML&P has something on all their property for their employees pension plan. I’m not sure about that, but we are finding out. Anything that we do will also have to work with the pension plan.”

In response to a question from the audience, West Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran said, “The land is technically agriculture. The outer fringe is in conservation. The Planning Department suggested putting Lipoa Point in conservation, and it failed at the council 6-3. So now it’s back in agriculture.”

At the end of the meeting, Arakawa cautioned the group to be realistic. “We are currently trying to negotiate this. We are taking a big risk, because we are trying to buy a lot of land on the West Side. We have allies on the council, but we are going to have to have your support in what we are trying to do.”

“When you total up the money going to Lahaina, it’s a tremendous amount, and we are going to have to ask you to support what we are trying to do,” Mayor Arakawa said.

Save Honolua Coalition President Tamara Paltin announced that the group will hold a community meeting to discuss and clarify issues surrounding Honolua’s Lipoa Point on Wednesday, Oct. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the West Maui Senior Center along Lahainaluna Road.

“The public is invited to come ask questions, provide comments and give feedback. Our goal for this meeting is to help educate, engage and organize the community to save Honolua from development forever,” she noted.