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 Fern Holland, candidate for Kauai County Council. The other candidates for seven positions are Addison Bulosan, Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden, Billy DeCosta, Luke Evslin, Ross Kagawa, KipuKai Kuali’i, Lila Metzger, Nelson Mukai, Mel Rapozo, Roy Saito, Rachel Secretario and Shirley Simbre-Medeiros.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Kauai County, and what would you do about it?
It’s hard to say what the biggest problem is that we face, as we have a few that need urgent attention.
Affordable housing is the, or one of the most urgent issues we must tackle. We must find county solutions to reduce the cost of housing and support affordable housing efforts in appropriate locations, that preserve our environment and rural way of life. We need to continue to develop projects like the Lima Ola affordable housing project and support the development of additional family units and rentals on existing properties to accommodate growing families, while tackling infrastructure upgrade needs.
Another major issue is the rate of drug abuse and addiction on Kauai. We need to improve our port security and get drugs off our streets while we work to address the issue holistically with counseling programs, on-island detox and treatment centers and housing-first solutions.
I also understand the urgent need to address the new landfill.
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?
We should absolutely be learning from recent events and ensuring we are more and more prepared for (likely increasing) environmental disasters, such as what north shore Kauai has faced these last few years.
I believe we need to have a detailed step-by-step plan for how we respond to disasters such as these. It’s important we work with existing on-the-ground community leaders and businesses to smooth line-response activities.
Kauai has a tight and responsive community that works together to address emergencies. This is a beautiful and important part of Kauai. If it is organized and cultivated, we can streamline our response and quickly and successfully help our community when they need it most.
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?
I will work to find programs and funding that help families with these huge costs for cesspool conversions. The Federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill may provide solutions to address some of this need. I will investigate funding programs from the state and federal governments, as well as nonprofits and foundations, that are providing support in this area. I will also look at additional county-level options for incentives and/or subsidies that can help us increase conversions and support homeowners in making this important change.
Recently I participated in a Nature-Based Wastewater Treatment Workshop that addressed potential solutions to further minimize the impacts of leaching human waste and the associated contaminants. In that workshop I learned about some additional programs that are being provided to implement these specific systems, and partnering with groups working on this might provide viable solutions also.
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?
To improve Kauai transportation problems, I would address the issue by working with the state to understand ways the county can assist in moving approved projects forward along the highway. I want to discuss with state officials the elimination of contra-flow but instead two lanes between Kapaa and Lihue and understand what is holding this back.
I would work to expand public transport capacity and dependency so more people could experience Kauai without needing to rent a car, and residents can rely on it for regular transport. I appreciate the county developing the getaroundkauai.com site and giving insight to travelers about ways to get around without a car.
I will also investigate ways that we can ensure emergency access and alternative routes, should we need them. I will investigate the feasibility of opening them at critical times to alleviate some traffic problems temporarily, while we figure out long-term solutions.
Creating more options to work from home and for people to gain employment closer to where they live is also a solution to reducing cars on the road.
I will immediately connect with those working on this issue to learn about additional ways that the county may be able to address the growing traffic concerns.
5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of your county, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu?
I do think that the other islands receive less representation and resources compared to Oahu due to the nature of our districts and political representation demographics.
For this reason, I have been a proponent for other islands having the opportunity to testify remotely on issues that pertain to them and believe this is an important part of democracy in our island state. Due to the lack of ability for off-Oahu residents to have a regular presence in the Capitol, our voices can be minimized.
The presence of lobbyists and special interests and “pay-to-play” politics in the Capitol has naturally resulted in big business and industry interests coming before residents, particularly those from the other islands.
Recent confirmation of corruption from federal arrests of state legislators has brought much-needed attention to the changes that are needed to create a more transparent and accountable legislative body.
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?
We definitely need to prioritize finding solutions to reduce the cost of housing for locals. I think we need to continue with development projects like the Lima Ola affordable housing project and support the development of additional family units and rentals on existing properties.
