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 Mike Victorino, candidate for Maui County mayor. His opponent is Richard Bissen.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the General Election Ballot.

Candidate for Maui County Mayor

Mike Victorino
Party Nonpartisan
Age 69
Occupation Maui County mayor
Residence Wailuku Heights

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Maui County mayor since January 2019; Maui County Council member representing Wailuku, Waihee and Waikapu for 10 years; 40 years' community service to St. Anthony Church and Knights of Columbus; youth sports coach; former director, Maui County Fair.

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

The shortage of affordable housing has driven median home prices above $1 million, while Maui County’s working families struggle to find homes they can afford to rent or purchase.

I have recommitted the County of Maui to building critical infrastructure needed to green-light approved residential housing projects already in the pipeline. For example, my administration created a public-private partnership with the developer of Waikapu Country Town to add 213 additional workforce housing units (bringing the total to 500) in exchange for Maui County’s commitment to build the new Central Maui Wastewater Reclamation plant and make road improvements.

The county is planning to build 500 more affordable rentals and attainable homes for purchase on county-owned land across the road from Waikapu Country Town.

We are also reducing regulatory barriers and delays that impede housing construction. We recently launched a web-based system to expedite permitting entirely online. We’ve introduced a new streamlined project review process called AHMN (Attainable Housing Maui Nui), in which departments meet with home-builders early to identify, and overcome, obstacles that could delay construction.

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?

Even before the pandemic, local families were being displaced by offshore investors and wealthy people moving to Maui County from the mainland. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to move freely within the nation, so legislative options are limited.

We are responding by expediting projects intended for working families. We’ve also raised real property tax rates on nonowner-occupied homes and short-term rentals, while lowering the rates for owner-occupied homes valued under a million dollars. Last year, we entered into an agreement with Expedia and Airbnb to remove listings without a county tax map key number. This helps with enforcement to curb illegal short-term rentals.

Our Fiscal Year 2023 budget contains new enforcement positions to smoke out illegal operators and penalize them. These actions, combined with a slowing economy and our plans to dramatically increase housing supply, should bring the cost of homes back down to more realistic levels.

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?

The Maui Police Department, like others across the nation, is experiencing a disturbing staff shortage. Retaining and recruiting new officers is more difficult these days, partly because of the growing risk of the job coupled with anti-police rhetoric. Fortunately, Maui County has not experienced the kind of police misconduct seen in other jurisdictions, and I want to keep it that way.

The Maui Police Commission is responsible for hiring, evaluating and if necessary, replacing the chief of police. John Pelletier, the commission’s choice for MPD’s new chief, started about six months ago. So, he is moving out of the familiarization phase and tackling challenges in order of importance. I believe it is a little premature to judge his performance or that of the Maui Police Commission.

Maui County residents deserve an effective and fully-staffed police force. As mayor, my two top priorities have always been the health and well-being of Maui County residents. Public safety requires a well-trained and well-equipped law enforcement agency that is also part of the fabric of our community.

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 believe tourism has been mostly a good thing for Maui County, but our economy is now overly dependent on the hospitality industry. So, to ensure our own financial security, we must diversify our economy to become more self-reliant. Maui County is a community first and a visitor destination second. We lost that balance, and it’s time to restore it.

That said, I do not support capping visitor lodging. Even laws with the best of intentions can affect community stability in unexpected ways. A recent example is Maui County’s 2006 law that required 50% affordable units in new housing developments. It was a well-meaning initiative that resulted in the construction of four affordable units in eight years. The quota was lowered to 25% in 2014, but not before it added to today’s severe housing shortage.

A cap on hotel rooms could have unintended consequences. Maui is consistently in the world’s top five travel destinations. Steady demand and inadequate supply could push more visitors into illegal short-term rental homes, taking away long-term rental units needed by residents. Through collaboration and dialogue, we can achieve the balance we need without severely damaging our economy.

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?

Hawaii state government is primarily focused on Oahu issues because more than 70% of the state’s population lives there. But it’s important to know that during the pandemic, the four county mayors established a much stronger influence on statewide decision-making. Today, communication between the mayors and the governor’s office is much more frequent and candid, so the neighbor islands have a stronger voice in Honolulu.

My work with the governor and state lawmakers has been productive because of open, frequent communication. Plus our Maui County legislative team works hard to advocate effectively on behalf of our residents.

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?

