In opposition to the Environmental Assessment for “Short Term Vacation Rentals for the Super-Rich”, AKA the Wailea Resort SF-S Residential Project

Molly Jacobson
10 min readApr 26, 2021


To the Maui Planning Commission, in re:

Aloha Dear Commissioners,

Thank you for reading my testimony today in opposition to the approval of the Environmental Assessment for the Wailea Resort SF-S Residential Project.

I have several specific problems with this project.

But first, I want to tell you a story about what will happen if you approve this project.

It’s not what the developer is promising will happen!

The Developer’s Story: Mainlanders Will Save Maui! Let Us Build Them Homes!

This is labeled a residential project. But is it really?

It is clear from the plans that it is intended as SECOND homes or as homes for Silicon Valley folks who are finally able to work remotely due to the pandemic.

It’s an exciting idea.

Mainlanders with tons of cash will come, live here in this beautiful community in a resort area.

They won’t take local jobs, because they will already have one.

They will have money for dining out, shopping, renovating, and decorating.

Plumbers, electricians, handyman types, landscapers … all the trades will be in demand while building and after they are sold.

They will come, pay taxes, and not burden the roads as they telecommute.

It’s a nice idea. In fact, I know of five people in my neighborhood who did exactly this within the last five years.

But is this what is really going to happen? Is this community going to really contribute to Maui beyond the initial fast cash that comes from construction?


Unlike the middle-class professionals who moved into my neighborhood to telecommute … the developers hope to attract the Super Rich who have a short-term problem.

The Reality: These are Short Term Vacation Rentals for the Super Rich. They Solve a Few Silicon Valley Executive’s Problems, Not Maui’s Problems

I have friends in the tech industry in Seattle and San Francisco.

These areas are dominated by giant tech companies that pay extremely well, but also require employees to live in the area.

Remote working has always been totally taboo in tech.

In fact, they want their employees to live and sleep at work.

They provide onsite dentists, childcare, and gym facilities.

There are napping rooms, meditation rooms, pools — everything you need to stay at work for days, if necessary.

The pandemic changed all that.

The pandemic forced companies like Google and Facebook and Microsoft to allow telecommuting.

Stuck in their expensive apartments suddenly, tech workers forced to telecommute have been thinking:

Why stay in this crowded, super-expensive city, when I could work from anywhere?

Last year three different friends called me to ask questions about moving to Maui with their children to telecommute.

They asked me questions like this:

What are the schools like?

How is the health care system?

How many local-grown foods are available?

How are the museums?

They all were thinking about PERMANENTLY moving to Maui.

They were excited by the idea of living here and telecommuting at their high salaries.

They were dreaming about working remotely for decades, and only going back once in a while for big conferences.

They were going to stay until retirement.

I answered honestly for each question.

They all decided to move somewhere else to telecommute. Why?

Because they were serious about their life choices, and upon reflection, realized why Maui wouldn’t work for a long-term commitment (for them).


Mainland companies are going to start cutting pay for people who telecommute.

They will not have the lavish salaries they currently enjoy.

They also won’t have all those amenities they have now.

They will have to find a dentist and a doctor.

They won’t be easily able to find the help they can count on in CA and WA.

While they may want to help Maui with their ideas and innovations, they will be just as busy working here as they are back home.

They realized they were really only going to be here for a year or two.

If they moved here, they were in danger of renegotiating their salaries.

They wanted to be part of our community, but in the end … it’s not really possible without leaving their cushy jobs.

Who’s Moving Here Instead: the Big Wigs

The executives in these companies, however, are willing to consider buying here.

They have a short-term problem: living in a crowded area and not having to work in the office. What to do??

Let’s go live in a beautiful place for a while!

They don’t mind buying a home, living in it for a couple of years, and then leaving.

They don’t mind buying a home, living in it for a couple of years, and then leaving.

That’s nothing to them.

But they don’t like our current housing inventory (as many realtor friends have told me).

Everything is too old or on a weird lot.

Or doesn’t have a good enough view.

These are folks who are used to building custom homes and controlling every aspect of the build.

They don’t want a fixer-upper.

Not even a house built just a few years ago works for them.

They want something shiny, new, and easy to sell once they are done with it.

These people basically want a hotel suite. For two years.

These people basically want a hotel suite. For two years.

These mainlanders are not going to stay.

They will come for a couple of years. And then they will go back.

They will miss the prestigious schools, the vacations, the amenities they are used to.

They will miss the big benefit dinners. They will miss the raging parties.

The prestige.

Maui will, ultimately, bore them.

And so, they will leave.

And their houses will sit there, clogging up the Wailea hillside, blocking the natural flow of water through the watershed, and displacing or covering up cultural sites.

And their houses will sit there, clogging up the Wailea hillside, blocking the natural flow of water through the watershed, and displacing or covering up cultural sites.

So shouldn’t we build, make the money, and let them leave? Why not?

Because it’s the wrong thing to do.

Allowing folks to buy/sell here on Maui without ever actually benefitting us is just continuing the problems we have.

Last month I was with you for the entire March 23 meeting.

I listened as folks in the construction industry talked about jobs, and about how “they are coming anyway, so let’s take advantage.”

This is not a wise long-term strategy.

That’s like saying “I already ate one cookie, so I’ll eat the whole bag.”

You end up fat and diabetic if you do that.

And if you do that in building, you end up with what we have now: a fast-growing city that once was considered so country that kids could lay in the road for hours without worrying about a car going by.

Commissioners, please read this Facebook post written by Cody Nemet Tuivaiti on Facebook. It speaks to the heart of this problem.

Kihei, back when it was truly “country.”

And Commissioners, please watch this video from 1960. It was made by a California marketing firm. You will see just how undeveloped Maui was back then.

