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.
1. The April flooding demonstrated some homes and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to heavy rain. Should this change the county’s approach to development, and if so, how?
In almost every case of flooding on Kauai, houses that were elevated according to current flood regulations were not breached by the floods. This demonstrated that the regulations that take natural systems into account can save lives and property. However, climate change is making assumptions and calculations much less certain.
The unexpected discovery for residents from Lumahai to Haena, who still live today with limited access due to damaged roads, is the realization of how overextended the area was in terms of its physical and social carrying capacity. This same realization is reflected in the findings and policy recommendations of the recently adopted Haena State Park Master Plan.
The North Shore is a microcosm of the island, raising the same questions countywide: How much is too much and what are the appropriate ways to set limits? To the extent that we can and want to accommodate growth, what land use patterns, transportation modes, and infrastructure systems are the most environmentally sustainable and what policies are needed to move toward a prosperous and sustainable future? If I am elected mayor, I will work with the community to find and implement the answers that we arrive at together.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
Changes are definitely needed. I would change the council’s rules that prohibit council members from asking questions of members of the public who testify before the council and arbitrarily limit a council member from speaking more than twice on any subject even though what a council member may have to say could inform the debate and may be totally relevant to the issue. Irrelevant or inappropriate comments can be controlled by a discerning chair.
These rules arbitrarily suppress fact-finding, discussion and dissent, which are fundamental to good decision-making. They affect every decision the Kauai County Council makes and every problem it tries to solve.
The rules were adopted by a simple majority of the current council. That would not have been possible under Roberts Rules of Order, which requires a supermajority to limit debate, recognizing that robust debate is fundamental to democracy. The councilʻs rules also disenfranchise the voters who voted for council members to speak up on their behalf.
Removing those rules and instead encouraging a genuine spirit of inquiry and debate would greatly improve the quality and outcomes of the council’s decision-making.
3. Kauai County recently implemented a 0.5 percent GET surcharge for public transportation. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?
Yes. I strongly supported the GET to fund Kauai County’s far-sighted Multimodal Land Transportation Plan, which moves Kauai toward a sustainable land transportation system.
I preferred earmarking the excise tax monies for public bus systems only because the tax is regressive; utilizing it for transit provides affordable transportation for poor and working classes and offsets the taxʻs regressive impacts. Transit also benefits the whole by providing access to work/school, facilitating the free flow of commerce and reducing traffic and greenhouse gases.
My idea of an earmark did not prevail. Recently the mayor and council refused to fund much-needed expansion of weekend bus service costing about a million dollars annually, even though the GET surcharge will provide $12.5 million this year, demonstrating the policy risk of not earmarking the funds.
I preferred using fuel and vehicle weight taxes to address Kauai Countyʻs $100 million backlog in road and bridge repair as a fairer policy, but my bills to do so were defeated. Because road repair is very important, I supported the GET surcharge with the council determining allocations for road repair and bus expansion annually. Expanding bus services will be one of my priorities if I am elected mayor.
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?
The best way to achieve balance between economic development and environmental integrity is to focus on solving community problems and developing opportunities that will truly benefit the community (e.g. the Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path). Conversion to renewable energy, protection against invasive species and building of affordable housing will create many jobs. Solving problems and pursuing genuine opportunities will generate substantial economic development.
Developing our towns and visitor destinations as walkable and bikeable places; expanding the Kauai Bus; developing local farms and value-added products; providing adequate health care; “buying local” and encouraging “import substitution” using locally made jewelry, household goods, food, or services; addressing aging by training home care workers; taking care of the aina — e.g., fencing and and research such as is being done by National Tropical Botanical Gardens; and redeveloping Rice Street will all create jobs and economic development. Done with good planning and environmental integrity, they will truly benefit our community without degrading the environment.
To do this will require top notch public schools, excellent leadership at all levels; and excellent strategic planning/budgeting by the county and state.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
I have been pleased to witness a growing professionalism in the Kauai Police Department. The department is to be commended for its recent major drug busts, other crime-solving successes, a huge improvement in achieving timely recruitment, reductions in overtime, innovative efforts in achieving efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
That being said, any large paramilitary organization asserting the police power requires strong accountability mechanisms. Primary is a strong and independent Police Commission that interacts with the chief to ensure that leadership at the top is accountable and supported. Key to all of this is the mayor, who appoints the Police Commission.