I believe we must find ways to discourage off-shore vacation rental home buying that is part of what is pushing local families out of the market. We need to look at out-of-the-box solutions to help offset and reduce rental costs and encourage and incentivize homeowners to rent their homes on long-term affordable leases.
If elected I will dive into the research that has been done on things that have worked in other areas and connect with the groups working on this issue to address the gaps. I also want to dive into the things holding approved projects up and work with department heads to understand and address the ways things can be improved and streamlined.
I will also work for housing-first solutions and comprehensive plans that address the interconnected social issues our community faces around houselessness.
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?
I understand how difficult the Covid-19 pandemic has been for local businesses and I have family members and friends who suffered greatly through that time. I will investigate ways to support small businesses and work with local business associations to address their needs where appropriate and able.
I will look into ways that the county can assist with job retention and prioritize “workforce housing,” which may assist in this area also.
I know we need to expand beyond tourism and I also think there are other ways that we can grow our economy by channeling, appropriately managing and harnessing the tourism revenue we do have in our local economy. I would like to develop some ideas to create a more circular economy across the board.
I am also passionate about developing a flourishing agricultural industry that provides diversified employment in food production, processing and distribution, and that pays living wages. To do this I will support efforts to expand local food production, processing facilities and infrastructure and work with community organizations to address needs to assist with marketing and distribution of local food while we also work to support current and next-generation farmers.
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?
To address this important issue, we must work to drive the development of a new landfill, while we do everything we can to focus on waste reduction and diversion tactics.
The development of a landfill will take longer to address than we currently have. Reducing our waste generation and then diverting whatever we can from the landfill will be critical in establishing responsible waste management for our small island. Decision-makers have deferred this important issue for far too long and now we have run out of time. I am realistic about the time it will take to finalize a location and build a new landfill and understand that it is likely we do not have many options once the EPA shuts down the Kekaha Landfill in approximately six years.
We need to move forward on landfill development while we also move on curbside recycling and waste diversion. I have and will continue to support a Dirty MRF (materials recovery facility) for Kauai in conjunction with curbside recycling. Over the last few years, on the state level, I have worked to support composting and organic waste diversion measures. I will work to do similar diversion measures locally also.
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?
The Kauai Destination Management Action Plan is a positive forward step in creating a better relationship with tourism that feels less extractive to local residents. I appreciate the goal to rebuild, redefine and reset the direction of tourism over a three-year period. I believe that the aim of regenerative tourism as outlined in the DMAP, if harnessed properly, can assist with economic diversification and an expansion of true eco-tourism, true cultural experiences and more revenue staying on Kauai.
It is critical that we look at other high-visitor island destinations for management solutions that have worked in these other areas. There must be ways that we can better control the number of tourists at any one time and better control highly trafficked sites.
I support measures such as investigating specific site visitor limits, and site management plans to develop and implement tourism capacity management models at “hotspot” areas. I support possible solutions such as a universal user fee model to help offset maintenance costs at beaches and parks. I’ll advocate for the adjustment of usage fees (camping permits) to target different levels of users and instill better management of illegal users.
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.
There are lots of ways we have learned through the coronavirus pandemic that our systems and technologies need to be improved and strengthened.
One of the things that I am passionate about, is the expansion of local food production agriculture, increasing food self-sufficiency and reducing our dependence on tourism.
I have a big and bold vision to help facilitate the restoration of multiple cultural sites that also provide a connection to ancient land management and agricultural systems that will strengthen our resilience and local food production capacity.
I see a future where these native and edible ecosystems are restored throughout the island and have become features and projects that are marveled and looked to for education and cultural experience. I see a system that works with these indigenous land management practices and sites, and combines it with modern food production agriculture to create a flourishing and diversified agricultural system.
Simultaneously we must establish a network and needed infrastructure for food processing, marketing and distribution of local foods.
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