State of the County Address
Mayor Michael P. Victorino
March 12, 2019
King Kekaulike High School
Performing Arts Center
Good evening and aloha to all of you.
As we see our young people here tonight, I’m filled with joy, but have some sadness.
I’m very pleased to have them share this special occasion, honoring our Native Hawaiian host culture by chanting oli and singing Hawaii Pono’i. But, when our keiki leave home to pursue opportunities elsewhere, it brings heartache to our parents and kupuna.
Maui County must be a place where all our ‘ohana can live and thrive, together. We say “lokahi.” That is, by working together, we can achieve a beautiful, sustainable Maui County for all.
Mahalo to Bianca and John for serving as emcees, Sofia for the Pledge of Allegiance, the keiki of Paia School for their oli, and to members of the color guard and our young musicians.
First months in office
Within a week of taking office in January, I led our emergency response to wildfires, including a fast-moving brush fire that threatened Maui Meadows homes and Hotel Wailea. We dodged a bullet. The fire burned 200 acres, but no structures were damaged and there were no injuries.
Wildfires and a recent severe winter storm have been examples of our emergency first responders -- firefighters, police and others -- all working together – in a time of urgent necessity. Mahalo for your dedication to preserve lives and property.
My first several weeks in office also have seen the Maui County Council’s review of my nominations for 11 department directors, eight of whom have now been confirmed. It’s been a tough time for our department appointees, their families and department staff. But we all understand council members have their job to do. We don’t always agree, but we need to have faith in the process and move on in service to the people of Maui County.
It’s about collaboration. As recently as yesterday, we saw an example of how county and state law enforcement officers were able to work together for the safety of our community at the Maui Community Correctional Center in Wailuku.
Around 3 p.m., inmates created a disturbance when they started a fire and disabled a sprinkler system in a module, but police and adult correctional officers brought the situation back under control shortly before 6:30 p.m. I credit the skill of our police negotiators for defusing a bad situation.
While the outcome was peaceful, I remain concerned about crowded conditions at MCCC. I hope the state Department of Public Safety will investigate this incident fully and take corrective measures wherever possible.
Now, let me say this: The State of the County, our Maui County, is strong, secure and robust, and I credit our greatest resource, our people. Yes, we have our disagreements. We have our challenges, but we always band together for the greater good of our community. Really, there’s more that unites us than divides us.
We enjoy a strong economy. Our visitor industry continues setting records for visitor arrivals and spending. In 2018, Maui island visitor expenditures were up 8.3 percent to nearly $5.1 billion. Visitor arrivals were up 6.2 percent to more than 2.9 million people.
While I’m happy to see our tourism industry providing income and jobs, I’ll say again that I’m committed to managing its growth.
Since January, I have taken a proactive approach and brought in a Tourism Liaison to personally work with industry leaders. Terryl Vencl has already met with a number of them, and many have agreed that tourism needs to be steered in the right direction. Tourism needs to work for visitors and residents alike. We need to promote greater stewardship of our islands and safety on our beaches and trails.
We all know living in paradise comes at a high price. A low housing inventory and high demand have pushed prices beyond what most working people can afford.
Half of Maui County’s households do not make a living wage and have difficulties paying for housing, child care, food, transportation and health care.
At the end of 2018, the median sales price for a single-family home was $710,000; a condominium was going for $500,000.
This is why attainable housing is a top priority for my administration.
One project that takes a strong step in the right direction is building permanent housing for our homeless and working families at the old Maui College dorms in Kahului. This project is in its early stages, but it looks very promising.
These dorms have been vacant since 2008. We hope to partner with private and public entities to make this dream a reality.
This project represents a true, collaborative effort and I want to thank our community, state legislators and council members for their support.
I’m also looking forward to construction of attainable housing at Waikapu Development Venture’s project to develop 68 single-family units, 12 duplexes and a neighborhood park between Honoapiilani Highway and Waiale Road. The project will be affordable to families earning from $57,000 to $114,000 per year. The project is near the Kehalani and Maui Lani village shopping areas.
Another development is Catholic Charities’ $34 million project to build 165 units for seniors across the Kahului Foodland. This affordable rental housing development allows our kupuna to move into smaller, comfortable units located near medical facilities, shopping areas and buses while freeing up housing for their children and grandchildren.
The project also is near our planned Central Maui transit hub. So far, Maui County has committed $650,000 dollars for planning and design, and the state has set aside two and a half million dollars. The project design goals call for the possibility of future expansion. The facility will be clean, safe, well lit, comfortable and shaded.
