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HOOSER: Maui really is no ka oi in forward thinking

“We don’t want to end up like Maui” has been the refrain of many a Kaua‘i resident fighting to preserve our rural character. On Maui, I’m guessing they say, “We don’t want to end up like O‘ahu.”

But in the area of policy and politics, the Maui County Council is now leading in many areas. In just the past five years, they’ve gone from being a voice for the pro-development, pro-growth, pro-tourism business sector, to now being a voice for balanced growth, environmental protection and for the average local resident.

I’m thinking and hoping our own Kaua‘i County Council might learn from the good, forward-thinking public-policy work now being done by the Maui County Council.

So what exactly have they done?

A majority on the Maui council voted to eliminate county funding for tourism promotion and instead allocated funds toward micro-grants for small farmers, focusing on locally owned farms that produce food for local consumption.

They created a separate Maui County Department of Agriculture dedicated to supporting local farmers.

In addressing over-tourism, the Maui council passed a moratorium on new hotel and short-term rental development while the county develops a plan to better manage tourism, balance the economy by investing in other industries and providing more housing for residents.

The Maui council also has passed into law an ordinance prohibiting the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on all county-owned-and-managed lands. Only the use of methods compatible with organic systems and permitted under the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program may now be used on county property.

This new law bans the use of glyphosate (and other toxic, synthetic herbicides) from use on county roads, parks and other county facilities. Glyphosate, most known for its presence in the herbicide Round-Up, has been proven to increase the risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41 percent.

The Maui council also enabled the electorate to amend the charter through a ballot question to dedicate 3% of property-tax revenue toward affordable housing, which voters approved.

A similar measure by the Kaua‘i County Council to ask voters to weigh in on a plan to dedicate 2% of Kaua‘i property-tax revenue to support affordable housing recently fell short by a single vote.

The Maui council voted to increase taxes on hotels, vacant luxury investment properties and vacation rentals, while decreasing taxes on owner-occupied homes and long-term rentals.

Once again, a similar Kaua‘i council proposal to increase hotel and vacation rental-tax rates to support affordable housing failed. In this case, falling two votes short of approval.

To stop the pricing out of generational families from their ancestral land, Maui passed what is referred to as their ‘Aina Kupuna legislation, which provides tax relief to lineal descendants struggling with a steep rise in property taxes due to skyrocketing real-estate values.

In addressing individuals currently unsheltered, the Maui council established the Commission on Healing Solutions for Homelessness, and is in the process of creating a safe, legal space for residents who are living in their cars to sleep at night. This would not be a houseless camp open 24/7, but simply a dedicated, secure and safe parking area open only in the evening.

I’m thinking and hoping our own Kaua‘i council, the one that will be elected on Nov. 8, will learn from and possibly emulate some of the good work being done on Maui. Perhaps the two councils can learn from the experiences of the other, and the residents of both counties will benefit.

Kaua‘i County could also use a moratorium on new hotel development tied perhaps to an environmental impact study establishing limits based on carrying capacity.

The funding of micro-grants for small local farmers, local food processors and shared commercial kitchen facilities is another worthy public-policy initiative.

And, yes, Kaua‘i county workers should not be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals as part of their daily work. And Kaua‘i residents should be able to enjoy county parks without wondering what chemicals have been sprayed in the grassy areas where their children are playing.

Daily I hear from friends who have full-time jobs but are unable to find affordable housing. Some are forced to live in their cars or vans. They tell me firsthand of how they are awakened in the middle of the night by the police or private security, telling them to “move along” or risk getting arrested. All they want and need is a safe, legal place to park for the night. Our Kaua‘i council could make this happen as well.

There is no shortage of wealth in our community, and no shortage of need. Increased taxes on hotels, vacant luxury homes and vacation rentals, while decreased taxes on owner-occupied homes and truly affordable rentals, only makes sense.

To their credit, council Vice Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin have proposed several solid measures that if passed would have moved Kaua‘i County forward, especially with regard to affordable housing.

Unfortunately, those measures failed due to the lack of just one or two votes.

My hope is that on Nov. 8, Kaua‘i voters will elect individuals who see and feel deeply the needs of our residents, who are willing to make the tough decisions, and who will be that one extra vote needed to make good things happen.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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