Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 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 Jeffrey Lindner, candidate for Kauai County Council. The other candidates for seven positions are Addison Bulosan, Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden, Billy DeCosta, Luke Evslin, Fern Holland, Rosemarie Jauch, Ross Kagawa, KipuKai Kuali’i, James Langtad, Lila Metzger, Nelson Mukai, Jakki Nelson, Mel Rapozo, Roy Saito, Rachel Secretario, Shirley Simbre-Medeiros and Clint Yago.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Kauai County Council

Jeffrey Lindner
Party Nonpartisan
Age 70
Occupation Agricultural land developer, farmer
Residence Anahola

Community organizations/prior offices held

President, A Kula Hawaii school; operator of state well serving KDOW and Moloaa Hui subdivision.

1. What is the biggest issue facing Kauai County, and what would you do about it?

The biggest issues facing Kauai County are the ongoing policies that favor major landholders around Lihue and Koloa, restricting housing and density rights of the residents. From 1990 to 2000 over 70,000 acres of agricultural land from Lihue to Kilauea changed hands as the plantations shut down. That land was sold for between $3,000 and $5,000 an acre. Rather than plan for future housing for the local population, the county put into effect a multi-pronged attack against agricultural subdivisions.

Since 2000, when a new General Plan Update was completed, there have been no agricultural subdivisions approved from Kealia to Kilauea providing ag dwellings, as well as land for small farms. Over 12,000 acres of that land is held by three or four wealthy people, unlikely to ever be available for small farms. The county’s campaign to keep large agricultural parcels intact was accomplished, however, it denied the local population any of its use.

The 2000 GPU also permitted only agricultural land next to urban land to be upzoned. All  the agricultural acreage in urban areas, like Lihue and Koloa, is being converted to higher use, thereby eliminating any possibility of development of small farms.

2. In the last four years, Kauai’s north shore has endured two major weather events that have severed entire communities from jobs, schools, pharmacies, banks, doctors and other essential services for many months. Should this change the county’s approach to disaster preparedness, and if so, how?

The county should work with the state and budget for natural disasters in order to alleviate the disruption in people’s lives. For instance, repairing roads after natural disasters should be done at night, rather than closing them during the day for long hours. Expenses should be borne to avoid undue hardship.

If the county wants to keep areas as rural and not update infrastructure, we should invest in things like portable bridge crossings for the heavy rains that are not that uncommon. We should not leave it just up to the goodwill of the people, as before, to ferry residents across.

3. There are nearly 14,000 cesspools on Kauai that must be removed by 2050. With an average cost of $15,000 to $30,000 to convert to septic, many homeowners say making the transition is not affordable. How can the county help to jump-start cesspool replacements?

We should incentivize conversion to septic with property tax credits. Also the county can help the Department of Health by requiring conversion from cesspool to septic upon sale of property.

And since it affects the water quality at public beaches, there’s an urgency to protect the health of the people and not hurt our visitor economy. There should be state and federal assistance as well.

4. Traffic is getting worse on the island of Kauai, and different regions face different challenges. What would be your approach to improve Kauai’s transportation problems?

The problem of traffic affects the whole island. For instance, not providing enough housing in the areas that need employment forces the person to make long commutes from Lihue, where all the housing is targeted. That creates unnecessary traffic in Lihue, Kuhio Highway, and long drive times and expense for workers.

The main road should be widened enough to at least allow utility work to be done without stopping traffic. All work done on roads should be done at night when possible. And for safety, left turn stacking lanes should be installed at roads intersecting with Kuhio Highway. There is a high incidence of accidents, many serious, where a car trying to turn left in a single lane of traffic gets hit in the rear. A minimal stacking lane for two or three cars would significantly reduce those accidents.

5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of your county, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? 

The state should work with the county to solve the housing shortage that has been partly created by their agricultural policy. Agricultural land makes up 45% of all the land on Kauai, and the state sets policy under the State Agricultural Land Use District.

The right to live on agricultural land has been clouded by both the state and county. The state policy is that only “farm dwellings” are allowed within the State Agricultural Land Use District. That means if you are not farming, the dwelling becomes residential and is not allowed, but the state has never set the criteria of what level of agricultural production is required to be legal. The county has spared no effort in ostracizing ag dwellings as illegitimate, and restricting agricultural subdivisions.

