Real-life drama in Wailuku

While we were busy getting ready for, shooting and then following up on the Kamaaina Loan reality TV show, a different real-life drama was working itself out around the corner:

A tale of three Maui shorelines

Two of Maui’s coastal areas have been in the news during the last couple of weeks, but just as interesting is a third one that has not been, but was supposed to be.


The ones in the news are Launiupoko, where Honoapiilani Highway is falling into the ocean, and the Kahului sewage treatment plant, where an 1,100-foot seawall is proposed to keep buildings from being washed out.


Not in the news is the long stretch of beach along North Kihei Road. Old-timers may recall that some 18 to 20 years ago, it was predicted that erosion would reach the road within five years. It didn’t.


What happened? Cars struck two hawksbill turtles that were crawling across the highway looking for a place to nest. In alarm about wildlife, snow fences were put up to halt the turtles before they got to the road.


This apparently also had the effect of changing the dune geometry enough to retard the alongshore erosion. Unfortunately, something as cheap and benign as a snow fence is probably not going to do the job that seawalls do.


And benign is relative. The fences have prevented any more endangered turtles from being run over and killed, but although motorists killed a large fraction of the hawksbill that like that stretch of beach for nesting, they didn’t get them all.


Since the fences went up, several nests have been discovered, but, for lack of access to a place they’d like, in the high dune close to the waves. Not one of these nests has resulted in developed eggs.


Turtle watchers suspect that the locations are too dry and salty. Mother knows best. Farther inland is better.

I don’t know what could be done about this. Maybe dig up nests and relocate them, and then help the hatchlings to the water.


Maybe water the nests in place.


Launiupoko is an example of the rule that if you defer maintenance long enough, a minor problem will become a crisis.


That the shoreline is retreating there has been obvious for a long time. During Hurricane Iniki, waves were hurling softball-size rocks across the road like cannonballs.


As long as Pioneer Mill was farming that area, it was unlikely anything would be done to move the road inland. When Pioneer left, a golden chance to pick up the land cheap and begin realigning the road was missed.


Since then, slow progress has been made. Not fast enough to prevent the state DOT from armoring the shoreline.


At one point – I believe it was during Linda Lingle’s mayoralty – the planning department decided it would no longer support any further armoring of Maui’s shores. It always causes trouble somewhere down the line.


That was good policy. But it’s been forgotten.


Now the county itself is proposing to further harden the shoreline near the airport.


The alternatives were all expensive.


Moving the sewage treatment plant inland was expected to cost nearly half a billion dollars. Naturally, the council preferred to waterproof the plant.


Even that cost many tens of millions. The idea is that when a tsunami or hurricane threatens to swamp the plant, it will be shut down and buttoned up. The waves will wash over the plant, doing (it is hoped) little permanent damage to Kanaha Pond wildlife refuge as the partially treated sewage in open tanks is spread around.


If the electrical systems are waterproofed, the plant can be restarted within a day or so after the overflow. (The Japanese should have been so prudent at Fukushima, although to work this plan requires adequate warning, which the Japanese tsunami did not give.)


Not mentioned, that I can recall, during the discussions about waterproofing the plant was the coming need to armor the shoreline. 1,100 feet is a lot of seawall, bound to cause trouble downcurrent – which at that location is in either direction, because the current changes direction with the seasons.



A cautionary tale for the star-struck

Business Week has a story about a movie mecca you’ve never heard of, Allen Park, Michigan. This should be required reading for Maui citizens and mayors and council members, since we also have been tabbed as a suburb of Tinsel Town.

The Allen Park experiment was significantly different from the proposals floated on Maui, since it was to be a trade school, not a production center. Nevertheless, the framework of the agreement is something for us to be sure to avoid, especially the hold-harmless agreement. (I am surprised by this agreement, since usually it’s governments that impose hold-harmless agreements on businesses, not the other way around.

Still, required reading. Here’s the start:

Jimmy Lifton was supposed to be Allen Park’s savior. He arrived in the Detroit bedroom community midway through 2009, shortly after General Motors (GM) and Chrysler declared bankruptcy. The metro area’s jobless rate was 15.9 percent, and officials were desperate to get residents back to work. Lifton, a Detroit native and president of Oracle Post, an audio and video post-production company in Burbank, Calif., had just the idea: He wanted to turn Allen Park into a movie-making hub.

The overture wasn’t as random as it may seem. Michigan had a nascent film industry thanks to a generous tax credit offered at the time; the state had lured Clint Eastwood to film Gran Torino and George Clooney to direct The Ides of March.

In August 2009, Allen Park’s city council unanimously voted to sell $31 million in bonds to buy and improve 104 acres so Lifton could develop a $146 million studio as a tenant of the city. At the event announcing the partnership, then-Mayor Gary Burtka declared Allen Park “Hollywood 48101” (a reference to the city’s Zip Code), and Lifton spoke of cranking out movies the way Henry Ford mass-produced cars. Lifton promised 3,000 jobs, which would have made the venture, known as Unity Studios, the biggest employer in town. “We will be here 25 and 50 and 100 years from now,” Lifton said.

