CANDIDATE SPOTLIGHT: Don Couch – Candidate Council, South Maui
By Maui Now Staff
Don Couch is a candidate for the County Council, South Maui seat. He is among a list of four individuals identified as candidates on the 2014 ballot.
The complete list of candidates (in alphabetical order) includes: Don Couch; John M. Fitzpatrick; Robin S. Knox; and Jerry Metcalfe.
Full Name: Don Couch
Date & Location of Birth: May 29, 1956, Long Beach, CA
Current Residence: PO Box 1212, Kīhei, HI
Occupation: Maui County Council member; IT Manager
Elected offices held: County Council – 2 terms
Education: Long Beach City College, Boise State University
Community Involvement: Past President, Current Board Member – Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui; Current Vice Chair, Akaku: Maui Community Television; Past Board member – Kīhei Community Association; Past Board Member – Tri Isle RC&D; Past Chair & member – Maui County Board of Ethics
Family Status: Married – no children
Maui Council Candidate Questionnaire:
1. What is the number one issue facing the district you plan to represent? Why do you feel it warrants special attention and what will you do to resolve the issue? If you have more than one item, please elaborate.
Answer: Maui County Council Members must come from representative districts but are elected at-large. That means we represent the whole county. The most important issue facing all of Maui County is the lack of housing our working class residents can afford. Shelter is a fundamental requirement, so it is a serious problem when so many of our residents cannot secure a decent home they can afford. The degree that this is a problem goes up and down with the real estate market, but it is always there. Right now it is acute. When asked to help find homes for the homeless, a Realtor recently told our County Housing Administrator, she can’t find places for people with good paying jobs, let alone the homeless. Maui County made a couple of critical, if well-intentioned, errors about a decade ago from which we are still trying to recover. In 2006, just before the housing market collapsed, our Council adopted one of the most stringent Workforce Housing codes in the nation, requiring that 50 percent of all residential projects to be subsidized by the other “market-priced” 50 percent. Instead of stimulating new housing development, this policy acted like a wall and kept residential investment away. Likewise, at about the same time, the Council put the responsibility for domestic water source development on developers. The result was to compound the disincentive created by the Workforce Housing Policy. The net effect is that we need thousands of new residences to meet the local-generated demand, but we are not seeing anything like that being built. Which means the current shortage is only going to get worse. The largest increase in population from 2000 to 2009 (last census data) is from local residents having children.
What am I doing about it? I am wholeheartedly supporting the reform of the Workforce Housing Policy, bringing that 50 percent down to a much more workable 25 percent. I am pushing for the recognition that this shortage is always going to be with us, so our County must always be engaged in the creation of new, affordable homes. That’s why I proposed a renewal of the county Affordable Housing Fund’s funding source. And I am actively supporting an initiative by the Arakawa Administration to create the water source these new homes will need. If we don’t create the new water source, nothing much else is going to happen.
2. What are your thoughts on Genetically Modified Organisms and do you foresee a compromise in the longstanding debate between agricultural use of GMOs and environmental concerns?
Answer: The pros and cons of modern agriculture is a very complex issue that may affect the futures of many farming families and the future of farming itself in our County. Unfortunately, that complexity has been reduced down to a simple black or white, good vs. evil equation. We end up in a situation much like when you argue religion. The two sides don’t really listen to each other.
The proposed petition has been described as a “temporary” moratorium. Until what happens? According to the proposed legislation, until the seed corn farming companies can demonstrate that their operations will make the environment better that they found it. That is not possible for any commercial grade farming entity, GMO or not. Commercial pineapple certainly could not meet that test. So what is really being proposed is the closing of these companies in Maui County.
As a leader this presents me a choice. I can support the proposal outright, unconditionally. I can try to slide through the middle without committing myself. Or I can be a leader and attempt to lead this conversation. My values in the debate is that I am pro-environment, pro-science, pro-farming and pro-jobs.
Molokaʻi is a community of about 7,000. The only large-scale private sector employers on Molokaʻi are its two seed corn farms, creating over 400 jobs. Take those jobs away in November and you will decimate that community. Molokaʻi’s economy is already quite fragile. Take away these jobs and there will not be any economy to speak of. Hundreds of families will lose their homes and their way of making a living. That is a very real part of what is being proposed.
This is the reality that a leader sees. It cannot be responsibly boiled down to a black or white choice. What we need is compromise. I would propose that Maui County recognizes the concerns of all the petition signers. But instead of passing an initiative that will cause economic disaster in some of our communities, let’s dig deeper and get to the bottom of this question. I propose that Maui County sincerely and thoroughly study this issue. What is the science? What is the evidence of poisoned lands, water sources, foods caused by this industry? I am talking about a real, objective study by neutral specialists that will lay all of the information on the table so that we, as a community, can make an intelligent, informed decision on this issue. I don’t want to hear these answers from advocates of either side. I want objective answers. Once we have those answers, we can make an informed decision about the future of this important element of our economy.
I respect the honest concern raised by the petition, but I do not want to be stampeded into making an uninformed, emotional driven decision that could well affect many people’s lives. Give me the facts and I will do my best to make the right decision for the future of our community.
***Candidate spotlight segments were compiled as a public service to further educate and inform Maui voters about the upcoming primary election on August 9, 2014, and the general election on November 4, 2014. The questionnaires were distributed via mail following the primary election candidate filing deadline for select races affecting Maui County. The responses do not reflect the opinion or position of Maui Now or Pacific Media Group.