- Special Projects
Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 4 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Gil Riviere, a Democratic candidate for state senator for District 23. Republicans Richard Fale, who did not respond to the questionnaire, is also running.
District 23 covers Kunia, Schofield Barracks, Wahiawa, Waialua, Haleiwa, Kahuku, Laie, Kaaawa, Kaneohe.
Name: Gil Riviere
Office: State Senate District 23
Profession: Mortgage Loan Officer
Education: B.A. in Communications, Cal State Fullerton, 1982
Community organizations: Keep the North Shore Country; Waialua Little League; Let’s Surf Coalition; North Shore Chamber of Commerce
1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?
I have been very active in community affairs for years and I have a proven track record of success. Our district needs a strong advocate for enhancing agricultural output and good land use policies. I am well qualified to do this work; I have demonstrated my ability to build coalitions, work with all sides, thoroughly research and understand issues, execute effective strategies, and follow up.
2. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
Although some efforts have been made in the past couple years to address this issue, the state’s unfunded liabilities are going to need more support and vigilance. These obligations require consistent appropriations and should remain priorities every year, even during tough economic cycles.
3. Local officials and advocates have worked to address homelessness for years, yet the crisis is growing. What proposals do you have for this complicated issue?
I question whether or not our society is willing to do whatever it takes to reduce the level of homelessness. Collectively, we fear being accused of lacking compassion. Is it compassionate to allow the homeless to continue in their current condition because we are afraid to act or force them to do something differently?
Programs such as Housing First look promising, but there is no single silver bullet. We need to intervene appropriately for the various causes of homelessness, such as mental illness, drug addiction, economic hardship, domestic abuse, laziness, and stranded newcomers. We need to intervene with consistent effort, even when it is difficult.
4. Where do you stand on labeling genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
When asked, people overwhelmingly agree that food labels should indicate the presence of crops that were grown from genetically engineered seeds. Approximately 90 percent of corn, soy, canola and cotton grown in the United States has been genetically engineered to resist pests or certain herbicides. People want to know what is in the package, so I support GMO labeling (and non-GMO labeling).
Many people fear the influence of multi-national corporations on food production, loss of biodiversity, and the consequences of pesticide use. These are separate issues from the question of whether or not GMO foods are safe to grow and eat and they deserve their own critical review and monitoring. When in office, I will have my research staff look into state regulations and policies for pesticides and water quality monitoring to see how we might effectively increase environmental safety.
In 2010, a Compendium of European Union Funded GMO Research concluded: “According to the projects’ results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”
5. Hawaii’s cost of living is the highest in the country by many indicators. What can really be done to make things like housing, food and transportation less expensive?
Smaller houses and lots, condominiums and townhouses help reduce per unit cost, but housing will always be expensive because Hawaii is a very desirable place to live compared to places where land is more plentiful and costs are lower.
Growing more food locally for local consumption may not reduce food costs, but it will help our economy, enhance land stewardship, reduce food insecurity and provide fresh, nutritious food and a hedge against global transportation costs.
Transportation costs within Hawaii may not be so expensive in the future as we better harness renewable energies. Some people already charge their electric cars with roof-top solar panels. Hydrogen powered vehicles are another promising form of alternative transportation technology.
6. Would you support using liquefied natural gas as part of the state’s energy sources? And how can we improve the electrical distribution system so more renewable energy can be utilized to bring costs down?
We are still a long way from getting off oil powered electricity and our bills are very high. LNG is cleaner than oil and it is cheaper, so it may be a good bridge to the future. Lower electricity costs would benefit nearly everyone and help improve the local economy while we continue moving towards cleaner renewable energy.
Our electric utility needs to evolve into a wheeling entity, which means that it continues to manage and stabilize the power grid while incorporating more diverse power generation and distribution. We also need more transparency in the rate structure and power purchase agreement process to accurately review the cost structure. The entire system needs an overhaul.
7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Yet many citizens are unable to afford the costs that state and local government agencies impose. Would you support eliminating search and redaction charges and making records free to the public except for basic copying costs?
I support easy access to public records, but I would need more information to make an informed response to this question. How many people are affected or denied by the current procedures? Do agencies price services higher than necessary? Would free research encourage unnecessary or redundant work requests that hinder departmental efficiency? Would a waiver of fees process serve this purpose? Are the copy costs reasonable? With this kind of information, we can look into solutions that better serve the public’s interest.
8. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
Principals need more authority over their budgets and school operations. More money needs to be pushed down the system into the classrooms. We need to avoid overwhelming principals and teachers with bureaucratic reporting procedures. The entire school system needs a financial audit as there are many questions about where all the money goes.
9. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?
Development and environmental protection do not have to be competing interests. In fact, a healthy society needs both. Residents of this island have long enjoyed the distinct benefits of town and country. Oahu’s General Plan directs development to the primary urban centers of West and Central Oahu and Honolulu while preserving rural communities and agricultural areas. Conflicts arise when these sensibilities are ignored.
Take, for example, the controversial plan for several hundred new homes, shopping center, church, school, light industrial area and more on agricultural land between Laie and Kahuku. This proposal does not comply with the General Plan and it is opposed by virtually every community outside of the immediate area. Even so, it is up for approval by the City Council.
We are a long way from balance if every project, no matter what it is and where it is located, is approved. Decision making means the ability to vote “no” as well as “yes.”
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Related to the previous question implying that development grows our economy, I note that an Economic Vitality Study of Oahu’s North Shore, from Kaena Point to Kahaluu, suggests a new model of economic synergy is waiting for action. The study focused on identifying regionally appropriate opportunities that preserve the unique natural assets of the region, while also bolstering the economy to create jobs for area residents.
The old economic model of build-and-build-more does not fit our district. The Economic Vitality Study provides a compelling policy shift that we should encourage. Furthermore, this model of identifying regionally significant business activity can help diversify economies elsewhere.