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 Sne Patel, candidate for Maui County Council West Maui District. The other candidates are Rick Nava and Tamara Paltin.
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?
Economic recovery and diversification is my top priority. Through strategic investment in areas such as health care, agriculture, education, clean energy and IT we can have meaningful, high-wage, high-skill jobs for our community. To do this we must invest in education, training and infrastructure, including broadband technology. We must also continue to invest in entrepreneurship, for small business is essential to a strong economy. We can also help our current displaced workers transition to new careers with workforce development, training and certification efforts in areas like the trades and technology.
I think safely bringing back tourism is critical to economic recovery, especially in Maui, which has the nationʻs highest unemployment. With mandated testing for all arrivals (residents and visitors), increased testing countywide, and designated quarantine sites, we can help to keep our case level low and reduce community spread. CARES Act funding can be used to help fund these measures.
I think tourism will always play a role in our economy, so we should work to make it more balanced and sustainable for our community, infrastructure and natural resources. Recovery and diversification efforts should reflect the values and priorities of our community to create long-lasting success and positive impact.
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?
I think that without visitor spending, which is Mauiʻs greatest economic driver, we will be faced with substantial revenue shortfalls that will require the county to thoughtfully examine its budgets and create an action plan. Once the low-hanging fruit such as unfilled positions, unnecessary travel and purchasing restrictions are implemented, we must look to more concerted efforts to reduce spending. These can include delaying capital improvements, infrastructure or facility maintenance; equipment cutbacks; contracting in vs. contracting out measures; energy and water saving measures; position cutbacks; or no new departments/positions created.
To generate more revenue, the county could look into assessing a transit fee, like Japan’s, collected at the time of airline ticket booking, to help offset decreased visitor spending and front load our budget. A proposed hike in rental car fees could also help generate revenue. For more opportunities, the county can examine its cash management and investment strategies; lease or sell county assets or work to secure appropriate federal grants.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
I think weʻre all trying to do the best we can with the hand weʻve been dealt by this unprecedented situation. On a county level our cases have been very low, so I think the county health department and administration have done a great job.
On a state level I feel we could have done more testing. Rather than giving incoming travelers (both residents and visitors) the option to quarantine, we should have had mandated testing and designated quarantine sites for them while they waited for their test results. An unoccupied hotel could have served as a quarantine site, which could have helped to limit community spread. The CARES Act money that both the state and county received could have been used for these initiatives.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
I think the scope and magnitude of the homelessness issue calls for both effective policy and a comprehensive understanding of its causes so that we can create solutions that will generate long-term, positive impact for our community. Successful execution will be contingent upon public-private partnerships with state, county, non-profit and development entities and funding sources/assets.
To best serve our most vulnerable, we can look at community-based, housing first models, such as the Kahauiki Village on Oahu. Through providing shelter, mental health, medical health and access to employment/training in the facility or nearby, as well as space to grow food for the community, we can most effectively work toward rehabilitation and eventual transition of residents into society. I think such efforts could be done in both urban, micro-units and rural, larger units to offer a solution that works best for the specific community assets and needs of the resident.
For our less vulnerable, we can look into subsidized housing measures, including the building of new housing that is co-developed and/or managed by the county. We can also better manage the arrival and potential return of out-of-state homeless.
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?
While these times are some of the more challenging in modern history for a range of reasons, I believe that they are serving to put the spotlight on some of the deeper issues we face as a nation. My hope is that we will come out of this time stronger, wiser and better.
With regard to Maui specifically, I am grateful to say that through my work with the LahainaTown Action Committee, which hosts large events that require police presence, such as Halloween and Fourth of July, I have had a very positive and cooperative experience with our local law enforcement and with their help we have organized largely incident-free events. I have not experienced or personally witnessed behavior that is discriminatory against persons of color.
I think that compliance with open record requests can increase our transparency, but I believe that due process must be followed prior to release.
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?
I feel the initial suspension of public meetings and records laws was meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 by not having large gatherings and avoid compliance issues with public-records law, which has mandated deadlines for producing public records that may have been difficult to meet with safety protocols in place.
I understand the concerns these actions raise, particularly as they could open the door to potential abuse. I think the governorʻs proclamation that allows administrative hearings and public meetings to be conducted through remote technology and telecommunications is a step in the right direction for the public to have access to open meetings. The Maui County Council has taken the lead on this front by allowing video conference software for public participation. I would continue with these efforts as long as necessary, as well as provide additional outreach methods to obtain public input. I also believe that we can work to ensure access to public records in a more timely fashion with the help of technology, so that we can work toward compliance with existing laws. I believe with any unprecedented situation, we must work to adapt as faithfully and quickly to the letter and spirit of the law.
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?
I believe that through proactive planning, effective data and research-driven policy and partnerships with federal and state governments and other entities such as non-profits, we can best manage the effects of climate change. The recent creation of the Climate Action and Resilience Committee and updates to the Maui County Hazard Mitigation Plan are positive steps toward proactive management.
Through managed retreat planning, we must also work to relocate infrastructure that will be impacted by sea level rise, such as roadways and buildings, and not build in any areas that will be impacted. I think we can also look into new building standards that have a more green approach to both materials and placement. We can also look into better management of our fallow lands to help with erosion and run-off into the sea.
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.
Infrastructure. If Hawaii had well-planned, low-impact, innovative infrastructure to meet our needs in a way that reflects our values and lifestyle:
• Water: water delivery systems, water purification methods and innovative waste stream management.
• Trash: How can we at minimum turn our trash to energy, at maximum turn it into useful second life products?
• Green building: buildings made of eco-friendly materials, e.g., hempcrete, are energy self-sufficient and serve as rooftop gardens and/or freshwater catchment systems.
• Transportation: extensive clean public transportation methods, moving sea-level rise impacted roads inland, all clean vehicles on roads.
• Tech infrastructure: broadband coverage across the county so people can work remotely, learn new skills and easily communicate.
• Land use planning: ensure we have enough affordable homes, schools/child-care facilities and places of work to meet our needs in a way that allows people to live closer to where they work and where their children attend school.
Higher education: continue investing in UH Maui to create more programs that facilitate graduates staying here, e.g., the expansion of medical school on Maui, coding certification programs, etc.
Guided by a cradle-to-cradle philosophy, we can develop necessary infrastructure that improves our quality of life.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Maui, and West Maui in particular, has been one of the hardest-hit areas in the nation by unemployment due to COVID-19. I think we must work to safely and methodically return the visitor industry, using high standard testing methods and quarantine sites and increased testing countywide. We can also help our current displaced workers transition to new careers with the help of training, certification and educational efforts. The visitor industry is our main economic driver, and without it we will not have adequate future revenue to meet our countyʻs needs. We are probably at the beginning of a global economic downturn, and should be proactive about maintaining our economic health.
Prior to COVID-19, I think affordable housing was one of the most pressing issues. I would work to:
• Create more rental inventory through further clarification of the Minatoya list standards of eligibility and subsequent removal of illegal short-term rentals.
• Streamline the permitting process for affordable home builders as well as add a timely expiration on developer approvals for affordable projects, so a project can move forward more swiftly.
• Create public-private partnerships to remove barriers, such as the price of land, to building truly affordable homes.
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