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 Tamara Paltin, candidate for Maui County Council West Maui District. The other candidates are Rick Nava and Sne Patel.
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?
We need Hawaii to be known as a safe destination for both residents and visitors by investing in a system to ensure all arrivals are COVID-free and stop the cases on Oahu from spreading. Testing needs to occur before and after arrival and we need mandatory managed quarantine until there’s verification that all arrivals are COVID-free. Once a system is in place, then tourism will return.
We also desperately need to diversify and begin to retrain the excess/laid off workforce in leadership and needed industries such as agriculture, health care and education so that we can be more self-sufficient. This budget cycle, our county has shifted our focus more toward agriculture and there are plans to continue the Made in Maui County Festival into an online format if necessary.We should also create high level training programs to train workers for expanded jobs in health care, education, engineering, police force, etc., locally.
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?
This is difficult to project into the future as circumstances are changing week to week and month to month. This past budget session I proposed a lot of cuts, but many did not pass the vote. I still propose cuts to the Maui Visitors Bureau, chronically unfilled positions, and, depending on the circumstances, event funding. If we are able to continue with Part 2 of property tax reform-temporary investigative group, I would like to see us provide big incentives for long-term affordable housing rentals, status quo for long-term housing rentals (whether affordable or not) and then raise revenue more through non-owner occupied second homes.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
Overall Maui County handled the coronavirus crisis pretty well. Our mayor and council addressed many of the things that the county had the authority over early on.
Our hospital was one of the major sources of coronavirus cases, so in hindsight, I would have gotten more involved earlier, meeting with hospital leadership and insisting that staff and patients be allowed to wear personal protective equipment (from home if necessary) and that cleaning supplies were readily available to all staff as soon as the coronavirus began to spread. The lack of vetted written procedures was a big problem with the hospital early on and contributed to the spread in Maui County.
Part of the problem is that there are a lot of factors that are not within the county jurisdiction. I am very proud that our council under the leadership of the budget chair was able to quickly pivot to an online format that allowed for community participation by telephone, email and teleconference and allowed the public to continue watching meetings on public television.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
I support Housing First. Depending on external factors that we do not have a lot of control over, Maui County needs to be prepared to act quickly the longer the global pandemic continues to affect our economy. There may be opportunity to enter negotiations with resort-type properties, (either a big one or multiple smaller ones throughout the county) to provide housing for homeless and displaced workers.
Until that time, I support use of the many shelter organizations the county helps fund and introducing managed campgrounds that meet hygiene and safety needs for the overflow of unsheltered people.
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?
I have not encountered Maui police discriminating against people of color. We have many vacancies on our police force partly because of the rigorous screening process (57 people took the last written exam to become a police officer, three passed, two made it to the interview and none advanced to recruit training) and being short-handed in itself makes it harder on existing officers.
I do believe that state law should be changed to allow the compliance with open records requests and that employee employment-related misconduct and resulting discipline should not be exempted from open record requests. Our police commission oversees the police department well, however I believe more transparency is needed and at the least commission meetings should be broadcast on public television.
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 donʻt agree with complete and continuing suspension, it is understandable to some degree when he did it initially due to the time requirements involved in providing access to public records and with everything else the state had going on, however now that the state is opening up more and more I believe it is time to again allow access, possibly with a slightly longer timeframe for response if needed.
It is critical that our residents have trust in government; transparency, whenever possible is a key part in building and maintaining that trust. In Maui County, we continue to broadcast public meetings on public television and in addition to email, we allow for telephone and teleconference testimony opportunity. On a personal note I have made a conscious effort to do additional outreach and issue press release on somewhat controversial change in zoning projects, I try my best to let all sides be heard and if we need to take more than one meeting before voting on subjects because of the pandemic, I take the time to ensure all sides have a chance to be heard and vet the issues.
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?
In many ways our adaptations because of the pandemic are getting us ready for the effects of climate change, being able to work remotely, becoming more self-sufficient, focusing on growing a circular economy are all things that if done right will help us prepare for climate change. The break that our reef is getting right now from use by over-tourism and harmful sunscreen is evident to most local ocean users by the clarity in the water and amount of near-shore fish being seen.
We are also working on creating resiliency hubs, which can help in preparedness and long-term recoveries. We need to start moving our critical roads inland, especially Highway 30, and make plans for how we will accomplish managed retreat. We also need to stop allowing new development within the SLRXA area especially, if entitlements were granted before we were aware of what a critical threat sea level has become.
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.
My One Big Idea is to focus on self-sufficiency and small projects that transform our waste streams through circular economics. For example, since many restaurants have shut down some piggeries now have to buy grain instead of relying on slop they used to get. I would love the county to be involved in setting up a system to get unused food waste from grocery stores or farmers markets to piggeries and/or composting programs, possibly set up a homeless campgrounds with room to keep feral chickens caught by the public, some of the slop can go to feeding the feral chickens as well, eggs and chicken manure could be harvested.
Iʻd love to see widespread gardening and community “farm to table kitchens” where you could pay a membership fee to eat meals or provide work such as cooking, cleaning or harvesting, these places would build up our local communities. I would like us to teach more about aquaponics in schools and in the community. I would also like to see a policy that allows for planting of food trees on county parks/lands.
I think the county could take more of an active role in connecting those who want to farm with fallow agricultural landowners. There are many things that need to be built as well, affordable homes, new schools and roads, but I would suggest holding off on building any more tourist accommodations, or retail space because we currently have an overabundance of both that are vacant.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing my district prior to the pandemic was affordable housing. This past term we have worked to move four projects forward in West Maui (Kaiaulu o Kūkuʻia, Kaiaulu o Kupuohi, Makila Farms and Pulelehua) while the projects have not yet been built I hope that they will soon provide needed relief to the workforce.
Currently with tourism shut down the loss of our small businesses is a pressing issue, followed by unemployed tourist workforce (while unemployment has kicked in for most workers, the small businesses are struggling and many are shutting down) with a backdrop of sea level rise threatening our shoreline properties. I support using CARES funding to develop a safe system to reopen to tourism with an emphasis on this being a safe and well-managed destination and to also use funding to train our local workforce to diversify into more reliable jobs.