Maui News

Victorino Outlines Priorities of Safety, Economy, Housing, Green Infrastructure in State of the County Address

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Maui Mayor Michael Victorino. (3.16.22) PC: County of Maui / Akakū

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino delivered his State of the County address in hybrid fashion Wednesday evening from the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. His address included a mix of video and live remarks.

“Luckily, the dramatic decline in COVID-19 infections meant I could invite a few people to join us live… the pandemic taught us how to adjust and adapt to changing conditions. When I took my oath of office in January 2019, I had no idea what would unfold during my first term,” he said.

Mayor Victorino shared a story from early in the pandemic, reflecting upon a call he received from Roselani Place at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon. “COVID left them with one manager and one employee to care for 75 kupuna. With no place left to turn, I called Major General Ken Hara for help. By 6:30 p.m., five National Guardsmen reported for duty and they stayed for the next three days while the staffing situation was stabilized,” he said.

“There has been no shortage of challenges, and with current world events, we don’t know what the future may bring; but I do know my most important job is to keep Maui County citizens safe and well,” said Mayor Victorino, calling public safety his top priority.

Through the work of the various departments, and the support of the community, Mayor Victroino said, “we are finally on the road to recovery… It’s time to reunite, re-imagine, and rebuild.”

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The mayor also highlighted the changes in Maui County’s unemployment rate, going from a high of 35% at the start of the pandemic, down to 13.4% by December 2020, and dropping again to 6.3% by the end of 2021. And he shined light on the Countyʻs Double A One and Double A Plus bond ratings from this summer.

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“Thanks to these high ratings, tax-payers save substantial interest costs and investors have more confidence in Maui County. The rating agencies also upgraded our financial outlook from negative to stable, due to our financial flexibility and potential for a strong recovery,” said Mayor Victorino, noting that Maui County is “resilient and ready to move forward.”

The mayor outlined several priorities for moving forward:

Diversify the economy

“I was raised by hard-working, common sense parents. They often told me: ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Hawaiʻi’s hospitality industry has been called ‘the goose that lays golden eggs.’ We love golden eggs, so let’s keep a big basket full of them. But it’s time to get a few more baskets to fill with other eggs too,” said Mayor Victorino.

The mayor identified several unique competitive advantages including: year-round growing climate and microclimates; beaches and landscapes; land conservation districts and marine sanctuaries which could serve as natural labs for research and education on restoring ecosystems; technology offering “endless potential” for entrepreneurs to build “borderless businesses” based here; and a legacy of art, culture, creativity and aloha, providing a fit for creative industries.

Better manage tourism:

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“Maui Nui is a community first, a visitor destination second. It’s time to restore that balance,” said Mayor Victorino.

He said that while the hospitality industry brought new opportunities and prosperity, recently “it’s become too much of a good thing.” He said, “The industry itself has recognized this,” responding with the Maui Nui Destination Action Plan that encourages respectful and thoughtful tourism.

One of the downsides, he said, is when websites “enable single family homes to operate as neighborhood hotels.”

The County’s established agreements with AirBNB and Expedia that the mayor says is working. “Recently, 1,300 illegal Maui County listings were removed from their online booking sites due to non compliance. We will continue to find those operators who ignore the law, and fine them. In the meantime, our Maui County Council has a new plan for managing tourism.”

“Our hospitality industry will always be the foundation of our economy so as we develop these new sectors, we must guard our hard-earned reputation as the world’s best island to visit,” said Mayor Victorino.

Build more workforce housing:

“Working families power our economy. It’s time to provide homes they can afford to rent or buy,” said Mayor Victorino.

The median price of a single-family home on Maui is now over one million dollars.

Mayor Victorino said that since taking office, “1,394 of new residential units were built throughout the County. Keys went into doors of 364 new affordable rentals and 574 attainable priced homes. It’s good…but it’s not good enough,” he said.

According to the mayor, some 2,500 additional workforce homes for rent, or purchase, are currently in the pipeline.

“My administration is committed to working with the County Council to expedite construction of these homes. It is time for County government to re-assume its kuleana of building infrastructure… With millions of federal infrastructure dollars on their way, we have a rare opportunity to build the infrastructure we need to expedite home construction for working families,” said the mayor.

Upgrade to green infrastructure:

Mayor Victorino discussed investment in Green Infrastructure saying, “Climate change is here right now. It’s time to make these needed investments in our future.”

“Ask any old-timer about drought, floods, wildfires, sea level rise and the declining health of our reefs… They’ll tell you they’ve never seen anything like this before. Island people contribute the least to climate change, yet we pay the highest price for it,” according to Mayor Victorino.

He pointed toward litigation filed in 2020 against 20 fossil fuel companies to hold them responsible for the costs of climate change. “It will take years for our lawsuit to make its way through the courts, but that won’t stop us from taking action right now,” he said.

The County has also taken steps like banning plastic bags in 2011, polystyrene in 2018, and single use plastics in March, and requiring reef-safe sunscreen that will begin in October.

“We will soon take giant steps with the $2.8 billion dollars that the state of Hawaiʻi will receive from the Federal Infrastructure Bill. The money will update water infrastructure and update highways and roads with an emphasis on mitigating climate change,” Mayor Victorino said.

Portions of the Honoapiʻilani HIghway will also be moved inland away from the coastline.

Federal funds will also improve public transportation including electrifying the Maui Bus fleet and expanding our clean energy grid, according to the mayor.

“These projects will generate construction jobs that pay high wages, boost our local economy, improve our quality of life and help us protect the environment,” he said.

The full address is available for viewing here.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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