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 Shane Sinenci, candidate for Maui County Council East Maui District. His opponent is Claire Carroll.

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 East Maui District

Shane Sinenci
Party Nonpartisan
Age 55
Occupation Maui County Council member
Residence Hana


Community organizations/prior offices held

Maui County Council member, 2019-present; 'Aha Moku Councils; Hana Community Association; Hana Advisory Committee. 

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

The biggest issue is food security. In the most isolated group of islands in the world, we should be able to feed ourselves should the ships ever stop importing the majority of our food. The pandemic was an eye-opener to how global events could affect us negatively.

I proposed the first-ever countywide Department of Agriculture. With this new department, we can now begin investing in agriculture infrastructure, begin planning for USDA processing plants, and diversifying our economy by producing agriculture products, using agriculture byproducts for pet foods and building materials, and implementing regenerative practices like composting for carbon sequestration and overall soil health.

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 council currently increased the residential home exemption tax to $300,000 in response to the property valuation increase. To place more local families into homes, the council can create policies that address long-term residents as a priority over outside buyers who recently moved here, and they can subsidize carrying costs for new homebuyers with funds from the Affordable Housing Fund.

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?

One option is to have the County Council, which is more evenly represented throughout the nine districts of the county, approve the police chief appointment.

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?

Yes, I do, the Maui Island plan states that there be a 1:3 ratio of visitors to residents. With 80,000 visitors on any given day, we have surpassed that number; enough to affect the quality of life for residents living in the county.

Our over-reliance on tourism was evident during the pandemic when the shutdown caused economic devastation. We have learned that we cannot rely on the luxury home industry to fix our affordable homes’ crises, but with a moratorium on new visitor accommodations, we hope to focus the building industry on much-needed housing for our workforce on the island, as our main priority.

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 think Maui County is ahead of the state legislature when it comes to government transparency and the Sunshine Law.

All issues in Maui County must be approved and agendized seven days in advance for public notice, and all decisions must be made in a public forum with public testimony. However, the State legislature is not held to those same rules. If the committees do not have the necessary votes, they are not required to hold a meeting!

I personally feel that campaign donations should be restricted prior to having representatives vote on issues and topics that may easily sway them in one direction.

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, The demands of climate change, agriculture and population rise require us to. Water is held as a public trust in the Hawaii state constitution, and as public servants, we have a responsibility to uphold that trust.

Thirty years is just too long to have our most precious resource controlled by a foreign, for-profit entity, and if that corporation is sold, what then?

A county-run water authority will operate independently of the Department of Water Supply and would manage the watershed that feeds the delivery system for county use. The current leaseholders have failed to fix the old plantation system, and with county support, we can begin modernizing the system for more efficiency.

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?

Move Honoapiilani Highway mauka out of the SLR-XA projections, begin construction on the South Maui North-South connector road and plan for smaller district sewage plants inland in anticipation of sea level rise.

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?

It will take a community effort to address our homeless problem; including such agencies as Veterans’ Affairs, Aloha mental health services, community church groups, and the Department of Housing and Human Concerns. However, some critical systemic changes need to be made before doing this:

-— Decriminalize the homeless in county parks and release the fines that clog up the judicial system.

— Begin an inventory of those homeless on DHHL lists, veterans, mentally ill, drug addictions and single mothers with children, for better appropriations.

— Bifurcate the Housing and Human Concerns department, for more focus and efficiency.

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

Raising rental car taxes wouldn’t make much sense if the rental car agencies will just transfer those costs onto their customers. Besides carpooling, some businesses could adjust their work hours to have workers commute during less congested hours or offer work-from-home options.

I was happy to support the Ho’omahua Initiative during this last budget session, which would manage overly-popular sites by implementing a digital phone app that informs visitors of traffic numbers at specific sites, and by offering alternate sites in the vicinity to possibly visit instead.

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, 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.

My One Big Idea would be to re-imagine the Hawaii Tourism Bureau, toward a more sustainable model that ensures a quality of life for our Hawaii residents.

I have appropriated funds to hire an FAA lobbyist in Washington to begin discussions with the airline industry; on whether to limit seat capacity, encourage safety videos on all incoming flights, and redirect flight paths away from heavily populated neighborhoods.

Our new focus should be appealing to visitors who appreciate our unique and endemic environments not found anywhere else in the world. With the impending dangers of sea-level rise and with an effort to instill ancient sustainable practices, the newly imagined Tourism Bureau would promote more eco-tourism models where visitors have a chance to plant native trees in our watersheds and help rid invasive species from our marine estuaries along the coastlines.

A similar model is already being established in the Galapagos Islands, and this messaging will encourage visitors to better appreciate our island home.

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