Maui mayor delivers State of the County address

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa delivered his State of the County address Tuesday.

He started by saying the state of Maui County is strong.

He also addressed several areas of concern, including Maui Memorial Medical Center, which he labeled as being in critical condition, bleeding money at a rate of $40 million this year alone.

He is asking the legislature to allow the hospital to privatize to better deal with its financial crisis.

Invasive species was another area of concern, including the little fire ant infestation affecting a large portion of East Maui.

Looking ahead, he wants to increase the pace of road repairs, and pointed to the construction of the new South Maui Community Recreation Center and the addition of 16 new buses and seven new bus shelters.

You can read his address in its entirety below:

Aloha and welcome.

Let’s give a round of applause for our emcee, UH Maui Chancellor Lui Hokoana. Mahalo Lui, and thank you for your kind words about Mele Carroll. Mele was a kind, warm, intelligent beacon of light, and she is sorely missed by us all.

And many thanks to all of you who came here to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center today, and for those of you watching at home, live on Akaku television. Your interest in what takes place today means you care about what happens here in Maui County.

Today I am pleased to say that the State of Maui County is STRONG. It is strong because of the hard work put in by our residents, our businesses and our public servants. As with any community, we have had challenges to meet, problems to solve and opportunities to create. And for every occasion, the people of Maui County have risen up to the task.

When we got into office in 2011 we made a list of our priorities, figured out how to address each issue and then put our plans into action. This community backed up those plans and supported the resources we needed. Because of that I am very happy to say we have made real progress.

Real progress is slow because you have to tackle one issue at a time, but we are moving forward. So mahalo to everyone who has stepped up and helped to make this community a better place.

If you look at our private sector, our tourism industry has had record-setting years as far as visitor numbers and spending. Property valuations are up again this year, which means the home real estate market is also rebounding.

The construction industry has been slowly coming out of its slump as well, and we are seeing more and more of our workers back on the job. Construction projects have been taking place all over Maui including the $300 million redevelopment of the Maui Lu resort, the ongoing $344 million construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the recently completed Hyatt timeshare building in Kaanapali, as well as the new Target store in Kahului.

There are more projects on the horizon from Hyatt and the Westin as well.

Even our local sports teams are doing well. At this time I would like to recognize the Lahainaluna High School boys and girls wrestling teams for making history this past weekend. Both boys and girls won state titles at the state wrestling championships on Oahu. This is the first time that any neighbor island team has won a state wrestling championship and Lahainaluna wrestlers did it not once, but twice. So let’s give a hand for both Lahainaluna championship boys and girls wrestlers for their extraordinary wins.

Let’s also not forget our Kamehameha Schools Girls Varsity Cheerleaders, who won their fourth interscholastic league championship last fall. Wins like these boost our community spirit, and are a few of the many reasons we are still Maui No Ka Oi.

However, like any community we have had our share of problems. Maui Memorial Medical Center is in critical condition. It is bleeding money, at the rate of more than 40 million dollars just this year. My office has submitted testimony to the state legislature asking that the hospital be allowed to privatize in order to better deal with its financial situation.

Maui Memorial has already had to take some drastic measures, such as closing their adolescent mental health ward. That, along with the long waits at the emergency room and shortage of doctors here, should convince legislators that they can’t afford to ignore this problem any longer.

In East Maui we have a problem that threatens our entire island. Recently in Nahiku, members of the Maui Invasive Species Committee discovered a large infestation of Little Fire Ants, affecting some 21 acres. These ants are a menace and their painful stings will make life miserable for you, your children and your pets if we don’t eradicate this pest as soon as possible. Please, if you discover the Little Fire Ant on your property, contact the State Department of Agriculture, the Maui Invasive Species Committee, or our County Environmental Coordinator.

We can meet these challenges if we analyze each problem and are not afraid to implement real solutions.

