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March 3, 2011
Norm Bezane

Is the Maui County government broken? Ask Akakū: Maui Community Television’s “Maui Talks-TV” host Nikhilananda (that is his one and only legal name) and you learn that he thinks “it functions, but it is cracked in places. It just needs oiling.”

Smart, extremely well informed, and a man of the world (he’s visited 50 states and 50 countries), Nikhilananda is the kind of idea person who should be in government but isn’t. Even though voters unwisely rejected him in five elections in which he ran, his ideas are well worth paying attention to and acting upon.

Today, he’s a new Nikhilananda whose ideas are well worth our attention and action. He’s the kind of idea person who should be in government but isn’t. Voters unwisely rejected him in two elections.

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Tune into Akakū every Tuesday at 7 p.m. to enjoy the clever commentary of “idea man” Nikhilananda during his public affairs, call-in talk show, “Maui Talks-TV.”

A plausible theory about Maui is that many public officials who have lived only in the middle of the Pacific Ocean have never been exposed to the things good government delivers. They have never, for example, seen a truly fine, well-manicured park, the kind found in the best-run municipalities.

So what we get along Honopi‘ilani Highway alongside the Pali is the kind of park found in third-world countries—unpaved parking areas flooded with brown water, unsightly restrooms (if any), dirt instead of grass, scrub plants instead of an oasis of tropical flowers.

Mauians look askance when anyone says, “Well, back in California (or fill in the blank) things are done differently.”

Though this “ain’t the Mainland,” as the popular bumper sticker appropriately points out, perhaps it is time we adopt some of the good things about the contiguous states while keeping our own good things, such as aloha and our special island lifestyle.

It is also commonly said, “If you don’t like the way Maui is, don’t move here.” What that really says is there is no need for improvement. Yet is it not better to change what needs changing and keep what deserves keeping?

Nikhilananda has been harping on the need for curbside recycling since 1995. Instead, we get a system requiring people (who hold two jobs and are busy taking care of their kids and their homes) to take time and expend gas money to bring a limited number of recycles to recycle centers. Would it not be better to pick up a bigger array of recycles at the curb, as it is done on the Mainland, while at the same time create new jobs for recycling workers?

And Nikhilananda’s experiences with permitting is classic.

“Adding a 450-foot deck on my house took two years to go through the permit process,” he noted. “When I went down to the Maui County Planning Department, there was a requirement that I get (some sort of) an exemption. Because I knew the person in charge, he personally escorted me around the office looking for my application. He couldn’t find it.”

Nikhilananda returned repeatedly, noting the room where applications were kept “was like being back in India. There were piles and piles and piles of paper stacked up all over the place.”

The official eventually found the application, and said the exemption wasn’t needed. He signed off on the permit on the spot.

“It took many months to sign off on something that I didn’t need,” the talk show host lamented. “We need to revamp the permitting process, not necessarily to make it easier to get a permit, but to make it more efficient.”

Nikhilananda also wonders about infrastructure. If creating construction jobs is so critical, he asks, why doesn’t the county build more badly needed roads and sidewalks instead of kowtowing to developers who argue their often ill-conceived projects are needed because they create jobs?

“Why not create jobs where the real needs are by building affordable homes and infrastructure?”

Water is another one of his “favorite” issues.

“To politicians, water is really important,” he observed. “A friend has been on the list for a water meter for 13 years. Elected officials talk about water, but they don’t do anything about it. There are so many things you can do. Look at the feasibility of desalination; you need to look at using more recycled water.

“The problem is that private entities control the water. That is illegal by the state constitution. I live on a stream that is bone dry 300 days of the year. Twenty feet from my property line, a dam is siphoning off all the water. That should be illegal.

“They [private companies] took that water. I don’t believe they were given the water. If it is legal, it should be illegal, and if it is illegal, it is not being enforced.

“Too many of the elected officials are too close to the businesses that control the water. They don’t go to core problem. How can you have people on a water meter list who have died before they get a permit, when developers can go and build a well and build a development?”

Nikhilananda applauds the fact that there are fresh faces on the Maui County Council, but notes there is always a honeymoon period.

“The first couple of weeks, people say now is the time for great change. But if you go back in time, you see that the change is negligible.”

The list of needed changes could go on and on. Let’s hope that the new council is different and will start tackling them.



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