Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 General 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 Kelly King, candidate for the South Maui seat on the Maui County Council. The other candidate is Tom Cook.
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?
I believe we need to diversify our economy, starting with agriculture, and follow the circular economy principles. I have been collaborating with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and support their pivoting to focus on managing tourism rather than just increasing numbers. Once we are able to open travel, Maui should be promoted as a model of sustainability with emphasis on visitors experiencing our environment, culture and self-sufficiency through hands-on opportunities that would add to our community and create dual benefits for all.
To that end, I have focused my attention on investing in environmental protections, climate change mitigations and agricultural diversity investments that the county can make to keep us at the forefront. With the council’s vote in favor of the settlement agreement on the injection well lawsuit, Maui has garnered some spotlight status, and this momentum helped in the recent budget with my push to fund erosion studies, wetland restoration and continued near-shore water monitoring in West and South Maui.
Other industries I strongly support to help diversify our economy include the mental and physical health services sectors, technology, film industry, manufacturing, renewable energy and other green jobs (i.e. recycling) along with the expansion of agriculture and food processing.
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?
While our council was successful in cutting almost $50 million from the mayor’s proposed budget for this fiscal year, I believe there is still a lot of fat in our annual budget. We have a charter amendment proposal on the upcoming ballot for a professional managing director that I believe would result in more efficient and effective government and has the potential to save millions.
I see huge potential in expanding our local farming and (green) technology efforts to create more export opportunities for our local businesses. Also, I have been working directly with developers to bring in more housing projects that are truly affordable and compatible with our community plans. As these projects develop, property tax revenue will increase.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Maui?
I support the administration’s early efforts to lock down, and even the current decisions to reduce the number of folks who can gather (along with requiring masks) again. I would have worked more closely with the local authorities on enforcement, put more resources into the needs of the homeless during this crisis, and walked the talk.
On the day the mayor sent out a press release about reducing the allowable gatherings, his employees were planning a big birthday party for one of the directors. (When I found out from one of the employees, I sent an email and the party was cancelled.) We all need to be walking the talk!
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Maui. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
There needs to be better management and/or coordination of the agencies and organizations that address homelessness on Maui. To this end, the council has voted (pending second reading) to create a Commission on Healing Solutions for the Homeless. This will give the public a place to go to report deficiencies in how we are supporting this disadvantaged group, and also help to codify the solutions for further decision-making.
We are also hoping the administration will see the new commission as additional aid and include them in implementation and enforcement decisions.
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?
At this point, I really don’t see a high level of racial prejudice or brutality on Maui. However, I do support more transparency of violations by our police force as I think that created accountability.
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 think the public always needs access to public records, especially during times when so many decisions are being made about our freedoms that we don’t understand. I’m proud of the Maui County Council for creating our on-line process to continue our work openly while including even easier opportunities for the public to testify and participate in our meetings.
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?
The affected Kahana properties that are experiencing erosion have taught us a lot about potential solutions that can be created and funded by property owners. The council has funded shoreline/erosion studies, which we still await, but I think the first step is to stop building in the known SLR/storm surge inundation areas.
We need to begin discussions among affected neighborhood landowners to create plans similar to what the “Kahana 9” are working on. There should also be a recognition that some properties will experience losses that cannot be mitigated and this needs to be disclosed to potential buyers.
With the creation of the Climate Action and Resilience Committee this past January, I have been able to, as chair, bring in the specific information that has been lacking with regards to Hawaii state legislation and emerging technologies, and the committee is currently looking at other counties across the country for examples of policy and ordinance changes to address these issues.
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.
With the budget approved for FY21, we have begun a major expansion of agriculture opportunities for local farmers and are committed to diversifying our economy. We need to create a collaborative stakeholder task force to prioritize the funding of other local industries.
I envision a Maui economy that is more circular and self-reliant, where all those who want to work can make a decent living. I would like to see a plan that includes green economy projects that have a high degree of return, both monetarily and in benefits to Maui residents, that have general public support and can be bond-funded. Projects could include a locally owned electric vehicle charging system, agriculture enhancement manufacturing (i.e., biochar), recycling, clean water reclamation and reuse, etc. I believe the proposal for a professional managing director will improve our local governance and is the best way to achieve a reinvention that is based on the benefits of all residents, not just the few and influential.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Although all Maui County Council members are voted in at-large, we do have a residency requirement. In my district, housing has always been a huge issue. The housing crisis has been perpetuated by a lack of professional planning, along with illegal short-term rentals and a mad rush of out-of-state investment in high-end housing in previous years.
My focus on community involvement has shown that we can develop affordable rental projects with community support if we address local concerns. The Kaiwahine Village project is the best example of how we can all work together to get this done quickly without protests and legal challenges.
Kaiwahine Village is an affordable rental project in north Kihei that was completed earlier this year and houses folks at the 60% and under AMI levels. I have worked with this same developer to support two additional such projects, one in West Maui and another one in Central Kihei. In addition, I am supporting three new workforce development projects and a senior affordable housing project in my district.
One policy change that could help affect this change in approach would be to create more Community Advisory Committees that could have these conversations directly in the community before proposals get to the Planning Commission or the Council. I currently have a proposal to the Council to create a South Maui Advisory Committee.
Another policy change that is happening now is the hiring of a professional consultant to create a comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan for the county.
A third change I’ve been working on is a tax credit for landlords who rent affordable units long-term to residents.