Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Maya Parish, one of two candidates for Hawaii County Council District 9, which covers Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Village, Puako, Waikii, a portion of Kamuela, Puukapu Farms, Puukapu Homesteads, Puukapu Village House Lots, Lualai, Puuopelu, Lalamilo, Waiaka, Kawaihae, Kohala Ranch, Mahukona, Hawi, Kapaau and Halaula. She is one of two candidates. The other is Tim Richards.
1. The latest volcanic eruption demonstrates that some homes and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to lava flow. Should this change Hawaii County’s approach to development, and if so, how?
Yes, absolutely. The 2014 and current eruptions and their effects demonstrate a lack of accountability from our government agencies when approving permitted developments in Lava Zones 1 and 2. I would advocate for a broad-scope, rigorous and systematic analysis of options to address this problem moving forward. This catastrophe has highlighted a prime example of possessing firm scientific knowledge of high risk, but ignoring the science in governmental and business decision-making. It also highlights how high land prices on the island drive our people, particularly our farmers, to assume excessive risk in order to have affordable land. I would seek a cost-benefit analysis of alternative approaches, including:
• Anticipated costs of County support in the case of another catastrophe if development continues in Lava Zone 1 and 2.
• Anticipated costs if no additional sales are permitted.
• Anticipated costs if no additional sales are permitted and current residents are compensated for not re-selling.
Development restrictions in critical lava, tsunami and flood zones should consider and respect the natural environment, history, and what we know is coming with climate change and sea level rise. This would also allow Hawaii County to restrict certain areas from various development and use.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
I’d like to see the body be more proactive about the county budget instead of reactive. I would advocate for hiring an independent budgetary consultant to enable council members to have a better grasp of the options and opportunities. I’d like to see a focus on long term and creative revenue solutions that do not unduly burden taxpayers, beginning well in advance of budget review process, with a closer working relationship with the mayor’s office.
Additionally, it seems that two-year terms are too short to get any real work done, especially since only a year after council members get elected, they need to start campaigning to get re-elected for another term (unless they have met the term limit). Four-year terms makes more sense to me, with a two-term limit. That way council members would have more time to learn the job well, get to know and work with all of the department heads, and do the job they’ve been elected to do.
I’d also like to see more community education and involvement on issues, including offering increased testimony times in the evenings. The day time offered doesn’t work for the majority of people who work full time jobs.
3. The Legislature has authorized Hawaii County to implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge. Should the county do it, and if so, what should the additional revenue be spent on?
Editor’s note: This answer was submitted before the council approved a 0.25 GET surcharge.
The short answer is no. Increasing GET is regressive and I do not think that island residents should get hit with it. Why should we pay for the ongoing Honolulu rail project from which Hawaii County residents will not benefit, and when will we get back Hawaii County’s fair share of the TAT? Also, I believe we need to look at our property tax structure — in particular, at the large parcels that are taxed as ag land without actual agriculture taking place. The criteria for ag exemptions needs to be elevated and enforced.
We could and should start thinking outside the box and then whittle down to the approaches that will make the most sense. Potential alternatives include elective taxation, ie. volunteer tax for specific issues that people care about personally, like kupuna care, homelessness, animal control, etc., income tax reform, conservation pricing for utilities use so businesses and those who use more pay more, and alternative funding sources beyond taxation such as new county ventures.
4. 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?
Defining balance in the larger context may be a good place to start. Right now, I believe we need to prioritize our values, and I sincerely hope that the natural environment, and thus the health and true wealth of the people, will be prioritized over whatever might be seen as “competing interests.”
More specifically, from all I’ve seen and heard, there is not a strong desire to grow the economy through new development in District 9. The infrastructure doesn’t exist to support new development and the residents are consistent in meetings, polls, and testimony that they don’t want it. Detrimental environmental impacts along with the lack of infrastructure to support new development are cited as reasons.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
Prohibiting retired police officers from being on the police commission to reduce the risk of bias would be a good start. The current 90-day period for filing complaints could be lengthened to six months to give people more time to come forward. I’d like to see accountability for drugs and money obtained in searches that is to be destroyed or stored in evidence rooms to be tightened up.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Disclosure of funds for election campaigns are weak. As they currently stand, it is easy to hide the real sources of funds. Commissions enforcing the laws tend to be forgiving for some and less for others – uniform application of these laws is necessary and I would do all I could to fight for that. I would also advocate for the County Ethics Board to increase to at least seven, if not nine members. Many meetings are cancelled because of lack of quorum, which causes cases to drag on.
7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I would offer weekly community office hours in each area of my district on a revolving basis. Each month I would make myself available in all of the four major areas of the district (i.e., one week in Waimea, the next in Waikoloa, the next in North Kohala and the next in Kawaihae). That way, community members would not have to drive far to come share their concerns and ideas with me.
Additionally, I would attend community meetings on a regular basis – the CDP action group meetings in North and South Kohala as well as the groups (formerly known as sub-committees), senior meetings, and other gatherings.
I would also send out a monthly newsletter to all of my constituents to keep them informed as to what is happening in the various county departments, on the council and in the different areas of the district.
9. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We need more hurricane shelters in every community. We need an increased network of emergency access roads. We need to organize our local communities, along the same vein as CERT and the fire-wise communities program to be able to respond and help each other in the instance of natural disasters. We need to do everything we can to reduce the levels of greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean and renewable energy production.
Regarding the reefs, we need to enforce the oxybenzone ban and ensure only reef-safe sunscreens are used by residents and visitors, we need to immediately address the cesspool and septic tank problems, enact golf course run-off taxes and/or invest in treatment systems. Truth be told, we need a near complete infrastructure overhaul and we need to find the money to do it.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I see environmental protections, discussed above, and the barriers to increasing local food production as the most pressing issues facing our district.
I think District 9 has incredible potential to be the bread basket for our island, and Hawaii Island to be the breadbasket of the state, and that it is imperative that county leadership clear existing barriers and invest in this potential. Specific initiatives for which I would advocate include:
• Launching pilot projects in which zoning variances are offered to create community ag parks.
• Exploring ag land trust models to reduce prohibitive land costs to small farmers.
• Revitalizing water lines from the Kohala Ditch to supply low-cost ag water to farmers.
• Supporting cultivation of higher altitude lands not currently in production for weather and resource appropriate crops (ie. stone fruit, temperate vegetables, olives, etc.)
• Creating county-level Department of Agriculture to oversee and facilitate diversified agriculture on Hawaii Island.
• Creating and marketing “Hawaii Island Brand” under which local farmers could white label their produce and value added products.
• Working with state leadership to facilitate reliable contracts on which farmers can depend through Department of Education Farm to School initiative and other sources.