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 Ranae Keane, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 9 representing Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Village, Puako, Waikii, portion of Waimea, Kamuela, Puukapu Farms, Puukapu Homesteads, Puukapu Village House Lots, Lualai, Puuopelu, Lalamilo, Waiaka, Kawaihae, Kohala Ranch, Mahukona, Hawi, Kapaau and Halaula. The other candidates are Philip Aiona and Tim Richards.
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?
Hawaii islandʻs economy must be diversified beyond tourism in local retail, food production and energy generation. I will promote products made in Hawaii, food grown in Hawaii as well as energy produced in Hawaii. We are resilient and tourism will return; in preparation for the return of tourism post-C19 we must be wise in viewing this period of rest from tourism as an opportunity to evolve the tourism industry. I am a huge advocate of eco-tourism, cultural-tourism and much under utilized voluntourism. It is in the islands best interest that tourism be scaled with its resources and that we accommodate to the visitor that best aligns with the residents desired quality of life.
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 see potential new revenue for the County of Hawaii by implementing usage fees to visitors for use of county services such as county parks. Residents pay for these parks through the county property taxes but visitors currently use county parks without contributing to the expenses. With the use of smart technology tourists can contribute to county parks they wish to visit.
Another revenue source that is of concern is for our counties fair share of the TAT collected within our county. I will write a resolution to urge the state to increase the TAT given to the County of Hawaii. There is also potential to increase revenue for the County of Hawaii in permits based on usage and value.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
As with any unexpected crisis clarity, simplicity and communication are key. There was a disconnect in communication between state government, county government and the general public. I would have created one centralized source of information such as a website with a user friendly interface that had civil defense updates, testing sites calendar, closure/open lists, social distancing directives, financial aid links, childcare/home-school resources, business resources, FAQ, etc., with the option to subscribe to receive text alerts and daily updates.
In hindsight it would have been best to limit travel only to Hawaii residents earlier so that once the number of COVID-19 cases stabilized we could have opened to all of Hawaii much sooner without reservation knowing the threat had been mitigated in our isolated island environment. While it is easy to say what could be done differently in retrospect one thing without a doubt I would have handled differently is I would have never denied Hawaii residents beach access or restricted socially distanced outdoor activities because exercise, sunshine, fresh air and a connection with the nature are all healthy; and in my opinion essential.
I feel it is important at this time to have a protocol in place of what to expect if there are cluster breakouts or a second wave. With protocol in place people will not be surprised by county action, business owners will know what to expect and can plan in advance. I applaud our essential workers and give great credit to all the amazing community collaboration that came to the aid of feeding people, providing health care, collecting donations and stepping up for neighbors during this unprecedented time of need.
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 am concerned with the decommissioning process and where it fits within the time-line of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan. Five of the telescopes are committed to closing and dismantling. The CalTech Submillimeter Observatory decided to cease operation in 2009, the decommission date has been postponed and is still incomplete. The Hōkū Keʻa is also scheduled for decommission in the immediate future.
The decommission is followed by an environmental assessment and “site restoration to its original state to the greatest extent possible”. However, when researching further there are many different levels of restoration — full, moderation or minimal. I would like to see management that demonstrated restoration in full. It is good stewardship to tend to what currently existence before adding more to what has had a history of questionable management.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips with this persistent problem?
In early 2020 the number of homeless was decreasing in Hawaii County, but I fear due to the economic impact of COVID-19 Hawaii County can expect to see a rise in the homeless population. The decrease was a positive result due the work of public and private collaboration. We have to carry on with this model to continue to address the persistent problem and mitigate a potential rise.
The partnerships can provide more sanitary facilities of showers and beds while bringing aid such as employment services, mental health services and drug rehabilitation to the sub-populations within the homeless community. In 2019 the county served over 1,300 homeless with a 70% exit rate to permanent housing after a three-month average stay in temporary housing.
My first order of business will involve homeless children in Hawaii County. My goal is to expedite the transition for the children into permanent housing.
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?
An immediate actionable step is to stop the use of vascular neck restraints. The Hawaii Police Department currently has training for our officers to intervene when peers are out of line and I would like this training to be expanded with regular drills in addition to support for officers who do have to take action to intervene.
I would like to see transparent policy which addresses closed-door racism not only in the police department but in all areas of county government.
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 disagree with the action of suspending open government laws. Public records are part of transparency and need to be available through the use of technology.
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?
We must be forward-thinking and cautious about future land use at and near the shoreline due to the impending rise of sea level. I am dedicated to protecting our reefs from overuse, wastewater, pollution and temperature threats.
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 am dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage, to the protection of the natural wonders of the islands and to enhancing the quality of life for the residents of Hawaii County. The big idea I have for Hawaii is to pursue “voluntourism” through a public-private partnership.
“Voluntourism” will promote tourists leaving the island in better condition than when they arrived. A simple example of this is encouraging visitors to participate in a beach cleanup for one hour during their stay on the island. The visitor works with our local population and learns about a specific area of the island.
A more involved example is promoting programs where visitors help build shelters and facilities for homeless. A more extensive example would be multi-week projects sourcing visitors with specific skills to engage in the preservation projects with the County of Hawaii Public Access, Open Space & Natural Resources Preservation Commission.
“Voluntourism” is a fast growing sector within the tourism industry and it is the perfect time to evolve the tourism industry in Hawaii to develop this concept. Tourists experience ancient and contemporary practices of Hawaii while working side by side with our community having a better glimpse into the real Hawaii of today. Through “voluntarism” our visitors can join in partnership with our residents to support a healthy Hawaii. It is in the islands’ best interest that tourism be scaled with its resources and that we accommodate to the visitor that best aligns with the residents’ desired quality of life.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing Hawaii County District 9 is the disconnect of the constituents with the county government. North Kohala and South Kohala small business owners have great aspirations to produce goods and services, however they face barriers in the county permitting processes. Waimea has bottleneck roadways and Waikoloa Village has no emergency evacuation route. Hawi and Kapaau have a desire for mobile outreach and remote testimony sites to be heard and participate in county issues.
Community groups in District 9 have passion to pursue community works, only to lose momentum after years of exhaustive processes held up in county government. The most pressing issues facing our district are the lack of streamlined systems, transparent time-lines and a direct connection with our local representation.
I will make myself available for direct connection with the constituents and share their concerns in the county legislation. I will encourage the county to embrace the use of technology to become more efficient and effective for the people of District 9. My goal is to bring balance for a better Hawaii.