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. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
We must address the various types of homelessness and how to best solve each.
• For individuals that choose to be homeless despite options and resources, we should provide hygiene stations to allow for self-care and overall public health.
• Houseless individuals and families with kids struggling to afford rent should have more opportunities like the Kahauiki Village on Oahu or Pua Loke in Lihue, which will be a transit-ready community in the town core with up to 50 units of permanent housing for homeless.
• For homebound homeless without the resources to return home, we must work with programs and grants from groups like the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association for reparations services.
• Individuals suffering from mental illness need to be reached and treated by creating a stronger alliance between DOH officials, mental health service providers and nonprofits.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as lieutenant governor do specifically?
It is the state and counties’ responsibility to find affordable housing solutions by securing funding for projects. As mayor, I’ve worked with the Kauai County Housing Agency, developers and community members to make affordable housing initiatives a reality. These developments are the footprints we can use on the state-level to immediately address the housing crisis.
Lima Ola in Eleele is one example of a housing footprint we’re setting on Kauai that we can expand across the state. We secured 75 acres for $2 million to build the first green, affordable housing project with 550 affordable housing units (single and multi-family) for sale or rent and received a $13 million loan from the state. Phase 1 is 149 units and breaks ground this summer.
Another type of affordable housing we’ve accomplished is Kanikoo in Lihue, where kupuna can age in place with their caregivers. Finished in March 2017, there are a total of 90 units funded by federal and state housing programs. Our kupuna have the opportunity to be cared for and live with their loved ones as they age with dignity.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I believe the decision to hold a state constitutional convention should remain in the hands of the voters. If the people of Hawaii decide to support or oppose a con con, then it is their voices and votes we must listen to.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
As with a con con, I believe in supporting whatever decision the voters make on a citizens initiative process.
5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
I would ensure we enforce our existing laws and policies. We must hold state agencies accountable and provide the public with the transparency they deserve in the most efficient way possible.
6. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry, and what do you propose to do about it?
One of the biggest problems with third party vacation rental websites like Airbnb and HomeAway is that they specifically design their programs to hide the exact addresses and locations of their vacation rentals. This is done in part to obfuscate zoning enforcement and taxation. Without the address, taxation offices cannot establish who should be taxed. However, because of the many negative impacts that these uses are having globally, other tech companies have arisen that have designed their own programs to physically identify each of the vacation rentals listed on these third party sites. Like we are doing on Kauai, the state needs to procure these services so that we can actually identify those operating vacation rentals statewide.
By successfully identifying each vacation rental operation, we can levy taxes moving forward. We can also utilize the customer review history that all of these websites have to determine how long the vacation rental has been in operation. This will allow for levying of back taxes on all of these operations.
7. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
Tourism is a vibrant industry that provides vital inflow of capital to our islands. The tax dollars generated by our visitors fuel many crucially needed programs that directly impact people’s lives such as health care programs, education programs, programs for the disabled, for children, and for kupuna.
But we must ensure we balance tourism with the needs of our local residents. Locals are being priced out of their home in part because illegal vacation rentals are sucking up the housing inventory and inflating housing prices. With vacation rental properties, they must be regulated and taxed accordingly. This includes capping the amount of permits for rentals in each area.
There is also an increased strain on our natural resources and infrastructure from increased visitors. As a state, we must work to better educate tourists and those in the tourism industry on how to protect our aina. The state must work closely with the Hawaii Tourism Authority to create campaigns and programs that will protect our environment because the natural beauty of our islands is what makes us marketable as an international vacation destination.
8. Do you support amending the state Constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public education system? How would you implement it if it passes?
I will support the decision that the voters make. If the constitutional amendment passes, elected leaders must ensure the bill is implemented with its original intent and that funds collected are expressly used for education.
As a state, we need to focus on improving the access and quality of early education and post-secondary education. I am a parent of three adult children, one of which is a second-grade teacher, and I know the challenges within our education system at every level. Together, I know we can improve education in Hawaii by enriching students͛’ experiences through real-life learning and by supporting classroom teachers.
9. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
While not everyone agrees that LNG is a “bridge” fuel, I believe in supporting LNG because it is a cleaner fuel than oil and coal. It is not perfect, but given our current infrastructure, it provides a more immediate way for certain industries to transition to a cleaner fuel while we continue to build a wholly renewable energy infrastructure statewide.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
Already the king tides are wreaking havoc on near shore properties and we need to adjust setbacks for new development in consideration of rising sea levels. Seventy percent of Kauai’s beaches are chronically eroding, and some studies say erosion rates will double by mid-century due to sea level rise. Other concerns from sea level rise are increased groundwater flooding and drainage failures.
The Shoreline Setback Ordinance adds additional setbacks to account for sea level rise – but this mainly applies to new development/new structures. Kauai County has the most progressive setback rules in the state, from 40 to 100 feet, depending on property location and size. Kauai is planning for the impacts of sea level rise, but there is much work to do. We are currently working to formulate maps for future exposure areas. Once we better understand our vulnerabilities, we can start to plan our options for future growth.
11. The office of lieutenant governor is often viewed as irrelevant. What would you do to make it more productive?
My strength is bridging resources and bringing people together. I will apply this skill to an initiative that will positively impact homelessness, affordable housing and education — workforce development.
Workforce development bridges education and business. It brings these two vital components of our economy together. When we create a strong bridge between our teaching professionals and our business leaders, we establish a strong foundation for preparing our youth and our adults in the best ways possible for entering the job market. Teachers benefit from having access to the resources and guidance of our business community. The business community benefits by having graduates applying for jobs that come with skill sets in demand by their industries.
Our people are at the very top of our “Hawaii Brand” and by investing in our people, our workforce, we grow the number one resource our economy needs to create good jobs. A strong workforce attracts business development and growth. When we invest in our people and provide opportunities for them to learn the skills needed for good jobs, then we help them afford a better quality of life.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
I want to improve Hawaii’s Disaster Emergency Preparedness system. As mayor of Kauai, I have hands-on leadership experience managing community response to natural disasters at all levels in our community.
I want Hawaii to be a shining example in the nation of implementing a “whole community approach to emergency management.” This program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency focuses on members of the community as vital resources. FEMA says this approach is essential because it “…presents a foundation for increasing individual preparedness and engaging with members of the community as collaborative resources to enhance the resiliency and security of our Nation through a Whole Community approach.”
For Hawaii to excel in this leading edge endeavor, we must have a strategic framework in place that guides how everyone contributes. My greatest strength as a leader has always been to be a bridge to action. A bridge connecting people with each other. A bridge to success.