KAHULUI - Candidates seeking election - and re-election - to the Maui County Council squared off in a forum Wednesday night, debating a host of issues that ranged from how to get more residents into affordable housing to how to ensure that developers make good on promised projects.
The event - which aired live on Akaku: Maui Community Television - featured candidates running for five of the nine seats on the council to be decided by voters on Nov. 6. Incumbents in the council's four remaining seats are unopposed and have secured re-election to their posts.
Incumbent Council Members Gladys Baisa (Upcountry), Don Couch (South Maui) and Mike Victorino (Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu) are seeking re-election, while political newcomers are vying for the open Kahului and Molokai residency seats.
Maui County Council candidates Stacy Crivello and Wilson Manuwai Peters appeared together in a live, televised forum Wednesday night on Akaku: Maui Community Television. They are vying for the council’s open Molokai residency seat. Incumbent Danny Mateo cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
The Maui News / NANEA KALANI photo
In contrast to some of the acrimonious exchanges seen in Tuesday night's debate between Maui's state legislative candidates, the council hopefuls were friendly with their opponents and mostly talked into the cameras instead of at one another.
In the race for the Upcountry residency seat, Baisa and challenger Richard Pohle differed on their views of Mayor Alan Arakawa's plan to eliminate the Upcountry water meter waiting list.
That plan calls for maximizing the use of surface water in the area with the ability to charge increased water rates during drought periods to encourage conservation.
Pohle, who is on the list, said the plan "doesn't go far enough."
He said he wants to see the council repeal the list, buy the Piiholo South well as a reserve, and charge a fee when someone wants to build a house or needs a new meter.
Baisa has thrown her support behind the administration's plan but noted that the proposal still needs to be vetted through public hearings.
Baisa announced that, if re-elected, she is "openly campaigning to be council chair."
"There is nothing wrong with our council chair. Mr. (Danny) Mateo has done an excellent job, but I have, as you know, an extensive background in management," Baisa said. "I managed (Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.) for a long, long time, took it from a very small agency to a big one, and I'd like to use some of those managing skills in managing the council."
Mateo, who holds the Molokai residency seat, is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
In the race for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat, incumbent Victorino was asked about ways to better provide affordable housing for residents.
"This is another thing we have to start is a list of people who are in need of affordable housing - a list for which the county would have that would be available, and every time a developer wants to go and make affordable housing part of his development, or her development, then they would use that list as a means of granting our people an opportunity to own homes," Victorino said. "We have to have more of a say in the sense of who gets the homes."
His opponent, Joseph Blackburn II, was asked about where he would stand on new developments when faced with the "the desire to preserve Maui's traditional small town, local atmosphere versus a desire to keep up the economy through the construction industry, which can mean an increasing inflow of often wealthy Mainland residents."
Blackburn, a retired fire rescue captain for the county, said he would work with the individual communities to make development decisions.
"If we don't, it ends up in court," Blackburn said. "That's not good for anybody - it's not good for the developer, it's not good for the construction industry, it's not good for the economy. . . . We have to have growth, that's part of what is necessary, but we need to control the growth to make sure it's proper, it's well planned and it's thought out, and I think the people in the communities themselves should have the most say."
Al Fukuyama, who is seeking the open Kahului residency seat against Don Guzman, was asked the same question. He, too, said individual communities need to be consulted on developments.
"We need to get more interaction with the small-town communities and help them preserve, or give them what they want in their community," Fukuyama said.
Guzman told organizers he was ill and could not attend the forum.
When asked what question he would have liked to pose to Guzman, Fukuyama replied: "Being endorsed by both the Sierra Club and labor unions, when they come to council and they're at a head-to-head battle, which way would you lean to supporting? Who would you support?"
In the race for the South Maui residency seat, incumbent Couch was asked about solutions to help ensure developers don't sit on projects once the council grants approvals.
He said members of the council's Land Use Committee have started to place "expiration dates" of five to 10 years on projects.
"We've said, either five or 10 years, if you haven't made any substantial improvement or motion to start the project, we will revisit it and we will certainly make you come in and reapply for the entitlements," Couch said.
He noted that existing county law allows the council to revisit any project that is more than five years old.
"We're looking at a list of projects that we can look at and figure out which ones we want to take a look at and invoke that provision of the code," he said.
His challenger, Alana Kay, described herself as a creative problem solver who can look at things from different angles.
She cited as an example the ongoing controversy over the health impacts from sugar cane burning.
"One of my strengths is seeing all different sides of the equation before I make a decision, and I recently had an extensive tour of (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.)," she said. "Prior to my tour, I was on the fence a bit about the cane burning, but once I saw the operation, I realized how important it is and how impressive HC&S is. I personally get very sick from the cane smoke, but I believe that there's probably things that we could do to negotiate some of the differences."
In the race for the Molokai residency seat, Stacy Crivello and Wilson Manuwai Peters both cited concerns about job creation and the overall economy on the Friendly Isle.
Asked why she wants to serve on the council, Crivello said: "My involvement within the community throughout all these years brings the experience of hearing, listening and feeling the needs of Molokai as well as all of Maui County," she said. "I wish to have the opportunity to support the basic necessities of our county."
Peters said he wants to "bring some diversity to the council."
"I want to use my past 20 years of public education service on the island of Molokai to have a greater reach to our community," Peters said. "Myself and my challenger, Aunty Stacy, we're very similar in our goals and our desires for the County Council. We both believe in serving our community. I feel like I will be able to, perhaps, use my background as an educator to reach out to other parts of our community."
Although they are required to live in residency districts, County Council members are elected on at-large basis to represent the county as a whole. That means all county voters can cast votes for all seats on the council.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.