Candidate Q&A: Maui County Council East Maui District – Shane Sinenci

Editor’s note: For the Hawaii general election on November 8th, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer a few questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities are if there is an election.

The following came from Shane Sinenci, candidate for the East Maui District of Maui County Council. His opponent is Claire Carroll.

For general information see the Civil Beat Election Guide and see other candidates on the general election ballot.

1. What is Maui County’s biggest problem and what would you do about it?

The biggest problem is food security. In the world’s most isolated group of islands, we should be able to support ourselves if ships ever stop importing most of our food. The pandemic has opened our eyes to how global events can negatively affect us.

I proposed the very first statewide Department of Agriculture. With this new division, we can now begin investing in agricultural infrastructure, begin planning for USDA processing facilities, and diversify our economy by producing agricultural products, using agricultural byproducts for pet food and building materials, and engaging in regenerative practices like the Implement composting for carbon sequestration and general soil health.

2. In the last two years alone, the average selling price of a Maui home has skyrocketed by nearly $400,000, driven by a surge in out-of-state buyers during the pandemic. What can the county do to ensure families aren’t overpriced?

Currently, in response to the increase in property valuations, the council increased the residential property exemption tax to $300,000. To attract more local families into homes, the council can set policies that give long-term residents priority over recently moved outside buyers, and subsidize utilities for new homebuyers with funds from the Affordable Housing Fund.

3. Significant efforts have been made in recent years to reform law enforcement and strengthen police oversight. What specifically would you do to improve oversight of local law enforcement? Are you satisfied with the Maui Police Department and the Maui Police Commission?

One possibility is for the county council, which is more evenly represented across the county’s nine wards, to approve the police chief’s appointment.

4. Maui County Council recently passed a temporary moratorium on the construction of new hotels and other visitor accommodation and will decide within the next few months whether to make it permanent. Do you support limiting the number of hotels and visitor accommodations on Maui? Why or why not?

Yes I do, Maui Island’s plan states that there is a visitor to resident ratio of 1:3. With 80,000 visitors on any given day, we surpassed that number; enough to affect the quality of life of the county’s residents.

Our over-reliance on tourism became apparent during the pandemic as the shutdown wreaked economic havoc. We have learned that we cannot rely on the luxury real estate industry to solve our affordable home crisis, but with a moratorium on new visitor accommodation we hope to be able to focus the construction industry on much needed housing for our workforce on the island as ours top priority.

5. Do you think the governor and legislature appreciate Maui County’s problems, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? how would you change that

I think Maui County is ahead of the state legislature when it comes to government transparency and the Sunshine Law.

All Maui County matters must be approved and requested for public notice seven days in advance, and all decisions must be made in a public forum with public testimony. However, the state legislature is not bound by the same rules. If the committees do not have the necessary votes, they do not have to meet!

Personally, I believe campaign contributions should be curtailed before representatives vote on issues and issues that could easily steer them in a direction.

6. Do you think the county of Maui should do more to manage water resources that have long been controlled by plantations? Why or why not?

Yes, the demands of climate change, agriculture and population growth demand it of us. Water is considered a public trust under the Hawaii State Constitution, and as public officials we have a responsibility to uphold that trust.

Thirty years is just too long to have our most valuable resource controlled by a foreign for-profit corporation, and if that corporation is sold, what then?

A county-led water board will operate independently of the Department of Water Supply and will manage the watershed that feeds the county’s supply system. The current tenants have failed to fix the old plantation system and with the county’s support we can begin to modernize the system to be more efficient.

7. Climate change is real and will force us to make difficult choices. What should Maui County do first to counteract climate change instead of just reacting to it?

Move the Mauka of the Honoapiilani Highway out of the SLR-XA projections, begin construction of South Maui’s north-south link road, and plan for smaller inland district treatment plants in anticipation of sea level rise.

8. It’s estimated that up to a thousand people are homeless on Maui on any given day. What do you think needs to change to help people find and stay in housing?

It will take a community effort to address our homelessness problem; These include agencies such as Veterans’ Affairs, Aloha Psychiatric Services, community church groups, and the Department of Housing and Human Concerns. But before that, some critical systemic changes need to be made:

-— Decriminalize homeless people in county parks and remove penalties that clog the justice system.

– Begin with an inventory of the homeless on DHHL lists, veterans, the mentally ill, drug addicts, and single mothers with children for better appropriation.

— Split the housing and human affairs departments for more focus and efficiency.

9. Traffic on the island of Maui is getting worse and different regions face different challenges. What would be your approach to improving Maui’s transportation problems?

Raising rental car taxes would make little sense if rental car agencies simply passed these costs on to their customers. In addition to carpooling, some companies could adjust their working hours so workers commute to less congested times or offer home office options.

I was excited to support the Ho’omahua initiative during this final budget session, which would manage overpopular websites by implementing a digital phone app that would notify visitors of traffic counts at specific websites and offer alternative nearby websites that they may be able to visit instead.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparities. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, build on what we’ve learned, and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share a great idea you have for Maui County. Be innovative but specific.

My one big idea would be to rethink the Hawaii Tourism Bureau towards a more sustainable model that ensures quality of life for our Hawaiians.

I’ve provided funds to hire an FAA lobbyist in Washington to begin talks with the airline industry; on whether to limit seating capacity, encourage safety video on all incoming flights, and divert flight routes away from densely populated neighborhoods.

Our new focus should appeal to visitors who appreciate our unique and endemic environment that is found nowhere else in the world. Faced with the looming dangers of sea level rise and with an effort to introduce ancient sustainable practices, the reimagined tourism office would encourage more ecotourism models where visitors have the opportunity to plant native trees in our watersheds and drive invasive species out of our estuaries along the coasts .

A similar model is already being established in the Galapagos Islands and this message will encourage visitors to better appreciate our island home.

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