Kihei association vets Victorino and Cochran at forum

Mayoral hopefuls address concerns

Mayoral candidates Elle Cochran and Mike Victorino engage with the audience Tuesday night at the Kihei Community Association’s “First County Candidate Forum” at St. Theresa Church in Kihei. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

KIHEI — The Kihei Community Association pinned down mayoral candidates Elle Cochran and Mike Victorino on Tuesday night on issues affecting South Maui, including upkeeping and updating the area’s infrastructure and obtaining more funding for the region from the county budget.

Around 100 people attended the “First County Candidate Forum” at St. Theresa’s Church. The event also featured the two candidates for the Maui County Council East Maui residency seat.

Cochran and Victorino are vying for the seat being vacated by Mayor Alan Arakawa because of term limits. The candidates will face each other in their nonpartisan race in the Nov. 6 general election.

Association President Mike Moran moderated the forum. It included general interest questions about transparency for boards and commissions applications and the state of tourism and its effects on the county.

Moran asked candidates what they could do about infrastructure in South Maui where the county’s Kihei-Makena Community Plan calls for infrastructure to be done in conjunction with development. He also noted the dire need for affordable housing.

Cochran, a County Council member, said that, as chairwoman of its Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, she is well aware of infrastructure deficiencies in South Maui and Maui as a whole.

The Kaiwahine Village affordable housing project in north Kihei is coming online with affordable housing and affordable rentals and accompanying infrastructure, she said.

Cochran said she has been supporting improvements for water systems, wastewater systems and solid waste during council budget sessions and would continue to do so if elected as mayor.

“It does go hand-in-hand, . . . definitely infrastructure needs to catch up with the developments that are slated,” she said.

Cochran said she continues to work on issues surrounding the Kulanihakoi Bridge, which was brought to her attention by the community association.

Residents, the association and the head of the Native Hawaiian Aha Moku O Kula Makai Council oppose the bridge project for various reasons.

The association prefers a prefabricated bridge to handle a greater volume of stream flow, as opposed to replacing four culverts with six and a concrete bridge structure.

Victorino, who served on the council from 2007 to 2016 and held the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat, pledged to get the long-awaited north-south collector road underway and completed.

“That will be done,” Victorino said, adding that he would make sure the funds are in the budget for the work for the road he called a “necessity.”

“It pretty much is in many areas in place. So we need to continue to work with that,” he said.

He pointed out how South Maui is a leader in using reclaimed water for irrigation. He said soon injection wells in the area can be eliminated, so no nearshore waters would be affected.

As for housing, Victorino said top priority should be given to developing housing for the island’s workforce and residents.

“We have the water. We have the ability,” he said.

Moran asked how the candidates could ensure that South Maui receives its “fair share” of county budget funds.

Cochran noted that recently South Maui received around $15 million in capital improvement project funding and that West Maui received around $17 million.

But these are low totals for areas that generate the most property tax revenue that supports the county budget.

She noted the need for everyone to support each other in the county, but she pointed out that $108 million was dedicated to Central Maui CIP projects.

“West Maui and South Maui there is lots of needs,” she said, especially because of tourism impacts to those areas.

Cochran holds the West Maui residency seat on the council.

“This is not anything new,'” she said of the budget inequalities. “As mayor, definitely, I would be spreading the wealth around.”

Victorino said “equity is very important.”

He noted that some small communities in the county do not generate as much as others and over time situations have changed.

He said that 40 to 50 years ago, Kihei was very small, with Suda Store at the beginning of north Kihei. The rest was pretty much undeveloped.

Now, Kihei as well as West Maui have become Maui’s economic engines.

In the past, areas that supported agriculture, such as Paia, drew in the county dollars, but now not so much.

Those communities today are different.

“I will make sure you get your lion’s share,” Victorino told the audience.

Moran asked a similar question posed to East Maui council residency candidates about tourism and its effects on the county, and if there should be limitations to the growth.

Cochran said she has been trying to get the issue vetted through a council committee but there has been no quorum to discuss the matter.

No matter what, tourists will continue to come, and “we are not going to stop anyone,” she said.

But visitors will be managed and educated, including in safely having a good time on the island. Cochran said more information can be given to visitors via videos on the airlines and at the airports.

It is a community effort, which is already happening, she said of the education of visitors.

“It’s one of those things (tourism growth); we can’t keep promoting and marketing and marketing. There has to be a balance,” she said.

Victorino said the public has seen the visitor impacts to island resources, including beaches that are slowly eroding due to overuse.

He pointed to Hanauma Bay on Oahu, which is closed during certain periods to protect its resources. He said similar measures may have to be done in the county.

He said training is needed for industry officials, so they can educate visitors on the environment. He also pointed to issues of traffic and water resulting from the visitor influx.

“We need to slow it down,” Victorino said, noting the community needs to work together on the matter.

Moran also asked candidates how they felt about bringing back a blue ribbon panel of community members to chose volunteer board and commission members, rather than having a mayor’s executive assistant choosing the applicants. He said there is “no community transparency” in the process, other than having names submitted to the County Council for approval.

Victorino said it wouldn’t be a problem if the people wanted a panel to help select the board and commission members. He even envisioned having the names of applicants on a website so the community could see who was applying.

But Victorino noted that an issue especially with boards and commissions is that the county needs volunteers. He expected that members of the Kihei community would volunteer for those positions if there were more transparency in the process.

Cochran agreed about the need for more transparency and explained her struggles with the current mayoral administration to find out more about the boards and commissions candidates.

Cochran said she and Council Member Kelly King, who holds the South Maui residency seat, have advocated for more transparency.

“It’s not new to us; it’s not new to me,” she said.

She said more detailed information about the volunteers is not even brought out in council executive sessions, and she agreed that the blue-ribbon panel should be brought back.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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