Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Shane Sinenci, candidate for Maui County Council East District representing Hana, Keanae and Kailua. The other candidate is Claire Carroll.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
For smaller remote communities like East Maui, we have seen the detriments of visitor impacts including overcrowded beaches, increased traffic, illegal parking, trespassing and increased emergency rescues. Since the pandemic, we have seen our beaches and shorelines bounce back from sunscreen and petroleum pollutants.
We now have an opportunity to address these issues while visitors are at home, like implementing caps on tourism, reservation mechanisms at federal and state parks, and installing traffic mitigation measures. Although we rely on tourism for our economic driver, we must also ensure that it doesn’t impact our quality of life on the islands and that tourism is sustainable for all of us.
As the current Agriculture Committee chair, I am proposing a Department of Agriculture for Maui County. A DOA could diversify our economy by introducing other careers in animal husbandry, aquaculture, horticulture, bio-fuels, nutrient recycling, seed banking, exports, textiles, personal care products, and agriculture engineering.
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
Having seen the State of Hawaii’s economic shortfalls due to the pandemic, I voted to cut all projects and land acquisitions that partnered with matching state funds. Maui County quickly moved large capital improvement projects that were funded by general funds to bond funding; a move to utilize the county’s bond rating and to keep as much cash on hand as possible.
I also supported deferring large departmental purchase items like vehicles and equipment for a later date, with the hopes that current vehicles could suffice for another year or two. In an effort to provide equitable tax rates, myself and other council members created tiered tax rates for short-term rentals and for residential homes tax rates. This way, we could address homes that were valued at $1.5 million and above and apart from home valuations at $800,000 and below; thus paying their fair share. Another option for new revenues was an increase in the fuel tax, but only with the strict understanding that fuel costs will decrease.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
The Maui hospital was a hot spot of coronavirus cases on the island. Because of the propensity to attract the virus there, I would propose small clinics and urgent care centers throughout the county to increase precautionary measures, including social distancing. I think portable clinics and medical trailers could solve this issue and accommodate residents in rural and remote areas, as well as address the unsheltered population.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
People are homeless and unsheltered for many different reasons. I would propose an inventory of homeless individuals to find out the reasons why people are outside, and then connect those individuals with the proper government and public agencies; including partnering them with food network hubs and non-profit charities.
If re-elected, I will commit to fund homeless shelters and public rental programs to get people into affordable home options. I also plan to address the park violations fees of homeless and unsheltered people. The problem compounds itself. We have people being ticketed who cannot afford a ticket, cannot attend court dates and are being arrested due to procedural inconsistencies.
5. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. Do you see this issue as a problem in Maui County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on Maui? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
The issues of police brutality and systemic racism at the national level are long overdue for reform and I support equity and social justice at our local police stations. I am supportive of reviewing police tactics that deal with choke holds and excessive use of force, and I support trainings that teach preventative (to violence) measures and de-escalating tactics, like Newark County.
I personally wrote a letter to Gov. Ige during the Mauna Kea protests, imploring police that they refrain from using long range acoustic devices (LRAD) on peaceful protesters.
6. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
Due to this proclamation, Maui County Council quickly transitioned onto “Bluejeans” remote meetings format. Without this ability, we would not have vetted the county budget to account for shortfalls brought on by the pandemic.
We were able to include both written and online testimonies by county residents throughout the deliberations. For me, it is important that we maintain government transparencies and that residents have access to local government agencies, especially during these uncertainty times.
7. What more should Maui County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We are in receipt of the State Sea Level Rise app, which indicates areas of vulnerability due to sea level rise. I am in contact with the county planning department to halt all development proposed within these inundation zones and that permits are evaluated for adherence to special management area regulations.
I also support acquiring coastal open spaces, water foul areas and wetlands along the shoreline to mitigate sea level rise. I support the funding of the retreat of important infrastructure inland, like wastewater treatment facilities and major roads and thoroughfares, in cooperation with the state Department of Transportation.
8. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative but be specific.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a couple flaws in Hawaii’s economic structure. The first being Hawaii’s dependence on imported goods, nearly 90%. Hawaii is 2,500 miles from the U.S. mainland, where most of our food is from. This makes us vulnerable to food shortages if shipping services were ever disrupted due to natural disasters or global pandemics.
By creating a Department of Agriculture, we commit ourselves to feeding future generations for many years to come; we can develop a sustainable regional agricultural system, we can reduce the risks of food shortages, we can strengthen resiliency and economic diversification through research, we can boost residential health, promote ecosystem health and protect our natural resources.
In addition, we move away from our dependence on the visitor industry as an economic driver. Last year we entertained 10 million visitors to our islands with Maui County surpassing our island plan ratio of one visitor to three residents, to nearly a 1:2 ratio. This, despite failing county infrastructure and amidst a myriad of outside investments channeling profits outside of the state.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
In the East Maui District, our most pressing issue is the road to Hana. The road is a conduit to Central Maui, where residents can conduct business, shop and attend doctor’s appointments. Pre-COVID, the two-lane highway saw upwards of 600 cars per day to our remote community, and with negative impacts to road infrastructure including traffic congestion, limited restroom capacity, illegal parking, and trespassing on private property.
There are numerous examples to help mitigate visitor impacts of which I am supportive of. On Kauai, the county limits traffic travel to Haena State Park; this is a great option for us at Waianapanapa State Park in East Maui. This would address our parking shortages and our public restroom limitations.
The Haleakala National Park has also instituted a reservation system for visitors to the mountain. Using this same model, the Oheo National Park in Kipahulu can adopt the same practice and address the overcrowding within the small remote Kipahulu community.