Take the condition of our roads. Our Department of Public Works used to be on a 50 year road maintenance schedule. The result was that many of our roads were substandard and full of potholes. And because we were on a 50 year schedule, these roads had the potential to stay in a state of disrepair for decades. Instead we are now on a 20 to 25 year repair cycle. Because of this increased pace we estimate that 69 percent of all of the county’s roads are in fair to excellent condition.

I’d also like to thank the state for working with us and stepping up their road repair. The Department of Transportation has opened up the Lahaina bypass, are working on the Airport bypass and doing maintenance on many of our highways as well.

Our water resources are another good example. There used to be many concerns about the reliability of our water supply and its delivery system. Since then, we’ve replaced pumps, drilled wells and rebuilt old facilities such as the Waikamoi Flume, which had been leaking massive amounts of precious water needed by our Upcountry community. The flume has been completely replaced with aluminum instead of rotting timber and will retain much more water for our consumers.

Our parks were another issue. While our population grew, our parks inventory did not. It languished at about 180 acres, which may sound like a lot, but not for a community of more than 150,000 people. This meant we had many athletic organizations competing to get some playing time on the field.

To address this we negotiated a deal with A&B to purchase 209 acres of land off of Kuihelani Highway that will one day become Central Maui Regional Park. When it’s finished it will be a place where families can gather for many different sporting events. We know we need more park space in West Maui as well, which is why we are working with Maui Land and Pine to create a regional park out in Napilli too. This is a 50 acre park, 10 acres of which will be developed before it is handed over to the county.

Preservation of land for environmental and cultural reasons was also a huge issue before us, so we purchased land to keep it free from development. During my first administration we purchased 100 acres in Ukumehame, and followed up with the purchase of 147 acres in Launiupoko. One day this land in West Maui will be known as the Pali to Puamana Parkway.

We also bought 64 acres in Paukukalo and had another 30 acres of beachfront property in Paia gifted to the county by A&B. These land acquisitions are especially important as many of our coastlines are eroding badly. Already a number of oceanfront properties in West Maui are falling into the ocean bit by bit, year after year. By purchasing coastline properties as we have, we help to keep nature safe from development, as well as development safe from nature.

We have done all these things to prepare for the future, to make right what once went wrong or in some cases, to prevent a bad situation from happening in the first place.

These are all things that we have DONE. So now, let’s talk about what we are DOING in 2015.

I am pleased to announce that this year we kick off one of our most eagerly anticipated Upcountry projects, the long awaited Kokomo Road Pavement Reconstruction. This $6.8 million dollar project is 80 percent paid for by federal funds, the approval of which has taken our Public Works Department several years to obtain. In fact if not for the weather, this project would already be underway.

The same goes for the Hansen Road Pavement Reconstruction project. This will cost $5.3 million dollars and is also 80 percent paid for by federal funds. These federal funds enable us to take badly damaged roads like Kokomo and Hansen and not just repave, but rehabilitate, from the bottom up. The results are practically brand‐new roads that will last for decades.

As you know, federal funds are harder to come by nowadays and the application and approval process can take years, so many thanks to our county employees for hanging in there and getting it done.

Over at the Department of Water Supply we have two exciting projects to mention. The first is our Iao Water Surface Treatment plant. This is a 15 million dollar facility which will clean the extra 1.5 million gallons of water A DAY that the county will receive, thanks to the successful agreement worked out between the parties of the recent Na Wai Eha decision before the State Water Commission. I would like to offer a sincere thank you to the parties in that case for reaching an agreement that balances the competing needs of our community. This is a tremendous gift that has been given back to us, mahalo.

The second announcement is that the department has purchased new acoustic leak detection technology which will enable us to check almost all of our underground pipes over the next couple of years. This has the potential to save thousands if not millions of gallons a day, depending on how many leaks are out there. It will also allow us to find and fix leaks before they become breaks. This will save taxpayers time and money. Time spent waiting in traffic while our crews fix a broken water main and money spent on expensive emergency repairs.

I for one am very curious about the state of our water pipes. We look forward to hearing about the progress of this project.

