Keith Regan is the County of Maui’s Managing Director. He’s held the job for nearly eight years. Though he’s one of Mayor Alan Arakawa’s top advisers and aides, Regan’s post doesn’t actually include the power to hire or fire any of the county’s department heads. In any case, he’s one of the five people running to succeed Mike Victorino as the Maui County Councilmember representing Wailuku, Waihee and Waikapu.
We’ve hit Regan pretty hard in the last year (most notably, in this story), but he graciously answered all of our questions. So here he is:
MAUITIME: What is your top priority if elected?
KEITH REGAN: The top priority, if elected, would be to address homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing. Demand for housing far outpaces supply and has resulted in median home prices continuing to climb, putting the dream of home ownership out of reach for many.
We’re also faced with a shortage of affordable rentals due to the lack of supply and high demand for rentals.
Today’s crisis stems from poor legislation introduced and enacted a decade ago. Warned by unbiased experts that their proposed bills would not spur the development of affordable housing, but discourage it, the Council chose to pass these bills. As the experts predicted, the development of affordable housing abruptly stopped.
We must encourage, not discourage, the creation of various workforce housing options. Let’s explore public-private partnerships, leverage our current affordable housing fund to develop more affordable rentals, and remove legislative barriers that exacerbate this problem. Let’s increase density where density makes sense, and engage landowners with stalled projects to determine if the County may be able to help get the projects moving again.
By taking a collaborative approach, we’ll be able to build reasonably priced market units for sale and rent that will meet our workforce housing needs.
MT: What event in your life best prepared you for public office?
KR: Besides having the unique experience of having served the public as the County’s Finance Director (two years) and Managing Director (seven and a half years) which allowed me to deal with a broad range of complex issues and develop solutions that are both sensible and achievable, my extensive involvement in community service organizations from an early age was the one event that best prepared me for public office.
Getting involved in community service organizations from an early age provided me with opportunities to meet and network with a diverse group of service-oriented individuals and community leaders, and provided me with opportunities through which I could work to fight for social causes. Everything I have done and been involved with since that time has revolved around service to others.
Another event was my co-founding The Aloha Initiative program in response to the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011. Within a few weeks following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, we created an entirely new homestay program, sought and successfully obtained funds and in-kind donations to help over 100 victims, and traveled to Japan to share the program with government officials, nonprofit organizations, and the general public. The outpour of support from residents and businesses throughout Hawaii truly reaffirmed what a special place we live in.
MT: Who should be the next President of the United States?
KR: After reading Cory Booker’s book, United, I think that a person like U.S. Senator Cory Booker would be a great president. He provides a passionate new voice in American politics, and makes the case that the virtues of empathy, responsibility, and action must guide our nation toward a brighter future. He is innovative and puts partisanship aside, bringing people together to get things done.
MT: Which person who previously held the office you’re seeking do you hold up as a model? Why?
KR: Mike Victorino. Similar to my wife Lynn Araki-Regan and me, Councilmember Victorino and his wife Joycelyn have and continue to be very involved in our community. He is accessible, respectful and hardworking, all essential traits for any person in elected office.
MT: What’s your opinion on changing the County Charter to a county manager form of government? Why?
KR: While the current system is not perfect, I strongly support having checks and balances. If the system is changed as being proposed, all of the power will be concentrated in the elected nine-member council to hire/fire the professional manager to oversee the delivery of public services.
I don’t believe a wholesale change is warranted–at least not at this time. Before the entire system of county governance is completely changed, perhaps we should modify different aspects of the current system. Example: To address people’s concern about directors’ qualifications, perhaps we could amend the charter to increase the minimum qualifications of such appointees.
A colleague used this analogy: If the “check engine” light turns on, would the owner of the car immediately replace the car engine? I don’t think so. The driver would take the car to a mechanic to determine what’s wrong and to fix the problem. Perhaps all it required was an oil change. Similarly, let’s determine what’s problematic and revise the current system before making a wholesale change.
Finally, we should implement stricter residency requirements including a mandatory “return to district” clause that would require members to live in their district the majority of the time.
MT: Do you support changing the County Charter to allow the mayor, as opposed to the Liquor Commission, to appoint the Liquor Control Director?
KR: Presently, I don’t have a strong position for or against. If I am given the opportunity to be elected as a council member, and, if such a proposed change is brought forth to the Maui County Council during my tenure, I vow to thoroughly research, review, listen to the community, and deliberate as any proposed changes to the Maui County Charter are matters that should not be taken lightly.
MT: What should the county do that it isn’t already doing to alleviate homelessness?
KR: The County, from a policy standpoint, must provide the funding necessary to support the proposals that were presented by the administration back in November 2015. That plan would have brought in rapidly deployable, mobile, reusable, emergency shelters which would have helped hundreds of people. In addition, we must expand existing shelter space and develop new shelters based on more progressive “housing first” models that have shown proven success in other jurisdictions.
There are a number of individuals living in their cars and in shelters who would benefit from the development of workforce housing and workforce rentals. We need policy that supports the creation of various housing options that will help encourage their development. I have been a supporter of out of the box options such as tiny homes and micro-home communities which are affordable and meet the needs of our residents. We should also be exploring changes in zoning which would allow for greater density in areas where it makes the most sense.
We also need to address the ever increasing shortage of affordable housing options for our community. The lack of affordable rentals is directly linked to the increasing number of homeless. We have shown, through the development of the Kulamalu Affordable Rental Project, that the County is capable of planning, designing, constructing and delivering affordable workforce housing for our community. Duplicating this model and launching it in other communities will allow us to create additional affordable rentals and keep them affordable in perpetuity.
MT: HC&S is closing at the end of this year–what do you think A&B should do with the 37,000 acres that were used for growing sugar?
KR: As the chair of the Sugar Operators Support Task Force, I have worked in collaboration with HC&S, A&B, local farmers, Maui Chamber of Commerce, UH Maui College, and others not only to support the displaced workers, but to seek alternative ag crops that would create ag jobs and keep our fields green for the benefit of our residents and visitors.
As a strong proponent of Maui County setting a goal to be 100 percent self-sufficient, I would advocate for a portion of the 37,000 acres to be devoted to food crops and/or ranching. In order to do so, Maui County must strengthen agricultural infrastructure (i.e., agricultural parks, irrigation systems, and distribution systems/facilities), and work with the State and Federal government to provide for food safety, pest prevention and control, workforce training, research and extension services and policy and organizational support.
I would advocate for the other portion of the 37,000 acres to be devoted to energy crops such as sorghum, an ideal candidate to meet a great portion of the biofuel industry’s growing needs. It has tremendous yield potential and is tolerant to drought and heat. We have the opportunity to move towards greater energy independence as well as improved food security if we work together.
Photo courtesy Keith Regan