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Prepare our county for a resilient future

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

As our county faces an unprecedented and constantly evolving challenge in the coronavirus pandemic, the current situation calls upon all of us to remain vigilant, responsible and flexible to changing demands.

While many of us in Maui County have for some time highlighted Hawaii’s lack of economic diversity and our shortcomings in food security, this crisis has exposed these vulnerabilities, and the sense of urgency has never been greater.

Our economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the tourism industry, so any widespread risks to travel and tourism have rippling, and now debilitating, effects on our economy. We are seeing our local tourism-related businesses and staff being hit hardest by the coronavirus response, including hotel, restaurant, retail and activity-company workers. The response –which experts agree demands vigilant social distancing, testing and quarantine of all exposed persons — is not an option. I commend Mayor Victorino for his strict mandates in our county.

The mayor reported to the County Council that he is relying heavily on Dr. Lorrin Pang of the Department of Health and other experts, which is comforting at a time when rumors abound and the response varies widely across the country’s municipalities.

While we shelter in place, there is much we can continue to do as a community. The budget session is upon us, the mayor’s budget was submitted Wednesday, and it is more important than ever to practice civic engagement. The council has begun using an interactive program called “BlueJeans” to hold our meetings with remote participation, including testimony. For more information on how to testify at council and committee meetings, please visit mauicounty.us.

The upcoming budget session will be challenging, and we must focus on people over profits. For those who join me in the struggle for resiliency, please support the efforts to create and fund a stronger foundation for Maui Nui.

A more diversified economy that is less reliant on tourism would provide increased economic security and stability to our islands. Maui County must prioritize and invest in developing other industries and economic activities to excel in, beyond being a premier travel destination. Just as we must shore up our coastlines and environment now to address climate change, we must also build up our economy and workforce to be more adaptive to unexpected challenges. I propose that agriculture is the top priority to diversify our economy as it provides local jobs and should supply local needs first.

The glaring vulnerability brought to light by the coronavirus pandemic is food security. It is critical that Maui County invest time, money and infrastructure toward sustainable agriculture, to ensure food is available and accessible for consumption, and to create opportunities for export. Intensifying local regenerative farming would not only increase healthy food security, but also lower our carbon footprint. While officials have declared that there currently is no issue with shipments to our islands, the time to plan for potential disruptions in food supply is now. This means growing, not hoarding!

Our current circumstances underscore the need to reset and recommit to our priorities, to develop greater economic and agricultural diversity, and to bolster our self-reliance as a county. While the pandemic has revealed some of Maui County’s weaknesses, it has also highlighted many of our strengths.

We’re witnessing everyday examples of people taking care of each other, checking in on our neighbors and getting to know one another, even if only through virtual means. There are many farming and gardening efforts in Maui County, and we need all of them right now. Nonprofits are coalescing to support lists of needed supplies and services for the needy. This coming together of our community is key to our meeting present challenges.

Let us not lose the lessons of today, but rather take the necessary steps, together, to prepare our county for a resilient future.

* Kelly Takaya King is chair of the Climate Action and Resilience Committee. She holds the council seat for the South Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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