comscore 2022 Election: Dave DeLeon | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2022 Election: Dave DeLeon

  • David DeLeon
Name on ballot:

Dave DeLeon

Running for:

Maui county council – Makawao-Haiku-Paia

Political party:

No answer submitted

Campaign website:

Current occupation:




Previous job history:

Served as Mayor Linda Lingle’s Executive Assistant 1991-98 with a wide portfolio of administrative responsibilities; served as Chief of Staff for Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration 2003-06; Lead reporter for The Maui News 1982-90, the Maui Sun 1980-82; and editor of the Maui Weekly 1999-2002; Government Affairs Director for the Realtors Association of Maui 2007-2016

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the voters of your county.

i have been involved in Maui County government for 40 plus years, either inside as an administrator; covering it as a journalist; or as an advocate for a wide variety of topics, from the creation of Maui’s bikeway system to affordable housing. I have also served on two county charter commissions (2011-12 and the current commission). I have either been directly involved in or covered the operation of the county and the interaction between its administrative and legislative branches. I know how this government works. In addition, I have a Masters of Arts from the University of Hawaii Manoa in Political Science.

What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what will you do to address that need?

The cost and availability of housing for working class residents is forcing many of our middle-class residents to leave. That is splitting up local families and making it nearly impossible to recruit necessary professionals, from doctors and nurses to school teachers and police officers. According to state economists, Maui County is at least 10,000 housing units short to adequately house our current population. Homes in subdivisions built to be “affordable” are now going for $1 million plus. No family working in our local economy can afford that. The same goes for rent prices. The latest explosion in housing costs has been driven by the pandemic and is actually a national phenomenon, but the underlying local structural issues — like overly aggressive land use regulation — have been building for decades, compounding the housing shortage each generation. Maui County is in a severe housing crisis and will require a serious paradigm shift to address it.

Rising inflation has significantly worsened Hawaii’s already high cost of living. What can be done at the county level to help residents cope with high consumer prices?

The most significant cost to residents who do not already own their own homes is the severely high cost of housing — especially rental housing. Economists have been telling us for decades that this is basically a problem of supply and demand, and we have ignored them. — Maui has not built homes at the pace necessary to provide for our population’s housing needs. We are going to have to seriously pick up that pace. One action Maui County voters can take this election is to approve a proposed Charter Amendment to establish a County Housing Department. Maui is the only county that does not have a stand-alone Housing Department and that has affected our ability to tackle our housing crisis. The proposal envisions a housing development department that will focus on the building the housing inventory we need. It will work with private sector builders to help expedite approvals and to bring down the cost of development by making sure the necessary public infrastructure (sewers, water, roads, schools) is there to accommodate housing demand without adding to its cost, like the state did in its preparation for the Kakaako redevelopment. And because of that public investment, we will need a mechanism — like a community land trust — to ensure that the homes go to local families — and ideally first time buyers — and that they remain affordable after the first generation buyers move on.

What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness and to make housing more affordable to residents?

Our nation’s model for building rental apartment is broken. That has caused a severe lack of rentals that the lower rungs of the working class can afford. Those units are not been built to meet demand. One thought is to re-purpose existing, nearly empty retail complexes to allow for the apartment-density redevelopment. Another is to rezone existing older neighborhoods that have worn out housing stock but relatively large lots to apartment zoning and allow the private development — again with the support of county-supplied upgraded off-site infrastructure.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?

Remain vigilant and keep following the guidance from the state and federal governments. I believe that our county governments in Hawaii have done a good job on this to date, balancing health against freedom. But the guidance for those actions needs to come from those agencies with that specialty. Hawaii’s counties are not the lead in public health matters.

What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?

At this point, to the degree possible fully open up the economy and get out of the way.

What reforms, if any, would you propose to make county government more transparent to the public?

There is always a tension between transparency and efficiency in government. The County legislative bodies are treated like any administrative board or commission under the state’s sunshine law which is a pretty high bar for transparency. One possible improvement would be to increase that transparency by one step further for proposed substantial changes made through charter amendments in order to give voters better notice of what is being proposed and how it would change the government. Another area I concerned about is the separation of the population into two classes — those who are computer capable and those who are not. Access to the government is getting increasing more difficult the second class.

Do you think more needs to be done at the county level to manage tourism? If so, what would you propose?  

I do not support knee-jerked, politically driven moratoriums stopping all resort development. Tourism is what floats our collective boat. Any action to constrain it must be well considered. That said, zoning is appropriate authority to manage over-development, and it may be time to dial back or eliminate new visitor accommodation development. There is the real possibility of overwhelming the host community and the diminishment of the resort product itself. Yogi Berra is famous for the line that goes: “no one goes to Coney Island anymore because it is too crowded.” Every successful resort community has to deal with the reality of a sustainable carrying capacity. At some point, the volume of visitors turns it into a “Coney Island.” Quantity replaces quality. Think Waikiki.

What would you propose to help diversify the county’s economy beyond tourism?

I think there is consensus that we will not be replacing tourism any time soon. Around 1990 there was a major effort to “add a third leg” to Maui’s economy by promoting the development of a high-tech sector. Federal, state, county, and private resources were poured into it — many millions of dollars. Ultimately, some of it faded away while other swing-offs (like the Pacific Disaster Center in Kihei) remained. But the product of this effort was never going to be enough to protect our economy when tourism went down (9-11, the pandemic). Since then, we lost another “leg” of the economy — plantation agriculture. Maui had the good luck to attract another farming entity — Mahi Pono — to return farming to Maui’s central valley, but there are those who would begrudge them the use of the same water source the sugar company had relied on. It is not going to be easy to attract diversifying industries. If we can not reach an agreement that farms need water to succeed, I don’t see any real chance for serious diversification.

What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise?

Get ready now and start preparing for the retreat from the shoreline. The climate change issue most likely affect the area where I live (Upcountry and Haiku) is the ever increasing droughts and their effect on our surface-water sourced water supply. My community, Haiku, depends on surface water from the East Maui Irrigation Company. The EMI is an irreplacable engineering marvel, capable of carrying enough water to supply a city the size of Honolulu, all natually, utilizing gravity. Our community particularly depends on EMI water during droughts, like the one we are in now. So any decision to impose county authority over the system — as is being proposed now — must take into account:
— The EMI system must be maintained. Its loss would be an inexcusable disaster for Upcountry Maui.
— EMI now supplies about 6 million gallons of raw water to to the county’s Upcountry system daily for just $150,000 a year. It cost about $2 million to maintain the system, cost that the private owner bears. Replacing the EMI with wells would cost many multiples of those current costs
Climate change has changed the wind pattern and our rainfall levels. In January the county had to truck potable water into Nahiku — ordinarily one of the wettest communities in Hawaii. If Nahiku is drying out, something major is up. The last thing we should do now is to make decisions based on ideological goals that do not address our community’s future water needs.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

My wife Hiroko and I established our family on Maui 43 years ago. When we came, we pledged to become “opihi” and stick to island not matter what, to make Maui our forever home. We succeeded and now three generations of our family live here. We feel very blessed. I am not running for the Council to get a job — this is community service. My ultimate goal is to give our three grandsons a fighting chance to make a good living here, on their home island.

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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