Troubling Doubling: How Adding an “Insignificant” 332 Visitors Per Day to Maui’s Population Will Forever Impact Our Island Home in Hawaii

My Open Letter Testimony to the Maui Planning Commission RE: the Maui Coast Hotel Expansion Special Management Area Application

Aloha Maui Planning Commission Chair and Members,

My name is Molly Jacobson, and I live in Kihei. My husband has lived in our home since 2003, and I have lived here since 2005.

We are the Maui Coast Hotel’s most direct and closest neighbors to the East, immediately mauka of their tennis courts and their proposed new hotel.

I am writing to oppose the new “expansion” of the Maui Coast Hotel.

I want to thank you in advance because my written testimony is long. I am a writer, and I am passionate, and I have put a lot of thought into this project and spoken to many other people about it.

I have tried to be as clear and concise as I can. Despite the comprehensive nature of this written testimony. I promise that I will not go over my three-minute time during Tuesday’s oral testimony. 🙂

I will first address the impact of 332 more tourists on this neighborhood and Maui. Later, I will address the very real environmental and cultural concerns I have about flooding and habitat loss.

We Don’t Require 332 More Tourists Per Day To Prosper on Maui

That alone is reason enough to deny this SMA permit.

Especially now.

The past year has shown just how vulnerable Maui is to the tyranny of tourism.

The past year has shown just how vulnerable Maui is to the tyranny of tourism.

As tourism shut down due to the pandemic, we lost businesses. Many will not return.

Instead of encouraging more tourists to come — particularly budget-conscious tourists — we should be focusing on making the local business environment more friendly.

We should be fostering an environment where jobs are not created only by hotels and resorts … but by a wide variety of industries.

I feel sad for my friends who have teenage children. When they graduate high school, they do not have many opportunities for work outside tourism. Wouldn’t it be nice to get an entry-level office job, or to apprentice with a tradesperson? Hospitality should not be the only field with work.

The South Maui Community Plan is Being Updated: Let’s Wait!

Until then …

Maui County Political Leaders Just Resolved to Emphasize Quality Over Quantity … So Let’s Do That!

Reso-21–018 (mauicounty.gov)

Saying “no” to this SMA permit is an important step in the direction of honoring the will of the people as expressed through our elected officials.

Just Curious: Why Is This Called an “Expansion?”

This “expansion” is an entirely separate building with 170 units. The current hotel has 265 rooms. That is a 65% increase in units.

As a frequent traveler (and someone who has stayed in the Maui Coast’s sister hotel in WA), I can attest that the new construction would be (if approved) the preferred choice of travelers in the future.

Why would someone want to book a room in the “old” hotel when they could book in the new building?

Especially since this new building will feature much higher ceilings. Many folks think “eh, it’s 6 stories, just like the current building, not too tall.”

But the current building has rooms with 8 foot ceilings.

The new tower will be 72 feet tall — which means the ceilings could be 12 feet tall.

This will depress pricing in the existing hotel. The Maui Coast is already an “airport” hotel inconveniently located 30 minutes from OGG.

After construction, it will become even more attractive to budget-conscious travelers who are just looking for a place to sleep at night.

In the meantime, while the new hotel is built, the current hotel will likely have to cut prices to attract visitors willing to put up with the inconvenience of construction noise and debris.

This will certainly set them up as the “cheap place to stay” in Kihei.

An Extra 332 Tourists Would Have Major Impacts on Kihei Residents And Maui In General

But 332 extra people in our neighborhood is significant.

Beach Crowding Is Already a Problem in South Maui

It’s already crowded enough that I take my morning walk a full hour earlier than I did just five years ago, so I can avoid the crowds of folks carrying takeout coffee cups.

Sunset at Kama’ole Beach Park I, II, and III is a popular time to visit for residents and tourists alike. An extra 332 people at an already overcrowded time is not a welcome prospect.

If we really want to encourage “quality” tourism, let’s avoid packing our best beaches with more bodies.

