An indecent act occurred at Ulua/Mokapu beach park in Wailea, which used to be a little gem. It was such a lovely spot I once saw a caterer set up a romantic dinner for two on the knoll above the sea.
Now what we have there is carnage, the trees destroyed. Residents of Wailea Ulua Villas looked on in anguish a few weeks ago as a backhoe came and summarily toppled six to eight monkeypods, grand old, huge-limbed creatures that provided shade and made the parking lot such a delight.
The worst part is that it shouldn't have happened. The Maui County Arborist Advisory Committee, charged by law with reviewing all landscape planting in public parks and street beautification programs, was completely left out of the loop during the entire five years it took to get a special management area permit for the redevelopment of the former Renaissance hotel. There is no question in my mind the committee would have recommended against it.
The planner involved, who has actually been the Planning Department's representative to the arborist committee, did not say one word about the scheme to make approximately 25 new parking spaces by killing the trees, an effort, by the way, entirely supported by the Wailea Community Association.
Not a peep was uttered by the planning commission during the long approval process. Worse, the head of planning for the parks department signed off on the drawings without alerting the arborist committee under which department it serves, nor did the county arborist, part of whose job description is to be a liaison with the community.
"The committee got completely bypassed and that shouldn't have happened," said Jordan Hart, the outgoing chairman of the committee. "As I see it, the permits weren't done properly." This leaves a legal opportunity for any of the community groups who are furious with the county for this betrayal.
Yes, it was probably an oversight by the planner involved. The present director, Will Spence, wasn't on board at the time. "Trees are serious things," he told me. But the fact remains that there is precious little consciousness in the county when it comes to destroying our arboreal heritage.
A good thing happened recently when Mayor Alan Arakawa and Public Works Director David Goode agreed to preserve - for now - the four monkeypods fronting the Maui Schooner whose roots had the temerity to push up the sidewalk.
When this potential hazard was discovered a year ago, the first option considered was to cut them down, causing outrage within the Kihei Community Association, which has long battled similar threats. Then moving them was suggested, despite the fact that most mature monkeypod trees die during attempted transplants.
The mayor sagely formed a street tree committee within the KCA to deal with the uproar, and the group maintained all along it wanted the county to keep the trees and simply replace the sidewalk.
Amazingly, at a meeting a little over a week ago, Goode agreed. The trees can stay. For five years, maybe, until public works gets funding and plans together to proceed with its ambition of widening South Kihei Road, and installing new sidewalks and drainage on both sides of the street.
But the question remains, as Elaine Malina, president of the Maui Outdoor Circle and a member of the KCA's tree committee, pointed out, "Why couldn't they have just replaced the sidewalk in the first place? None of us understood the problem. It wasted a year of volunteer time."
In tree-conscious Honolulu, full of grand old monkeypod-lined boulevards, cutting the trees down would never have been the first choice. The parks department there has a division of urban forestry headed by Kihei-born Stan Oka, committed to beautifying the city and preserving its trees.
Honolulu's tree maintenance program is so careful that offending roots are pruned before they create a hazard. When other departments propose road repairs or construction that will impact city trees, policy automatically triggers a review and a "tree-protection plan" is generated. If the trees impacted can't be saved, and every effort is made to do so, additional tree planting elsewhere is required.
Get this: The Honolulu City Council recently passed a resolution requiring parks to alert the public every time it plans to take out a tree. Imagine if that had happened before the Ulua/Mokapu disaster.
"We have a commitment to trees," Honolulu parks Director Gary Cabato told me. "Trees are like people. You put it that way, it's hard to kill them."
I have aloha for Arakawa and Goode from the mayor's previous administration, when, working with the Maui Outdoor Circle, they abandoned plans to cut down the historic row of rainbow shower trees along Baldwin Avenue to make way for a bike path, and agreed to safely relocate it off the road.
I was delighted to hear that public works has let a contract for planning studies, thanks to $250,000 set aside under then-Mayor Charmaine Tavares.
Nevertheless, if the various entities within Maui County government can't muster the will to enforce existing law protecting our trees, perhaps our County Council should come forth with new legislation to see that they do.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.