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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 Luke Evslin, a candidate for Kauai County Council.There are 13 other candidates for seven seats, including Kanoe Ahuna, Arthur Brun, Mason Chock, Felicia Cowden, Billy DeCosta, Norma Doctor Sparks, Juno Ann Apalla, Shaylene Iseri, Ross Kagawa, Arryl Kaneshiro, Kipukai Kuali’i, Adam Roversi and Milo Spindt.
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?
The April flood was a tragic wake-up call for all of Kauai. While the community response was a powerful reminder of how we all come together in times of need, we have to recognize that our infrastructure was built for a climate that no longer exists.
Every land use decision has to be based around a future of rising seas and stronger storms. We need to fund a climate action plan for Kauai, we need to update our flood maps for higher storm intensities, and we need to use our zoning codes to begin the difficult process of retreating from our low-lying coastal areas. But, there is a limit to our ability to adapt. Imagine this type of storm in Hanalei with one foot of sea level rise, which we will see in the coming decades. Or the 6-9 feet we could see by the end of the century.
While there is no avoiding the disastrous impacts of climate change, we can avoid the worst possible scenarios by reducing our net carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
In the continual pursuit of good decision making, the County Council needs to create the space for respectful dialogue between members and the public. To that end, we need to always strive to make it as easy as possible for the public to weigh in, we need to ensure that there is ample opportunity for back and forth among members, and we shouldn’t place any limitations on a council member’s ability to ask questions after public testimony is given. At the same time, to ensure deliberation and public input, council members need to always be respectful toward each other and the public.
While the Kauai County Council Facebook page has been doing a good job of posting meeting agendas, to increase accountability it would be great to see a breakdown of votes posted on social media after every meeting.
3. Kauai County recently implemented a 0.5 percent GET surcharge for public transportation. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?
I am a strong supporter of the Kauai Bus and I ride it regularly. The bus helps make our transportation network more efficient, it ensures that low-income families have access to jobs and services, and it is a key tool for reducing our reliance on single occupancy vehicles. To ensure that it can be a viable alternative source of transportation, we need to follow the steps outlined in the county’s Short Range Transit Plan. And to implement the plan, we need to ensure that the Kauai Bus has a dedicated and consistent funding source.
That said, because of its disproportionate impact on low-income families, I don’t support the .5 percent GET increase. Hawaii already has a regressive tax structure (meaning low-income families bear a higher burden than high-income families), and to begin reducing inequality we need to do everything we can to make our tax structure less regressive, not more. It’s also important to note that the .5 percent GET surcharge didn’t lead to any additional funding for the bus — it just shifted how the county is paying for bus service.
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?
This is one of the most fundamental issues facing Kauai. Without new development, the cost of housing will continue to rise out of reach for local families. Without economic growth, we won’t be able to afford to live here. And without environmental preservation, we will destroy what makes Kauai special.
But, with effective policy, these aren’t competing objectives. If we invest in our town cores we can:
• Stabilize the cost of housing by increasing supply within our towns (through policies such as increasing density, making it easier for families in towns to build additional units, and incentivizing residential space on top of commercial).
• Reduce our impact on outlying agricultural and forested areas because our growth will be shifted inwards in existing town centers.
• Grow our economy because the convenience of pedestrian-friendly downtown areas gives small locally owned businesses a boost, which results in more money staying in our local economy.
• Increase government efficiency because it’s much cheaper to provide services and maintain infrastructure within a town than it is in continually expanding outlying areas.
• Reduce the time we spend in traffic because we’ll have the option of living closer to where we work, shop, and play.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
We need to recognize that our police officers have one of the toughest jobs on Kauai. Every day they put on their badge and put themselves into some of the darkest, most dangerous and most depressing situations on our island. Though they do a great job of keeping us safe, they are being stressed to their limit. The population of Kauai has grown by nearly 20,000 people over the last 25 years, but our police force has stayed the same size with the same number of beats — putting us well below the national average for police presence per capita.
Increased transparency is a win-win for both the KPD and the public. The very large majority of police are doing the best job possible and it’s important for the public to see and recognize that. At the same time, transparency ensures we can see that the system works in dealing with the very few police officers who are not doing a good job.
There is no easy answer to ensuring that our police force can be fully staffed while increasing transparency, but it’s a goal that the entire community should get behind.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Trust in government is at an all-time low. Without trust, we can’t make the bold decisions or engage in the tough conversations necessary for our island to move forward. To regain the public’s trust, I support any efforts at increasing disclosure to ensure decisions are made based on evidence, logic, and reasoning — not special interests. There is no doubt that too much money in politics can be corrosive to democracy. Because of that, I have committed to not accepting any campaign money from PACs.
While county officials aren’t allowed to accept any gifts that are meant to influence their decision-making, they don’t have to currently disclose the gifts that they do accept. One specific step at increasing transparency is to mandate that county elected officials have to disclose all gifts over $200, just like state officials currently are mandated to do.
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?
Public input shouldn’t just be an item that gets checked off at the beginning of a council meeting — effective policy needs to be shaped by the voice of the community. I believe all elected officials should use social media not only as a way to spread their own viewpoints, but as a way to gather feedback and generate dialogue. But, it’s also important to recognize that social media only represents a limited fraction of the community — and elected officials need to do their best to physically show up at as many community meetings as possible throughout the community. This allows a chance for them to listen directly to the concerns that people face, and by stepping away from the formality of a council meeting, it gives more opportunity for dialogue.
As a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the General Plan update, I saw firsthand the positive effects of going out into the community to meet people where they are to gain feedback and encourage dialogue on both the issues and their proposed solutions. The Planning Department set a high bar with their outreach for the General Plan update, and it’s one that every department and elected official should aspire to.
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 state’s recently released report on climate change showed that with 3.2’ of sea level rise, Kauai will lose 940 structures, 6.5 miles of major roads, and 5,760 acres of land — displacing 3,370 people from their homes. As the report shows, major sections of flooded highway on Kauai will include most of the highway in Kekaha, some highway in Waimea, the highway behind Wailua Beach, the north end of Kapaa, all of the highway behind Kealia beach, and about half of the highway between Hanalei and Ke’e. This isn’t some distant dystopia– this will happen this century, and could happen within my lifetime.
To prepare, we need to ensure that there’s no new density added to anywhere within the predicted sea level rise inundation zone. We need to allow for much more additional density in our existing town cores to make room for managed retreat from our coasts. We need to rapidly eliminate all cesspools in coastal areas. And we should not commit to any large-scale road expansion projects within the sea-level rise inundation zone. Just as important, we need to get to zero carbon emissions as soon as possible to minimize our contribution to climate change.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The cost of housing is by far the most pressing issue facing Kauai. We all see the effects every day, from homelessness, to departing local families, to families spending all of their income on rent.
To fix it, we need to continue subsidizing housing for those in need while expanding the crackdown on illegal vacation rentals. At the same time, we need to increase the supply of homes within our existing towns. That means continuing the work of allowing for additional ohana units in all residential neighborhoods (with the possibility of multiple ADUs in areas with existing infrastructure) and allowing for second kitchens in all homes to encourage both multigenerational households and affordable rental units, continuing to increase the density of Lihue town, ensuring that all new developments occur adjacent to existing job centers and that they maximize their allotted density while providing multiple housing types, and that we always design for walkability.
Done right, increasing the density of our towns can decrease the cost of housing, ensure the preservation of ag land and open space, reduce the time we spend in traffic, reduce islandwide inequality, and increase the walkability and livability of our existing towns.
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