I grew up on the Atlantic coast, and I hated the beach as a kid and young adult. It was crowded, and dirty, and loud. Even the most beautiful white sand beaches were called “tourist traps.”

When I came to Maui in 2005, I was amazed by the beauty of our beaches. But I was even more amazed that I could go to a beach for an entire day and only see a few other people. And sometimes, none!

Due to tourists packing our South Maui beaches, it has been years since I spent the day there. We are truly in danger of killing off the very thing that attracts folks from all over the world: our natural beauty.

Not Just South Maui — ALL of Maui Will Be Affected by 332 Extra People

They are looking for an inexpensive, clean, safe place to lay their head at night. And they find it there. It’s a good hotel, especially for the many airline crews that stay there.

But the extra visitors are not coming just to Kihei. They are not staying in a fancy resort. They are here to explore the island.

This extra 332 people will not just stay on our lovely beaches. They will drive to Lahaina, and Paia, and Hana. They will go to the crater. And everywhere in between.

They will be at Twin Falls and “Bamboo Forest” and they will snorkel even though they don’t swim well.

They will need rescuing and they will need to use our hospital.

They will come on their babymoons and go into labor prematurely.

A very upscale hotel might attract a visitor who wants to stay on property for most of their trip, and who might want to skip renting a car. (Maybe!)

But this hotel? No. It’s a budget hotel. It’s attracting people who either are looking for a relatively affordable Maui vacation, or local travelers who will be renting a car to get to a meeting.

All of Maui will get those extra 332 people. Every beautiful place on this island will be affected by this.

It’s like the frog in the warming water that doesn’t realize he’s slowly being boiled alive.

If we don’t take advantage of this past year’s natural pause in tourism to reflect upon how we want to use our nowhere-else-on-the-planet resources, we are in danger of losing them.

Forever.

A Pool Does Not Substitute for the Beach

But I suspect that all 332 extra tourists would go to the beach in the morning. After all, isn’t the Pacific the reason they came? When the wind picks up in the late morning, they may leave … and go to the pool in the afternoon.

This is what most tourists in Kihei do, whether they are at a hotel or a condo.

332 People Per Day Make a LOT of Noise

We can’t see the ocean, because the kiawe trees are too tall … but we can certainly hear it.

Except, we can’t hear the ocean when there is music at the hotel’s pool bar. Then, we hear the music, laughter, and clapping as it travels up the Kama’ole gulch and echoes up the streambed.

We also don’t hear the waves crashing when someone gets out their car keys and unlocks their car, or calls out to a friend. The grunting from guests playing tennis is kind of funny, especially because it is so loud.

The din of the car alarms that go off at all hours is less funny.

The idea of having 120+ more car doors slamming, a bigger pool, and more crowds watching football games at the pool bar is not appealing.

The long-term noise pollution generated by this project in a mainly residential area is a direct impact on our healthy environment.

More Traffic and “Suicide Lanes” on South Kihei Road

That’s the nicest way to put it. Here’s another way to put it:

This new hotel will add 20–60 cars every hour during peak hours — and almost as many during other hours.

While I understand that “peak” hours are in the early morning and evening … traffic is consistently busy all day long in Kihei.

Yes, there is more traffic in the morning when folks head to the resorts for work. But with so many tourists in our area, it remains busy throughout the day.

Most hours are roughly the same in terms of traffic. To refer only to “peak” hours is to not give an accurate picture of the local traffic conditions.

I was also horrified to see that “suicide lanes” are the solution to extra traffic. I absolutely agree that we would need to address the extra turns this project would (if approved) generate.

But the use of double-turn central lanes is just, so, dangerous. I’ve had close calls on Dairy Road due to people using those lanes to pass (not turn).

In other places I’ve lived I’ve seen horrific accidents occur in these lanes. Whether it’s due to drunk driving or just plain impatience, these lanes encourage bad judgment.

I’m glad that the hotel is still offering bikes to guests. I’m also glad they are using a shuttle and offering onsite car rentals. I think it’s unlikely to reduce traffic, however.

