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 Richard Bissen, candidate for Maui County mayor. His opponent is Mike Victorino.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Maui County, and what would you do about it?
The biggest issue facing our county is housing for residents. The solution will require leadership from the executive branch, including all directors involved in the permitting process required to meet with the developer at the same time to offer all of their comments to avoid delays occurring between planning to completion. My chief of staff will give me a weekly “aging” report on progress being made on every “affordable” or workforce development project.
The five-step plan includes:
— Taking inventory of available lands for building homes.
— Requiring the county to pay for infrastructure (roads, water, sewer) for building new homes or redevelopment projects.
— Requiring buyers to qualify for a homeowner’s exemption (declaration of residing in the home as primary residence) for the property in perpetuity.
— Offering financial literacy programs for new homeowners.
— Seek out and work with loan companies for favorable interest rates for the entire housing project.
These steps are designed to help drive down the cost of housing and to help direct where development occurs in the county. This plan is intended to benefit residents in this county.
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 pandemic has escalated a decade-long national trend of corporations buying up owner-occupied homes and turning them into rentals. It’s a legal practice, so while we cannot prevent it outright we can curb it to make Maui County more affordable for local families. We can make it unlawful to solicit offers without residents’ permission (direct mail, knocking on doors, phone calls), require more transparency from limited liability companies that are purchasing homes to make them more accountable, and require landlord registrations for property owners and landlords that increase rent above 5% per year.
It may also be that the rise of the market is not due to the out-of-state sales but rather the possible pressures caused by the pandemic forcing people to sell before they lose their homes, selling due to the height of the market and positioning, refinancing and taking advantage of the home’s equity, and inflation, which may have forced the sale of a new home to be more expensive.
The county and its voters may also consider adopting a residency requirement of two to five years before being eligible to purchase a home in Maui County. We are in a crisis and must consider all alternatives in order to benefit our current residents and future generations.
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?
All facets of government should always strive towards efficient reform in operations, personnel education, equipment, technology and services. The Maui Police Department is no exception. A respected, well-run and trusted police department is one of the most important components of a democracy.
I will strive to work with the appointed police chief, the men and women of the department and the Maui Police Commission to ensure that the public’s safety and best interest is kept at the forefront. I will set a weekly meeting with the police chief to discuss pending issues.
The national media narrative is a driving force behind police reform perspectives; however, empirical, scientific, measurable data does not support “mass” police misconduct and/or “systemic” issues in Maui County.
In fact, the Maui Police Department was the first law enforcement agency in Hawaii to attain national accreditation through the Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agency (CALEA) a gold standard in public safety measures. Many of these standards are already mandated policy in the Maui Police Department and cover all of the issues that the national media and police reform advocates have been stressing.
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 the Maui, Molokai and Lanai destination management plans that were created by each respective island community. Also known as the Maui Nui Destination Management Plan 2021-23, there was input from all stakeholders and industries throughout the community in the development of this plan.
I recognize that tourism is a vital part of our lives and livelihoods. If we want to transition to a different economic model, we need to invest in those alternative industries before deciding how to limit our hotel and lodging options so that we do not negatively impact those whose jobs rely on them. I support incentives rather than mandates and moratoriums.
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?
Collaborative, cooperative and consensus building describes my form of leadership. I understand the importance of relationships and will strive to create channels of communication that allow for open dialogue. I will be well-versed in the duties and powers of Maui County and the Office of the Mayor and be sure not to overstep my authority.
I plan to meet early and often with Maui‘s state legislative delegation. I will invite our entire state delegation to meet with me at lunch at least once a month to develop a personal relationship between us, so all members are aware of Maui County’s main issues and the kind of help we need from the state. I will also get to know their staffs to make certain Maui County has a direct line to our delegation.
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?
Every citizen has the right to clean water. Water is needed for drinking, sanitation, hygiene and agriculture. Government has the responsibility to protect water sources, riparian and appropriative water rights.
Generally speaking it is not prudent for any private entity to control, own or have power over a critical, limited natural resource such as water. Generally speaking, no private entity should control, or have authority over, the infrastructure that delivers water to citizens.
We should consider the idea of exploring a dual water system, which will save wastewater and which uses no potable water for all land, yard, etc., uses and a sanitized regulated water line that delivers water to the home for hygiene, cooking, etc.
We should also consider encouraging a dual water catchment county water line system in water-restrictive areas to help expedite housing. I support all facets of agriculture that can help to ensure that they have resources to help diversify our economy.
We must find a way to fully support our cultural rights of taro farmers and small independent farmers and also find a way to support the large farming entities that are showing good faith and trying to create a diversified agricultural environment for Maui County.
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?
The first thing we must do is create a commission to draft a countywide policy for managed retreat and sea level rise. The county should facilitate and provide the resources for this commission.
Hotel properties are financially motivated to conserve all utilities as it represents a significant expense to their operations. All properties employ various water, electrical and refuse conservation methods and are always looking for additional ways to improve their practices to become more sustainable. I would encourage properties to continue to partner with environmental groups to ensure the protection of ocean and reefs as well as the mauka to makai ahupua’a system.
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?
There are many factors that contribute to homelessness in our community. We may be able to address the needs of one segment of the homeless population and those are the working homeless who drive vehicles.
I would like to discuss with the state Department of Transportation Airport Division a lease or land swap for their vacant rental car lot areas in Kahului. I would like to allow working homeless with vehicles to be able to drive into these lots in the evenings for rest.
I also propose that we renovate the office building to allow for restrooms, showers, washer and dryers, and a place to plug-in electrical devices. I would also like to allow counselors and caseworkers from various agencies to come into the facility in the evenings to offer services to these individuals. It could cover areas of housing, employment, getting identification, doctors or dental appointments, etc.
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?
The roadways to the west side of Maui are congested and some areas dangerously close to the ocean and in need of realignment. Travel to the west side can take up two hours during peak travel times. When there is an accident or fire the road is closed causing significant impacts on our visitors and residents. A new road needs to be built above the existing pali and away from the shoreline.
It is also necessary to complete the Kihei North-South Collector Road, which is taking too long. It can relieve traffic during closures when there are fires or traffic accidents closing Piilani Highway or S. Kihei Road.
There is an opportunity to utilize federal infrastructure funds to improve our highways. We also need to align our federal, state and county funds along with any private funding to complete our highway projects.
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.
If I could reinvent Maui County I would be sure that no axis deer were ever introduced here. The one big idea I have for Maui today would be to make harvesting axis deer into a sustainable industry.
A manageable number of deer on Maui would be 20,000. Currently there are over 70,000! They cause accidents on the roadways, eat farmers’ crops, eat ranchers’ grazing land and threaten our precious watershed areas.
Instead of simply eradicating them, we could turn them into a viable industry for hunters, processors, butchers, sales, marketing, distributors, slaughterhouse workers, just to name a few.
In addition to workforce development we would need equipment such as mobile slaughterhouses to take to the field and Department of Health inspectors to inspect the kill and meat processing.
The processed deer would be sold to local restaurants, stores within Hawaii and online sales outside of Maui. Any excess deer meat could be provided to food kitchens that benefit our homeless. There could also be an industry for pet food or it could be provided to the Humane Society.
This could be a sustainable industry on Maui providing jobs and a food resource to feed our communities. This also addresses the environmental threat they pose to our forests and watershed areas.
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