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 Robin Knox, candidate for Maui County Council South Maui District. Her opponent is Tom Cook.

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 South Maui District

Robin Knox
Party Nonpartisan
Age 65
Occupation Environmental scientist, small business owner
Residence Kihei, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Board member, Maui Tomorrow; founder Maui Nui Marine Resource Council Clean Water Committee; member, Maui Coral Recovery Team; established water quality program, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and served on Water Quality Working Group; adviser, DIRE Coalition and member of its Community Wastewater Working Group; participant, Share Your Mana to assist houseless residents; board member, Learning Endeavors.

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

Climate change is the biggest issue facing Maui County; however, housing is the most urgent problem. I will work to implement provisions of the Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan, including developing 5,000 affordable housing units in five years for the income ranges where housing is most needed (50% of units for <50% AMI).

I support use of the Affordable Housing Fund and federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds to finance water, wastewater and transportation infrastructure needed to support affordable housing development, and the use of county-owned land for development of affordable housing.

I would examine the zoning code and the planning and permitting process to identify and remove inefficiency that unnecessarily raises the cost of development. I support using bond issues to support development of affordable housing, and allocation of property tax revenues to repay the bonds. I would establish residency requirements for county-supported affordable units and require units to remain affordable in perpetuity. I would seek enforcement of fair housing and fair lending laws including having greater choice of mortgage lenders.

I support updating the county’s rent and sales price guidelines to promote equity and access to affordable mortgage financing for all residents.

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?

Maui County can continue the process begun in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to increase property taxes on luxury homes, nonowner-occupied homes and short-term vacation rentals. The increased tax revenue should go to the Affordable Housing Fund to build essential first homes for Maui County residents. I would propose that nonowner-occupied homes could be exempted or pay reduced taxes if they are rented long-term (minimum one year) and rents meet affordability guidelines set by the county.

These measures should reduce the number of people buying second or third homes here because of our low property taxes, or speculative investors seeking short-term vacations rentals or exploiting our housing shortage for excessive profit.

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?

Our Police Department is not operating satisfactorily. It was disappointing that a chief was brought in from out of state. The department has 100 vacancies, and low morale is leading more than one-third of current officers to consider leaving the department, according to a recent survey by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

The Maui Police Department has also been widely criticized by advocates of victims of crime who say their cases are mishandled and that victims and their families are not kept informed about the investigation of their cases. We have a large number of unsolved missing persons cases. These are all signs of a department that is not functioning to serve the community or its own employees.

I would propose an audit of the department, and a plan to address any deficiencies. To improve the connection to and oversight of the department by the community, I would propose that the commission should be made up of individuals who represent the diversity of Maui County in terms of demographics such as gender, ethnicity, age, residential district and income level. I would propose that the council nominate five of the members and the mayor nominate four.

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 support a moratorium on construction of new hotels or other visitor accommodations until the goals of the Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan are met. Until we have provided housing inventory that our residents can afford, there should be no dedication of our development resources to luxury or nonessential building. Building visitor accommodations uses the same resources (infrastructure, work force, planning and permitting staff) that are needed to build essential residential housing.

I also support a cap on the number of visitor accommodations unless there is a demonstrated need for more. Our number of visitors already exceeds what is allowed by the Maui Island Plan, so at this time there is no demonstrated need to create more visitor accommodations given that we need to reduce the number of visitors.

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?

The Legislature is definitely Oahu-centric. I would establish formal liaisons between County Council, Maui’s representatives and senators, and chairs of legislative committees.

I would request that virtual participation by legislative members and the public be allowed to continue to foster closer relationship of Maui County residents to the 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?

I support greater control of Maui’s water resources by Maui County. The county has long abdicated the resource management to the state, who has awarded legally questionable permits that allow private entities to control the water.

Whether it be through acquisition of watershed lands, or formation of a water authority, or a combination of measures, it is imperative that Maui County be able to protect our water resources and ensure our future water supply.

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? 

Climate change is happening, and the impacts are already clear to Maui County residents. Flooding, coastal erosion, drought and wildfire threaten human health and safety and cause damage to farms, ranches, businesses and property. Maui County has already done the first thing, which is to establish the Office of Climate Change, Resiliency, and Sustainability.

Maui County should pursue climate mitigation and decarbonization, and climate resilience and adaptation. Every decision and action made by the county should be filtered through these lenses. Asking the tough questions on every decision will bring to light the policies that are needed to proactively cope with climate change.

Policies and projects for managed retreat of essential county infrastructure need to be the highest priority for council consideration.

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 should take actions to keep people from becoming homeless by having more human services such as mental health services, substance abuse and addiction treatment, domestic violence shelters, financial aid to those with sudden or temporary loss of income, and mediation with landlords to avoid people losing housing.

Getting the unhoused population housed will take multiple levels of actions. We need an adequate number of beds for emergency shelters. When there are not enough shelter beds, we need secure managed encampments with safe places for people to cook, camp, take showers, charge electronics, and for people living in their cars to park overnight. Programs for providing shelter need to have easier entry requirements — high requirements for entry keep people on the streets who would rather be in shelter.

The shelters need to meet the needs of the unhoused community, meaning allow pets, allow medical cannabis, have Housing First options for addicts, and don’t require splitting up families to provide shelter. Our emergency response should be the same as it would be in a natural disaster. Get people to a safe place with shelter, food and water first, then work on longer-term solutions to move them into housing.

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?

A robust public transportation system is a high priority. There is a need for more frequent times to catch the bus and more direct routes. A study should be done to identify the needs for workforce transportation so that routes do not limit where and what time people can work using public transportation. Visitor-oriented shuttles in areas like Lahaina and Kihei could reduce traffic congestion.

Measures to limit the number of rental cars should be considered. Traffic impacts should be examined more closely when approving development to ensure there is adequate infrastructure. Models used in the past have not proven to be accurate predictors of traffic. Infrastructure-impacted climate change should be a high priority to address to assure the safety of Maui County residents.

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.

The best thing that came out of our pandemic experience is the realization of how much can be done virtually. We have proven it can be done and should not abandon it as Covid-19 cases decline. Remote working keeps cars off of our roadways and reduces carbon emissions. Having County Council meetings remotely allows greater public participation and also reduces traffic and carbon emissions. Remote working where possible also serves to protect people from spreading disease.

Remote options are a valuable tool in our climate mitigation and decarbonization efforts and can increase our resiliency and adaptation when there are climate-induced disruptions of transportation, infrastructure and services, or future pandemics.

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