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 Mason Chock, candidate for Kauai County Council. Other candidates include Jade Battad, Addison Bulosan, Donovan Cabebe, Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden, Mike Dandurand, Billy DeCosta, Debralynn Desilvacarveiro, Luke Evslin, Victoria Franks, Richard Fukushima, Ed Justus, Arryl Kaneshiro, KipuKai Kuali’i, Jakki Nelson, Wally Nishimura, Shirley Simbre-Medeiros, Rory Parker, Naomi Taniguchi and Clint Yago.
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?
COVID-19 has made it visibly clear what we were experiencing on our roads, feeling how we lived and seeing in our natural environment prior to the pandemic. It has convinced everyone that we cannot and should not depend solely on our visitor industry for economic vitality.
Our risk to the effects of the pandemic behooves us to ensure safety protocols are in place prior to opening the doors for tourism. This will require the collaboration of our trans-Pacific providers, health experts and government leaders to solidify a sound process of contact tracing, testing and quarantine along with implementing new standards of interaction.
When we do open up for tourism, we need to be deliberate in how we move our visitors to and from locations. A limitation on rental cars and a shift to multi-modes of traffic is imperative, which inevitably requires sound planning.
Interestingly, our General Plan identifies the ceiling limits experienced in the visitors industry and areas the county could look to support the balance being sought. Within that plan forming a Kakou Committee was identified and it would be a good avenue to continue working towards how we return our economy sustainably.
If keeping the rural character and the viability of a good life is important we need to become more sustainable in every area of society and invest in industries that can support this. Clearly defining agriculture for our future needs, improving its infrastructure and providing access are key. Supporting social entrepreneurism and expanding technology and textile industries appropriate to the safety of our environment is key.
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?
Because 80 percent of the county’s budget is directed to our workforce, if the county has to cut its expenses we inevitably need to consider reducing services and subsequently positions that support those services. This would be my last resort, but it is inevitable if the county is in dire straits.
First, we need to integrate visitor fees on a local level that help to balance the budget. This includes parking fees, bridge tolls and even regional permitting for our visitors. We need to lobby our federal leaders for another round of CARES Act funding that targets our economic needs from an infrastructure and small business development standpoint.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
I believe Kauai and its local leaders responded quickly and efficiently to the virus crisis. It is evident by our data that we did a good job of protecting our resident’s health from covid-19. Our council responded immediately to support KEMA and response needs. I also feel like our mayor did a good job of communicating our response as it developed. I feel like more focus on communicating to alleviate economic fears could and should be done as the crisis continues to unfold.
So much has been predicated on our state unemployment insurance program and our federal support, perhaps an intergovernmental approach to how we can better resolve issues or provide outside services to the gaps in services could have been achieved.
Over the recent years, I’ve experienced an increased jurisdictional pull between the state and county that can easily and unintentionally affect our customers. In times of extreme need, the public should expect nothing less than everything we can possibly do in problem-solving issues.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
The houseless issue is complex and includes of range of challenges including mental health, drug abuse and financial instability. We must approach each one of these issues cohesively in order to untangle the web of despair being experienced.
I am a believer in the Housing First initiative and have focused much of this current term on housing initiatives. With the governor’s ohana zoning and its related funding we are on cusp of erecting the first project for houseless families with integrated services. My hope is that we can duplicate this model on west and east Kauai in the future.
In addition, I am dedicated to building more resilient factors into our community for everyone but especially for those who are in most need. The adolescent treatment center and its additional services should be a focal point for all of these contributing factors to this issue.
5. 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 Kauai County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on Kauai? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
This issue exists as it exists everywhere else on our planet, with subtle differences here on Kauai. As a kanaka, I have witnessed the incarceration of oppressed minorities and believe there are improvements needed within our justice system to address prison reform in the way of bail and pre-trial reform.
I have been working with our prosecuting attorney on these initiatives. Kauai county was the first to implement body cams and they have served as an accountability measure. Our current council just approved the continued use and improvement of the body cam program. There is always opportunities for improvement of customer service and building a positive work culture so those sworn to serve and protect can do it with respect and dignity.
Our recently appointed police chief has been very vocal on his support to prevent discrimination and shown a commitment to protect our citizens so health and safety prevails. In addition, we need to encourage our commissions to take a more active role in conflict management and resolution so that when incidents arise, they can be fully addressed and resolved, resulting in setting standards that help protect officers as well as the community.
6. 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?
Generally speaking, I understand the governor’s interest to close government doors from a safety standpoint caused by the pandemic, however, it should not need to translate to lack of access to government.
Technology, the use of multi-media and its many platforms allow for interaction to still occur effectively. I believe it is and will continue to be what we need to invest in to ensure proper access to government on all levels. Therefore, government will need to do what is necessary to equip itself with the tools to engage and empower our public. In terms of government records, the same is necessary. An investment in records technology that allows more cost-efficient access is key.
7. What more should Kauai County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
There are many things the county is doing and can do more of moving forward. This is includes:
• Increase bus and shuttle services.
• Invest in electrical vehicles where possible.
• Enlist best practices for planning our island and its outlying communities.
• Redo maps identifying areas of impact by sea level rise, stop building and retreat wherever possible with rezoning changes.
• Invest in coral regrowth projects.
• Support the Aloha Plus Challenge on a much more integrated local scale through private-public partnerships.
• Develop our diversion programs including our non-organic composting programs.
8. 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.
The pandemic has taught us that we must be more equipped to take care of ourselves and not rely solely on our state and federal counterparts. It’s time Hawaii revisits how it can resolve a semblance of increased independence in a form that allows our state to operate outside of some of the ramifications and strangleholds of the U.S. Constitution, so that we might be more self-determined and self-sufficient. I believe aina aloha will only be reached under such conditions.
We need the mobility to limit outside influences on our island communities. Having more self-determination would allow Hawaii to reach its true potential as a Pacific hub and allow us to honor the values we cherish most. To bring this down to my council race, I believe COVID-19 has taught us that we need more home rule, because when faced with crisis, we can often only depend on ourselves. We need our state leadership to provide our local government with more cohesiveness, flexibility and opportunity to self-regulate.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Kauai? What will you do about it?
I believe the most pressing issue facing Kauai is the high cost of living. We need to be more self-sustainable so we can take care of ourselves amid the growing cost of living and hardship. This includes growing our own food, creating our own affordable housing, protecting our precious water, preserving access for fishing. gathering and farming.
We need to not allow outside influences to determine how our communities are managed by raising the cost of housing through the use of transient vacation rentals. We need to diversify our economy so that we are not solely reliant on tourism as our way to survive. We need to provide our people options that will establish their livelihood and well-being for future generations to come. I will make decisions that will continually enforce the needs I have identified here.