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 Jordan Hocker, candidate for Maui County Council Upcountry District. Her opponent is Yuki Lei Sugimura.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Maui County, and what would you do about it?
Housing is our biggest concern in Maui County. The median home price is beyond what many working-class families can afford and rental prices are soaring. Our families and retired kupuna are being displaced, either having to move off-island or ending up homeless.
The County of Maui needs to focus on building more affordable housing and prioritize getting county residents into those projects. I would make it a priority of my office to notify the public through radio ads and other means about affordable housing lotteries and upcoming projects.
To address our housing crisis, I would beef up the county’s affordable housing fund by supporting raising taxes for nonowner-occupied homes and homes valued over a particular threshold. I’d focus on moves toward sustainable water and transportation infrastructure because we cannot build more homes without addressing these needs. I’d ensure that affordable housing projects are built in safe areas not prone to fires or flooding. Our families in Maui County deserve safe, affordable housing built to the highest standards.
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 can ensure that the designations of both owner-occupied and nonowner-occupied means that any home buyers must live in the home for a set amount of time before being able to turn it into rental. I have been seeing many homes bought recently by out-of-state buyers, who immediately advertise it as a rental for the full cost of their mortgage, even worse, they’ll list just the ohana for that price.
The county must take swift action to disincentivize this kind of investment buying because it keeps housing inventory low, housing and rental costs high. If we cannot stop out-of-state buyers from buying up our housing, then they should be willing to pay into our local government and support the communities they are entering, which is why taxes for certain housing designations should be much higher.
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?
Corruption within the Maui Police Department is common knowledge. I’d like to see charges and repercussions for officers committing crimes and abusing their power. I’ll be calling our prosecutor’s office and/or the Maui Police Commission to ensure this happens. Our MPD officers should be held to a higher standard than civilians. Our former chief being allowed to retire with taxpayer-funded pension after his hit-and-run sets a very poor example.
I have had to file a complaint with the Maui Police Commission regarding officer misconduct. We need to pilot a community advocate program that is independent from the department. The complaint process against an officer can be difficult to follow without inside knowledge of the timeline or procedures. The investigation should be about discovering the truth, not protecting the officer in question. Most don’t file formal complaints because they are afraid of retaliation.
I’m hopeful for the Maui Police Department and the Maui Police Commission at this time. A change in leadership is never easy. The staffing, morale and toxic culture issues existed well before this current leadership. Our officers need an environment that will call out their best, not their worst.
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 fully support capping the number of hotel and visitor lodgings on Maui. We are an island, we cannot allow unfettered growth to the detriment of our infrastructure and quality of life. The feedback I get from many residents is that we are there already. More accommodations means more visitors.
We are at pre-pandemic numbers when it comes to visitors, so I do not believe caps will hurt the industry, instead maintain a holding pattern that gives us space to handle more pressing issues. We simply cannot handle more units than exist already. Maui County residents deserve balance.
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?
Maui County has unique needs. Each island within Maui County has unique needs. I do not feel this awareness is always taken into consideration by the governor and Legislature. I think this has partly to do with how motivated our governor, House reps and senators are to work for us when they get to Honolulu. Are we electing people who will fight for us once they get into office or will they lose focus once they get there?
I would make sure to have an open line of communication to these legislators to advocate for our needs. I am familiar with how bills move through their committees and floors and am no stranger, as a private citizen, to picking up the phone to reach out directly.
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, Maui County should do everything it can to acquire these water systems. Common sense and the visible impacts of climate change demonstrate that water is our most precious resource. Every single industry in Maui County relies on water. Our ability to successfully provide housing depends on water. Our children’s future relies on water.
Our current water management isn’t working and favors large-scale developers and land-holders over the public good. Maui County acquiring water systems like the EMI ditch system and the Wailuku water system will lend itself opportunities to remedy legally required stream flow standards that aren’t currently met and look at our management of water from a sustainable perspective based on watershed health and shoreline health.
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?
It is important to recognize that climate change has major impacts that we are currently experiencing. We are losing beaches due to sea level rise, experiencing 100-year storms yearly, summer is drought and wildfire season and we are breaking records with high temperatures. Large swathes of the islands are quickly turning to desert due to poor land management practices past and present.
Aside from acquiring privatized water systems for public benefit, we need to focus on a reforestation plan. This looks like regenerating old plantation lands and requiring large private landowners to do the same.
On the westside, before there were pineapple fields, there was dryland forest. Dryland forests, once established, are drought-resistant and can help the ground hold onto rainfall, which replenishes our aquifer and reduces runoff. They regulate the amount of moisture in the air and reduce local temperatures. We need a long-term plan to reforest using endemic plants we know contributed to a healthy environment in the past.
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 have to change our mentality. Homelessness is systemic, it is not a moral failing. Without affordable housing and without a living wage, homelessness will exist. Without proper medical care for mental health issues and substance abuse services, homelessness will continue to exist. Our current model of pushing housing first doesn’t address barriers that our unsheltered residents face to accessing those services, nor does it address our core issues in Maui County.
We need housing for people who are disabled and unable to work, we need housing for people trying to get their life back on track. Compassionate relocation (sweeps) is not a sustainable policy. Most of our homeless are local to Maui, many face discrimination from departments assigned to help. We need managed encampments. Places to access laundry, wrap around services, showers and safe places to sleep. We have to meet people where they are at because unless the housing, wages and lack of care is addressed, it will not get better.
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 believe public transportation is key. We need to expand how often our buses are running and focus on localized public transportation along certain congested stretches like South Kihei Road.
Our combined resident and visitor traffic compounds. Even one shuttle from the airport to Lahaina would take several rental cars off the road. We need to be educating visitors on their other transportation options other than renting a car, which means making sure there are accessible options from the airport to visitor areas.
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.
We need to engage youth as a countywide initiative. We have issues here that need to be addressed from one generation to the next. Our young adults want to be here with a purpose. I believe that creating programs that teach them how our government functions, what our current issues are and what’s being done to remedy them is a way to give them hope and autonomy for our future.
Whether informed or not, they feel and experience the stress we are under. We have to give them mentorship and direction that includes critical thinking and autonomy to problem solve, instead of simply plugging them into industries that don’t value change for public good or losing them to the mainland education. I would make it a top priority of my office to create youth programs that connect our next great minds with organizations in Maui County doing this work already.
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