When Maui voters start casting ballots in the general election, among the issues they’ll decide is whether the Planning Commission must include representatives from throughout the island.

Maui locator map

If approved, the amendment to the County Charter would require the commission to have one member from each residency area on the island as represented on the County Council. Currently the charter does not require regional representation on the commission.

Supporters consider it a way to make the Maui Planning Commission more inclusive and responsive to local concerns by ensuring that every major region on the island has at least one commissioner.

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Maui County voters will decide if the Planning Commission should be more geographically representative. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

Originally, the proposal was to abolish the existing Planning Commission entirely and replace it with six separate ones to decide matters for West, South, North, East, Central and Upcountry Maui regions.

The Maui Charter Commission initially supported that concept, but the Maui County Council rejected it in March as too costly, cumbersome and unworkable, said Commission Chair Grant Chun.

Rather than creating six distinct planning commissions, the proposed amendment would simply require all-island representation on the existing body.

The amendment is one of 11 and two alternatives that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. The measures emerged from a public process that takes place every 10 years to review county government operations. The purpose is to decide whether changes are warranted or if an entirely new charter should be drafted.

The 2021-2022 Maui Charter Commission consists of 11 members, two appointed by Mayor Michael Victorino and nine by the Maui County Council.

The commissioners met twice monthly beginning in March 2021 and prepared a draft report that originally contained 85 proposed changes. They winnowed those down to 40, distributed them in a draft report to the public, took feedback and held more public meetings in January and February of this year.

On Feb. 15, the commission voted to put 13 proposed amendments on the ballot. Eleven are amendments proposed by the Charter Commission and two are alternatives offered by the Maui County Council. Voters will begin receiving ballots in the mail in mid-October.

Some of the amendments are intended to make government more responsive, ethical and transparent to the public.

Council member Kelly King supported the creation of six separate planning commissions. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

Council member Kelly King, who represents South Maui, supported the creation of six separate planning commissions, noting that Molokai and Lanai each have their own despite having much smaller populations than Maui island.

Having more localized planning commissions would accelerate decision-making and make for smarter choices informed by residents who live in the community, while not impinging on development, King said.

Dale Thompson, a Planning Commission member who lives in West Maui, doesn’t think so. He told Civil Beat this week that it would bog down an already lengthy and complicated government process and create “paralysis by analysis.”

He noted that most Maui residents say they want affordable and workforce housing. But when such projects come before the planning commissioners, Thompson says they are routinely shot down in public testimony.

“They say, ‘We’re for affordable housing but not here.'”

If six planning commissions operated on Maui, very little affordable housing projects would get approved, in his opinion.

Thompson had pointedly criticized the proposal at a Feb. 2 Charter Commission meeting.

“This is all about power and control,” he said, calling out King by name.

Certain council members want local planning commissions in their part of their island in order to block projects or sway decisions over development, in his view.

King denied that and said it’s the opposite: developers and their supporters oppose more localized planning because it could upend what she considers business as usual.

“They like it the way it is because they have more control, because it’s not as transparent and they can push things through,” despite community opposition, she said. “They almost never vote against a development.”

Dick Mayer, a former Maui planning commissioner and professor emeritus of economics and geography, advocated for having more planning commissions on Maui, one for each of the island’s six community plan districts.

He’s disappointed that voters won’t get to decide that question. Mayer views the charter amendment, as written, as a watered-down version of what could be a stronger and more responsive form of local planning.

“I’d give it a D grade,” he said.

Also rolled into the proposed amendment is a provision that would give the Molokai Planning Commission jurisdiction over Kalaupapa, the remote peninsula on Molokai where a handful of elderly former Hansen’s disease patients continue to live. It would also provide that community plans be reviewed and updated as set by ordinance.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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