Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 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 John Pele, candidate for the Maui County Council Molokai District. The other candidate is Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.

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

Candidate for Maui County Council Molokai District

John Pele
Party Nonpartisan
Age 56
Occupation Resident manager, business owner
Residence Molokai

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Molokai Planning Commission, 2017-2022.

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

Housing opportunities for our residents is still our biggest problem. We have to stop finding excuses to not address this problem and start taking action to solve it. Maui County has very strict regulatory building processes for good reason. However, this process typically takes years to go through at a very high cost for developers. Legislators need to find ways to address this issue.

Additional costs to developers includes the responsibility to build the offsite infrastructure to a development site. Roads, water and sewer being some examples. All of these factors borne by the developers result in the passing on of these costs to homebuyers driving up the price of a home.

It seems the relationship between government and developers has soured over time and I believe this has caused a disservice to our residents. If we are going to provide housing opportunities, we will need developers to build them. I would target legislation that would allow the government to share responsibility of these costs to bring down the cost of building homes. Our residents must be the priority in discussions for future housing opportunities.

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?

With the current $1.2 billion county budget recently passed, I recognize the property tax revenue that market value homes represent as a revenue source. That is a revenue source that will continue to be important. Nonetheless, our county needs to put political bantering aside and form positive relationships between private and public sectors to solve this problem. Villainizing entities will not resolve any issues.

The county needs to enact legislation that will address the overall costs of developing houses. Period.

We need to sit with our development professionals in the community and solve how we can get homes built for our residents that they can afford. More importantly, we need to create ways to ensure those houses remain in residents’ ownership, avoiding speculation. That will definitely prove to be challenging, but it is imperative to restore balance to our housing crises.

Government bonding on projects, leasehold options and land trust options all have been discussed for many years with no commitment to move forward. It’s time to move forward on some of these ideas to get housing built for our residents to live in. Let’s leave no stone unturned in finding solutions to this problem.

3. In recent years, there 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 Police Commission?

The council reviews police commissioners for appointment. The process needs to be transparent and individuals appointed need to be selected by their ability to perform their functions as spelled out in our County Charter. If there is dissatisfaction on the commission’s scope of oversight, then charter amendments need to be established to provide a broader scope of review by the commission.

In 2021, the commission selected a new chief for the Maui Police Department. The current police administration now has a responsibility to perform to the highest standard and establish positive relationships within the community and among their workforce.

Conversely, I believe reciprocity from our community in this regard is just as important. Many of our social problems are often viewed as police problems, when in reality, they are community problems. We need to work together to form a unified front to address these problems, especially in small rural communities as in Maui County.

At the end of the day, our dedicated police officers are our friends and family members. As a council member, I would be dedicated to seeking funding so our police officers have the necessary tools, training and facilities to perform their jobs successfully.

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?

The hospitality industry will bring $400 million to Maui County through property taxes and TAT taxes in 2022-2023. That is 33% of the overall budget that provides our taxpayer services. More specifically, it was noted by our current council that over 80% of the property taxes will come from visitor accommodations.

Construction of new hotels is certainly a topic that needs to be scrutinized in detail, particularly considering water and land usage. I don’t believe capping is a viable permanent option because firstly, it could impact a recognized crucial revenue stream and secondly, I don’t believe we can control people from coming to Maui County.

I believe that the county still has an illegal short-term rental problem, and if we take away the ability to have visitors stay in designated accommodations, they will end up in our communities and affecting areas that residents often enjoy uninterrupted by tourists. We need continued focus on the illegal short-term rental problem to direct our visitors into accommodations that were designed for them to stay in.

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 believe the governor and the Legislature take their responsibilities to the entire state seriously and try to address concerns to every island. I do think that more populated areas will get more attention, which is why it is important for our local representatives to establish relationships that allow them to bring resources to their respective districts.

It would be important for me as a local representative to work diligently at making sure my districts are represented fairly throughout our government.

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

It is important for Maui County to have the ability to manage resources that fall under their purview. Much effort should be put forth to repair our current infrastructure. The state has control over water resources such as allocations regardless of who owns that water system.

As a public trust, we should be trying to collaboratively find ways for the state and county to manage the resource to positively affect the entire community using best practices toward protection and conservation. We need to start being collaborative vs. combative in these discussions. If we are going to address housing for our residents, it will not happen without available water sources.

 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?

Our shoreline setbacks need to be increased to address future building concerns. We have all the evidence we need to establish policies to protect shorelines from future development.

We also must get serious about our 2045 state renewable energy goals if we want to get that accomplished. Clean energy projects of scale need to be brought to the table to help address our carbon footprint.

8. It is 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?

Once again we are faced with an issue that is tied to lack of housing in Maui County. Sadly, this is a nationwide problem as well. There is no one solution to the problem. What needs to change is our willingness to create legislation to solve these issues.

I thought the recent Bill 82 that was introduced by the Maui County administration was a bold and creative way to address our housing issues. It would have allowed for certain industrial areas to have the ability to build apartments. A plus is that many of these areas already have the infrastructure built. If elected, I would want to pursue similar legislation.

This is the creative window we need to be opening to address these issues. Some areas might be conducive to build complete transitional shelters with buildings to provide much-needed services to individuals to help them stay housed. Opportunities for county, state and federal funding could prove to be promising. Of course there would be details to hammer out to make sure areas are suitable for development, but those conversations need to be had.

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

For the county the goal should be to focus on increased ridership of our public transportation system.  Increase the accessibility and ease of using our public transportation. Perhaps even looking at increasing access for communities with smaller buses to gain ridership.

Also, it would behoove our community to recognize their role in our traffic problems. On a daily basis, it is not unusual to see the majority of vehicles on the road with single ridership. This equates to more vehicles on the roads and more traffic overall. So there are many dynamics to this problem that can’t be addressed by legislation alone but I believe continued dialogue on this subject will help move our community in a positive direction.

Any future planned communities need to be designed with a footprint that allows for residents to have access to amenities like stores, health providers parks, and schools that allow for walking or biking. These amenities along with designating parcels of land within these communities for agriculture to promote farm-to-community relationships allows people to not have to drive away from their communities for such services. It will also promote buying local for our economy.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’ structure and systems fro 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 specific.

If I had the opportunity to reinvent Hawaii it would be to address the shortfalls we have created in housing/economic opportunities for our residents who grew up here, and who want to stay here because this is where they are from. However, current unattainable housing options will not allow that to happen. We need to focus on fixing our old problems. Our current housing problems were evident decades ago and we have failed to address them.

I know I am not alone, but my only child who was born here, raised here and educated here no longer calls Hawaii home. In her words she left to “find a better life” because she couldn’t afford to stay here. It is a travesty and I struggle to imagine a better life than in Hawaii. Instead, my grandchildren learn their Hawaiian heritage and culture via zoom from 4,500 miles away. She once told me “it is what it is Dad, you gotta get over it.”

I cannot and will not get over it. It is unacceptable for us to keep allowing this to happen. We need change now.

Support nonprofit, independent journalism.

During this election season, we hope that our coverage provides you with the information to make informed decisions on issues that you care deeply about.

Whether it’s affordable housing, education or the environment, these issues depend on your vote, and our ability to report on them depends on your support.

Every contribution, however big or small, allows us to continue keeping readers informed through election day and beyond. So, if you found value in our coverage, please take the next step by making a contribution to Civil Beat today.