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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 4 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Joy San Buenaventura, Democratic candidate for state representative for District 4. Republican Gary Thomas is also running.
District 4 covers Puna on the Big Island.
Name: Joy A. San Buenaventura
Office: State House District 4 (Puna makai)
Solo practice attorney
Education: McKinley High School, HNL, 1976; University of Nevada Las Vegas, BS, Math, 1980; UC Hastings College of Law, 1983
Community organizations: Volunteer mediator, Ku’ikahi Mediation Center, for past seven years; volunteer attorney, Self-Help Legal Clinic and Legal Service of Hawaii, past 20 years; volunteer arbitrator with Court Annexed Arbitration Program; Hilo Photoshooters and Hilo Photography Club, former officer and member
1. Why are you running for the Hawaii Legislature?
As a solo attorney whose clientele is primarily middle-class residents of East Hawaii, I have witnessed the slide of more and more people into the despair of poverty caused by the Great Recession. These people were hard workers who often were laid off and assumed there was a job just around the corner so they dipped into savings/retirement and went into debt because they believed there will always be work because they had always worked. Hawaii’s current state laws do not help these people climb out of debt or allow them to keep basic assets. The creditor-exemption law, which is the safety net for workers, is 40 years old. The state lacks an anti-deficiency law to help debtors whose homes have been foreclosed, unlike such states as California. Meanwhile, foreclosures make up 75 percent of civil court actions on the Big Island. The payday loan industry (which specifically targets the working poor) is exempt from usury limits and permits charging its clients more than 400 percent annual interest! I tried getting bills tackling these specific issues addressed by the Legislature as an advocate; now I want to tackle them as a legislator.
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?
This is a complex issue. For now, I am satisfied with what the state is doing because to further tax people to pay down these unfunded liabilities will weaken the economy just as we are climbing out of the effects of the Great Recession.
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?
For the mentally ill and drug addicts, residential facilities should be created. The East Hawaii Coalition for the Homeless disbanded for lack of funding. Even when they were operating on the east side of Hawaii Island, its focus was to create transient housing for families and move them into homes. The coalition’s next priority was for single women. Single men were usually left out on the street for lack of room. In large mainland cities, church-based charitable organizations step in to create overnight accommodations for a small fee of $3-$5/night (which is not necessarily a small fee to those in need). It is my understanding that Hawaii County, through the Pahoa Regional Center Steering Committee, is in the process of hiring a consultant who will make recommendations on homeless housing, a domestic violence center, residential rehabilitation center, and transient accommodations that would include public toilets and showers in Pahoa. I look forward to seeing those plans.
4. Where do you stand on labeling genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
We need to learn to coexist. There will always be ardent believers on both sides of this issue regardless of quoted studies supporting one side or the other. Thus, I support labeling. Labeling is a good compromise that will allow consumers to be informed and choose what they purchase, and it allows farmers to choose whether or not to grow GMO crops. Re: pesticide regulation, we already have state laws on the books regulating their use but the state Department of Agriculuture has too few employees to monitor pesticide use statewide.
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?
Most of the people in Puna reduce their costs of living by practicing sustainability. They grow some of their own food, many live off the grid, and they recycle — the Keaau and Pahoa transfer stations are models of sorting/recycling of reclaimed working items. For those who do not practice sustainability, the shipping of materials and goods into Hawaii is the prime reason for the high cost of living here. A federal/state investigation of how to reduce the cost is needed. Is it labor, fuel costs, regulation, and/or lack of competition that are the prime factors for the high cost? And after researching the issue, what can we do to reduce those costly factors. Such a study could also encourage companies to enter the ship-to-Hawaii market.
6. Would you support using liquified 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?
I am for anything that will help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without harming our people and our environment. Isn’t LNG a fossil fuel? Solar power is a better alternative. I do not believe the state should be in the business of improving electrical distribution systems when there is a private for-profit almost monopoly whose main job is to provide electricity to Hawaii residents and businesses. Understandably, the PUC determines what costs can be passed on to the consumer but it’s still HEI’s responsibility to distribute.
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?
All of Hawaii’s public records, both state and county, should be available online. The state has skimped on IT investment for decades, leaving us with 30- and 40-year-old financial and management systems as well as programs written in now-defunct language. I support the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s recent resolution to introduce a plan for an open governmental environment through public online access to government data through an integrated Information Technology/Information Resource Management Transformation Plan. Meanwhile, elimination of search and redaction charges and making records free to the public could be provided upon affidavit of need similar to the judiciary’s waiver of court filing fees.
8. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
Hawaii’s public school system can be run better. Perhaps a decentralization of authority is needed so that individual schools have some autonomy. A review of the distribution of education monies needs to be done to ensure that basic needs are met in rural public schools, including charter schools. There should always be CIP monies for such exigencies as leaking roofs and for schools to have sufficient chairs so that students do not need to sit on overturned buckets!
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?
Every development requires environmental assessments to be conducted to determine whether their environmental burdens are justified. Depending upon the impact, public hearings at the county where such development takes place should be required. In lower Puna, the geothermal protests led to heightened awareness of the noise and health effects on neighboring residents, which then led to the creation of a fund to allow for the purchase of neighboring residences, more safety protocols and now a study of health effects before more geothermal development occurs. Thus, public hearings allow the government to balance competing interests.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Connectivity. Basic infrastructure such as paved roads and rural IT/cell phone coverage, which Oahu takes for granted, is lacking in major portions of Puna. Emergency vehicles cannot access emergencies in a timely manner because there are miles of deeply rutted roads. In the past six months there have been at least two major fires in Puna where the houses were completely demolished because fire crews could not reach them in time. Paved main roads and phone service are matters of public health and safety.
There are public parks and miles of roads here with no emergency landlines. Emergency calls cannot be made in large parts of Puna because of lack of IT or landline phone service. Affordable broadband internet is a utility that is needed in rural communities. It would allow for education in a community where there is limited public library service and no higher education; it could provide for telemedicine in a community almost the size of Oahu with no emergency room and urgent-care clinics usually only staffed by nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants (when they are open); and it would foster entrepreneurship in e-commerce in a community with several of the largest subdivisions in the state but no industry and limited jobs.
President Clinton recognized that capability in signing a broadband tax bill in the 1990s and President Obama followed up on that potential by ensuring a $4.5 billion fund to connect America. The state PUC should be tasked with recommendations on how to create incentives or obtain funding to create public/private partnerships to connect rural Hawaii with the rest of the 21st Century world. The proposed Time-Warner Cable/ComCast merger seems like a good time to do so.