Mayors conference helps find solutions
Recently, I had the privilege of representing Maui County at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. It was a great opportunity to network with other mayors and seek ways to better serve our communities.
The mayors’ conference is a nonpartisan organization of municipalities with populations of 30,000 or more. Maui County is one of nearly 1,400 such local governments nationally.
Mayors face a lack of affordable housing, homelessness and aging infrastructure. Other issues included public safety, reducing the opioid crisis and making sure our people are accurately counted in the 2020 U.S. Census.
The conference provides a place for mayors to agree on common priorities so we can effectively advocate for American cities and counties. We all seek ways to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of our communities.
I was honored to be among a group of mayors to visit the residence of Japanese Ambassador Shinsuke J. Sugiyama. I would like to thank Ambassador Sugiyama and his staff for their warmth and hospitality.
On the last day of the conference, I was among a delegation of more than 150 mayors to visit the White House. It’s well-known that partisanship has resulted in legislative gridlock in our country, but the mayoral delegation sought to look beyond politics and focus on finding solutions to common problems. There were two panel discussion that, for more than two hours, covered topics important to every American: housing, urban development and public investment in economic development, entrepreneurship, education, workforce training and safe neighborhoods.
Rochester Hills, Mich., Mayor Bryan Barnett spoke at the White House. Later, he said: “Mayors want nothing more than to make our cities better places to live and work for the people we all serve. We thank the President for welcoming us to the White House. We look forward to building on our discussions and collaborating on shared priorities.”
Following my visit, I shared my hope that a review of federal regulations could result in better implementation of laws that protect our environment.
I want to be clear: I’m not in favor of weakening environmental laws. A thorough review of regulations may lead to tougher laws in some areas and easing of regulations in others. We won’t know until we examine regulations that have gone unchanged for decades.
I’m watching out for the needs of working families in Maui County, and they need housing. A lack of inventory combined with competition from off-island buyers is pushing local residents out of the housing market. Now, they’re lucky to find a home or apartment they can afford to rent. Some families simply give up and move to places on the Mainland where housing is more affordable.
At the same time, we can’t throw out the baby with the bath water and undo all the progress that has been made in protecting our environment. A balance needs to be struck between good environmental stewardship and a reasonable approach to meeting our communities’ housing needs.
While in Washington, I also met with U.S. Department of Transportation officials to discuss our county’s efforts to convert to electric buses. We need the infrastructure of charging stations to do so, and mechanics skilled in maintaining and repairing electric vehicles.
A fleet of county electric vehicles would help reduce Maui County’s carbon footprint as we work to combat climate change and global warming. My administration has advocated joining litigation against fossil fuel companies that have known for decades that air pollution from their products would warm the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, resulting in rising sea levels and climate changes.
A report at the mayors’ conference showed that 60 percent of 182 cities surveyed have launched or expanded a climate change initiative or policy in the past year, and nearly all cities have had some sort of “climate impact” in the past five years. Specific impacts included heavy rains or flooding, heat waves and droughts.
In Maui County, we saw 25,000 acres burned in brush fires last year, more than six times the acreage that went up in flames in 2018.
I came away from the U.S. Conference of Mayors confident that while we confront common challenges we are united in seeking solutions for our people.
* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.