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 Noelani Ahia, candidate for the Maui County Council Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu District. The other candidate is Alice Lee.

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 Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu District

Noelani Ahia
Party Nonpartisan
Age 47
Occupation Acupuncturist/herbalist
Residence Wailuku, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Mauna Medic Healers Hui, co-founder; Mālama Kakanilua, former board member; Kia’i Kaua’ula, frontline organizer; houseless advocate.

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

There are so many troubling issues but my biggest concern at this moment is the influx of people moving to Hawaii who are exacerbating the housing crisis and displacing local people, especially kanaka maoli.

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 de-incentivize individual non-local buyers but also address the corporate investors who are buying up real estate at unprecedented speed. This issue is happening on the continent as well and our local government needs to create stricter regulations and consider a new tax structure to make purchasing here much less appealing.

I don’t believe interstate laws allow us to stop the practice completely so we need to be creative in our approach. The real estate industry also will require regulations as they are the intermediary between the investor and the sellers. They have been profiting off the displacement of local people for too long and there needs to be a serious conversation about the damage the industry has done and their contribution to drive up housing prices.

Folks need to decide if they are helping or harming this place we all love. If they are uncertain they should ask someone genealogically tied to the land. The bigger “elephant in the room” issue is the unresolved political status of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the ongoing illegal occupation which supports the settler state and its obligations to keep the borders open to continental buyers.

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?

Reforming law enforcement is not enough. The funding needs to be shifted to health, well-being and preventive programs that keep more of the population in circumstances where they are less likely to be involved with crime, including being housed, thus decreasing the need for policing. The police are set up to protect the state’s interests, despite the narrative that they exist to protect the people. If that were true our houseless communities wouldn’t be targeted for criminalization and we wouldn’t have disproportionate kanaka maoli and other Pacific Islanders being incarcerated in the school-to-prison pipeline.

A good deal of what police do would be better handled by trauma-informed crises workers who have extensive training in de-escalation. The places where police work and investigation is more appropriate need to have the long-standing corruption rooted out. The Police Commission has room for improvement. They need more decolonized kanaka maoli on the commission to ensure better representation due to the disproportionate number of kanaka maoli who are regularly criminalized.

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 do support capping the number of hotels and visitor lodgings and at the same time the county needs to continue to enforce the laws regarding illegal vacation rentals so that the moratorium doesn’t inadvertently drive visitors to unpermitted accommodations.

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?

It is my experience that the governor and the Legislature are somewhat Oahu-centric. The county needs to build better transparent relationships with the governor and the Legislature and bring them to Maui to hear from the people directly so they know who they are impacting when they vote.

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, I support a community-based water board that is administered by the county. Plantation-era politics, especially when it comes to wai, or fresh water, need to be dismantled and control put back in the hands of the kuleana landowners, the kalo farmers, etc., the folks who actually malama the wai.

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? 

Stop concretizing the island and get a better handle on inappropriate development that doesn’t follow a circular economy principle. One aspect of that is wai. We should not be building if there is not adequate amounts of water (wai.) Climate change will only exacerbate the droughts.

Also, reforestation is going to be an important part of improving the watershed and thus recharging the aquifers. Overall we need to shift to a circular economy so we can not only be self-sustainable, but we can cut down on the factors that contribute to climate change.

We also need to call back home all of our brilliant young people who have moved to the continent due to the high cost of living, especially those who study environmental sciences, and pair them with kanaka maoli wisdom-keepers. The people are going to be the answer but it’s going to require good communication skills and cooperation. We all need to work on that as surviving climate disaster may rely entirely on the pilina, or relationships we all have to our neighbors.

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 need managed encampments now. Pu’uhonua o Waianae on Oahu is a hugely successful model. I visited there last fall with some other houseless advocates on Maui and was beyond impressed. There is no good reason not to create that kind of safety here.

In addition, it’s time to utilize the experimental housing fund that the county has already created. The possibilities for creating more holistic communities that will put roofs over people’s heads are endless. This fund allows us to stretch outside of the regular permitting regulations in terms of quantity of units allowed, to allow for unique dwellings. Not everyone needs or wants a big house or even an isolating apartment.

There are models we can use that utilize tiny houses with shared bathrooms and commercial kitchens with community gardens and small health centers. We also have to address the varied needs of our houseless residents based on their personal circumstances. Many are recently unhoused and can quickly jump back into “regular” housing. Others, who may be chronically unsheltered and thus highly traumatized, as well as folks with special needs, need more than simply housing.

We need a nuanced and compassionate approach to folding our unsheltered folks into our communal lives. The biggest need is for them to be seen and their humanity acknowledged.

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?

We definitely need to increase bus usage and more routes and stops are necessary. We can incentivize and subsidize to get more folks using it. We also need to decrease the number of rental cars. And of course continue to work to control tourist numbers — they are a large contributor to our traffic issue.

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.

Shut it down! This is the dream! We were able to take a collective breath and we saw life returning in ways we thought we had lost. We need to work toward finding creative solutions to limit how many people can come visit and move here.

Honestly, if we are serious about sustainability and being prepared for any number of potential future crises, we need to move toward a subsistence economy based on traditional kanaka maoli values paired with innovation. The county could fund programs to provide everyone (and pay cultural practitioners for their work) with the opportunity and tools to grow food, catch water, grow medicines, etc. We are too dependent on a fragile grid. We need to know our neighbors, know who has what skills, and build communities of care and mutual aid. E Ola!

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