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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 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 Arryl Kaneshiro, one of 14 candidates for seven positions on the Kauai County Council. Other candidates include Jade Battad, Addison Bulosan, Bernard Carvalho, Mason Chock, Felicia Cowden, Mike Dandurand, Billy DeCosta, Luke Evslin, Richard Fukushima, Ed Justus, KipuKai Kuali’i, Wally Nishimura and Shirley Simbre-Medeiros.
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?
While we have witnessed first-hand the vulnerabilities of industry to COVID-19, tourism will continue to be our economic engine. Tourism not only supports paying jobs within the hotel industry, it supports other industries: restaurants, shops, eco-adventures, and so many more. For tourism to recover, visitors need to regain confidence to travel. The only way this happens is with vaccine development and testing that provides immediate results.
Diversifying our economy is paramount, not just in a post-pandemic world but in an ever-changing global economy.
Here on Kauai, our west side is a model of a diversified economy. From Kauai Coffee to the Pacific Missile Range, from seed corn companies to health care services, the primary job contributors on west Kauai are agriculture, science and technology.
Yet despite these industries’ best efforts to hire local employees — and they truly are trying — they still need to bring in mainland hires to fill positions because of the deficit of qualified local employees. We need to engage our educational hubs and our community resources to ensure our youth have the necessary background to be employed at these economic opportunities that already exist here and can be further expanded.
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 chaired the past six budgets and am proud of the financial condition our county is currently in. I saw the importance and advocated to establish a 30 percent emergency reserve. Our county reserve has since grown from $19 million in 2014 to around $60 million today. This reserve ensures that we have the means to withstand natural disasters and the immediate economic hardships we are facing today.
If this economic spiral continues past this year and we are forced to cut expenses, it will not be in services, but in areas such as travel, vehicle purchases and a hold on new hires. In regards to revenue, it would be extremely difficult to raise any taxes or fees at a time like this when the entire island is struggling. We will likely see an infusion of funds into the county through state or federal economic recovery money. It will be our responsibility to leverage and spend that money as efficiently and effectively as possible.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
I would not have done anything different to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai. Mayor Kawakami and his administration did a great job making the tough decisions to put the health and safety of our residents first. In many instances, we led the state with our proactive approach to dealing with the virus and it paid off.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
We need to build on our public private partnerships with organizations like Kauai Economic Opportunity (KEO) to provide additional shelter space. The county has lobbied the state and put money toward KEO to increase their capacity for additional beds.
The county has also taken major strides toward breaking the cycle of homelessness with the construction of two housing projects in Lihue. Keaulala and Pua Loke Affordable Housing are being built to transition families from homelessness to permanent supportive housing. These projects will not only provide a roof over families’ heads, but also direct social services such as financial literacy, substance abuse, parenting life skills and employment services.
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?
So much of what we are seeing across America is rooted in the systematic inequities in place against people of color. I have not seen discrimination against people of color from our police force here on Kauai.
Kauai is an especially small community where police officers are heavily involved in our communities as coaches, organizers and volunteers, and so many of them are also officers of color. Our police officers were the first in the state to implement body cams, further ensuring a higher level of accountability for their conduct on duty. Continuing that accountability toward our officers, but more importantly, toward our overarching system, is paramount.
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?
Just because the governor suspended the open government laws does not mean we on Kauai have closed public access to meetings or public records. As a matter of fact, we at the county worked extremely hard to maintain public access to our council meetings and public records considering the added challenges of social distancing and reduced staffing.
Throughout this pandemic we continued to take public testimony through emails, voicemails or video conferencing. Our meetings were broadcast live with closed captioning and have all been archived on webcast for more convenient viewing at a later time.
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?
Kauai currently has one of the most robust shoreline setback ordinances in the country, which ensures that development does not negatively impact natural coastal erosion processes as well as marine life in and around the area. And I am proud of that.
This ordinance was implemented with the most up-to-date scientific data available at the time; however, that data is quickly becoming stale. We need to be constantly vigilant with our scientific community and the data that they provide to ensure that this ordinance and others can adequately respond to climate change.
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.
COVID-19 has forced Kauai and the world to rapidly become a truly digital environment. Teleworking has its setbacks, but in certain areas I have seen so many gains in efficiency. In the two months prior to the crisis, our Planning Department processed roughly 200 permits, yet during the crisis and with teleworking, in the two months after that the department reviewed and acted upon approximately 700 permits. Teleworking has proven exceptionally expedient when it comes to permit review. Using and furthering these types of gains in efficiency, where appropriate, is one of my primary goals in the next two years.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Dealing with the negative financial and economic implications from COVID will be the most pressing issues we will face on island for the next few years. We have already seen a reduction in TAT revenue from the state, a reduction in general excise tax revenue, and can anticipate lower real property tax revenue.
Fiscal responsibility will be my utmost priority. Continuing to maintain county services, ensuring we have money to pay our employees, and pursuing projects that stimulate our economy will be essential to get through this crisis.