Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Rebecca Villegas, a candidate for Hawaii County Council, District 7, covering a portion of Kealakekua, Kona Scenic Subdivision, Kainaliu, Honalo, Keauhou, Kahaluu, Holualoa, Kona Hillcrest, Pualani Estates, Sunset View, Kuakini Heights, Kona Vistas, Alii Heights, Kona Industrial, Lono Kona. There is one other candidate, Kelly Drysdale.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the General Election Ballot.

Candidate for Hawaii County Council District 7

Rebecca Villegas
Party Nonpartisan
Age 44
Occupation Marketing and events management
Residence Kailua-Kona

Community organizations/prior offices held

Surfrider Foundation, Kona Kai Ea Chapter, president; Kohanaiki ‘Ohana, president; Keiki Surf for the Earth & Beach Clean Up, managing organizer; Maka’ainana Foundation, board member; Mana’o Pono Sustainability Inc., president and CEO; Daughters of Hawaii.

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, it’s imperative that no new building permits are approved in Lava Zone 1. We should also look at the potential implications of the threats to Lava Zone 2 and structures already built in all of these areas.

2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?

As a life-long resident of the County of Hawaii, I have seen the County Council evolve from a contentious den of power mongering to a more productive, collaborative and effective group of community leaders. I would like to be a part of that continued transformation and perpetuate its focus on solutions aligned with constituent concerns.

3.The Legislature authorized Hawaii County to implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge and the council chose to approve a 0.25 percent surcharge. What should the additional revenue be spent on?

This increase would have a two-year expiration date and a nominal effect on the people of Hawaii island. I agree with the .25 percent increase. The increased revenue created by a small increase in GET will be used to improve the bus system and implement a Mass Transit Master Plan as well as repair and maintain roads. There are plans in motion for new roads as well, but with the crisis in Puna, many plans have had to be put on hold. My hope is that a portion of these funds could be used to save programs under threat of being cut due to county budget deficits stemming from the volcanic activity in Puna.

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?

We have an opportunity to diversify the kinds of development we approve in our county. There are agricultural (non-GMO!), energy, housing, waste water and infrastructure needs in our community that will require improvements, updating and development. All of them should be required to implement water and energy saving technologies. The Kona Community Development Plan outlines the means for protecting our natural and cultural resources. It mush be used as a guide to pinpoint areas appropriate for growth and development.

5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?

While an imperfect organization, as are all organizations that involve humans, it’s my understanding that our Police Department operates with a high level of integrity, connection to the community, and accountability. I’m grateful for Hawaii’s diverse population, ethnically, economically, and geographically. We do have issues, but we don’t have the extreme cases of police bias and brutality that are found on the mainland. I should note that the Police Department is not under the jurisdiction of the Hawaii County Council.

6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?

The County Charter currently outlines the parameters and laws related to lobbying, ethics and financial disclosures. Changes will need to be made to the County Charter. In the interim, we will need stronger oversight of the already existing requirements.

7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?

Yes, the public must have easy affordable access to public records.

8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?

Keeping lines of communication open with my constituents will be one of my biggest responsibilities. I will work for them and with them. It’s my kuleana to respond to all phone calls, emails, other means of communication in a timely and responsible manner. I will attend community meetings and meet one on one with constituents. I’d also like to host “Talk Story” meetings where people can share in an open forum about ideas, concerns, and solutions.

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?

I’ve been fortunate to work with organizations like Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Sustainable Coastlines and the Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Chapters. They all work tirelessly to clean our shorelines. I’ve witnessed first hand the unrelenting inundation of marine plastics littering our shores.

With the effects of climate change causing erosion, property damage, increased severity of storms, and changes in weather patterns all making us more vulnerable to natural disasters, it’s imperative that we take action locally. The County Council recently banned plastic bags and Styrofoam.

The Kohala Center is involved with a project at NELHA to grow and reintroduce native corals to our bleached and dying reefs. Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative is working to reforest areas of Hamakua, which in turn sequesters large amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the lead causes of global warming. The Kohanaiki Ohana manages shoreline preservation projects and works to restore strand vegetation, thus providing roots systems to prevent shoreline erosion.

Our waste water treatment plant is at a tipping point and must be updated. We also need to find an executable solution for the issues created by cesspools that are leaching toxins into the ocean and water table. 

10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

After lengthy talks with constituents of District 7, including business owners, residents, and visitors alike, homelessness was the predominant topic of concern. From panhandling to property destruction to the piles of rubbish in parks and on vacant property, the effects of homelessness are vast and far reaching.

There are a number of other issues I believe are also of great concern. However, the job of being a County Council member is to represent the concerns of constituents of their district. That being said, District 7 is concerned about the rapid growth, diversification and expansion of the homeless population. I would work to understand the complete scope of the county’s current plans to build a temporary housing facility by the Civic Center. Vetting vagrants from the homeless who want help will be a big part of the process. Providing on site services for the mentally ill will also be imperative.

With the current displacement of families on the East Side by volcanic activity, we are faced with yet another demographic of homelessness. I would work closely with organizations that have been helping the homeless for decades to identify templates and paradigms that have been implemented and are working in other communities.