As we inch closer to the dawn of a new year, the Maui Weekly revisits some of the most talked-about, headline-grabbing news stories of the previous year. Here is a final reflection on the events that defined 2011 for many of us.
A Civil Action
Barely one year after former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the state's highly contentious civil unions bill, newly elected Gov. Neil Abercrombie reversed her decision on Feb. 23, making Hawai'i the seventh state in the nation to extend this privilege to same-sex couples. After signing Senate Bill 232, the governor issued a statement, saying, "I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha."
Gov. Neil Abercrombie reversed former Gov. Linda Lingle’s decision, making Hawai‘i the seventh state in the nation to extend this privilege to same-sex couples.
Photo courtesy of Office of the Governor
Acknowledging the controversial nature of the measure, Gov. Abercrombie said, "I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawai'i this has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended. Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected [and] for me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawai'i."
The legislation will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012, extending the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union.
Not everyone was thrilled about Gov. Abercrombie's decision, though. Some opponents of civil unions expressed bitter disappointment, saying that the new law will ultimately corrode family values across the state. Others have vowed to overturn the law.
However, it was a landmark victory for proponents of civil unions in Hawai'i and across the nation, as many believe the passage of SB 232 marked an important step toward equal rights for all residents of the Aloha State, and quite possibly a step toward the legalization of same-sex marriage--an issue that may surface in 2012.
Halloween 2011: 'Back on Front'
Months after Gov. Abercrombie signed SB 232, Mayor Alan Arakawa overturned a decision made by his predecessor--unleashing a firestorm of controversy across the Valley Isle. Four years after the administration of former Mayor Charmaine Tavares ended Halloween festivities on Lahaina's Front Street (known by many as the "Mardi Gras of the Pacific"), the new mayor announced a full return of the annual celebration--bringing Halloween "back on Front."
In his announcement, Mayor Arakawa said, "It has been a desire of our administration to bring back a safe, fun, family-friendly Halloween event to Front Street our residents and merchants have asked for it, and my administration has worked hard with multiple community groups, organizations and government agencies to bring this event back."
While Halloween revelers and local merchants rejoiced at the news, there were some who were outraged by the mayor's decision, citing lewd, inappropriate behavior at past events that insulted Native Hawaiians and disgraced a culturally significant historic district. Despite efforts to halt the festivities--including an injunction filed on behalf of Na Makua O Maui--the Halloween festivities were allowed to proceed, drawing thousands to Front Street on Monday, Oct. 31. The event, by all accounts, went off without a hitch, and according to the county Office of Economic Development, Front Street restaurants saw a revenue increase of up to 41 percent and retail stores also reported a boost of 6.5 to 80 percent over normal sales. To many, this is proof indeed that Halloween 2011 may not have been so scary after all.
APEC Shines a Spotlight on Maui's Economy
An economic spotlight was cast on Maui County in November 2011, as global leaders and dignitaries gathered in Honolulu for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. APEC is the chief economic forum of the Asia-Pacific region, with an objective to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity. County of Maui Economic Coordinator Teena Rasmussen served on the APEC 2011 Hawai'i Host Committee, comprised of representatives from across the state. During the APEC 2011 Hawai'i Business Showcase at the Hawai'i Convention Center, she shared a variety of Maui-based products and services to APEC participants and economic journalists--placing Maui County on the proverbial map and proving that the Valley Isle has so much more to offer than fun in the sun.
Shaking the Tree
It was a decision that was rooted in controversy: county officials announced plans to remove four monkey pod trees at the Maui Schooner Resort in Kihei, in addition to several others bordering South Kihei Road. The removal of the trees was part of a county project intended to mitigate flooding in the area and improve road conditions. The trees were designated as a potential hazard because their roots had caused the sidewalk to protrude in several areas.
In a series of meetings, community groups, arborists and tree-lovers urged the county to come up with a "Plan B," arguing that the trees were "exceptional" and should be saved at all costs. After weeks of debate, the county halted its plans, but for the trees in question--as well future generations of monkey pod trees--fate may still hang in the balance. In December, the Maui County Council was presented with Ordinance 1944, "A Bill for an Ordinance to Designate Exceptional Trees in the County of Maui." If approved, the ordinance would amend "Title 12 of the Maul County Code, pertaining to landscape planting and beautification, is hereby amended to include the designation of exceptional trees." If the "exceptional" designation is granted, the trees will be protected--a final decision that may come in 2012.