Talking story with the mayor
October 27, 2005
In the spring of 1999, Joe Fedele chopped up and moved the old Pioneer Mill plantation manager's house that sat on his Front Street property and got into a heap of trouble. Though not actually an historic structure, a state preservation architect told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin at the time that her office wanted the building saved.
The Mill filed suit against Fedele, demanding he restore the structure. Fedele's attorney responded that it was within his rights as a property owner to do what he wanted with the house. Facing incessant but small fines from the county, Fedele simply knocked the house down.
Fedele must have made nice to someone at the county, because on Oct. 24, 2005 he hosted Mayor Alan Arakawa's talk story meeting. About two dozen people showed at the gathering, organized by The Bakery owner Harold Hardcastle, a friend of both Fedele and Arakawa, who also brought trays of pastries for the attendees.
"I suggested [Arakawa] come by for an informal talk story on the Westside," Hardcastle said. "Just talk, shake hands…"
By and large the attendees were mostly white residents and fixtures of the Lahaina community. The average age hovered around 50, though at least one tourist showed up.
"Everywhere I go I like to get a feel for the local politics," said John Lundin, who sits on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Broward County, Florida.
Standing on Fedele's patio as the 6 p.m. session was getting started, Arakawa, Lundin and I chatted about the historic ties between the Hawai'i Democratic Party and land developers. Our talk was the interrupted, first by a Hawaiian prayer and welcome and then by a sudden, steady rain. Moving indoors, Arakawa took up station at the end of a long, beautiful dinner table made of a black marble slab held up by green glass posts.
Everyone crowded around, some sitting on the floor, forcing me back into Fedele's massive kitchen. For much of the evening I stood next to a large Egyptian sculpture of a dog's head perched atop an espresso machine.
It being a Westside crowd, people asked about the usual Westside issues—bypass roads, a new high school, homeless people ("I have two teenage daughters and it scares the crap out of me," one guy said). But mostly, people wanted to know when they were getting a West Maui hospital.
"The population here will not support a full facility," Arakawa said. "It would go bankrupt."
"Let it go bankrupt!" said local realtor Bart Mulvihill, who explained that he nearly died because he couldn't get to Maui Memorial fast enough.
"Every person who doesn't make it to the hospital should sue the state," Arakawa resonded.
"But that means people are going to have to die," said Mulvihill. "Or go broke."
"I know what you want me to say," Arakawa eventually said. "But I'd be lying if I said I'd petition the state to build a hospital in West Maui."
Unrolling a set of digital planning maps, Arakawa spoke throughout the meeting like a slightly progressive technocrat:
"Right now most of our engineers spend their time working on permits. We should have clerks working on permits.
"If I had my way, I'd take a hacksaw and cut down those traffic lights [at Launiupoko].
"When we came in, all our timesheets were done by hand.
"We're no longer accepting gulches [from developers] for park credits. We don't want scraps."
Quiet for much of the two-hour gathering, Fedele spoke near the end, asking Arakawa why his friend next door—who bought the 16,000-square foot lot Fedele created when he took out the old plantation manager's house—was encountering so much resistance at the county planning department.
Hearing that, Mulvihill leaned to my ear. "We need a [Special Management Area] permit to convert our laundry room to a bathroom," he told me.
Arakawa responded to Fedele by talking about his own problems trying to get rid of two "flea-trap" houses owned by the county. Fedele then mentioned his old problem with the old plantation manager's house.
"Don't tell me what you did!" Arakawa pleaded to great laughter.
Knocking down that house "was the smartest thing I ever did," Fedele insisted. MTW
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