Water is essential for life, so the Maui County Department of Water Supply carefully manages our water resources to the extent possible. However, the State Commission on Water Resource Management has authority over the entire state’s water supply for present and future generations. The commission recently designated West Maui’s Lahaina Aquifer Sector as a Surface Water and Ground Water Management Area. The county’s water department is just one of those users, along with various legacy water operations long ago established by plantations.

Maintaining an ample water supply for residents and visitors is paramount. Yet, the pandemic and related supply chain problems emphasized the urgency for growing more of our own food locally. Since every drop of water is precious, I am working toward replacing “wastewater” with “resource water.” By redirecting treated R-1 water to agricultural and landscape irrigation, we can use more fresh water for human consumption. The planned Central Maui Wastewater Reclamation Plant near Waikapu and the County’s West Maui Reservoir will supply treated R-1 water to irrigate agriculture, landscaping and new green firebreaks to battle more frequent wildfires.

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?

Hawaii is making steady progress toward its goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045. My Office of Climate Change, Resiliency and Sustainability is currently installing a network of 14 electric vehicle charging stations to support our transition away from fossil-fuel powered vehicles. My team concentrates on climate mitigation, in addition to environmental protection, renewable energy, clean transportation, green buildings and resilient housing.

I recently spoke at the nonpartisan Climate Mayor’s Leadership Summit in Reno, Nev. Mayors are on the front lines of every crisis, so we know that climate change is here and it’s very expensive.

Sea level rise and coastal erosion are threatening a crucial portion of Honoapiilani Highway, so it must be moved inland to prevent a major washout. The Hawaii State Department of Transportation estimates the realignment will cost approximately $94 million in design and construction costs. At nearly $57,000 per Maui County resident, we couldn’t fix this without assistance with state and federal funding. This is why I decided to sue “Big Oil” companies for damages caused by their products. Our climate attorneys, working on contingency, say it’s worth pursuing even if litigation takes many years.

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?

Chronic homelessness is a multifaceted, complex problem that defies one-size-fits-all solutions. Some homeless individuals are coping with temporary financial hardship, but there are several social programs that can help get them back on their feet. Many chronically homeless people have untreated health conditions, such as mental illness, substance abuse disorders, physical disabilities or other medical conditions. Others have escaped abusive homes, while some simply choose to live outdoors unsheltered.

To break the cycle of homelessness, those who agree to assistance have access to shelter programs with wrap-around services that can help them to get into permanent, subsidized housing. We are powerless to help anyone who refuses assistance.

In January 2022, Bridging the Gap’s Homeless Point-in-Time Count estimated Maui’s homeless population to be 741 sheltered and unsheltered individuals. This reflects a downward trend from 873 homeless individuals in 2018, and 1,145 in 2016. Maui County’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns works in alignment with federal and state strategic plans to prevent and end homelessness. Because both are crucial funding sources, this approach ensures we can maximize county taxpayer funds budgeted to solve homelessness.

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 need only to look at Los Angeles for proof that building more roads doesn’t equal less traffic. Maui County residents must move away from a “one person, one car” lifestyle and move toward more public transit powered by clean energy.

The Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization works with Maui County, the Hawaii Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop short- and long-term transportation plans. Maui MPO developed Hele Mai Maui 2040, a realistic transportation plan for the next two decades. The plan was developed after more than a year of community input from more than 8,500 residents. All projects in the plan must be eligible for federal funding, so Maui County taxpayers won’t bear the burden of paying for all future transportation improvements.

The plan identifies our need for more transit-oriented development and expanding public transportation to be more convenient, comfortable and eco-friendly. It also recommends expanding safe, regional options for pedestrians and bicyclists. Although we all hate traffic, I don’t believe Maui County residents want to “pave paradise” when common-sense, environmentally responsible options are available.

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.

One of the lessons we learned from the pandemic is that technology can make international commerce more accessible than ever before. To fully participate, we must first bridge Maui County’s digital divide. Reliable high-speed internet service is as essential as running water and electricity, yet some of our rural areas still suffer with inferior internet access, or none at all.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has funds to bring Maui County’s broadband service into the 21st century. Hawaii expects to receive $90 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and more than twice that amount for the rest of the state.  My “Big Idea” is to leverage this investment by sponsoring training and infrastructure to expand marketing and sales of “Made in Maui” products. Through partnerships with online retail portals and regional shipping providers, residents of Hana, Molokai, Lanai and other rural areas in our county can launch lucrative businesses from their kitchen tables.

I am inspired by Vietnam’s “economic miracle” that came from their new entrepreneurial internet economy driven, in part, by steady growth in the e-commerce sector.

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