‘Welcome to Paia, Do Not Feed the Hippies’ sign doesn’t reflect the town, residents say
February 9, 2023, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated February 10, 1:40 PM
PĀʻIA — While some got a laugh out of a new Pāʻia road sign that mocks hippies, longtime area residents said it’s derogatory and divisive during a time when the historic town needs help.
On Wednesday morning, the unauthorized road sign mounted on old framework read, “Welcome to Paia: Do Not Feed the Hippies,” among other advice. After media contacted security for the private land where the sign is posted, the message was covered with black paint.
Pāʻia resident Francine “Aunty Mopsy” Aarona, whose family dates back generations in the area, said the town doesn’t need any more negativity.
“I don’t think we need that kind of verbiage for our town,” she told Maui Now. “It just creates pilikia, just harm to everyone. We have enough problems there already trying to deal with the druggies that hang around that parking lot; we are trying to bring some sanity to the area and to the homeless people.”
Maui County Council Member Nohelani U’u-Hodgins, whose residency seat covers Pāʻia, said the sign is inappropriate and in poor taste.
“It is not a reflection of our community as a whole, and not what Pāʻia town stand for,” she said. “As a small island community, we need to do better at being respectful to everyone in all walks in life.”
The sign is the latest bump in the road for the beloved north shore spot. Once a booming plantation town during the sugar industry, Pāʻia transformed into a windsurfing mecca that attracted well-known restaurants, local art galleries and shopping boutiques.
The pandemic accelerated housing and mental health woes, though. Residents and business owners have said homelessness, vandalism, crime and drug use are on the rise in the small community, which sometimes buckles under high visitor traffic.
Lance Holter, who’s lived in Pāʻia for 43 years, said he hopes the “derogatory” sign points Maui County government leaders to bigger issues the town is facing.
“I don’t see a hippy problem,” he said. “I see a houseless issue and a lack of empathy issue that hopefully we can address somehow.”
The sign is not a reflection of Pāʻia, he added. Instead, the town is a “unique, little entry door” into the old plantation history of Maui, as much as Makawao is for paniolo’s past.
“For God’s sake, (the late Hawaiʻi congresswoman) Patsy Mink came from here,” Holter said. “(Maui’s state Sen.) Gilbert Keith-Agaran was raised in Pāʻia on my street.”
“I hope the county will do something,” he said.
Officials do not know who installed the road sign messaging.
“The ‘Maui municipal code’ referenced on the sign does not exist and never has,” said Mahina Martin, County of Maui spokesperson. “The county has steps established to address commercial signage to ensure that our historic areas are protected, applicable zoning requirements are complied with, and a review is conducted. This particular sign was found to be on private property and I’m told that it was placed without approval by the landowner.”
The sign was mounted within the last couple days on private property owned by Sam Hirbod of EC Paia LLC. It is adjacent to the public parking lot, located at the start of Pāʻia town when driving from Kahului.
“It was not authorized by any of us,” Melvin Johnson, who leads EC Paia LLC security, told Maui Now. “We will look at rectifying this.”
The road sign used framing that was in the ground for some time. In past years, the old Pāʻia Community Association would use the sign. In more recent years, it has been repeatedly vandalized, Johnson said.
Johnson and longtime residents said the phrase, “Welcome to Paia, Don’t feed the hippies,” has been on stickers and smaller-scale images that were posted on the sign and on other areas in the past.