The developers agree. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have so many parking lots and parking spaces.

This is not the kind of hotel where people want to stay and enjoy the amenities. It’s not the Four Seasons, or the Andaz, or The Grand Wailea, where they can stay on property and quite happily while away a week.

The Maui Coast Hotel does not have multiple dining options, and dozens of staff waiting on you hand and foot throughout the property.

This is a budget hotel, and folks use it to sleep. Most will rent a car and drive all over the island.

This is not just 20–60 extra cars a day on South Kihei Road. This is 20–60 extra cars every day on the Road to Hana, Haleakala Highway, the Pali, and all of Maui’s roads.

It’s Not Just South Kihei Road Traffic That Will Be Increased: Kamali’i School Traffic Will Increase!

The intersection of Alanui Ke Ali’i and Kanakanui is a two-way stop, and must be manned by a crossing guard when school is getting in and out. That’s because this is one of the most dangerous intersections I know of on Maui.

Cars speed off the highway, and stop short at the intersection, unsure of how to navigate without a stop sign or a stoplight. The same is true of cars coming the opposite way, from the beach road up to the Piilani Highway.

Residents all know that they can proceed on Alanui Ke Ali’i without stopping. Residents know that drivers on Kanakanui have a stop sign, but Alanui Ke Ali’i drivers do not.

Visitors do NOT know this. They often stop short in traffic. I drive very slowly through that intersection no matter what time of day it is.

I do not want to rear-end people who are surprised by a very large intersection and stop suddenly, sometimes in the middle of the intersection.

Adding another 20–60 cars at this intersection is downright scary to me.

I’m sure the crossing guard is not looking forward to this, either.

The Department of Education commented that there are no school impact fees to be assessed. That may be true, but this project will very much affect our neighborhood elementary school.

Parents already drive their kids to school because it is not safe for them to walk. It will be even less so now. There will be a permanent increase in traffic if you approve this new hotel.

Construction is Loud and Dirty

I share those concerns. Like many people in my neighborhood, we work from home.

Construction makes doing that very difficult. I have already lost income in the past year due to the pandemic — I do not relish doing so in the coming years because of construction next door.

The length of time this project would take to complete was not listed clearly in the documents. But reading between the lines, it looks like they allocate for 2 years during construction once they begin.

I appreciate that the developer commits to following all rules and regulations. But just because they are issued a Noise Permit doesn’t make the project quieter.

It just means that my migraines (which disable me for days at a time) and lost work are permitted by the County.

I have a friend who lives near the new housing on the Piilani Highway, right across from the new high school construction site. Here are just some of the structural damages her home has sustained as a result of that construction:

  • As the dirt flew past the dust walls, it coated her home. She will have to repaint her exterior, at a significant cost. She is waiting to do this until all construction is over.
  • Her air conditioning system broke, choked with dust in just a couple of months. The repairs were unanticipated and way earlier than necessary with a system only a few years old. She now has more costs associated with twice-yearly maintenance to avoid another problem.
  • Her windows are now filled with dirt due to blown seals.
  • She has cracks in her walls from the ground shaking. She will need to repair her drywall and repaint her interior.
  • Her foundation has a crack in it.
  • Guests are not able to park in front of her house due to construction workers taking up all street parking.
  • Landscaping has been eroded by runoff and dust and debris. Tender leaves have been shredded, and new plantings have failed to take root under the stress of the noise and shaking.

Issues like these are significant to homeowners, particularly those in my neighborhood, Ke Ali’i Kai, and nearby condos like Pacific Shores.

How much damage to our homes will occur because of this project? It’s hard to tell upfront. I’d rather not find out.

332 People Use a Lot of Water and Generate a Lot of Waste!

But … 81,600 Gallons of Water Use Per Day!?!

I wasn’t sure how much that was, so I figured out how many 12-ounce bottles of water that would be.

Every day, these 332 extra tourists will consume the equivalent of 870,400 bottles of water!

