- Special Projects
Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary 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 Tante Urban, candidate for Hawaii County mayor. Other candidates include Neil Azevedo, Paul Bryant, Bob Fitzgerald, Michael Glendon, Robert Greenwell, Stacy Higa, Wendell Ka’ehu’ae’a, Yumi Kawano, Harry Kim, Ikaika Marzo, Mitch Roth, Mike Ruggles, Ted Shaneyfelt and Lahi Verschuur.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the Coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
Tourism is still Hawaii’s main source of industry. As such, we must continue to assist in helping the hotel and restaurant workers back to work. The county must work collaboratively with the state and the Hawaii Tourism Authority to necessitate carefully crafted and targeted marketing campaigns.
An example of bringing tourism back to the islands is to promote vacation packages for families. Thus, daily spending will increase per person on transportation, restaurants and souvenirs to name a few. Encourage businesses to design local products and offer special promotions to the visitors and locals alike. The tourists need to feel confident that it is safe to travel. I believe that visitors should take the COVID-19 test prior to traveling to Hawaii in order to minimize the spread of the virus.
We are faced with difficult choices due to the pandemic and new leadership must steer the economy using alternative industries in addition to tourism. My plan to stimulate the economy is to support the formation of small businesses, the creation of a “Made in the Big Island Products” campaign, and Made in the Big Island Festival, which may include night markets inviting food trucks and vendors, as well as showcase our local entertainers.
I’m also an advocate of promoting “sports tourism” for the community and tourists alike. At the same time, the Big Island is known for its enormous land. As a community, we must be sustainable and must consider diversifying agriculture. My plan is to encourage, support and assist the formation of small farmers for sustainability by offering incentives and tax credits to start up farmers.
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
I believe that we have to reduce and balance the budget. If I have to cut, I will cut from the top down. The line workers need to keep working to provide for their families and to make sure we are providing great service to our people.
It is my intent to impose a hiring freeze and instead restructure personnel with what we have. As a new source of revenue, I will streamline permitting and bring about a booming construction business. I plan to collaborate with landowners to open up more land for workforce housing to fill the need of affordable housing and bring more revenue to the county.
In addition, I intend not to increase property taxes to keep the monies in our residents’ pockets.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
In my opinion, I would have immediately persisted to the governor that I would have closed all ports of entry immediately in the first week of knowing the imminent threat of COVID-19, with the exception of essential workers such as doctors, nurses, engineers, mechanics and food supply chains to name a few. I would have ordered a lockdown, curfew and allowed the community to go out on a staggered schedule only to purchase necessities, and immediately set up a plan of action and emergency meetings in all nine districts.
I would have immediately invested in COVID-19 testing apparatus with fast and rapid results. I would have immediately put a task force to plan and write out a standard operating procedure for the purpose of safety, health and welfare of the community. This standard operating procedure would be used as a guide for future pandemic.
4. State and county residents, government officials and developers have been split over efforts to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Do you support construction of the TMT? Do you support the protesters? What would you have done differently in the past year to resolve the issue?
I support construction of the TMT. The proposal is sound and the applicant followed due process. I have been vocal about my support for the project early on and it is a remarkable opportunity to invest for our future generations as a place of learning for the world.
I also support the right to protest legally and lawfully. I empathize with the protestors and commend their dedication to hold the line. The right to peacefully protest is a true mark of democracy. Had I been the mayor, it would be my job to enforce the law legally.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
It is important to have enforceable vagrancy laws for the Hawaii Police Department to follow. I support a standard and uniform set of procedures when dealing with any unsanctioned encampment on public property.
My 21-unit apartment building is leased out to a nonprofit organization to operate and manage as “clean and sober housing.” Their bed capacity is approximately 80 — that’s 80 people off the streets. We need to have more treatment centers to work with the mentally ill, those involved with drug and alcohol addiction, and other social issues. I will expedite construction of the transitional housing by the West Hawaii Civic Center, and look for more additional transitional housing as needed.
For some extreme cases, I will find land to build a “Kokua Homeless Village.” This village will be a sustainable learning and sports village with the intent to rehabilitate those admitted. We will provide books, computers, sports activities and other recreation programs to keep the tenants busy and get them off the streets. We will set a support services program around the village’s organizational structure to ensure its sustainability.
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. Do you see this issue as a problem in Hawaii County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on the Big Island? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
I do not see this issue as a problem for Hawaii County as our community generally has aloha for each other regardless of race or ethnicity. I see our community hold police officers with admiration, and respect their authority. Most officers I know are nice and caring people.
However, with regards to police brutality and the recent protests around the world, it is only betterment if we support continued education and training with our police force on arrest rules of engagement. I also support a course on the history of racism in the U.S. to understand the systemic challenges our Black friends are up against.
I also support oversight by the police commission to maintain standards and hold our force accountable.
7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
I believe in full transparency and full disclosure. It is my intent to make all meetings and hearings open to the public to receive input from the community. As elected officials, we need to uphold the fullest extent of the law and answer to the people.
8. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Aside from cosmetic changes in county operations, I support changing our fleet to either hybrid or electric vehicles and supporting renewable and sustainable products and technologies in our infrastructures, therefore, improving public health and reducing ecological damages. I also support the ban of single use plastics. Programs that allow us to plant more trees should be considered.
The effort needs to be consciously part of county operations in general — affecting operational and policy decisions made on a daily basis. It should be a culture led by department heads and leadership.
9. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
I would create a sustainable and diversified agriculture landscape, where we can grow and raise our own food and not be largely dependent on an outside source. I would have dedicated funding and effort in the exploration of livestock, dairy, cattle, hydroponics, aquaponics, among others, in addition to existing produce. Hawaii County can be a hub for a supply chain and house packaging, marketing and distribution operations.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the Big Island? What will you do about it?
I believe affordable housing is still the No. 1 issue facing our community. My plan is to offer tax credits and subsidies to encourage developers to invest in affordable housing. I will work with the County Council to reduce regulations and make it easier for our people to apply and get approval for “ohana housing” to accommodate families. I would partner with HUD, state, and real estate investors to build affordable housing.
With proper housing, issues like homelessness and illegal drugs will be addressed. I intend to vigorously and aggressively campaign to get illegal drugs out of our communities. I believe this is the stem of many social issues such as sex trafficking. A task force with the prosecuting attorney’s office, police and social service leaders will address this to make sure we are providing great services to our people and to be able to provide for their families.
I will impose a hiring freeze and restructure personnel with what we have. As to a new source of revenue, I will streamline permitting and bring about a booming construction business. I plan to open up more land for workforce housing to fill the need of affordable housing and bring more revenue to the county.
In addition, I intend not to increase property taxes, therefore keeping money in our residents’ pockets.