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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 Jade Battad, one of 14 candidates for seven positions on the Kauai County Council. Other candidates include Addison Bulosan, Bernard Carvalho, Mason Chock, Felicia Cowden, Mike Dandurand, Billy DeCosta, Luke Evslin, Richard Fukushima, Ed Justus, Arryl Kaneshiro, 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?
The visitor industry is an example of having too much of a good thing. We have taken it for granted, encouraging it to grow without protecting our island from its impacts. Now it is a limping giant whose weakness challenges all of us on Kauai and in Hawaii nei.
We must establish controls to improve the visitor experience while protecting our residentsʻ access to our islandʻs treasures. The work done at Keʻe beach after the floods is an excellent example. Provide visitors with a quality experience, but ensure that the people who live here are not overlooked.
We have let the rest of our economy languish. Agriculture has faded away with the loss of pineapple and sugar. I want to hear from our community, but it seems clear to me that, as examples, we need to sustain and encourage small farming and fishing. And we must expand our small tech sector. These will provide a resilience that our island needs, as well as diversification from the lopsided powerhouse that is tourism. This yearʻs crisis has shown the danger of over-reliance on a single industry.
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?
Much of this work has already begun at the county. We are moving more things online and streamlining the delivery of services like those at the Department of Licensing and Motor Vehicles. I support engaging consultants to find additional ways to identify efficiencies within the county, but I would also look at engaging our own small businesses that may be able to do some functions more effectively than government can.
The county must do a wholesale review of its fee structures, not necessarily to bring in more money, but to ensure that the fees we charge for county services are rational, comparable with those elsewhere, and perform the functions we want them to perform. If visitors are putting great burdens, for example, on certain parks, should they not help to support those parks with fees? That burden should not be mainly covered by property owners.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
Our county, much like New Zealand, is one of the great success stories in the COVID-19 pandemic. I would not want to second-guess the leaders of our community, who in my mind have done an exemplary job and have led us to being a coronavirus-free island. They consulted the islandʻs and the stateʻs health officials, they worked with the County Council and the state government, and they have brought us to an enviable place.
While I might have preferred opening our restaurants and other businesses a little sooner, I do not have all the information that the folks in our Emergency Operations Center have had.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Homelessness is persistent, but it is hardly a single problem. And it wonʻt be solved in a single solution. But it is an emergency, and requires focused and continued attention.
Some of our houseless are local families who just need a hand up, and only for a limited time. I support the construction of temporary “tiny homes” to provide them with shelter, security and hygiene. Some of these should be built in every part of the island.
Nearly a quarter of our households are single-person households. These include young people as well as the elderly, the unmarried, the divorced, the widowed and so many others. Some of us may need to be able to afford three-bedroom houses on quarter-acre lots, but a very large number does not. We need to adjust our housing policies to address those different needs.
There are also houseless individuals who require social services and mental health that are not readily available to them in hidden locations along streams and shorelines. I have talked with many in our community — the faith-based community and ministries, builders, non-profits and others — who have ideas. We need to listen and act. I am listening and am prepared to act.
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?
Once again, in this arena our community is a leader. Some of it is due to the power of our aloha spirit. I congratulate our police commission in their selection of Chief Todd Raybuck, because I am heartened by his approach to these issues. He seems to understand the value of engaging community. When members of our community rallied to address police reform issues, he stood with them and listened.
This is what we must all do. As a member of the Kauai County Council, I will support the mission of our department, will consult the community, and will seek constantly to identify ways in which we can improve. “Aloha Kekahi I Kekahi.”
When we are talking, face to face with open minds and open hearts, solutions will find us. Such was the way of our ancestors.
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?
In the earliest days of the crisis, the business of government needed to get done, and we needed to reinvent how to do that. I am proud that on Kauai, most public meetings were suspended until we could learn the technologies that would allow us to hold sessions that were as accessible to the general public as they were to the participants.
The technology still needs more improvement, but everyone can listen in to County Council meetings, and the various commission meetings. We do not yet have a robust way for the public to actually participate in the ways that we did in pre-coronavirus times, but I will continue to push for that. Public access and public participation are key to a strong democracy.
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?
Like housing, this is a complex issue. We need both mitigation and adaption if we are to be more resilient. We need to do everything we can to reduce our own contribution to climate change, and we need to prepare for the changes that are coming, since the world is not moving fast enough to prevent them.
I am supportive of the electrification of transportation, of pushing to reduce our use of fossil fuels, of low-emission public transit, of limiting our reliance on imported goods, which involve a high energy cost of transport. Our electric utility, KIUC, is an example of how this community can be a leader both statewide and nationally on renewable technologies.
But we also need to adapt. We need to identify inland roadway alignments, since we will lose some coastal highways. We need to plan for coastal communities to move mauna where they will be safe from rising seas. We need to plan for changes in the availability of domestic water with the already-apparent reduced rainfall. We need to think about how we will manage harbors if breakwaters are over-topped regularly, and about expanding coastal parks, which will grow narrower as the tides rise.
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.
We need to stop focusing on the negative and begin moving to the positive. We need to stop finding things we must not do, and start identifying the things we must do.
We have traditionally trusted government to address our problems, but many problems are not well-addressed that way. Example: Community fisheries in the islands were once managed by the communities, which knew the fisheries and protected them. Over time, we moved to a system of statewide fisheries oversight, and it has not worked well. Today, the bright light of community resource management is shining once more, and we are seeing positive results. The Haena Community-Based Substance Fishing Area is based on an idea in which our island was a statewide leader.
My big idea? Empower the people closest to the issues of our community to address them. Involve them, listen to them, and act on what they tell us.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Fragility is the issue, and resilience the solution. Our over-reliance on tourism, the threats to our supply lifeline from Young Brothersʻ weakness, the fact that we grow so little of our own food, that we donʻt have an economy that provides our young people with good jobs … so many things.
In addressing new ideas, we must add this question: How does this impact us — by increasing fragility or increasing resilience? And we should focus on resilience. So that when the next crisis comes, be it a hurricane, a tsunami, a stock market crash or a pandemic, we have the strength to carry on without leaving any of our people in crisis.
Most of all, let love guide your life.