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 Gabe Johnson, candidate for the Maui County Council Lanai District. The other candidate is Riki Hokama.

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 Lanai District

Gabe Johnson
Party Nonpartisan
Age 49
Occupation Maui County Council member
Residence Lanai City, Lanai

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Maui County Council member, 2020-present; chair, Council Affordable Housing Committee; vice-chair, Agriculture and Public Trust Committee.

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

The two most important issues we face are getting our working folk into affordable homes and overtourism.

As chair of the Maui County Affordable Housing Committee, I have been turning the Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan into actual legislation. I wrote Bill 111 that prioritizes affordable homes to go to our locals first. I wrote Bill 61 that expanded the use of affordable housing funds.

I supported the moratorium on new hotels and I believe Lanai should be included in the moratorium.

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 subsidize responsible developers who will work with our communities. Developers tell me it cost them $500,000 to build a house at cost. With the recent action we have taken in the Affordable Housing Committee we now have the ability to use county bonds and pay off the principal and interest of those bonds with our affordable housing funds, which we increased to 7% of the total budget this year.

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?

We have a new police chief in Maui County appointed by the Maui Police Commission. Chief Pelletier has been very open and active.

I have been very impressed with the recent police action Operation Keiki Shield, which focused on protecting our children from online predators.

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 voted for the moratorium. When we look at the pre-Covid numbers, the 2019 numbers, the traffic was terrible all throughout the island of Maui and even the ferry was full to Lanai. People were everywhere.

The moratorium caps that snapshot of our economy. There is more work to do, like boosting other economies like farming.

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 don’t want the government to work in silos. I have been reaching out to various state agencies and will continue to do so. I’ve submitted HB 1440 to the state Legislature to consider raising the minimum wage. Lanai, Molokai and Hana have traditionally grouped together to make their voice heard. I support working with the state to really focus on the most rural parts of the state and find shared solutions.

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, and that is why I supported the Maui County Water Authority that the council just passed out of committee. I believe that water is a public trust. The people own the water.

The largest water users are our hotel industry. There should be more equity when it comes to water rights.

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?

I support creating LEED-certified buildings that can be subsidized through many ways. For example, a developer of affordable housing can use affordable housing funds to create LEED-certified workforce housing.

I also support managed retreat. There will be condos falling into the ocean soon.

I would also add that agriculture helps us import less products from the mainland, which means less planes and fossil fuel. We need to pivot from tourism to agriculture and find that healthy balance with community input guiding us along the way.

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?

We use the Housing First model here in Maui County. We need more homes with wrap-around services for our folks who are houseless. Bill 61 allows funds to be spent on a houselessness long-term plan — not a study, but a plan. I recently went to Helsinki to attend the International Social Housing Festival and what I came back with is that we are on the right track, but we just don’t have the capacity to take on so many folks in need.

The system is overwhelmed. We have less than five social workers on the island of Maui. Finland has one social worker per household.

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 am a big fan of the Maui Bus system. I would like to increase the number of electric buses the county uses.

It costs roughly $100,000 for the county to build a bus stop but they are very important. We need to make buses run shorter times and longer routes.

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.

I hope to create safe neighborhoods and communities that families can live, work and thrive in. I believe housing is a human right and Maui County should be doing everything possible. My goal has always been three basic principles; good jobs, in a clean environment, with a healthy economy.

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.