Department of Public Works
Our Department of Public Works has partnered with Catholic Charities and HMSA’s Blue Zones Project to install a pedestrian island and a flashing activated crosswalk on Kane Street. Improved lighting and other traffic-calming features are being considered to make the area safer for walking and biking.
I would like to see flashing crosswalks at all schools. They would get drivers to slow down, when children cross streets going to or from school. I also support a pedestrian walkway underneath Piilani Highway. It would allow students of the new Kihei high school to cross below that busy highway.
Public Works has also been busy fixing potholes across the island due to recent record-setting rainfall and flooding. Crews have literally filled thousands of potholes over the past month, despite having a limited supply of material due to the asphalt plant shutting down.
That plant has since restarted and crews are working on long-lasting fixes to our roads, especially in the Upcountry and Wailuku areas.
As we develop attainable housing, we cannot forget infrastructure.
For example, I support the construction of modular wastewater treatment facilities for the Waikapu Country Town project. That development calls for building more than 1,400 single-family, multifamily and rural units as well as 146 ohana units. The project includes opportunities for farming and developing a water reclamation facility to generate recycled water for irrigation.
We need to find more opportunities to use recycled wastewater. It is a valuable resource and not something we want to pump into the ground if there are better alternatives.
More housing also will help address homelessness.
There are many faces to homelessness, including mental illness. We need support from the state Department of Health to get people the mental health services they need to get them off the streets and into safe and healthy shelters. Some people have simply fallen on hard times. Others suffer from alcohol and substance abuse.
Maui County’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns has made progress in addressing homelessness through its “Compassionate Response Program.” The program helps people and families secure permanent housing through its systems and the Housing First approach.
From 2017 to 2018, the amount of homelessness on Maui dropped 2.6 percent and the county’s program was credited with helping more people get into shelters.
To address homelessness, we need to work with our state and federal partners along with our nonprofits.
Department of Parks and Recreation
For our Parks and Recreation staff, we are paying close attention to all our master plans, including ones for Baldwin Beach Park and the South Maui Community Park. These plans help us preserve the cultural significance and heart of each of our communities.
To protect our parks, we are working to fill seven park security officer positions. They will provide added security and serve as ambassadors of our county parks. We also want to maintain and repair our park facilities, including the War Memorial Stadium parking lot. There, we have money set aside for repairs.
Our environment is an important resource for our residents and visitors.
We need to protect our reefs by building runoff retention basins, while planning for climate change. Addressing the climate change challenge means more than controlling emissions from vehicles and other sources. It’s also more challenging than mitigating environmental impacts. It means rebuilding systems to deliver sustainable prosperity and economic health. My administration will strive for economic security, affordable energy and transportation services, healthy communities and opportunities for all.
When the HC&S plantation shut down, it was feared that the closure would be a fatal blow for agriculture on Maui. But then, in December, Alexander & Baldwin sold 41,000 acres of its former sugar lands for $262 million dollars to Mahi Pono.
Now, I have a great deal of hope that Central Maui can continue to stay green and beautiful. It can return to productive agriculture squash, cabbage, corn and other edible crops. I’m hopeful that Maui will become a bountiful source of food, not only for Maui County, but for the state of Hawaii.
I’ve told Mahi Pono executives that, if their diversified agriculture generates as many as twelve-hundred jobs, I want the vast majority of those jobs to go to Maui residents. People who live and raise their families here should have the first opportunity for jobs that pay fair and equitable wages. I’ve been assured there will be a mentoring program for employees.
I also want to see Mahi Pono collaborate with Maui’s small farmers, learning from their local experience while also working to reduce their costs of shipping materials and supplies.
Meanwhile, Mahi Pono will need fresh water to turn the dream of sustainable agriculture in Central Maui into a reality. I have given my support to a state House bill that allows holdovers of revocable water permits to continue until a pending application for a state water lease is resolved.
I know water is a tough issue for many residents, including East Maui taro farmers. But water provided through this permit ensures that this life-giving resource can continue to flow to approximately 35,000 Upcountry residents, schools, Kula Hospital and the Kula Agricultural Park.
The Upcountry water system needs water from East Maui’s streams and ditches. About 80 percent of the water delivered by our Department of Water Supply to Upcountry comes from surface water sources.
Wailuku Civic Complex
In the not too distant future, we look forward to revitalizing Wailuku town with the development of our civic complex. When completed, our residents will be able to park in a four-level structure with 428 stalls, more than double the 200 stalls now at street level at the old municipal parking lot.
