Council votes to close Holomua Road amid fears of wildfire in Pāʻia

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A map included as part of written public testimony submitted to the Maui County Council shows Holomua Road and its vicinity in Pāʻia. PC: Screen grab from Maui County Clerk’s Office

Maui County Council members set aside concerns about displacing two dozen homeless people from Holomua Road and the possibility of a legal challenge, and they decided Friday to restrict public access to a lower portion of the road and close its upper section.

The Council’s 7-1 vote on Bill 95, with Council Member Gabe Johnson dissenting, came in response to post-Lahaina wildfire fears and the fire threat to Pāʻia town. The measure advances to Mayor Richard Bissen for final action.

If signed into law by the mayor, the measure would close the mauka portion of Holomua Road above the entrance to old Maui High School. Parking and vehicle access would be prohibited on the lower portion of the road from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

On Friday, Council members heard more from homeless advocates concerned that the measure would displace people who have nowhere else to live and do nothing to address vast, fire-prone areas owned by landowners such as Mahi Pono and Alexander & Baldwin. At the same time, north shore residents pointed out that there already have been numerous fires reported in the vicinity of Holomua Road. They reported being anxious, with Maui’s dry, brush fire season coming soon, that a blaze started inadvertently or otherwise in the area known for homeless encampments could spread downwind to communities in Pāʻia.

Makawao-Haʻikū-Pāʻia Council Member Nohelani Uʻu-Hodgins, who introduced Bill 95, was steadfast in advocating for quick action to restrict and close off access to the road.


Pāʻia residents have made it clear, more than once, that their main concern is fire, she said.

“I appreciate everybody’s concern for the unsheltered,” Uʻu-Hodgins said. “Guess what? Me too.”

But she said she would not risk the safety of the entire town of Pāʻia.

“I do not have sympathy for those people who want to attempt to tell me what to do in my backyard to best protect my family and my town, and my community,” she said. “It is so easy to judge when it’s not their house up in a fire.”

“If we do not learn our lesson after Lahaina, we are negligent as a county, and I refuse to be negligent,” Uʻu-Hodgins said. “I refuse to let this happen more than once in our community because, you know what? We can’t afford it.”


She said she heard concerns about the threat of wildfire fallow agricultural lands, “and I completely understand.”

“I should let you know I’ve been meeting with Mahi Pono, the ranches, fire (department), police and MEMA (Maui Emergency Management Agency) to figure out how to best protect Pāʻia town,” she said. Closing the road was one of the options that came out of those meetings, she said.

“Mahi Pono then cut 100-foot firebreaks all around Pāʻia town without me asking based on fire’s recommendation,” she said.

Johnson said he could not support Bill 95 and would prefer to have a deeper discussion on the matter in committee.

He reminded council members that 90% of women who are houseless have suffered from physical or sexual violence. “So we need to have a safe place for these folks,” he said.


Maui County Homeless Coordinator Naomi Crozier testified in support of Bill 95, and said that gates closing off the road would not go up immediately.

“It’d be put up in a while, but we would go out and outreach to people there that are unsheltered,” she said.

Council Member Tamara Paltin asked if the gate would lead to a “sweep,” or a forced relocation of people from the area.

“There’s no sweep,” Crozier said. “So we stay out and work with them (the unsheltered). We never stopped working with them, offering services and housing and mental health. We go in every day and wouldn’t stop so we would make sure people are moved forward to housing services.”

As far as available bed space for people who need shelter, Crozier said the bed count is checked daily. On Friday, there were 17 beds at Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resources Centers, and five at Mental Health Kokua. (According to Ka Hale A Ke Ola, as of last week Thursday, there was some availability for singles or in dorms; however, most people need shelter for families, which was not available.)

The current unsheltered population at Holomua Road is about 25 people, Crozier said. In April, the county tagged 65 cars there and pulled out 60, along with a couple hundred tons of garbage.

Crozier handed out an information sheet that showed 26 reports of fire at Holomua Road from Jan. 1 through May 31. However, that was inconsistent with Paltin’s recollection that there had been 30 or more reports of fire in the area as of late March or early April.

When asked about the discrepancy, Crozier said she wasn’t sure, “but I do know that sometimes there are crank calls that come in.”

Deputy Corporation Counsel Bradley Sova was asked to comment on Bill 95. He addressed homeless advocate assertions that the measure would set up illegal homeless “sweeps,” similar to the September 2021 relocation of homeless people from the Pu‘uhonua o Kanahā encampment at Kanahā Beach Park.

That action led to a Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling in the so-called Davis case that found Maui County failed to provide a contested case proceeding before seizing and destroying the property of unsheltered people caught up in the cleanup.

Individuals residing on property, even when trespassing or residing unlawfully, still have personal property rights, Sova said, “and they don’t lose those rights when they keep it on public land.”

Regarding Bill 95, he said: “Ultimately, this is not authorizing a sweep. This is just putting particular timelines in which the property is not open to the public… The Supreme Court’s decision in Davis and all the decisions upon which that is based, none of them have said the County cannot manage the land and resources under its control. In fact, quite the opposite.”

Under the Public Trust Doctrine, “the government has an affirmative obligation to manage the resources under its control to the benefit of all people,” Sova said.

If enforcement action related to the road closure were to happen, “then that’s when we will have to be extremely careful and cognizant about the manner in which we conduct that,” he said.

According to nonprofit Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization, more than 98% of wildfires in Hawai‘i are caused by humans. For a list of recommendations to prevent wildfires, visit

The Aug. 8, 2023, Lahaina wildfire claimed 101 lives, destroyed 2,155 structures and displaced 12,000 people. It is suspected of being sparked by extreme, hurricane-fueled high winds and downed power lines, although a final, official determination of the fire’s cause remains pending.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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