Water is a big issue on our island. Do we really want to give almost a million bottles of water a day to non-residents?

And … 42,680 Gallons of Waste Per Day!?!

We are already having trouble on this island with safely treating wastewater. Let’s not add more to the process until we figure out how to safely handle our current levels of waste.

Just for perspective, 42,680 gallons of wastewater equates to three average swimming pools per day, dumped into our sewers.

That’s a lot of waste from just 332 extra people.

I don’t think we want to spend almost a million cans of water per day in, and almost three pools a day out, on just 332 people.

That is not insignificant. It’s very significant!

Our Landfill Is Almost Full — and Will Be By the Time This Is Complete

I checked the calendar, and it is 2021. That is only five years away. In five years we will run out of landfill!

I also note that 2026 is about the time this proposed project would open.

Will we actually have capacity in our landfill for the solid waste generated by adding 332 people to our population every day?

The reports do not list a predicted amount of waste associated with this new hotel. They only note that the amount should be similar to other resorts.

Rather than wait to find out how quickly our landfill disappears under the waste of an extra 332 people a day … let’s just not do this and conserve the little landfill we have for our own use.

Open Space Is Important to Community Health and Wellbeing.

What if this was left as open space?

This is the only place in South Maui where you could stand on South Kihei Road and trace an ancient streambed leading all the way up to the top of Haleakala. It’s an important view of Moku o Kula.

This property is valued at $5 million based on county tax records and sales.

Perhaps someone with deep pockets would like to buy it on behalf of the county and preserve it for historical and cultural purposes.

Perhaps we could replant native species all the way up the mountain. Several neighbors in my subdivision have mentioned wanting to do this.

My vision for the space is outside the scope of this testimony, but I offer it as just one alternative. I personally know at least one person who has the means and potentially the vision to fulfill it…

When 2x10=20, 2 Is as Responsible as 10 for 20

They still put us over the current levels of tourism.

We will have over 42.1% tourists on our island if you approve this application.

According to the Maui County Plan, we want to go the other way.

We want to go down to 33%.

Also, any increase in tourist units will multiply the very real concerns of Maui’s community.

As a wise auntie said to me just last week, when you multiply the number ten by the number two, they are both equally responsible for the number 20.

When you multiply the number ten by the number two, they are both equally responsible for the number 20.

The number of tourists added by this new hotel may seem “small.” But even small numbers have exponential effects.

You cannot add “just a few” tourists to our community and not suffer multiples in impacts. Even “just 332” folks will multiply our traffic, noise, sewer, water, and recreational use.

332 more tourists will not just ADD to our population.

They will also MULTIPLY our problems.

Then, there are the problems with the site itself.

Let’s start with flooding. I am very concerned about the expected sea level rises along our coastline. Here’s just a taste of the kind of flooding we can all expect in coming decades.

We have to mitigate against this. You can see the brown water runoff. The disease and debris. The pesticide and herbicide runoff.

You can see how these gulches are dry, but they are really streambeds. Rivers of stone that turn to water.

Also, note how the seawall near the runoff keeps the water clear. Pre-contact people knew what they were doing. We should be consulting history for our decisions about the future.

There Is a Real Concern of Flooding in Kama’ole Gulch Right Now

When it rains upcountry, we get floods in our neighborhood. This is an ongoing concern for us in Ke Ali’i Kai.

In fact, every year the maintenance of the gulch is the #1 concern at our annual Homeowners Association meetings. Here’s why:

  1. Our charter documents require that we maintain the gulch per County regulations. One of the biggest line items on our budget is landscaping, specifically the trimming back of grass and trees in the gulch.
  2. For the first few years, we trimmed the gulch every six months or so. That was adequate to keep the tall grass down.
  3. About five years ago, when climate change created longer, more rainy weather, we started having problems.
  4. The old streambed that is the gulch would stay filled, stagnating in pools. The stench of the rotting animals and other debris from upcountry is terrible for those who live right above these pukas.