More parking will bring new, affordable housing in walking distance to parks, schools, churches and restaurants. We envision a lively nightlife to attract young people to the area. They can mingle in a covered plaza, hang out and eat lunch on a lanai with views of Kahului Bay. A community center will also host classes, family parties or lunchtime fitness.
Our community is blessed with heroes, many of whom work behind the scenes, getting little or no recognition.
Just to survive in our island home, many of our people need to work two or three jobs. While their hard work may be routine, their daily sacrifices are heroic.
I see and talk with them every day in the community. So, I’m always looking for ways to make life just a bit easier for our residents.
Our Department of Finance provided a great example of innovative customer service when it collaborated with Safeway to install new vehicle registration kiosks. Now, vehicle owners can renew their vehicle registrations – at night or on weekends – by using a touchscreen to process and print vehicle registration cards and emblems.
I tried it and it took only a couple of minutes. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can.
Now, I’d like to ask Finance Director Scott Teruya and Motor Vehicles Chief Lito Vila to stand and be recognized.
I’d also like to recognize Paul Tonnesen, executive director of the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui. Last year, the Maui News honored Paul as one of its “People Who Made a Difference.”
Paul’s nonprofit serves about 800 children per year who suffer from abuse and neglect. At justice centers statewide, children are helped to feel safe and comfortable while being interviewed about reports of child abuse, especially sexual abuse. Many of the children wear only the clothes on their back.
Paul’s nonprofit supports the Children’s Justice Center serving Maui, Molokai and Lanai. His nonprofit promotes community awareness of child abuse and neglect. It provides money to help children recover from abuse.
Children need counseling and tutoring, clothes and school supplies, among many other things.
Paul is fortunate to have volunteers and board members who are committed to giving children hope.
So, Paul please stand and be recognized.
For my last acknowledgment, I’d like to talk about Lahaina Strong.
As we waited for Hurricane Lane last year, we feared strong winds, heavy rains and storm surge.
What we received were wildfires in three separate areas from Maalaea to Kaanapali. Hundreds of people were evacuated. More than 2,000 acres burned. More than 20 homes and 30 vehicles were damaged or destroyed.
It was a miracle no one was killed in the destruction. But perhaps it was not divine intervention alone.
Police officers risked their lives going house to house, making sure people were evacuated ahead of the wildfires’ flames. Time and time again, firefighters put their lives on the line, positioning themselves between the raging fire and homes. Wind-whipped flames threatened Lahainaluna High School, but fast and efficient work by our firefighters saved it.
They saved Lahaina town.
Battalion Chief Amos Lonokailua-Hewett recalled that fire embers and flaming debris blew into homes. Flames towered 40 feet high in places. He feared losing Lahaina town and thought about what would happen to its 20,000 residents.
Fire Capt. Jamie Joyo recalled how the firefighters he served with that night were true heroes.
He called the West Maui wildfires “the most intense wildland incident I’ve been to in my career” -- not because it was the largest wildfire, but because it was the biggest threat to people’s lives.
After the fire, our community worked to rebuild lives and homes. Lahaina Strong programs stepped up to help.
One was a concert fundraiser by firefighter Ikaika Blackburn. His family was among eight others that worked on that project. The Lahaina Strong Benefit Concert raised $50,000 to donate $5,000 each for 10 families.
Meanwhile, Jordan Ruidas started a Facebook Lahaina Strong fundraiser. It eventually raised nearly $200,000 to help 20 families. She also organized the Lahaina Strong Kokua Fest. She pulled together sponsors, found silent auction items, food vendors and musicians – just two weeks after the fire.
Please stand and join me in honoring Jordan and Ikaika’s father Joseph Blackburn and all of our first responders and community heroes.
Now, I return to where I began tonight: to our children and our future.
Providing opportunities to our next generation is vital to ensuring that our children can make Maui County their home. Tonight, we see them in our emcees and others making this special night possible.
Let’s give them a round of applause.
On the campaign trail, I talked about creating an internship program. I’m pleased to report that this program is in its planning phase, thanks to a committee of members in my office, as well as Kara Nakahashi of Baldwin High School, Laney Hisashima and Xaden Nishimitsu of King Kekaulike, and Erin Tanaka of Seabury Hall.
These four students are helping craft my internship program within my office and our departments. Our goal is for students to gain real-life experience with the inner workings of government and encourage them to return and work in our community after finishing their higher education.
Who knows? One of the young people here tonight might be a future county engineer, council member or even mayor. Well, be careful what you wish for.
For now, we must protect our island home for future generations. It is our kuleana to be good stewards of these islands we love and cherish as home.
By collaborating with local leaders and community members, we can build a better Maui County for generations to come.
Aloha and good night!