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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 Billy DeCosta, 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, 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?
This is our prime opportunity to diversify into food security with developing community farms across Kauai like our Kilauea Ag Center but taking it one step further with allowing farm housing and livestock with a community certified kitchen and portable slaughterhouse to truly give these farm communities what they need to ensure a sustainable lifestyle. Let’s plant grains to feed our livestock like chickens, cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and how about even making our own dog food, instead of shipping in bags of grain and feed at high prices?
Tourism needs to be “Bubbling Tourist,” which means they are shuttled to and from eco-adventure businesses and farm tours. Let’s create a county owned and operated (with profit sharing for all employees) plantation style farm-to-table resort on a long-term state or private land lease. Where these tourists can come to our hotels for a few days, then be shuttled over to our plantation farm for two nights and three days, in cottages spread across our 100- to 500-plus-acre farm, where visitors can participate in farm activities, planting vegetables, milking dairy goats to make their fresh ice cream, branding cattle and later flipping burgers that came from the ranch, roasting a pig from the farm, riding horses, tour the ranch on a horse wagon, enjoy a truly local meal with local foods from the land.
Their children will experience the importance of sustainable living while mingling with our workers’ children who live on the farm and truly experience our culture.
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?
New revenue could possibly be generated through constructing affordable homes in new ways. The county could operate a trade-based academy with high school and college students who can gain work experience while obtaining a certificate or degree.
This labor would save the county money and help give the adolescents skills and qualifications that may be otherwise unattainable. We could have them on job sites to assist in building our single-wall dwellings on farms that are totally off the grid so infrastructure on the remote farmlands won’t be an issue. This will all be integrated.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Kauai?
With the government action for COVID-19 I think our county did pretty good. One thing that could have been done differently is talking about our 9,000 public school students in the tourism conversation.
A lot of changes were made for each sector but we didn’t hear enough from some of the agencies about how each of these sectors could have a domino effect if they open at the same time. The school campus closures and travel quarantines shouldn’t be lifted at the same time.
4. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Kauai. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
One idea I have for trying to get our homeless friends and neighbors housing and maybe an income again is a farm living partnership. KEO and our county have outreach programs. I’d like to create an initiative once I’m in the county where we partner with farms and nonprofit organizations to create off-the-grid farm living where these folks can farm and feel self worth, they can grow their own food, and we could transition some candidates into our tourism plantation resort business as workers.
We could have fine-tuned expectations and guidelines for both the workers and the managers written into our MOUs with the nonprofits and farms about the rules for living and working on the farms. There would be a design for growth from within where some of the formerly houseless people could be like mentors who tell others in need about this program and how it worked for them.
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?
I don’t see police brutality as a problem on Kauai. I believe there is a nationwide problem and education for both police and citizens is the key. KPDs “Coffee With A Cop” is a good program for this.
We as adults need to mentor better behavior across our professions and home lifestyles in order to portray a healthier nurturing 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?
We need to allow our community to access these meetings. Community input is important. This is a unique situation since we have never been through a pandemic in our lifetimes.
It is easy to sideline-quarterback these situations after the fact but the truth of the matter is we all need to work together to get through these toughest times. Be a problem-solver not a problem-maker.
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?
Recycling our food waste, plant and animal matter to composting where we put this SOM, soil organic matter, a mixture of carbon compounds and microbes back into our soils. This will reduce our carbon that would be released into the atmosphere and reduce the amount of trash at our landfills. We can put it back into our depleted soils and revitalize our farm lands.
Our oceans and our soils are huge basins that store carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of CO2. Also trees, vegetables and plants turn CO2 into oxygen through photosynthesis and trees store carbon dioxide in its wooded trunks but if cut down and burned it releases all that carbon.
We can also create programs to encourage more people to buy local to reduce packaging and air pollution that occurs when products are shipped here.
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.
For COVID-related improvements, I would have closed interisland travel sooner, stop the state-to-state travel earlier.
My answer on the one big idea is my question and answer to No. 1. We learned now, we can’t be dependent on tourism, our people need food security, we need not to import 85% of our overpriced shipping industry, we need truly affordable homes whether it be mortgages that are 35% of our yearly income not 65% and/or affordable rents so that people have the opportunity to save each month one day can purchase a home.
We love this lack of traffic, this higher sense of community now with people helping each other. Our beaches and corrals are rejuvenating. The time to be diverse is now.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I’m running my campaign on three issues because I see them as equally pressing issues.
First, sustainability.We need to become more self-sufficient and stop replying on food from other places and tourism as our No. 1 industry, which leaves an impact on our environment.
Next, our local economy. We need to develop more ways to support existing mom and pop shops and create new economies. We need to get back to our culture of shopping locally to keep our money on Kauai.
Finally, resiliency. Resiliency in our adults as we bounce back from natural disasters and a pandemic and resiliency for our youth. They need role models and activities plus work skills and experiences that strengthen their mental wellness.