The stench of the rotting animals and other debris from upcountry is terrible for those who live right above these pukas.

The tall grass and kiawe trees grew fast and green.

  1. When the weather turned hot and sunny, those trees and grass became fire fodder.
  2. We have had fires in the gulch in the last few years, fires that threatened our homes.
  3. As a result of this, we have decided as a community to increase the number of times we maintain the gulch.
  4. We now send a crew in to trim back grasses and trees and remove excess debris on an as-needed basis. We don’t wait for a certain time of year. We always go in after heavy rains stop.
  5. This allows us to breathe a little easier. We know the gulch is generally free from debris and fire hazards.
  6. Below us, in the parcel under consideration, there are hundreds of trees, tall grasses, and who knows what else choking the gulch.
  7. This is a natural dam that contributes to the manmade dam of the Maui Coast Hotel’s existing water retention structure. (see below).

The flooding along South Kihei Road and the homes on the other side of the street from this parcel is well-known.

In fact, the Department of Public Works raised multiple concerns about this new construction when they reviewed the SMA application a few weeks ago.

One of those concerns was the existing lack of drainage. The current water retention basin is described by the DPW as “significantly undersized.”

The DPW also noted the lack of information on post-development flows through the entire site. They told the developer “Analysis should review the quantity, form, and quality of runoff and evaluate offsite flows. Provide calculations for the sizing of the drainage system, including the subsurface drain and structures.

The developer’s response was that they don’t feel it’s necessary to think about this during these preliminary stages.

They do acknowledge the concern about the existing drainage system. It’s common knowledge that their current drainage system would never be approved today.

Why is this not a top priority for the developer? Why haven’t they made these plans and calculations yet? It seems like this should be top of their priority list.

I see that they have chosen the plants they will use to landscape. But those plants could all be gone with one flood.

I see that they have chosen the plants they will use to landscape. But those plants could all be gone with one flood.

A well-designed water retention basin should be mandatory at this stage. This parcel is too prone to flooding. Even a water retention basin won’t guarantee safety — but it should absolutely be their priority now, today.

They could have those plans ready, now, for your review. They are allowed to submit all their permits concurrently with the SMA application, but they are waiting to see if this permit is granted before doing this important work.

This is a significant concern for all of us above and below the hotel. It should be a concern of the Planning Commission, as well.

If this is not addressed now, and the SMA permit is given, I am afraid that this very important flooding issue will not be adequately addressed in the building process.

Here is more information on the potential for flooding in this area.

As the closest neighbors to the parcel and to our community’s water retention basin, we know a lot, because we’ve seen a lot.

As the closest neighbors to the parcel and to our community’s water retention basin, we know a lot, because we’ve seen a lot.

The DPW Wants to Know: Has Kamaole Gulch OverTopped? YES IT HAS. Multiple times!

I have personal experience with witnessing this overtopping on multiple occasions.

We live right next to the water retention basin directly above this parcel. We also have a clear view of the gulch as it runs down through our neighborhood and passes through the culvert under Kulipuu St.

I Have Personally Seen Ke Ali’i Kai’s Water Retention Basin Overtop Five Times (Maybe More)

The water retention basin has a series of underground culverts, each 6 feet high and wide. Those are set deep in the “floor” of the basin.

The basin collects water from street runoff, and from Kama’ole gulch itself.

Kulipuu St. floods regularly during even normal rainstorms. Flooding is mitigated by many grates, which carry some of the water down under the ground to these culverts. Those culverts drain out into the Kamaole gulch itself.

If those culverts can’t handle the water flow, there are two manhole grates that lift on fountains of water so the water can fill the grassy basin itself.

I have seen those heavy grates lift so high into the air that they shoot four or five stories up. The water pressure is tremendous!

When this happens, the basin fills and often overflows. I have seen 4–5 inches of water flowing over the back of the basin into the high land surrounding the gulch itself.

Right now, it eventually makes it back to the gulch.

