Candidates in Upcountry race agree that area be kept special

DECISION 2016 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a series of feature stories on contested races in the general election on Tuesday. The Maui News will be providing up-to-date coverage on election night at www.mauinews.com. A complete look at all Maui County Council and state House contests was published as a special section in the Oct. 23 edition of The Maui News.

“Keep Upcountry Upcountry” has been a rallying cry against creeping urbanization in Maui’s paniolo country, and that call resonates with Maui County Council candidates Napua Greig-Nakasone and Yuki Lei Kashiwa Sugimura.

For Greig-Nakasone, it’s about staying true to her roots and protecting a community as well as the region’s jobs in ranching and agriculture.

“I was born and raised here in Upcountry,” she said. “I’ve seen the changes here, and I long for the days when we could ride through Makawao town and know everyone we ran into. I miss eating cheeseburgers and saimin at Kitada’s. We used to be a community that knew each other’s children and grandchildren. We used to be a community who could quickly recognize you by your family name. We are quickly losing that.”

For Sugimura, “Upcountry is a special place I call home. It is where my heart is. We love the cool air, open space, farmlands, jacaranda trees and stories of generations of families who made this place their home.”

Napua Greig-Nakasone

Upcountry also is the hub of agriculture in Maui County “where farmers have worked for generations growing crops to sustain their families and the community,” she said.

“These values must be preserved,” Sugimura said, pledging to “fight tirelessly to ensure Upcountry stays Upcountry.”

Sugimura, 63, and Greig-Nakasone, 42, finished first and second, respectively, in the Aug. 13 primary election to succeed Council Member Gladys Baisa, who is stepping away from the council’s Upcountry residency seat because of term limits. Advancing to Tuesday’s general election, Sugimura took 10,048 votes, or 37.2 percent, while Greig-Nakasone garnered 6,841 ballots, or 25.4 percent. Other primary contenders were Stacey Suemi Moniz, 4,945 votes, or 18.3 percent, and Eric John Molina, 2,401 votes, or 8.9 percent. There were 2,733 blank ballots, 10.1 percent.

The candidates

Greig-Nakasone is a mother of four, a teacher, a 1992 Kamehameha Schools graduate, a performer, kumu hula, businesswoman and a former member of the state Land Use Commission. Her father was the late Jay Nakasone, and her mother is Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.

Yuki Lei Kashiwa Sugimura

She advocates greater community engagement by the County Council, including holding more night meetings. Her top issue is affordable housing, pledging to streamline the housing approval process and seeking ways of creating more homes that are affordable in perpetuity.

Sugimura is married, has an adult son and is the daughter of a Maui doctor who made house calls. She’s a small-business owner of Connec Maui, an event-planning and promotions company; and she’s a former field representative for U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. The Baldwin High School graduate has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Hawaii. After graduation, she moved to California to run a car dealership, but she returned home and moved Upcountry in 1996. She worked as an economic development specialist for former Mayor James “Kimo” Apana.

She has a track record of community involvement — coordinating events like Maui Matsuri, Wailuku First Friday, Festivals of Aloha and the Makawao Paniolo Parade.

Her main issue is affordable housing, seeking solutions in changing minimum lot sizes and down-payment assistance programs for first-time homebuyers.

Sugimura’s endorsements include the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Laborers’ International Union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, the Hawaii Operating Engineers, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the United Public Workers union, the Maui Chamber of Commerce and the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, according to her campaign website.

Greig-Nakasone’s website doesn’t list endorsements, saying rather that she draws support from family and friends. However, she is among the reform-minded Maui ‘Ohana candidates. The group’s flier says the Sierra Club has endorsed Greig-Nakasone.

State campaign spending records show that Sugimura reported total receipts of $144,795 and expenditures of $139,861 through Oct. 24. Greig-Nakasone took in $81,625 and spent $84,214 during the same period.

Preserving Upcountry

The County Council should ensure balanced growth through community plans and propose incentives for farming and agriculture to keep Upcountry rural, Sugimura said.

“Incentives may include reduced water rates for farmers who are in active agricultural production and maintaining the low agricultural tax rate for farmers,” she said. “We need to tackle the growing invasive species problem, (such as) coqui frogs and fire ants, through budget appropriations for mechanical and biological control. I strongly stand by farmers and ranchers who provide food for our residents and are a major part of the ambiance of Upcountry and what makes Upcountry the special place that it is.”

Greig-Nakasone said: “Although I realize new infrastructure and roads are necessary as our population has grown, I also believe we need to move forward with a clear vision of keeping the identity of this community, our unique industries and this beautiful place intact for our future generations.”

The County Council must advocate for affordable housing, she said.

“Many of the people I grew up with here in Upcountry no longer live here,” Greig-Nakasone said. “We must advocate that any development that will take up our beautiful open spaces be development for the people of this place. Gated communities are not for the longtime residents of Upcountry.”

Upcountry water meter list

Greig-Nakasone said the first step to getting water meters to the nearly 1,800 residents on a waiting list is to change the way the county Department of Water Supply manages the list.

