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.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Maui County, and what would you do about it?
The cost and availability of housing for working class residents is forcing much of our middle-class residents to leave. That is splitting up local families and making it nearly impossible to recruit necessary professionals, from doctors and nurses to schoolteachers and police officers.
According to DBEDT, Maui is at least 10,000 housing units short to adequately house our current population. Homes in subdivisions built to be “affordable” are now going for $1 million-plus. No family working in our local economy can afford that. Rents are mirroring this, with families working ordinary jobs facing skyrocketing rental rates.
The latest explosion in housing costs has been brought on by the pandemic and is actually a national phenomenon, but the underlying structural issues have been there for decades, compounding each generation. Maui is in a severe housing crisis and will require a serious paradigm shift to address it.
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?
Local families are being priced out of the housing market right now. One thing the voters can do this election is to approve the proposed Charter Amendment to create a stand-alone County Housing Department. Maui is the only Hawaii county that does not have one.
This proposed department is designed to be a housing development department and will be focused on building the housing inventory we need. It will work with private sector builders to help expedite approvals and to bring down the cost of development by making sure the necessary public infrastructure (sewers, water, roads, schools) is there when needed and is not added to the cost of housing.
If we want housing to be affordable to working class families, we have to stop charging impact fees on new homes and apartments. That will mean the county will have to invest in these off-site services to make housing projects more affordable. And because of that public investment, we will need a mechanism to ensure that the homes go to local families — ideally first-time buyers — and that they remain affordable after the first generation buyers move on.
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?
To address this question requires amending the County Charter. There was a time, not long ago, in which the Maui Police Commission was too close to the police leadership. Luckily, we did not experience anything like the Kealoha situation in Honolulu, but the possibility was there.
The current Maui Police Commission demonstrated a good degree of transparency during the recent hiring of the new police chief and a willingness to buck the department’s executive leadership in picking an outsider to run the department. Given that, I think we can depend on the Police Commission to do its job.
There are a pair of proposed charter amendments for this election (one from the Charter Commission, and another – on the same topic – by the Council) dealing with the reporting requirements between the chief and the commission when the chief and the commission do not agree on police conduct issues. I believe the proposal came from the Police Commission.
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?
Yogi Berra is famous for the line that “no one goes to Coney Island anymore because it is too crowded.” Every resort community has to deal with the reality of a sustainable carrying capacity.
At some point, the volume of visitors turns it into a “Coney Island.” Quantity replaces quality. Think Waikiki.
That said, however, there was no emergency that drove the Council’s action to slap a moratorium on visitor accommodations development. I believe that was driven by an animosity on the part of some on the Council toward the visitor industry.
Tourism is what floats our collective boat. Any action to constrain it must be well considered, and probably should include reducing or eliminating new visitor accommodation development.
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?
I used to live on Oahu and felt that the neighbor island guys were cheeky to demand more respect from all-mighty Honolulu – given the differences of population. Now I see it from the opposite direction. So it is a matter of perspective.
I am sure the Molokai guys feel the same way about Maui-based county leadership. There must be an economic principle that states the further you are from the center of power, the less you have.
But given that, I do not feel Maui County is ignored by the state government. It depends to a great degree on your legislative team and we have a good one.
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?
In a time of radical climate change we must be cautious with our water resources. I live in a community that depends in part on surface water from the East Maui Irrigation Company. The EMI system is an irreplaceable engineering marvel, capable of carrying enough water to supply a city the size of Honolulu on gravity feed. We particularly need that supply in droughts. We would be in a world of hurt without it. So any decision to impose county authority over this system must take into account:
— The EMI system must be maintained. Its loss would be an inexcusable disaster for Upcountry Maui.
— EMI now supplies about 6 million gallons of raw water to the county’s Upcountry system daily for $150,000 a year. It costs about $2 million to maintain the system, costs that the private owner bears. Replacing the EMI with wells would cost many multiples of those current costs.
I will not support any action to simply abandon the EMI system and let all of the water run to the ocean. That would be a disaster for Upcountry and would end any meaningful efforts to replant agriculture in the Central Valley.
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?
Assess our water situation in light of continuing droughts and determine what will be the steps necessary to assure that we will be able to maintain the potable water supply we will need for the current population.
Climate change is already affecting our rainfall levels. In January the county had to truck potable water into Nahiku (Hana District). Nahiku is usually so damp that it is synonymous with green, moldy shoes. If Nahiku is drying out, something major is up. The last thing we should do now is to make decisions based on ideological goals that do not address our future needs.
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?
The current policy of herding the homeless every couple of weeks is clearly not working.
I understand the Honolulu police and prosecutor have begun a policy of arresting meth users as a means to getting them off the street, cleaning them up and getting them into a place where they will be more responsive to services. That is a creative, responsible approach to a situation that has been allowed to fester all too long.
I believe it is also necessary to create a mental health system that includes taking people who cannot help themselves off the street and under compassionate care. If there is legal issue that precludes doing that, then the law needs to change. Very expensive but very necessary, unless you are okay with deranged or strung-out folks camped out in front of your house.
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?
I have been involved with bikeway development on Maui for 40 years. Bike paths are not an answer for most folks, but if provided the opportunity, many will use them.
Unlike the paths built in urban Honolulu, Maui still has open space to allow the development of greenways without taking away existing car lanes or parking. This will be good for the people who use them; good for traffic flow; and good for the overall planet.
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.
If the pandemic taught me anything, it was how blessed my wife and myself feel ourselves to be for finding our way to Hawaii and being able to establish our family here. No place occupied by humans can be perfect, but Hawaii – and Maui in particular — does a good job.
One thing I would change — given what we know now and the recent UHERO report — I would deregulate by half Hawaii’s very dense land use regulations. As Mayor Harris famously put it, given the current state of Hawaii’s land use regulations “any two guys and dog” could successfully block any project.
While the existing regulatory process was well intentioned, it has gone way overboard and is largely responsible for our staggering housing crisis. It is time to dial it back.
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