Based on the developer’s plans, all that water would land in their parking lot, flooding any vehicles parked there.

This overtopping of the water retention basin happens often enough that our neighborhood gave up on planting anything at the back of the basin.

We used to have hibiscus lining the back of the basin. But they were uprooted so often in the early days of our neighborhood that they started to struggle.

Eventually, enough died that we just pulled them all out.

These days, we leave the area in its natural state, to prevent tearing up more landscaping when a rainstorm comes.

When some folks in the neighborhood wanted to put a fence around the basin in 2008, those of us who live closest were very concerned. It’s an impractical place to put a fence due to the likelihood of it being destroyed by water.

And I shudder to think of any small child caught in that flood. They would be seriously injured, or killed.

I shudder to think of any small child caught in that flood. They would be seriously injured, or killed.

Kama’ole Gulch Overtops Kulipuu St., Too!

The water was so high that day! The culvert couldn’t handle it.

The water retention basin had already “blown” its manhole covers. The basin was already filling with water from the street AND the gulch. It would overtop the back of the basin in just a moment.

But first, I watched that mattress hit the steel guardrails on the mauka side of the culvert.

It cartwheeled THROUGH THE AIR over my neighbor’s yard, over Kulipuu St., over the guardrails and the grass.

It landed on the guardrails on the makai side of the culvert.

The mattress hit the guardrail and the water flow toppled it over the rails!

The mattress splashed into the water, which was as high as the guardrail! I lost sight of it as it continued its way to the beach.

Soon after, even more water poured through the normally-dry streambed.

The water went over the culvert. It flooded my neighbor’s yard and created about five inches of fast-flowing water over Kulipuu St. itself.

My brother was visiting that day, and he is quite adventurous (foolhardy). As his big sister, I was telling him we should head back to the house.

It wasn’t until he saw the water overtop the culvert that he understood just how much water could come down through that gulch.

A year later, in late 2008 or early 2009, I saw the same thing happen: the gulch ran so hard and so fast that our massive culvert couldn’t handle it.

Those were two instances that I personally witnessed the culvert overtopping and the gulch below also being overtopped.

I assume that it has happened more often than that, based on debris I have seen on a couple of other occasions.

As we continue to see climate change bring more rain that sits over our islands for longer, we will continue to see these flash floods. This video is from the other side of the island where there is typically more rain … but it shows just how terrifying these floods are in Maui.

FEMA Redrew the Flood Maps And Now We’re Under Water

Several who live closer suddenly could not even buy flood insurance, because their homes were at such risk on the maps.

More than one heard that their house would not be approved if it were being built today.

I think this more than applies to this project. I do not think it is smart to build anywhere close to this gulch.

The risk of flooding and fire is far too great. And the risk will only increase with each passing year.

This is such a concern of ours that we purchase a separate flood policy for our home, even though we are NOT required to by FEMA. We spend $500 per year to carry that insurance even though we are considered safe on our lot.

Also: Pueo Nest In This Gulch

They are little, but they are precious. Where will they nest?

Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

There are Petroglyphs in Kama’ole Gulch

Please, Consider Our Future as a Maui Community and Deny This Application

The County Council just unanimously adopted Resolution №21–18 on 2/5/21 — not even 2 months have passed. This is an opportunity to put some muscle behind that resolution.

As the South Maui Community Plan is researched and crafted, we will have plenty of opportunities to see if we can balance development with business opportunities.

It is counterproductive to the stated goals of our political leaders AND the economic wellbeing of our residents to approve a brand-new hotel. Even one that is called an “expansion” in its application.

Until the South Maui Community Plan is in place, we should not approve any other hotels or tourist units in South Maui.

Let’s give ourselves room to breathe and plan from a high level, so we can ensure that future projects are in line with the future’s requirements.

Mahalo for Your Dedication, Hard Work, and Time

I wish you the very best of luck in your important work and your deliberations.

Mahalo nui loa,

Molly Jacobson

Kihei, Maui, Hawaii

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