Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 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 Cara Flores, candidate for Maui County Council Kahului District. The other candidates are Tasha Kama, Carol Kamekona, Buddy Nobriga, Tina Pedro, Jason Schwartz and Keoni Watanabe.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Maui County Council Kahului District

Cara Flores
Party Nonpartisan
Age 40
Occupation Community organizer, Realtor, substitute teacher 
Residence Kahului

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Founder, HALE Hawai’i; volunteer for various community organizations; former coordinator, Mother of Preschoolers community group; former coordinator, MOMSNEXT; led youth leadership program during pandemic. 

1. What is the biggest issue facing Maui County, and what would you do about it?

The housing crisis is our biggest issue. Many Maui County residents are housing-insecure, rental prices have increased dramatically recently and are now above most people’s budget if they can find a rental at all. Homes for purchase have also increased in price dramatically and are now out of reach for a working family to be able to afford. This is only made worse with increasing interest rates.

I would like to see the county do more planning for and initiating new housing developments. The county needs to crack down on housing discrimination. The county needs to make sure housing built for our workforce is for residents’ purchase only and will stay affordable in perpetuity. This can be done with a land trust model of housing.

We need to make it much easier for owners to build on their own property. We need to incentivize the property use we want to see more of (owner-occupied or renting to residents) and make it costly for property use that is detrimental to residents (such as vacant homes of speculative investors).

2. In the last two years alone, the median sales price of a Maui home has shot up almost $400,000, driven by a surge of out-of-state buyers during the pandemic. What can the county do to ensure that families aren’t priced out?

The county needs to continue to crack down on illegal vacation rentals, and housing discrimination. The county also needs to get more participation with the new long-term rental tax exemption. We need to continue to revise our tax statute so that we reward long-term residential use.

The county needs to initiate more housing so residents can purchase starter homes. All affordable housing should be created in a way that it can be kept affordable in perpetuity.

I support the bifurcation of the Housing and Humans Concerns departments in the county because we need a department that is solely focused on creating more housing opportunities for residents. That will make it possible to have more accountability of our county workers who would be solely focused on helping solve our current housing crisis. We are losing hard-working, valuable members of our community on a regular basis. There is less and less opportunity in Maui County as our housing cost continues to get further and further out of reach.

Our housing crisis is a complex problem and will need aggressive, well-thought-out solutions. I felt a responsibility to serve because I have a depth of knowledge about housing. Our residents deserve opportunities at a higher quality of life.

3. In recent years, there has been a significant push to reform law enforcement and beef up oversight of police. What would you do specifically to increase oversight of local law enforcement? Are you satisfied with the Maui Police Department and the Maui Police Commission?

The more transparency the better. I appreciate the efforts of the CORE outreach unit and I would like to see more of this kind of community service. Safe communities are created by increasing the quality of life for all people and treating them with dignity.

People can only do good when they have hope for a future and I would like to see a community where people who are struggling financially do not fear the police but see them as a resource and helpers. The moves towards militarization of police forces on the mainland makes some places look like a war zone. I hope we never see that here.

There will always be people who make bad choices, who cause harm, who are mentally ill and a risk to themselves or others, and drug addicts. We need police and laws to keep us safe as a community. I would like to see the role of police be one of helpers, friends and servants.

When visiting Japan the police were very kind and helpful. They picked up trash on the street and were eager to help us when lost, never threatening. It would be great if most people felt that way about the police here.

4. The Maui County Council recently passed a temporary moratorium on the construction of new hotels and other visitor accommodations and will over the next several months decide whether to make it permanent. Do you support capping the number of hotels and visitor lodgings on Maui? Why or why not? 

We have a county plan that was created in collaboration with the community and is continually updated. The Maui County plan states we should have a visitor-to-resident ratio of 1 to 3 or less. This is what the community has decided.

The council and administration should refer to our county and individual area plans when making decisions. If an area wants more transient lodging and it is in compliance with the county plan then we should allow it. If a community through its plan established it doesn’t want to increase transient accommodations then we should not allow it.

If we are out of compliance with the county plan then we have a responsibility to work on getting in compliance. I support following and trying to comply with the county plan in combination with individual area plans. This is what the community has asked for and the county has a duty to serve the residents and the commitments made.

5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of Maui County, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? How would you change that?

As a Maui resident it does seem some legislation and policies are made with only Oahu in mind. We need better representation and the ability to advocate for neighbor islands. We have benefited greatly from being able to watch and testify remotely in more public meetings. We need to be sure that we keep this greater access available for the benefit of all the islands.

I do support more home rule in many areas. I find it inappropriate that Oahu legislators decided it was appropriate to limit solar to 45% (and other energy that is considered not “firm”). This should be decided by each island because each island has unique needs and resources. This is government overreach. We have a local government and a county plan. We have plans for individual areas. The state does not seem to be interested in following or acknowledging our county plan. This is a problem.

