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 Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 5, which includes the western portion of Puna. The other candidate is Desmon Haumea.

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

Candidate for Hawaii County Council District 5

Matt Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder
Party Nonpartisan
Age 40
Occupation County Council member/small business owner/electrician
Residence Kurtistown

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Hawaii County Council District 5 member.

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

My position and experience as Finance chair on the County Council has opened my eyes to Hawaii’s unique laws and historical economic disparity. Hawaii is a global destination and I am deeply concerned that our residents are being priced out of their homes. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure residents, the backbone of our local economy, can afford food, housing, utilities and education.

We must begin building real equity in our communities and find means of lowering the cost of living. This year, I wrote legislation and voted to decrease the county fuel tax by 10 cents/gallon. I voted to decrease property tax assessments for homeowner, residential and agricultural classes. I amended the County Transient Accommodations Tax so residents would not be double taxed when we “staycation” at home. I am constantly reviewing property tax rates, tax laws and looking to our state and federal partners to find ways of providing relief to the taxpayers specifically for generational residents and low- to median-income families. I am devoted to fulfilling our residents’ ability to flourish in this beautiful place we all call home.

2. Overtourism can degrade the environment, threaten biodiversity, contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, generate traffic and disrupt neighborhoods. What do you think about the amount of tourism on the Big Island and how it’s managed?

During the pandemic, residents saw a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of Hawaii – vacant beaches, clean reefs and open roads. Many of us enjoyed the vacation from tourism, yet hundreds of generational, local businesses suffered greatly and/or closed permanently. As a small business owner, I can personally say the effects were devastating. The historical model of selling aloha and our dependence on tourism must change.

Currently the county is creating a responsible tourism plan — a paradigm shift in how government and residents regain control over tourism by educating visitors in malama aina (caring for our environment) and addressing decades of community concerns. Over the years, I have worked closely with the Department of Research and Development, private, and nonprofit groups toward this end.

We also must create a sustainable, circular economy that lessens our dependence on outside sources, like alternative energy projects, incentivized agricultural and strong “Support Local” campaigns. As we work to recover from the pandemic, there is no better time to balance community concerns, responsible tourism and innovative economic structures into a new working model that positively ensures the health of our community while educating our visitors in how to have aloha and pilina (connection) to our home.

3. What needs to happen to relieve traffic congestion in and around Kailua-Kona and along the Puna-Keaau-Hilo corridor?

According to 2020 Census Data, the population of Puna is roughly 60,000 – thats one-third of Hawaii County! In the last two years Puna, arguably one of the last affordable areas in Hawaii, has seen tremendous infill that is increasing strain upon our limited and, in some cases, failing infrastructure.

Given the population surge during the pandemic, I am laser-focused on improving current roads and creating new alternate/emergency access routes. I am greatly concerned by the amount of times our main thoroughfares like State Highway 11 and Highway 130 have been closed unexpectedly. During these events people are routed through private subdivisons and unmarked emergency access roads. This is unacceptable. I am resolved in finding alternative from both lower Puna and Volcano to Hilo and Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road).  One of my current projects is improving Stainback Highway and placing it under county jurisdiction.

In regards to traffic congestion during peak hours, I have started the conversation with our mayor and state representatives to consider contraflow for traffic congestion on the Panaewa Stretch, until state funding can be found to improve and widen the “pinch points.”

4. The cost of living on Hawaii Island is rising rapidly. How are working and middle-class people expected to buy a house or pay the rent as well as take care of other expenses? And how can the county government help?

The reality is, housing in Hawaii is not affordable, and for that matter, neither is most affordable housing. We need more homes and a means of ensuring long-term rental stock through various means. My time in office has shown that if we intend to help folks here we need to ensure that efforts to create affordable housing are tied directly to building long-term equity in our low- to median-income families. We need to proactively change our model to provide home ownership to families – not nurture long-term renters. By building equity in our local families we can begin to promote socio-economic security of our future generations.