Over in South Maui, we will finally see construction begin this year for the South Maui Community Park Recreation Center, which will complement our Kihei Regional Park system. This is a 22 million dollar project which will feature up to four full courts and hold approximately 1,100 people in the stands. We expect the center to be open by 2017.

Roads, parks and water. All of these are important for any community.

Another high priority for OUR community is affordable housing. For this reason it gives me great pleasure to announce that the county will break ground on the Kulamalu Affordable Housing Project this summer, which is headed by our Department of Management. Once complete, Kulamalu will provide 56 rental units which we believe will help our workforce population move their families into good homes. These are our middle‐income earners – our teachers, construction workers and hotel employees.

Kulamalu is a 12 million dollar project with 2.25 million coming from federal funds, and the rest from the county’s Affordable Housing Fund. It is close to schools, shopping and parks and will be a fine fit for the Upcountry community.

For years we have seen very few affordable housing projects, mostly because of two bills. One that put the affordable housing requirement for developers at 50 percent, and the “show me the water” bill. The council at the time meant well when they passed these bills, but they were very bad for our community. Our new council recently modified the housing requirement to 20 to 25 percent. Mahalo to our councilmembers for taking that action.

Next I look forward to hearing your discussion on the “show me the water” bill, which in my opinion also needs to be updated.

Some of our other county projects include:

  • The opening of our new Upcountry Dog Park adjacent to Eddie Tam Park this summer. This three acre site is our largest dog park to date. Upcountry dog owners helped to build this park with their own labor and donations alongside our dedicated workers from the Department of Parks and Recreation.
  • The design of two important county facilities in Central Maui. In Wailuku we are designing the first building of the Kalana O Maui Campus Expansion, which will enable us to relocate many of our county offices from leased properties.
  • The other is the design of the new County Service Center at the A&B Business Park Phase II. This Service Center will replace the one at Maui Mall and also save
    us half a million dollars in rent annually. All together the county spends more than 3 million dollars annually renting office space.
  • We are also redesigning a new War Memorial Gymnasium. War Memorial was built in the 1950s and has served generations of residents, but time has taken its toll on the building. The pipes leak and the windows are rusted in place. Please note that no matter what kind of new design we come up with, we will recommend that the new structure remain named “War Memorial,” so that we may continue to honothose who gave their lives during military service.
  • For our Maui Bus riders we have added sixteen new buses and seven new bus shelters to our inventory. We have also begun to update the Maui County Short Range Transit Plan, which will help to determine new routes and stops by looking at the changing needs of our ridership.

Besides these physical improvements to our infrastructure, we are also making great strides in upgrading our digital infrastructure. The first is our MAPPS project. MAPPS, spelled M – A – P – P – S stands for Maui’s Automated Planning and Permitting System. MAPPS will dramatically modernize our planning and permitting process, including enforcement and research and make it available to use online. For residents this means you will be able to do things like file your building plans online and keep track of their status as it goes through the approval process. You’ll also be able file code enforcement complaints and track those electronically as well.

At our Department of Parks and Recreation we are attempting to make similar improvements to our parks permitting process and how we manage the use of our parks and park facilities. Currently we are implementing new software that will enable our employees to handle parks permit requests in a more efficient and timely manner. It will also enable our workers to view our facilities calendar easier, which will help with the scheduling of events and facility management.

Our third digital upgrade will be in the form of a county‐wide troubleshooting app that you can download on your cell phone. The app is called C.O.M.Connect, short for County of Maui Connect. The app is very simple. You download it and if you see something that the county should be aware of, such as a pothole, abandoned vehicle or some sort of code violation, just open up the app, take a picture with your cell phone, submit the information and hit send. Right now the app is in its beta‐testing phase but it should be available for download for the general public before summer.

We must all participate when it comes to making our community a better place. You don’t have to be a county employee to do something for our home. In fact, in many cases, we need your help to resolve many issues.

