Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 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 Jennifer Kagiwada, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 2, which includes Downtown Hilo, Bayfront, Wailoa, Portion of Waiakea Houselots, University Heights, Komohana Gardens, portion of Waiakea- Uka, Lanakila, Mohouli, Ainako, Kaumana, Piihonua, Wailuku and Waianuenue. Her opponent is Matthias Kusch.

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

Candidate for Hawaii County Council District 2

Jennifer Kagiwada
Party Nonpartisan
Age 57
Occupation Legislative assistant, Hawaii County Council
Residence Hilo


Community organizations/prior offices held

Democratic Party of Hawaii field organizer, state convention delegate/Rules Committee, Education Caucus, Legislative Committee, summer organizing fellow); Hawaii County Democratic Party (precinct council representative, county convention delegate; Hawaii Island Women’s March coordinator; Hilo High School Community Council and Parent, Teacher, Student Association; Hilo Intermediate Band Boosters; EB DeSilva Parent, Teacher Association.

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

Lack of affordable housing; here are some changes I would propose as a council member:

— Utilize the county’s real property taxation authority to encourage maintaining and expanding low-income housing stock, including moving apartments and time-shares into separate tax classes to allow for bringing time-shares into the same tax class with other visitor accommodations. This would allow a lowering of taxes on apartment complexes that generally provide housing for residents, often lower-income residents, and increase benefits to homeowners who rent to low-income residents. I’d also advocate to increase taxes on short-term vacation rentals and vacant homes.

— Improve or reshape the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program to account for the exact number of credits and who has them.

— Amend the County Code to increase housing stock overall, including making it easier to build accessory dwelling units and cleaning up unnecessary and superfluous rules in the building permitting system to reduce time and costs for both the public and the county.

— Keep the public informed about the recently approved spending of $9 million/year to help our houseless residents in Hawaii County and support them into permanent housing.

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?

We can better manage our tourism in Hawaii County and keep our resident experience a positive one by restricting and regulating short-term vacation rentals, keeping them out of agriculture and residential areas and making sure existing ones follow the rules or pay a heavy price; institute green fees for tourists, using the money to help fund our infrastructure and environmental needs; educate tourists on what is pono and what is not; support local businesses in developing ecotourism destinations and events which encourage visitors to give back to the land while they are visiting; limit the amount of new visitor accommodations being built but encourage and support tear-downs, renovations and rebuilding for already established hotel and resort areas; support new industries and jobs to increase our economic development and rely less heavily on the tourist industry.

When we aren’t sure what to do, err on the side of supporting local residents.

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

I am 100% behind the efforts of our new mass transit administrator and I think we can do more to increase ridership and provide desired routes.

I would like to ask the high schools on our island to have their students ride the bus as part of an excursion or even as an assignment. If we can get our young people used to riding public transportation, we can really tailor the system to meet the needs of our residents.

For areas not serviced by mass transit, encouraging ride-share programs could also be helpful. Finally, encouraging flexible work schedules may help alleviate traffic at some of the most challenging times.

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?

Given the current circumstances, poor, working and middle-class people of Hawaii County cannot be expected to take care of all their necessary expenses without some support.

In addition to my answers to No. 1 concerning affordable housing and my answer to No. 10 on the need for an accessible, high quality child care system, the county can help by urging the state to eliminate the GET on medication and locally grown food, and develop an emergency fund (similar to the one during the pandemic) to help poor, low and middle-income folks with rent and utilities in an emergency situation to prevent evictions and additional houselessness.

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 absolutely believe that respect for the culture of Hawaii, care for the environment and astronomy can co-exist on Mauna Kea. Over the years, missteps and mistakes have been made and it will take years to build trust among the residents of Hawaii Island when it comes to the mountain. UH and TMT have been investing in this trust-building and must continue to do so with a special attention to listening for understanding.

The community as a whole must come together to build mutually acceptable solutions. It will take time and effort, but it is worth it.

My husband is an astronomer and I support the future growth of astronomy, including the building of TMT, on our island. I have witnessed the meticulous care astronomers, engineers and support staff take to ensure the environment on the mountain is protected. Astronomy is a clean, green industry with high-paying jobs and the potential to inspire future generations and the world. If TMT does not get built, the future of astronomy and the potential jobs it brings seems uncertain.

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?

State leaders and therefore state legislation remain Honolulu-centric. How else to explain the state grabbing the counties’ share of the Transient Accommodations Tax, which was put in place to help the counties pay for infrastructure and services overused by tourists.

Allow neighbor island state legislators to participate remotely in committee work and hearings whenever possible to reduce flight hours and save time, money and the impact on the environment. In addition, it will keep neighbor island representatives in closer proximity to their constituents and their districts. It would also expand the pool of potential candidates for state House and Senate seats, allowing mothers with children at home an opportunity to run for office if they don’t always have to be off-island.

Another idea, bring at least one state department’s headquarters and workforce to the neighbor islands. For instance, if the Department of Agriculture were located on Hawaii island, the office space would be less expensive and the cost of living for state employees would also be lower.

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?

Our county must pay attention to our cesspool problem and the ongoing harm to our natural environment. If we neglect the issue any longer, we are looking at large fines and possibly expensive lawsuits.

There is a federally supported fund at the state Department of Health that could be accessed by Hawaii County for “forgivable loans” to residents to convert their cesspools to cleaner, safer options. This fund is currently small in comparison to the daunting size of our island’s cesspool problem, but it could grow to meet the need. If elected, I will work to secure this funding for Hawaii County.

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 County could become the first municipality to move away from carbon-emitting transportation including cars, buses, trucks and eventually aircraft and other vehicles. The first step would be providing working, accessible infrastructure to electric vehicles around the island.

Additional steps would depend on the innovation in the industry and supply of vehicles but could include: requiring all government vehicles to be zero carbon emitting; requiring all rental cars to be electric or zero carbon emitting; encouraging airlines that fly to Hawaii island, especially for interisland flights, to become the leaders of zero-emissions aircraft.

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

No. Burning trees is not a sustainable or healthy model for our community. In addition, the price of the energy produced by Hu Honua would be too much for Hawaii County residents to bear.

Instead, I support repurposing the Hu Honua energy plant to be used for a healthy, sustainable endeavor and to retrain and rehire the local people who were promised jobs at Hu Honua.

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.

One of the biggest system failures highlighted and exacerbated during the pandemic across the U.S., in Hawaii and here in Hawaii County was the collapse of the child care system.

Developing and maintaining a county-wide, high quality, accessible, child care system would positively impact the entire community by: supporting brain development in the most critical years, increasing pro-social behaviors and cognitive growth, mitigating high family stress levels, advancing shared cultural learning, reducing costs for low and middle income young families, providing good jobs, reducing crime, increasing graduation rates, and reducing absenteeism of employees due to child care problems.

When it comes to early childhood education and child care, we need to switch our mindset from one of regulation based on a free market system to one that advances early care and learning to make the very best outcomes a reality for our entire community.

Other countries such as New Zealand and Japan have developed and funded child care systems based on societal good. Smaller municipalities like Reggio Emilia, Italy, have shown what is possible if there is public and political will to make it happen. We could do the same.

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