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 Kelly King, candidate for Maui County mayor. The other candidates are Cullan Bell, Richard Bissen, Kim Brown, Alana Kay, Jonah Lion, Mike Molina and Mike Victorino.

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

Candidate for Maui County Mayor

Kelly King
Party Nonpartisan
Age 62
Occupation Maui County Council member
Residence Kihei

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance; Hawaii Energy Policy Forum; Hui Malama Learning Center board; UH Maui College Sustainable Sciences Management Advisory Council; Maui High School Community-Based Management board; Girl Scout leader, Kula School troop; Maui Farmers Union board; AKAKU board; High Technology Development Corporation (governor-appointed); Maui Nui Food Alliance Steering Committee; Local Government Advisory Committee to U.S. EPA; Hawaii State Board of Education, Maui representative  (1994-98); Maui County Council (current, third term).

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

So many of our issues are interrelated, but if I were to distill it down, I’d pinpoint affordable housing.

When I first took office, my experience and instinct told me that the biggest barrier was getting developers to communicate with the communities they were trying to develop. I’ve been able to prove out that theory by instigating the communication, getting developers to compromise on their designs and seeing the community come out in strong support of the affordable/workforce housing projects that have been approved in my district since I took office on County Council.

We now have multiple projects in South Maui targeting the lowest-income brackets (60% AMI and below), seniors, rentals and home ownership starting at $395,000.

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?

Continue to subsidize affordable housing, develop infrastructure at a faster pace, and work with our communities and developers to develop mutually supported models. The council has also boldly raised property taxes on nonowner-occupied properties and given tax credits to landlords who rent long-term rather than short-term for vacation rentals.

We’ve gotten a lot of criticism for these tax increases, but the reality is that we’ve had such low property taxes for the last few decades that folks from out-of-state could make their payments on Maui properties with the tax savings (over what they would pay for vacation homes in other states).

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?

I’m not satisfied with the relationship (or lack thereof) between the administration, the Police Commission, the Police Department and the public. We need to have more transparency, more public input and more discourse on a regular basis between the commission and administration. All minutes of such meetings should be made public!

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?

I would support it if we have action on the budget item I proposed for Fiscal Year 2023 to create an implementable plan to diversify the economy. While the moratorium won’t reduce the current job availability, we need to plan for our growing community and make sure to replace future job opportunities.

As an employer myself who provides family wage-earning jobs with full benefits, I believe diversifying the economy will create higher-level job and career opportunities so folks don’t have to work two, three or even four low-wage jobs just to make ends meet.

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 council member and vice president of the Hawaii State Association of Counties, I collaborate often with state departments such as DOT and DLNR, have been intently involved in legislative lobbying for our county and HSAC legislative proposals and have been meeting with DOH and EPA officials through my appointed position on the Local Government Advisory Committee to the EPA.

As mayor, I would continue and strengthen these and other collaborations to make sure Maui is top of mind for the governor and Legislature.

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?

Absolutely! We need to have county control over our water delivery resources and local management to focus on repair and maintenance, to stop unnecessary leakage and develop water storage to capture stormwater for future use.

Local farmers, DHHL homesteads and affordable housing should be top priorities for water usage. Also, county control can ensure fairer, more consistent water use fees for our local population.

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 should be developing decentralized facilities such as modular, mobile wastewater treatment units and distributed renewable power generation outside of the sea level rise exposure area so we won’t be at risk of centralized facilities going down and affecting the entire county.

We also need to develop a renewable energy portfolio based on science and technology readiness data while investing in expansion of Maui’s EV charging system and monitoring our own facilities to reduce water and energy use (per the ordinance I proposed which passed the council second reading earlier this year).

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?

First, identify those who want housing now and provide them with compassionate county-funded care workers to refer them to services and facilities.

We can make a real dent in this problem if we change our attitude from thinking that assistance equals enabling, and if we approach houselessness with the attitude that, as long as we’re not dealing with “tourists” who come here to live on the beach, these folks are valued residents of Maui who need compassion and opportunities to lift themselves up.

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?

First, coordinate construction projects so we don’t have extensive rerouting happening on major roads/highways at the same time. Also, I’m currently helping to fund (along with my colleagues from East Maui and West Maui who have designated part of their district funds) a pilot project Smart Tourism App to alert tourists to areas that are crowded so they can plan to avoid them during peak hours.

The longer-range plans which need expediting are redesigning for multi-modal corridors, planned for major thoroughfares such as Kaahumanu Avenue and Kihei’s North-South Collector Road, developing safer, walkable and bike-able areas, along with increasing ridership on our buses. We should be recognizing bicyclists and bus riders as champions of our community efforts to reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

It’s hard to know how to change the way things were done previously when we don’t know who was making the decisions or why. More than anything, we need a transparent, multi-stakeholder task force that can review the information and deliberate together. They may not always agree with each other, but all opinions should have a chance to weigh in.

The same goes for the spending of federal funds that come in as pandemic aid — those decisions should be made by a transparent, multi-stakeholder task force and the funding awarded through open-process requests for proposals. The public deserves to know who is on these task forces and why they were chosen.

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