Political newcomer takes on Cochran for West Maui seat
Ernest Balinbin touts his hard work and community involvement through his catering business as some of the reasons he should be elected to the West Maui residency seat on the Maui County Council.
“I get involved with the community through food,” the 48-year-old Napili resident said.
Through his business, as executive chef and owner of Nalu Grindz and Coconut Grove Catering, he recently turned out 900 laulau for Maui High School’s Saber Family Fun Night and prepared food for Kumulani Chapel Harvest Festival last month. He does many other fundraising events for the community.
“Being in the community a lot, I know how to raise money out of nothing,” he said. “I’m a hard worker.”
Through the events, Balinbin speaks to people and says he can give a voice to the working people who do not have time to go to council meetings or are afraid to bring their issues forward.
Balinbin, a political newcomer, is challenging incumbent Elle Cochran for the West Maui residency council seat in the general election on Tuesday.
Cochran, 51, is seeking her fourth term on the council. She has been a council member since 2011.
Cochran said that, if re-elected, she would like to continue to chair the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee where she deals with issues including recycled water, curbs, gutters and sidewalks. The panel also ensures that waterways are clear.
She said people don’t realize that these are important and essential issues “unless something goes bad.”
For example, a disabled person who lives in a neighborhood with no sidewalks would not be able to travel easily on a wheelchair, Cochran said.
“Those things are huge in a person’s life,” she said.
Along environmental lines, Cochran pointed out her committee is revisiting the issue of extending the ban on plastic bags and banning polystyrene food containers in the county.
A meeting was held on Monday, and the matter was deferred to allow county attorneys time to review the measures.
At the meeting, Cochran said plastics break down, but they never go away and that “everyone in the environment would be a lot better off without.”
Cochran also would like to see pesticide-free county parks where pesticides are not used for landscaping or maintenance.
She said that state already has taken a step to alleviate the use of pesticides along highways, and The Westin Maui Resort & Spa is pesticide-free.
As for West Maui issues, Balinbin and Cochran agree more affordable housing is needed.
“I like to see the county along with the state get more involved and alleviate this infrastructure cost,” Balinbin said. “That’s the main thing I hear from developers. The infrastructure cost is high. To build true affordable housing is challenging.”
Balinbin said rents are especially high in West Maui where they range from $2,400 to $3,200 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
In the past, the county was able to get new hotels to build housing for their workers, he said. This was the case for the apartment complex that currently sits across the Lahaina Pizza Hut along Honoapiilani Highway.
He would like to see a similar or the same idea come to fruition where hotels invest in their workers.
Cochran said that “we are already making headway” in seeing more affordable housing get off the ground in West Maui.
The council recently approved funding for the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity’s Kahoma project.
She added that the affordable housing portion for the Kahoma Village project (separate from Habitat’s project) should be underway soon, if it isn’t already.
Cochran pointed to the increase in traffic she sees as she commutes from West Maui into Central Maui.
“The traffic does not let up, no matter what time of the day,” she said. “It’s just everywhere now.”
“How do we address that?” Cochran asked, noting that some roadways are owned by the county and others by the state.
She pointed to the new Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, of which she is a member. The organization could allow Maui to receive $186 million in federal funding for transportation projects over the next five years. It consists of county department heads along with state Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami.
While the group has not “dug into our agenda yet,” Cochran said she believes the group can assist in addressing road and highway concerns for the county.
As for countywide issues, Cochran said she would like to add infrastructure to help with the transmission of recycled wastewater for irrigation purposes and offset the use of potable water.
For his west-side constituents, Balinbin said that if he were elected he would push for a community center. As he has been campaigning door to door, residents have been telling him there are few activities for children in West Maui.
A community center could be a place for youth activities, he said.
There is the Lahaina Civic Center, but events and other organizations are already meeting there, he said. He also would like to see a community park in West Maui.
As for countywide issues, Balinbin would like the county to “get more involved” in seeing that more water is delivered to East Maui farmers from East Maui Irrigation Co.’s stream diversions.
While he recognizes that the water matter lies with the state, he said other council members have brought up the issue as well and shared their concerns.
Balinbin said he has cousins who are taro farmers in East Maui and knows their plight.
He said when he needed taro leaves for his laulau for Maui High School, he could not get it from local food distributors, who said that the taro farmers in Keanae were having a hard time.
So, he had to order taro leaves from Oahu.
“On Oahu, they have hardly any land, and (they are) pumping up more taro than those in Keanae,” he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ernest Z. Kanamu Balinbin
Occupation: Food program director, Maui Preparatory Academy
Education: Lahainaluna High School, Class of 1986; U.S. Army Quarter Master School, food service specialist 1987 (honor graduate)
Work experience: 411 Combat Engineer Battalion U.S. Army Reserve, 1986-91
Community service: Sacred Hearts School Bazaar, co-chairman, 2010-11; provided food for Lahainaluna Varsity and J.V. teams, 2011-present; Maui High School Family Fun Night Club food sponsor, 2014 and 2016; Camp Kumulani and Young Life Maui food sponsor, 2012-present; Hui O Pohaku S-turns Surf Club board member, 2006-present; Hui O Pohaku Keiki Surf Contest prize coordinator/food sponsor, 2006-12
Family: Married, four children
Residence: Honolua Valley
Occupation: Maui County Council member, since 2011
Education: High school equivalency diploma
Community service: The White House’s National Ocean Council Governance Coordinating Committee, member, 2015-present; Metropolitan Planning Organization, member; Temporary Investigative Committee to Increase Affordable Housing Inventory, chairwoman; Lahainaluna Boarding Task Force, member, 2015-present; Na kia’i o Waine’e (Malama Waiola Church graveyard), member