Another aspect that I addressed was the need to teach financial literacy in our classroooms. How can we expect to improve the well-being of our families if we don’t teach our keiki to understand economy and finance? I am currently working with both Keaau and Pahoa High School to incorporate financial literacy programs.

5. What is your view on Mauna Kea? Is there a way to support astronomy but also respect cultural concerns and be environmentally sound?

I am unaware of any plans the state has at this time to proceed with the Thirty Meter Telescope. There are also numerous jurisdictional issues and longstanding environmental issues that need to be addressed.

6. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of Hawaii County, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? What would you do to change that?

Hawaii island is 15% of the population of the state and while our voice is small, it’s extremely important. As a father, small business owner, and throughout my years on the County Council, I have increasingly sought for more say at the county level.

I support the term “Home Rule” that speaks to providing counties more input over issues traditionally considered at the state level. In my humble opinion, there is much to be said in giving county residents more say on items like education and large projects on our moku (island).

7. Half of Hawaii’s cesspools are on the Big Island, some 49,300. Seepage from cesspools can make people sick, harm coral reefs and lead to a variety of ecological damage. By law, cesspools must be upgraded to septic systems by 2050. What can be done to help people who may not be able to afford the conversion?

A recent presentation by Alternative Wastewater Solutions showed that water wells in the lower Puna area are beginning to test positive at minimal levels for human-based bacteria. Although new construction requires septic systems, the sheer number of cesspools currently in use is cause for concern, specifically in Puna where the majority of the cesspools are located.

The average cost for a septic conversion is $6,000-$15,000 and raises financial challenges for many of us who bought in affordable, rural areas not served by county sewer collection systems. The state is currently working on creating tax relief for residents transitioning to septic and the county should do the same.

I like innovative methods being employed by the county that allow for the use of an existing cesspool in lieu of a leach field for small parcels. These creative methods address environmental protection while saving folks money. This year, I approved county funding for a State/County Wastewater Infrastructure Study to identify what costs, measures and infrastructure will be required to build a county sewer system(s) in Puna.

8. Climate change is real and will force us to make tough decisions. What is the first thing Hawaii County should do to get in front of climate change rather than just reacting to it?

Hawaii is an island in the Pacific Ocean 2,500 miles from the nearest continent. Much of our infrastructure, town centers and government buildings are built at sea level. Needless to say, we are at tremendous risk due to predicted sea level rise, our isolated location, and increased supply chain disruption.

At the state and county levels, long-range planning and Civil Defense agencies are currently evaluating inundation and disaster-prone areas, which will guide decision-making in the future. Previous to being a council member, I installed solar panels for close to a decade. We must electrify county fleet vehicles and shift to energy production from large-scale solar projects like those being installed in Waikaloa. These efforts will lessen our fossil fuel dependence, lower overall carbon footprint and limit “dinosaur” energy plant emissions.

I am a proponent of alternate energy projects like photovoltaic, hydrogen, tidal and wind energy. We in Hawaii should be at the forefront of moving into “green” energy and I will do all that is in my power to ensure that we leave our island home a better place for our children.

9. Should the Hu Honua biomass energy plant be allowed to start operating? Why or why not?

The recent rulings by the Public Utilities Commission and Supreme Court are clear regarding Hu Honua. Until there is a decision reached at the state level, I will reserve comment.

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 Hawaii County. Be innovative, but be specific.

Before contact from the outside world, Hawaii’s population was close to a million people. A strong socio-economic system created order, livelihoods, and protected resources.

Yet in 2022, we have become almost 100% reliant on the barges for our needs. We must begin making progress in relieving our dependence on outside sources by supporting local agriculture, alternative energy, zero-emission transportation, incentivizing small businesses, educating our children and creating good jobs.

I believe that Hawaii has the unique opportunity to become the shining example of sustainability and will lead the world into the future because we have no other choice. It is our kuleana (responsibility) to leave this world a better place for our children. I will not look my grandchildren in the eye and say I could have done more.

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