Now, “we issue water meters in chronological, not logistical order,” she said. “If applicants 1, 53 and 108 live on a street where infrastructure is being installed or access is being granted, only applicant No. 1 receives a meter. The rest of the applicants on the same street wait their turn. This is inefficient. . . . I believe family subdivisions should receive priority over for-profit, new developments. Family subdivisions should be seen as part of the solution to Upcountry’s affordable housing shortage.”

She supports setting aside money to invest in county-owned water storage and transmission, and she sees the need to address the shortage of engineers working on the water meter problem.

“Presently, there is just one, and this engineer is responsible not only for doing fieldwork but for everything from fieldwork to the issuing of water meter letters and so forth,” she said.

Greig-Nakasone said that the lack of qualified applicants for engineer positions “immediately tells me that we do not offer a competitive salary or benefits package to attract and retain the engineers we are seeking.”

Sugimura said she would continue Baisa’s work on Upcountry’s water meter problem. “We need to solve this problem and stop making excuses,” she said.

“The water department has taken positive steps toward tackling the long list of names on the water meter list by hiring additional engineers to review and screen the applicants,” she said. “I support this effort because with the additional help, progress can be much faster for those who have waited years, if not decades, for a water meter!”

Sugimura said she believes the county should finalize its Water Use and Development Plan and possibly look at floating bonds to finance long-range infrastructure and water source improvements.

A way to help resolve the water meter problem is to use surface water sources as Upcountry’s primary source and supplement it with ground water when surface water is inadequate, she said.

“But we need to be able to capture and store the surface water to do this,” she said.

The water department needs to determine proactively where water meters are required and coordinate the upgrade of the water distribution system through public-private partnerships, Sugimura said. “The burden should not lie solely on the private sector or the necessary changes will never be accomplished,” she said.

How the candidates differ

Both candidates maintain they have the background and experience to serve as the Upcountry council member.

Sugimura cites her 15 years of government experience, working for Maui County, former Council Members Alice Lee and Dennis Nakamura and as the Maui field representative for former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka (2007-2013) and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (2013-15).

“I have seen the way that government can help spark economic development, preserve our culture, build infrastructure and solve community problems through open discussions and an open heart to the needs of the people,” she said.

She said she’s also a small-business owner grounded in the Maui County community and “not offshore in foreign lands.”

“My business is with small towns, multicultural events, and I also support artisans, entertainers and culinary businesses,” she said. “I work tirelessly and know how difficult it is to build a business, one dollar at a time. I have 25 years of community service and have worked on a number of improvement projects, which I am very proud of. Community and public service is part of the foundation for my work. I am a community connector and feel that my experience working with people is an asset.”

Greig-Nakasone said she has “solid, difficult decision-making experience under my belt.”

“At 22 years old, I started a nonprofit,” she said. “As the leader of a group like this, I am constantly making decisions for the greater good of the organization. I’ve also been a schoolteacher for 20 years. As teachers, we make difficult decisions concerning our students on a daily basis. Not just decisions on whether to give a C or a D grade to a student but decisions that deal with their overall health, wellness and safety. In both capacities, I have experience in working with our community members who struggle with drug abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual assault and mental illness. These are real problems in our community, and I strongly believe that to tackle them, our leaders can no longer keep them at arm’s distance.”

She also cites her experience on the state Land Use Commission, “one of the most powerful commissions in the state, making decisions on development for the entire state of Hawaii.”

“I did not work in government nor did I apply for this nomination, I was sought out by leaders of this community to serve,” she said. “I believe this demonstrates that those leaders recognized my leadership abilities at 36 years of age. There is a clear difference between working for decision-makers and actually being the decision-maker.”

Greig-Nakasone said she has proved experience in “building bridges” among people of “all different walks of life” while also being “an independent voice for our community.”

“I have not worked for government; I’ve worked for my community,” she said. “I’ve built my nonprofit and for-profit businesses totally independent of government. This ensures I am not beholden to old political loyalties or factions in leadership but only beholden to the people of Maui County.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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Napua Greig-Nakasone

Age: 42

Residence: Kula

Occupation: Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka, nonprofit, president; Seabury Hall, educator; Pihana Productions, business owner

Education: Kamehameha Schools, Class of 1992; University of Hawaii at Manoa, Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies

Community service: Commissioner, state Land Use Commission, 2010-13; Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka, nonprofit cultural organization, 1996-present; Waiohuli Hawaiian Homesteaders Association, board member, 2010-present; Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, board member, 2015-16

Family: Married, four children

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Yuki Lei Kashiwa Sugimura

Age: 63

Residence: Kula

Occupation: Small-business owner, Connec Maui, an event-planning and promotions company, 2002-present; field representative for U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, 2013-15; field representative for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka

Political experience: Maui Democratic Party, Maui vice chairwoman; State Central Committee, Coordinated Campaign; Maui re-election co-chairwoman for former U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka

Education: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Bachelor of Science degree; Baldwin High School graduate

Community service: 51st annual Makawao Paniolo Parade, co-chairwoman, 2016; Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation Board, 2016; Maui Korean War Veterans, honorary member, 2016; Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, board and member, 2015 to present; Epic Ohana, foster youth community coordinator, 2014 to present

Family: Married, one son

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