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Meet the members of the West Maui Citizens Planning Advisory Committee, Part II

By Staff | May 9, 2019

WEST MAUI – The recently appointed 13-member West Maui Citizens Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC) is faced with a consequential challenge.

Those appointed by the County Council are Joseph Aquino, Ravi Bugga, Yvette Joyce Celiz, Karen Comcowich, Donald Robert Gerbig, Dawn Hegger-Nordblom, Kai Nishiki, Joseph Pluta and Leilani Reyes Pulmano.

The additional four members are mayoral selectees, including Jeri Dean, Aina Kohler, Hans Michel and Dylan Payne.

Their task, according to the County of Maui Department of Planning Community Plan Process Handbook (www.mauicounty.gov/DocumentCenter/View/109470/082117-Community-Planning-Processing-Handbook?bidId), is multifold: “Committee members are appointed to provide resident input in the planning process. CPAC members provide guidance on local issues that influence the physical, social and economic development of their community and are charged with reviewing and recommending revisions to update the Community Plan.”

The process is conducted in five phases. The six-month CPAC intensive review is designated as phase two, resulting in draft two, a combined Planning Department/CPAC document that will be presented to the Planning Commission in phase three.

The multiple responsibilities of the CPAC consist of, but are not limited to: 1) Review of the Draft Plan, presented by the county, consisting of supporting documents and data; 2) Attend meetings and workshops prepared to participate; and 3) “Listen to the public and serve the voice of the local community.”

Community leader Ekolu Lindsey is one of just a handful that attended all the outreach meetings that were held in the respective communities. He lives on family land on Front Street and is deeply committed to the future health of West Maui.

Lindsey is immersed in the community planning process, and he has a multi-generational, Native Hawaiian point of view.

“The path as set forth during public outreach by the Long Range Planning Department is clear as a voggy day in Lahaina. We all want water connectivity, affordable housing and no more coastal development, less traffic, parks, multi modes of safe transportation and a cohesive community,” he said.

“The members of CPAC represent their constituency, and it is a daunting task. I would suggest as they go through the planning process, they consult with many different organizations, businesses and people. There will never be a correct answer, but we work through the challenges with our great-grandchildren in mind. What do we want West Maui to look like 50 to 75 years from now when most of us reading this will be gone?

“The strength of the community comes with its well-rounded voices and central themes of Aloha (Love & Compassion), Malama (to take care of properly), Kokua (help without the expectation of reciprocation) and Kuleana (responsibility).”

In the last issue of Lahaina News, the four mayoral appointees were introduced. Four of the nine council selections will be presented in this article, alphabetically.

Joseph Aquino is a Kaua’ula Valley resident. His testimony was included in the minutes of the County Council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agricultural Committee meeting.

“As a Native Hawaiian, I’m concerned about the development and plans of West Maui. So, this is why I applied for this committee. I want more of the local committees’ voices in the future plans of West Maui. I think it’s very important.

“I come with an open mind,” Aquino added. “I’m a great listener. And I’m also willing to compromise with the diverse community, because I believe in growth. I believe in moving forward. But what I truly believe is in smart growth – growth that still going to complement West Maui and its diversity. But I really want the community to get more involved in it, so we can stop all of the finger pointing and all the surprises, and we can try to work as one community in harmony,” Aquino added.

Ravi Bugga is a newly transplanted four-year Kaanapali Hillside resident. Born in India, his qualifications, education and experience are impressive.

Recently retired from the World Bank, a leading environmental organization, Bugga brings an international point of view to the planning table.

In an e-mail interview with Lahaina News, he said he has “broad experience in project evaluation and finance in many countries, especially in infrastructure.”

He describes himself as a team player, bringing together “diverse viewpoints from business, government and civil society.”

Bugga has no preconceived notions about West Maui.

“I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have an axe to grind. I’m doing this because I think with my background and experience, I can really contribute to the community,” he said.

Yvette Joyce Celiz was born and raised in Lahaina and works at the Sheraton Maui. She is representative of those residents who have left and returned home.

Her testimony before the council was heartfelt.

“After graduating from Lahainaluna High School, I left home for about six years, and part of me was uncertain about returning home. My dad worked two full-time jobs for as long as I can remember. He worked 80 hours a week for over 25 years just to make ends meet. And so I had to ask myself, can I afford to have a home in my own hometown?”

“For me it seemed easy enough to explore, to venture out, find a better community to put new roots in, but Lahaina is my home. Lahaina is my family. And the truth is, when you’ve been raised in Lahaina, you really can’t find a better community than the West Maui community. And that’s why we’re all here today, because we love West Maui, and we want to make our homes a better place for our families.”

Celiz was earnest as well.

“I won’t pretend that I know all the answers; I know that I have a lot of learning ahead of me. This is a plan for the community, and it needs to be by the community. With input from the public workshops, we all need to work together to create holistic solutions to the challenges that our community faces.”

“The 1996 plan needs to be updated,” Celiz advised, “but it outlines some key problems and opportunities that are still very relevant in today’s time. What’s important is implementation. We need to hold ourselves accountable, we need to hold our community accountable, and we need to hold our lawmakers accountable to abide by the guidelines and policies that will be set forth in this new plan.”

Karen Comcowich adds diversity to the panel. She lives in close proximity to Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary School.

“I have lived on-island for more than 13 years; my partner and my children were born and raised here. Like many residents on the West Side, I work in hospitality, so I understand the importance of Maui’s natural beauty for the vitality of the industry.

“From my friends, some who work in conservation and some who live and farm in the valleys, I understand the importance of taking care of the island from the mountain to the ocean. What I bring to the West Maui CPAC is an informed opinion and a willingness to listen,” she affirmed.

Comcowich explained her reasons for wanting to serve on the CPAC.

“I applied because I care deeply about the environment and the community of Maui. While I understand that tourism is the way most of us pay the bills, it is important that the working people of Maui are able to enjoy the beautiful place we call home.”

Lindsey, the president of Maui Cultural Lands, is innately observant.

“When our time on Earth is done, what will our legacy be? We all have to hold ourselves accountable to those yet unborn. We all, as a Lahui, need to hold government accountable to our community plan. There have been too many changes over the years, because we allow our community plan to be altered,” he said.

“How do we stop that? Get involved; pay attention. As a community, we can make a difference, with our voices amplified through cohesion.”