There's a difference between public participation and trying to get a point across with bad manners. The worst sort of confrontational behavior was exhibited at a meeting that was intended to collect ideas about the future development of Makena State Park, 165 acres of prized real estate saved from development by a grass-roots effort led by two men who came from the Mainland to make their home on Maui.
The meeting Wednesday night was called by an ad hoc task force of interested parties wanting to contribute to an update of a 1977 master plan for the park surrounding Puu Olai and including three beaches that are popular with residents and tourists, largely because the area gives a beachgoer the feeling he or she is visiting pre-development Maui.
There was an early suggestion that nudity on Puu Olai Beach, aka Little Beach, be limited in some fashion. That one issue dominated Wednesday night's meeting, much to the dismay of Maui District parks administrator Phil Ohta. "What's really frustrating is that other users of the park didn't show up," he said the next morning. "We focused too much on Little Beach."
From all accounts, those in favor of continuing the unofficial clothing-optional status of Little Beach pressed their case with arrogance and rude behavior. At one point a shouting match spiked with racial insults and epithets erupted. Charlie Maxwell, the moderator of the meeting, would have been justified in ending the session at that point, but continued it when a semblance of civility returned.
There is no question that the unofficial clothing-optional status makes Little Beach a popular spot for tourists and residents alike. That's a point that should have been made reasonably and calmly. Instead, supporters of maintaining that status showed more than a little intolerance for any opposing views and, in the process, made sure that the real work of the meeting - helping shape the future of Makena State Park - was drowned out.
The state, in the form of Ohta, was not required to solicit ideas from the public in updating the park's master plan, but it makes sense and good civics to do so. In the end, any updates to the master plan will be written by individuals in the state Department of Land & Natural Resources, and those individuals won't be impressed by the kind of behavior displayed Wednesday night.
In the long run, soft sincerity is more effective in making a point than trying to shout down the opposition, and state officials on Oahu are infamous for doing what they want if Maui can't or won't reach a consensus.