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 Tamara Paltin, candidate for the Maui County Council West Maui District. The other candidate is Justin Hermann.

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 West Maui District

Tamara Paltin
Party Nonpartisan
Age 44
Occupation Maui County Council member, former ocean safety lieutenant
Residence Napili, Maui

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

President, Save Honolua Coalition; former president, West Maui Preservation Association; Hawaiian Lifeguard Association; American Red Cross CPR/lifeguard instructor.

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

Quality of life and affordability for the working class is the biggest issue facing Maui County. The disparity between wages and cost of living is growing beyond what local residents can keep up with and we are feeling the strain of ohana moving away for opportunity elsewhere, of not being able to recruit and retain a qualified workforce and of general despair.

From the perspective of a county legislator, I will continue to work with the administration, community and legitimate developers to continue dialogue on better housing solutions, and work to fund the affordable housing fund in a way that can fund infrastructure for needed affordable and workforce housing projects that if sold, will be owner-occupied in perpetuity and not for speculation, thereby helping to build communities and not just housing.

Community planning also has a big role to play in setting the policies and growth that each community wants to see as to quality of life and as the chair of the Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee I am committed to continue updating community plans in a timely manner.

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?

I have introduced legislation to make affordable/workforce housing projects have a longer deed-restricted affordability period and be owner-occupied in perpetuity, thus cutting down on speculation. The council already created a long-term rental tax classification and exemption and we are currently trying to raise awareness and get more people to take advantage of that tax classification as an incentive.

Honing in on that solution, next we need to ensure that the rent is either market rate or below and goes to our local residents in order to receive the benefit. The next step would be to dissuade speculation, second-home ownership, fractional second-home ownership, etc., through property tax increases, and use those funds to further fund the affordable housing fund.

4. 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 Maui Police Commission recently selected a new police chief through a very transparent process, which I supported. This past budget cycle we authorized funding for more police body-cams also to increase transparency. The Maui Police Department has been short-staffed for a long time and with the challenges of the pandemic, housing and affordability, that only got worse.

I see the new police chief is working on instituting some changes, which is not easy and there has been public pushback from the department. I have seen some positive change as well, such as more focus on patrol, more community outreach and a number of public drug busts. Overall, I think it is still a bit early to evaluate the new leadership at the Police Department, there was a lot of room to improve when the new leadership took over and for the most part I believe that progress is being made.

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. Our island resources and infrastructure are currently struggling to accommodate the existing visitor industry and residents right now; and many of our visitor accommodations are in the sea level rise exposure area. By capping visitor accommodations at the current level, we can turn the right to have a visitor accommodation into a commodity that can help fund and drive managed retreat and a new construction program that could give incentives to entities willing to pursue the most sustainable standards in building construction and partner on much-needed expanded infrastructure.

The priority to me is finding the right balance between our resources, our residents and the tourism industry; a balance that enhances our quality of life rather than detracts from it.

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?

To some extent the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of Maui County, but nowhere near the level that they focus on Honolulu and Oahu. I have been an alternate member of the Hawaii State Association of Counties since my first term in office and I have participated in many of the meetings even when our permanent member attends. I have tried to introduce legislation at the state level through both the Maui County and HSAC packages and track those issues during the legislative session.

This election year our district Senate and representative members will be new because the incumbents are stepping down from their respective offices and I will do my best to work with them to represent Maui County issues at the state level.

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, as we see with the EMI issues, we are facing the risk of a foreign entity controlling our water resources with minimal oversight in terms of maintaining the system for the next 30 years. The Wailuku Water System, although critical to the county, has a questionable future as well.

In the Agriculture and Public Trust Committee, we received presentations about water authority structures and their access to federal funding. Water is such a critical resource to all life on Maui, we cannot leave things to chance or to foreign, for-profit corporations; we need to take a more active role, especially as we experience more severe droughts due to climate change.

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 propose setting up a managed retreat fund with a percentage of the new Maui County Transient Accommodation Tax to prepare for the expenses we will incur in having to move county infrastructure outside of the sea level rise areas and to help those willing to retreat before their structures fall into the ocean.

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?

With the current shortages in available rental units, we are at a crisis level in terms of homelessness increasing. I think that all viable options should be explored including managed encampments on county-owned properties, safe sleeping parking options and expanding outreach programs.

To expand on low income and affordable housing options, the county should categorize all county owned lands based on ability to be developed for low income housing. We also need to work with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to develop needed housing for beneficiaries.

While I am not willing to house our residents on lands zoned for heavy industrial uses, I would like to work with owners of long empty retail spaces to see if those areas can be repurposed and if necessary pursue changes in zoning to allow for multi-family dwellings.

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?

Decreasing highway funds are a big problem when it comes to addressing traffic issues as more people make the switch to electric or hybrid vehicles or work from home, less revenue is collected through gas tax and motor vehicle registration to fund transportation and traffic projects.

Hawaii road use charge could be a solution, but it will not be implemented this year. One interim solution is to designate a percentage of Maui County Transient Accommodation Tax to the county’s highway fund to be able to plan more projects.

Another solution that I have advocated for was a tiered registration fee, so those who cause more impact to traffic pay more so that we may be able to do more traffic mitigation projects with the increased revenue. Part of the problem with being able to implement that is the state’s outdated vehicle registration information gathering. I would work with state officials to get more information so those that impact traffic more would pay their fair share to support solutions.

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 put more of a focus on sustainability, health care and education. Communication, creating and retaining the best educators for all aspects of island life are key. If there is one thing that I personally have learned from the pandemic it is that we are all in this together. Regardless of our own personal beliefs, at the end of the day we share the planet and we are all interconnected. We may disagree, have radically different beliefs, but when all is said and done, we have to live with one another and so instead of focusing on our differences we need to pull together on common ground and lift up our community as a whole.

My one big idea for Maui County is to re-imagine our toilets. New developments should utilize composting toilet technology that can create locally made compost to be utilized as non-petroleum-based fertilizer, thus cutting down on imports and cutting down on potable water usage. In order to make this happen we need to work with the Department of Health to regulate and allow it locally.

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