One of them, is homelessness. Maui County does not have the same level of homelessness as Oahu has, but our numbers are growing. Right now when we get complaints about illegal homeless camps we plan for months and work with nonprofits, mental health experts, social workers, law enforcement and even animal control, and then we go in and try to provide options for them.

Some accept our help and move on to transitional housing or some sort of social service. Others have outstanding warrants and have to be arrested and processed. But despite our best efforts many just pack up and leave and set up camp elsewhere. This is not a solution. Right now we are just moving the problem from one location to another.

I truly believe that many of our homeless population suffers from some sort of mental illness, and need our help. This is why I have formed a committee to look into transforming the Old Maui High School campus into a residential community for the mentally challenged. These people are someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, and if we do not help them, who will? The Old Maui High School campus is a beautiful and peaceful place, with some infrastructure already existing. It was once a place of learning, but now I hope it can be a place of healing.

Another important committee that we have put together is one that looks at improving our community by taking better care of our most valuable resource: our children. The first few years of a child’s life are a sensitive time which can shape everything from behavior and academic achievement to physical health. Studies have shown that a person’s brain is already 80 percent formed by age 3. By age 5 the structures in your child’s brain involving learning, memory, motor control and other functions have already been established. This is why early childhood intervention programs have been shown
time and again to yield tremendous positive results.

This committee will also be looking at the importance of prenatal care, and programs which can benefit both mother and child.

The work that these two committees are doing may seem somewhat unrelated, but in reality they are all geared towards the same goal: improving our community. When you help an adult break the chains of drug addiction or receive that mental health care that he or she needs, that adult no longer becomes a burden to their community. The cost of not helping our fellow human beings comes in the form of crime, homelessness and unemployment.

In other words, it affects everyone. Besides, it is the right thing to do.

Doing what is right, finding real solutions and working towards the future. As public employees and elected officials we should be striving to do these things every day that we serve. Like I said before, none of this is easy. But as long as these paths lead towards a better future for ourselves and our keiki, we must persevere.

I just want to mention a couple more things. Hopefully some of you went to our Made in Maui County Festival last year. It was a GREAT success. I know because my wife came back with many shopping bags full of stuff that she bought. Seriously though, the festival featured 130 vendors, had 9,400 people in attendance and made $300,000 in product sales. We are already taking applications for this year’s festival, so please contact the Office of Economic Development for more information.

Also Maui County has officially joined the Aloha Plus Challenge, a project which sets a number of sustainability goals for 2030. These include clean energy, local food production, natural resource management, solid waste reduction, climate resilience as well as green jobs and education. This is a wonderful program that will help us focus on creating a more sustainable community.

Also, I have high confidence that Maui County can meet one or more of these goals long before 2030.

Finally I wanted to mention that the county is looking at obtaining a parcel of land near Hookipa Beach Park in hopes of providing more parking for beach goers. This is one of our most popular parks and because of that parking is a nightmare. In fact it’s almost getting too dangerous for pedestrians as drivers try to squeeze through that tiny parking lot. We hope to be able to alleviate this situation soon.

In conclusion, I would like to just say that Maui County has had its challenges. We’ve had to upgrade everything from our parks to our roads to our computer systems, just to get everything up to par. Some of it has taken awhile, because like I said, we’re tackling these problems systematically. But make no mistake, WE’RE GETTING THINGS DONE. We are making progress toward a brighter tomorrow.

Right now I would like to take this time to thank you all for providing me with a brighter tomorrow. Specifically the day after the General Election. Your vote gave me an unprecedented third term in office as Maui County mayor, and the honor of being the first Maui Mayor to be re-elected to a second term in 20 years.
Ann and I would just like to say thank you and that we are humbled by your support. We will always strive to find the best answers for this community.

I believe that we are all here to make our world a better place. We may disagree on how to do it, but in the end we are all heading in the same direction. And so I thank you all for helping us to make this community the best in the world. For today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

On that note, I would just like to say mahalo for coming, drive home safely and God bless you all.

Aloha.

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