The second accountability mechanism is the citizen complaint process administered by the Police Commission. Fair and credible handling of complaints will give citizens assurance that there is good oversight.
The third accountability mechanism includes oversight by the mayor and council of administrative activities and the control of purse strings. I will continue to ask the hard questions and work with KPD to achieve its mission “to protect and to serve” cost-effectively.
In approving body cameras, we provided the department with the opportunity to collect real time data which, properly administered, should protect both the officers and the public.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Based on my experience in being called before the Ethics Board due to a complaint filed against me that did not materialize, and having made several complaints myself, these are my thoughts:
The process should be made into a quasi-judicial format that requires the application of law to facts in a systematic way that establishes precedent and guidance for future situations.
The Ethics Board should be given sufficient investigatory support to ensure competent investigations of complaints. Presently the County Board of Ethics makes its decisions based on information provided by the complainant and the respondent. That often leaves major information gaps. Often the complainant suspects something is wrong but doesn’t have the wherewithal to investigate; the complainant shouldn’t have to investigate. If a credible complaint has been made, the Ethics Board should be able to investigate the matter thoroughly in order to be fair to both the complainant and the respondent–and to act in the public interest.
Competent investigatory capacity will also enable the Ethics Board, which approves financial disclosure statements for completeness, to do their job and secure full disclosure from candidates and elected officials.
7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes is my answer — the easy answer. The harder question to answer is, “What constitutes the public interest?” I am sure jurisdictions all over the country have answered the second question, and I would turn to them to see what has worked and not worked in defining and applying the concept of “public interest”
Additionally, I believe there is a great opportunity to make more information available publicly online, better informing the public about government and eliminating the need for the expensive request process.
8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
The following are ways I actively listen — not just to voters, but to children and young people, experts, visitors, non-voters, newspaper and other information sources — because you can never tell who has the information you need to make the right decision for the community:
I attend community events as much as possible. I gain in appreciation and understanding of my community from experiencing and interacting everyone at these events. I pick up information and concerns at these events.
• I try to read and answer all my emails.\
• I voraciously read publications covering life on Kauai and in Hawaii.
• Last year I held a public workshop entitled “How to Have a Voice.” Participants learned how a bill becomes law, how to access information from Council Services, how to participate effectively with the County Council. I plan to hold such workshops periodically.
• My cell number is readily available to the public.
• I try to really listen when a constituent approaches me or calls.
• I try to return all calls.
• I send emails periodically explaining my positions or sharing my analysis of an issue before the council and invite comment
• I write opinion pieces for newspapers on current issues.
9. What more should Kauai County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The government and residents of Kauai need to face the reality of climate change and both prepare for it and work to prevent more of it. I co-introduced and secured enactment of what has been called one of the strongest shoreline setback laws in the country to protect life and property damage. The setbacks are presently based on coastal erosion data and need to now include sea level rise data which was not available earlier.
Ultimately, we cannot simply accommodate climate change. We must turn the needle back. The county needs a county climate action plan to guide and track its efforts — which we will do if I am elected mayor. I do not subscribe to the idea that Kauai is so small compared to other places in the world that its efforts will not make a difference. That attitude is both self-defeating and self-fulfilling.
Even as we develop a plan, we need to incorporate sustainability in all planning that we do. A prime model is Kauai’s Multimodal Land Transportation Plan, which I helped to fund and develop. If we implement the plan we will reduce fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent over 2010 levels.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue is the lack of affordable housing. Providing affordable housing is complex process and requires several elements coming together. During my 28 years in elected office, I have helped to provide over 1,500 affordable homes on Kauai. The following elements need to be in place if Kauai County is to meet its affordable housing goals. If elected mayor, I will work for the following to accelerate the production of affordable housing:
• A fair and workable law requiring developers to contribute resources toward the building of affordable housing in exchange for the privilege of developing on Kauai. Example: Koae in Poipu.
• A“permanent affordability” policy that keeps taxpayer-subsidized homes insulated from the market (in the form of rentals, leaseholds, limited equity cooperatives, and land trusts) to enable Kauaʻi’s affordable housing inventory to grow. Examples: Kolopua and countyʻs leasehold program.
• A source of capital.
• Financial literacy for those who want an affordable home. Example: countyʻs bomebuyer requirements and classes.
• Design and location of housing that minimizes fossil fuel usage and transportation costs.
• A “Housing First” approach to homelessness.