That script didn’t pan out. Lifton has vacated the property and returned to California, leaving Allen Park with a bad case of buyer’s remorse. “We were buffaloed,” says Tony Lalli, a former councilman who voted for the bond sale. “Everyone said they wanted it, and we went along.”


$35,000 parking spaces

Least surprising local news of the week is that the county will not proceed with making the Wailuku Municipal Parking Lot a multi-story garage, at a cost of $35,000 per stall gained.
That’s right. The parking spot would cost more than the car parked in it.
This is usual. When I worked in Des Moines, Iowa, the city built a series of multistory parking garages downtown, and each stall cost roughly twice what a new car cost in those days. The garages charged 35 cents an hour to park, and, remarkably, that was sufficient revenue to pay off the bonds. (In Des Moines, they used something called “tax increment financing,” which was a form of betting on the come – the bonds were supported by the expected increase in property taxes that was to come about when the garage made surrounding property more valuable; the parking lot equivalent of trickle-down economics. It worked, in the sense that the bonds did not default. It did not work, in the sense that the city was trying to revitalize downtown. People did not decide to forgo free parking at the suburban malls in order to pay 35 cents to park downtown.)
Should a Wailuku multistory garage get built, and should it be required to be self-supporting, presumably it would have to charge in the neighborhood of 75 cents an hour. Since the municipal lot is used largely by workers who park without charge, I do not see them welcoming the opportunity to pay $6 a day to park.
It shouldn’t have required an environmental impact statement to figure this out.
There’s a reason multistory garages are uncommon. They are ridiculously expensive. Only resorts, whose land is even more ridiculously expensive, have them; and Queen Kaahumanu Center.
At Kaahumanu Center, the owners (at the time, ML&P) wanted to retain their standing as the primo mall on the island, because of a rule of thumb in the mall business that the No. 1 mall enjoys an 8% premium in revenue over lesser malls. Unable to grow out, Kaahumanu Center had to go up, making itself two stories and adding two very expensive parking garages.
As it turned out, it didn’t work, for several reasons. One, Duncan McNaughton built a loooong strip mall along Dairy Road and placed in it a lot of stores that normally you’d find in the local dominant mall, like Sports Authority. Two, because Maui is a tourist island, Shops at Wailea and Whalers Village scarfed up the high-end retailers like Coach that normally you’d find at the local primo mall.
But Shops at Wailea did not become the local primo mall because it doesn’t have the stores that draw people to the dominant mall for their day-to-day shopping – no Macy’s or equivalent.
As often happens, Mainland rules don’t apply here.
Wailuku is certainly congested, but it is not obviously a place to put expensive parking: In general, it has the lowest commercial rents around.
So parking is likely to remain a pain in Wailuku. The only old city I have been in where no-charge parking downtown is not a pain is Savannah, Georgia. It was founded as a military colony and the original layout set aside every sixth block or so for militia training grounds.
Remarkably, these were not poached for development even after militia uses receded. As a result, there are miles of empty block fronts where cars can park a short distance from the built-up blocks where people want to go. It’s awfully expensive in land, but it works.
Lucky for Kamaaina Loan & Cash for Gold, we have our own private parking (it’s behind our retail store at 98 North Market Street).

To mall or not to mall

Some background on the controversy about the Kihei megamall:

Less than 30 years ago, the sum total of national retailers on Maui was Sears, National Dollar and Woolworth, among general retailers. No Kmart, no Wal-mart.

Today, no Woolworth and no National Dollar.

There weren’t a lot of specialized national retailers here 30 years ago, either: no Pier One, no Sports Authority (which didn’t yet exist).

Today we have outlets from Tiffany to Home Depot and it night seen that rural Maui has caught up with national urban retailing trends. Far from it,

Around 1990, a speaker brought in by the Main Street Association asserted that there were 140 national chains that were NOT on Maui.

I haven’t seen any more recent estimate, but although we have added many, many national chains since 1990, my guess is that the number today would be even higher than 140.

There are a lot more national (and even international) retailers like Ikea than there used to be.

If you think about just fast food chains, Maui lacks dozens. Chick-Fil-A is in the news, but on Maui you cannot either support or protest its position about marriage, because it isn’t here.

Neither is Sonic, Long John Silver’s, Popeye’s, Boston Market, Friendly’s and many more.

Among non-food retailers that are still absent are Target (probably on its way soon), Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Pottery Barn and on and on.

This helps to explain the desire of developers to build more malls on Maui. Maui may or may not be a top tier location — it wasn’t for J.C. Penney — but national chains have to expand to satisfy Wall Street.