Is Maui Here for the Taking?

I can understand why it looked to people like the islands were theirs for the taking.

And I can understand why people here decided to let them be taken.

Money is a powerful motivation.

It looks so empty from the air, doesn’t it?

But there were so many people there. As Cody pointed out, there was a freshwater pond to swim in.

People could call Kamaole Beach “theirs” because no one else walked it.

And the limu was famous and plentiful.

I know that we aren’t able to go back.

Now, obviously, we cannot even hope to go back to that state here on Maui.

It’s too late.

But we CAN stop doing the same mindless building that has been done since 1960.

We should not be approving any new projects that do not directly benefit current Maui residents.

There is strong sentiment in the community to HALT all building until we have tourism managed.

Kelly King has recently submitted a bill to impose a moratorium for this purpose, which I also strongly support.

In addition to the truly temporary nature of the buyers for this “community” … here are other problems that you MUST consider as a Commission.

  • This is not a low-density building as the developers claim. Each buyer could decide to add an ohana. (Or maybe two? It’s unclear!) And why wouldn’t they? An ohana is a perfect place to put your nanny you bring to help you with childcare for a couple of years.
  • Oh, and by the way — an ohana makes it easy to rent out as a vacation property on VRBO and Air BNB … not what we need!!
  • I know it’s sacrilege to consider low-income housing in upscale Wailea, but honestly, do we really need more $3 million dollar homes on Maui?
  • As the recession continues and tourism is (hopefully) better managed, what happens to these homes when the buyers leave? Are empty houses really in keeping with our environmental goals or our Island Plan?
  • This is not residential development. This is basically Short Term Vacation Rentals for the Super Rich. This project will just push up property values. We are already struggling to keep people born and raised here on island. When will they be able to afford a home here??
  • Higher property values make it harder for folks with lower incomes to qualify for home loans!
  • This will add to the burden on our local infrastructure, water, and sewage. Why? Because the developers want to make quick cash from the tech folks.
  • This is a gated community. That should be enough to indicate how concerned the developers and the future buyers are with our community.
  • There are so many pools!!! These houses will have massive water needs. They all have pools, and will be irrigating their landscaping. With so many potential ohanas, they will be making that much more demand on our water table.
  • Our sewage system is already overburdened and our injection wells are poisoning the sealife — and us. WHY add more??
  • They are purchasing credits for low-income houses that have already been built? Even if this is legal, it should not be done. Give. Me. A. Break. We must start holding developers responsible for this very real need in Maui County for affordable housing.
  • The Maui Island Plan and our Community Plan both require mixed housing in our communities. This is not being done. They MUST comply with this requirement. And buying credits for affordable housing that’s already been built elsewhere does not constitute compliance.
  • They are claiming that they will not significantly impact roads and park use, or overusing our beaches. Really? If this permit goes through and they are allowed to build as planned, their “57 units” could easily tip into 150 units. And they know it. They are absolutely going to put MORE people in cars on our roads, at our beaches, and in our parks.
  • There are no open spaces in their plans. Where are they going to play with their dogs? Where are their children going to play? They will absolutely be going to the parks/beaches.
  • It looks to me like this plan proposes to fill in the natural streambed. One thing that has been made clear to me over the last year is that Kihei is full of natural streambeds that MUST remain clear in order to drain the mountain. Let’s not make the same mistake here that has been made in so many other places in South Kihei.
  • The stormwater run off MUST be allowed to naturally filter itself out through the perfectly designed open spaces. Imagine how much stormwater and runoff of pesticides and herbicides from these manicured properties will dump right into the lower road and the ocean.
  • Natural watercourses should be left as is. No grassing over or filling in.
  • There are tons of deer and wildlife in this area that will be impacted by this development.
  • There are so many cultural and archaeological sites here, as I have learned from listening to local and Hawaiian experts. There are moku walls, ili ili stones, and many other markers that indicate that people lived here. This area should never be gated off.
  • Saying that residents will be “educated” is one of the most patronizing statements I have ever read. Honestly. If they were interested in “educating” the super rich tech folks they want to sell to, they would tell them they aren’t building here at all because they don’t want to interrupt Hawaiian culture.
  • The Wailea planned development area rules sites onsite density of 2.5 homes per acre. This will easily triple that if buyers “prefer” to build their extra buildings. Not OK.
  • My understanding is that this property is zoned for single-family use. So why can they build TWO family homes on each parcel? This does NOT make sense to me at all. On page 29 check the fine print. It actually says that their pictures do NOT reflect the maximum buildout. I read this as they could build two additional 720 sq ft ohana.
  • Are short-term rentals going to be allowed in these lots?

The Planning Commission Is the Voice of the People

Planning Commissioners, YOU are the backstop for us.

YOU are the ones who are responsible for representing the voice of the people in these matters.

The Planning Department works hard, it’s true.

But they do not represent the will of the people.

Just because the Planning Department approves a plan does NOT mean that it is compliant with the requirements of our community plans.

You must check for yourselves to be sure that it is.

And then, even if you find that everything lines up, and is “legal” … you still have a responsibility to answer this question:

Is this the right thing to do for Maui?

We are not helpless in front of these developers. We can say no.

It’s OK to say no.

Please, say no.

Please say no to building a literal playground for the super-rich.

Please say no to burdening our residents with long-term problems.

Please, make the developers PROVE to you that the environmental assessment is warranted.

I guarantee that if you look, and ask questions, and DEMAND good answers, they will not be able to provide them.

At this pivotal time in Maui’s history, we have a chance to stop the mindless growth and do better.

And you in the Commission are the ones who can do it.

Please listen to us and vote no on this Environmental Assessment.

I appreciate your time and attention.

Molly Jacobson