For example we are not in compliance with the visitor-to-resident ratio in our county. At one point the mayor requested that the number of daily flights be decreased.  Yet the state DOT approved building more gates at the Kahului airport to allow more planes, which will likely lead to more visitors. It is important that the state honor our county’s plan and the residents’ expressed desires. Corporations’ requests should not be prioritized above our residents.

6. Do you think the county of Maui should do more to manage water resources that were long controlled by plantations? Why or why not?

Yes, Maui County has some very old water infrastructure that is not designed for the need to conserve water as a precious resource. As global warming gets worse we can expect more extreme flooding and droughts. It is important the county has control of and the ability to care for the entire watershed so we can do a better job conserving fresh water in the uncertain future.

Water is life and as a public trust it should not be commodified or controlled by private corporations. DHHL has a right to water for Native Hawaiian people and traditional uses, but no other private organization should have leases or rights to Maui County water.

7. Climate change is real and will force us to make tough decisions. What is the first thing Maui County should do to get in front of climate change rather than just reacting to it? 

We need to start a planned retreat away from the shoreline. We should not be hardening shorelines to construct permanent structures that are oceanfront. We should not be approving new construction in known flood zones.

We should require that new construction not increase our carbon footprint. We need to move much more quickly toward the state’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2045. We should be increasing walkability and bike-ability, electrification in transportation (public and private), and increase charging capabilities for electric vehicles.

We need to start thinking about the cost of our actions and policies to the next generation. Our children deserve rapid climate action. We have already taken so much from them for short-term gains today. We need to start being mindful of how policies and actions help or harm future generations. We need to incentivize/reward the things we want more of and de-incentivize actions and activities that will hurt our children in the long run. This is why I advocate for Gov Ige to veto bill 2150 (would cap the amount of solar on each island). How could we do that to our children when the latest IPCC report recommends the opposite and tells us we only have two years left to significantly change course?

8. It’s estimated that up to a thousand people might be homeless on Maui on any given day. What do you think needs to be changed to help people get into housing, and stay housed?

I believe housing is a human right and because of that I support the housing first model. I would like to see a much more comprehensive plan in place to help get people off the streets and transition them to a permanent housing situation. We are short on shelter beds, which is a temporary solution and we are short on housing, which is the permanent solution.

We will ultimately need to tackle Maui’s larger overall housing crisis to see a significant improvement in our houseless situation. I would like to see a centralized one-stop-shop social services location that is an umbrella to our many wonderful outreach organizations. Other municipalities have done something like this with temporary housing, a clinic, social workers and counselors, meal services, job training/placement and other outreach services.

In places that have created a good system people are much better served and the overall cost to the community is less. People need compassion, hope, care and stability in order to improve their circumstances long-term. I would also like to see our county request federal help in preventing other places from sending people here without resources, lodging or a support network.

9. Traffic is getting worse on the island of Maui, and different regions face different challenges. What would be your approach to improve Maui’s transportation problems?

More children could walk to school and home every day if it were safer. Unfortunately much of Maui, even in urban areas, is not particularly safe to walk or bike. I would like to see safer walking and biking access especially to areas with large amounts of people (schools and major shopping centers). It has been well proven that people will opt to not use a vehicle if they feel safe and have easy access to trails, sidewalks and protected bike lanes.

One person in a car needs a lot of space and resources. Instead of building more and more roadways in every community, making Maui a motorist’s paradise, we should focus on making it easier for people to get around their community without needing a vehicle. This is better for the environment, makes communities more connected and therefore safe and helps us to be healthier.

There is a need to build better vehicular access between areas and communities but many places have decreased traffic in city centers by increasing walkability and bike-ability. I would like to see us put a lot more effort into that moving forward.

Also our bus routes and frequency are not very conducive to not having a vehicle. If we want less cars on the road we need to make it much easier to get around without needing a car.

10. 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 Maui County. Be innovative, but be specific.

The residents of the county have a right to know how money is used and spent. We need a lot more transparency in this area.

I would like to see a breakdown of how all the federal pandemic  money was spent. I feel there should have been much more public dialogue and collaboration around the use of the pandemic funds. I would have liked to see a public task force with public meetings and an opportunity for public testimony. We missed a great opportunity to improve a lot of infrastructure that would have helped reduce the spread of Covid but would also continue to benefit us after the pandemic.

We could have built more shaded outdoor spaces so our schoolchildren would be able to comfortably spend more time outdoors and the community could congregate safely. We have wonderful weather and we should have created more spaces for our residents to use. We could have helped create more outdoor dining around restaurant areas and other public facilities that would serve the purpose of reducing the spread but also have more permanent benefits to the community.

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