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 KipuKai Kuali’i, 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, Arryl Kaneshiro, 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?
This COVID-19 pandemic makes it clear we depend on the visitor industry for our economic vitality. We don’t have any choice in the short term but to rely on the visitor industry for our economic recovery. However, as is being talked about by many leaders in our community who are working with us on our Kauai Economic Recovery Strategy Team, we need to plan for a new kind of tourism; one that is focused on finding balance.
Although devastating economically, our citizens have also seen the benefits the break from tourism has brought to our natural environment and to traffic reduction. Most agree that we need to plan for tourism that balances our residents’ quality of life and the resilience of our natural environment along with the visitor experience.
We need to look seriously for ways to fairly manage the tourism footprint on our island at any given time. We need to manage how many tourists should be visiting a cultural site or participating in an outdoor activity at the same time. Lastly, I’d like to see us increase eco-tourism, agri-tourism and other types of tourism that respects the authentic experiences and values of our people and our islands. Responsible tourism!
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?
Our council has worked closely with the mayor and his budget team to address the projected budget shortfalls for FY 2021. We’ve deferred most of our maintenance items and most of our planned new vehicle purchases. We have not filled as many of our vacant positions as possible and we have planned for only half-year funding for nearly 20 vacant positions. We have deferred a significant amount of road repairs and road resurfacing. We have made significant cuts to travel and training.
As for real property taxes, we kept all but the rate for residential investor the same. Additional cuts could be realized with current vacant positions and future vacant positions. Additional revenues could be realized with targeted increases to real property taxes such as a further increase to residential investor.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
To be completely honest, I have been extremely satisfied with the way our mayor and administration has handled the coronavirus crisis here on Kauai. There’s little to nothing I would have done differently if I were in charge. And, of course, it’s always easier to second guess or change one’s approach to a problem after seeing the problem having already been dealt with.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
The mayor, our housing agency and our council have been working together to address homelessness by continuing to build affordable rental projects such as the new 24 rapid rehousing ohana zone units to be developed in the Pua Loke park across the Kauai Economic Opportunity’s Shelter and Housing Programs Office, as well as developing a model tiny home, kauhale-type, village project on the westside with COVID-19 CARES Act funds.
We have allocated $2 million of our $28.7 million in CARES Act recovery/stimulus funding to tiny home construction for houseless sheltering. Our hope and plan is to have these villages on different parts of the island where our houseless folks are. We’re also working to increase our rental assistance program with newly available federal funding.
We will also continue collaborating for solutions to homelessness with our many partners through the Kauai Community Alliance; including Project Connect Kauai. One idea I’ve talked with staff at our County Hale Kokua office about is a safe parking lot program where we could identify sponsoring locations that would provide a safe place at night for homeless families to park at without being harassed.
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?
The recent deaths of citizens at the hands of the police is a heart-breaking, national crisis. Perhaps finally now; we, as a nation, are ready to confront head-on police brutality and systemic racism. While I haven’t heard of this issue being a problem here in our county, I accept that systemic racism exists in all corners of our country as it’s part of our American culture.
Perhaps it’s less noticeable here because of our Hawaiian culture and our aloha spirit. Also, because we’re a melting pot of diverse peoples from many different cultures. To improve policing and police accountability, we need to always be evaluating our delivery of services; making sure citizen complaints are dealt with professionally; accurately documented from beginning to end and available for citizen review.
Our police wear body cameras and from all accounts so far it’s working very well for both the police and our citizens. Unless I learn otherwise that reform is needed, I currently support oversight of the police department being strengthened. If we had serious police problems in the community, I’m sure the police commission and the County Council would be heavily engaged with by 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?
I’m a strong supporter of Hawaii’s public records law and don’t support Gov. Ige’s decision to suspend the open government laws under an emergency order during this COVID-19 pandemic. As a council member and as a citizen, I would be supportive of changing the law that gave Gov. Ige the authority to suspend the open government laws in the first place. As soon as is practicable and possible, we should return to ensuring the public has access to open meetings and public records.
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?
Build an even stronger culture of sustainability/resiliency ensuring our county leads in “going green.” Replace even more gas vehicles with electric vehicles in both our vehicle and bus fleets. Work with our Recycling Division to educate on the two additional R’s before reduce, reuse and recycle. “Redesign” products and services to produce less waste. “Refuse” items that will generate unnecessary rubbish.
Work on bills that take advantage of innovations and new technologies. Incorporate sea level rise into all of our area plans. Evaluate, update and implement our county’s Sustainability & Climate Action Plan and its goals and strategies which include 1) save energy, 2) drive less & drive clean, 3) use green energy, 4) save water, 5) recycle & cut waste, 6) buy green, 7) build green and 8) anticipate climate change.
Work with businesses, non-profits, community organizations and individuals to develop a county-wide Climate Action Plan. Ensure that our land use, capital improvements and all our programming considers the statewide and county plans and policies already in place. Ensure that our county is continuing to reduce its carbon footprint, reduce operational costs through increased efficiency and becoming a more responsible organization. We owe it to our people and our islands.
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 No. 1 concern for Hawaii’s working families and all our families is maintaining and improving our quality of life. My big idea is to propose all Hawaii’s leaders, elected and otherwise, get together to work on achieving the Hawaii Labor Coalition’s Workers’ Bill of Rights, which include:
• A good job with fair wages,
• Quality health care,
• A safe job,
• Paid time off and flexible scheduling,
• Freedom from discrimination,
• Retire with dignity,
• Freedom to join together,
• A voice in democracy,
• Clean and healthy environment,
• Climate resiliency,
• Affordable housing.
Achieving these by working collaboratively over time would greatly improve the quality of life for our workers and our people. Of course, with the devastating impacts of COVID-19, the immediate No. 1 concern of everyone is being able to work in the first place; having a job. It’s critical that we all, working together, get as many folks as possible back to work when it’s safe to do so and begin rebuilding our economy, as well as building new economies for Hawaii.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Kauai? What will you do about it?
The lack of affordable housing for our families, over-crowded and houseless. I will work to help bring everyone together to take action. There’s been a lot of talk and planning; it’s time for action. With our Planning Department, our council has developed and passed a package of laws supporting more building (additional dwelling units, additional rental units, guest houses and even tiny homes). As chair of our Housing Committee, I’m leading the work on a bill that updates our housing policy to further support building homes and apartment buildings; especially in our town core areas. The bill also proposes to more than double the term of affordability from 20 years to 45 years.
Despite the many necessary cuts made because of revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to fight for and help retain $2.6 million of the $4.5 million originally budgeted for our Housing Development Fund.
As an Anahola Homestead community advocate, I’m helping bring about tiny homes, quarantine sheds, match savings programs and other homestead community development. As a founding board member of a homestead community loan fund, we’ll soon be bringing needed capital directly to homesteaders on Kauai and across the state.