The 2000 General Plan Update sets the tone: “In fact, at least 90 percent of the dwellings in the Agricultural district on Kauai are primarily residential.”

How would the county know that when no criteria has been set by the state? The state should decide the criteria of production, which makes the “dwelling” legal. Then the county will have no excuse to vaguely spread fear and doubt about residing on one’s land.

6. For more than a year the median price for a single-family home on Kauai has topped $1 million. What would you do to help address the deficit of low-income, affordable and middle-class housing?

Low-income and affordable housing are important in serving the displaced and economically challenged residents. Securing land and funding is a slow process so it’s important to maintain constant effort to that end.

The lack of middle-class housing to either purchase or rent is the result of development priorities by the county. Their priority has been to upzone agricultural land around Lihue and Koloa for  resort residential and commercial projects. Urban developers have little incentive to service the lower-end housing market since they have enough high-end development for years. The other agricultural land is not allowed to be developed. The policy of not allowing agricultural land away from urban land to be converted to residential needs to be looked at and updated.

Additionally, the county should stop giving property tax breaks to urban developers by not assessing their density. If the county starts assessing property for density, zoned urban landowners will pay more in property tax since the county has upzoned their agricultural land. At the same time, revenue will be generated to support affordable housing, and a corresponding incentive is created to put their density on the market to reduce the cost of holding land.

7. Even as the Covid-19 pandemic winds down, local businesses are struggling to hire and retain workers, which has led to shortages of everything from grocery store cashiers and restaurant workers to teachers and school bus drivers. What, if anything, would you do to address this economic instability?

The predominant economic instability is workers aren’t able to find housing, and if they do, it is too expensive for the income they earn. It’s safe to say if stores and services are closed because they are unable to hire and keep workers, the existing model isn’t working.

The tourism industry is a high-service business. That means you need a lot of service people. Being at this critical point means the policies are contrary to a service business.

First, we need to determine the appropriate density of accessible development that is needed.

Then, if the urban areas are not willing to dedicate land for the project, we find outlying agricultural land that is willing, and streamline the permitting process. Requirements on infrastructure can be reduced to control costs.

8. Kauai’s landfill in Kekaha will soon run out of capacity and there’s still no timely plan in place to build a new one. What can the county council do to address what could become a garbage crisis for the island?

We need to invest in recycling technology that residents participate in. It can not be left up to only the goodwill efforts of the people. It’s important enough to put in place long-term funding.

We should also phase out packaging that is not biodegradable. We need to understand our waste stream and see what the best options are.

9. Overtourism can degrade the environment, threaten biodiversity, contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, generate traffic and disrupt neighborhoods. What more can be done to better manage the island’s tourism sector?

Tourism needs to stop being treated as the protector and provider of returns for the major landholders of urban land. County policy has relegated agricultural land’s primary duty to support the image that has been created for the visitor industry.

The 2000 GPU  states that “The primary intent of Agricultural designation is to:

  1. Insure an excellent resource base for existing and potential agricultural use.
  2. Assure a sufficient supply of land available for sale or lease at a cost that is economically feasible for agricultural enterprise.
  3. Promote and preserve open agricultural lands as a key element of Kauai’s rural character and lifestyle, essential to its image as ‘The Garden Island’ and to the continued viability and development of Kauai’s visitor industry.”

Unless the wealthy large parcel owners are going to start putting their land up for sale, or start farming, or major urban owners are going to start doing agricultural subdivisions, the county’s success rate is one for three. They have succeeded only on No. 3. The “scenic roadways” have been spared the sight of housing, even though trees could have hid them. The image was saved, existence was lost.

County policy should accommodate small farms.

10. 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 Kauai County. Be innovative, but be specific.

It’s better to discover the essence of authentic Hawaii, rather than remake it according to our own motivations and needs. The latter was how Hawaiian culture was recorded. Today a positive re-evaluation of native traditions is happening. They are not pieces in museums but living sources of inspiration. The time is ripe for a new look.

People, whether to live or visit, come to Hawaii for cultural identity. Whether it’s to connect to the Hawaiian culture, or the culture of nature, from the physical activity of the beaches and ocean, to the appreciation of the biodiversity in the flora and fauna, to the culture of farming the land, or the culture of natural health from pristine elements the islands provide, they want authenticity. They don’t want commercialization.

We need the diversity of culture and we need the essence of culture, and the single experience will be a deep reverence of Hawaii.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.