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 KipuKai Kualiʻi, candidate for Kauai County Council. The other candidates for seven positions are Addison Bulosan, Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden, Billy DeCosta, Luke Evslin, Fern Holland, Ross Kagawa, Lila Metzger, Nelson Mukai, Mel Rapozo, Roy Saito, Rachel Secretario and Shirley Simbre-Medeiros.

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

Candidate for Kauai County Council

KipuKai Kuali'i
Party Nonpartisan
Age 60
Occupation County Council member; director of operations, YWCA of Kauai
Residence Anahola

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Kauai County Council member, 2020-2022, 2018-2020, 2014-2016; 2011-2012; County Council Housing & Intergovernmental Relations Committee, chair; County Council Finance & Economic Development Committee, vice chair; National Association of Counties, board member; County Agency on Elderly Affairs Advisory Task Force, member; Anahola Hawaiian Homes Association, president; Pi`ilani Mai Ke Kai Community Association, treasurer; Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, policy chair; Hawaiian Lending & Investments, founding board member.

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

The biggest issue continues to be the lack of housing. We must get a lot more units built for our growing families, our overcrowded (“invisible homeless”) and our homeless.

I worked with Council Chair Kaneshiro, Housing Director Roversi and Mayor Kawakami to bring about critically needed improvements to our housing policy that incentivizes private developers to build more units. We’re currently working on even more improvements.

Last term we passed several bills supporting additional rental units; waiving zoning permit application, sewer and building permit fees; creating a subsidy for water meters; and exempting environmental impact statements, saving over $20,000 per ARU in fees alone. We also passed a bill I co-sponsored with Council member Evslin supporting tiny houses, legalizing sleeping lofts, lowering ceiling heights and allowing for stairs and ladders designed for small spaces.

We now need to replicate the success of projects like our 30-unit Kealaula transitional housing, our 53-unit Pua Loke affordable rentals and our multi-phase, multi-unit Lima Ola project in Eleele that includes senior, single family and affordable housing. These successes result from partnering with the state and developers, tax credits, fast-track permitting, a streamlined regulatory process and/or having available funding. (See more on housing in No. 6 below.)

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?

For starters, our county needs to prioritize working together with the state to build a Kuamoo-Maalo connector road to ensure our east and north shore communities have continuous access to medical, transportation and other facilities in the event of tsunami damage to our shoreline highway and bridges.

In the winter of 2020, I helped pass Bill 2813 D1 which updated and strengthened our Shoreline Setback Ordinance. It incorporated the University of Hawaii’s Coastal Geology Group’s Kauai Coastal Erosion Study data from 2018 and strengthened shoreline setback requirements in order to protect life and property; and to ensure the longevity and integrity of Kauai’s coastal and beach resources. During that same time, I also helped pass Bill 2816 D1, which adopted the updated flood insurance maps to meet the requirements of the national flood insurance program.

In general, I feel strongly that Mayor Kawakami, our Kauai Emergency Management Agency and our entire Disaster Response/Emergency Response team do incredible work responding to major weather and disaster events; including the Covid-19 pandemic. I believe I heard we are making improvements with regards to preparedness by planning for emergency/resiliency hubs in different communities that could be cut off.

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?

In the fall of 2021, I helped develop and pass Bill 2837 D2 which established a Residential Cesspool Conversion Program to be administered by our Housing Agency. It gives our Housing Agency the authority to apply for, pledge its full faith and credit as security for, submit required loan documents, and accept, administer and repay Clean Water State Revolving Fund monies to assist with costs associated with residential cesspool conversions.

I would like to see our county work with our state to go after federal infrastructure dollars to invest in helping our homeowners with converting to septic or hooking up to our sewer where possible.

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?

Continue working with the state to maintain and improve our highways and to best manage our contra-flow operations. Work with the state and private landowners to acquire lands or accesses for additional bypass roads such as one from Koloa to Puhi and another from Puhi to Hanamaulu.

Continue reducing the number of vehicles on the road by improving the routes and frequency of our bus system and by adding convenient shuttles that could also be used by tourists instead of them renting cars.

Continue maximizing our General Excise Tax (GET) funds for catching up with our backlog of county roads maintenance in the most efficient and expedient ways possible.

Continue retrofitting existing county roads (i.e. along Rice Street in Lihue) as a catalyst for economic development by creating inviting places for socialization and commerce; as well as traffic calming measures and complete streets design strategies. Pedestrian-friendly streets not only provide for safe walking (and less traffic) but also for more folks spending their dollars at our small businesses.

Finally, I would like to see our county work with our state to go after federal infrastructure dollars to invest in maintaining our bridges and maybe even replacing some of them.

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

We’re just a few months away from electing a new governor and a new Legislature. I’m very hopeful that the change will be for the better. Honestly, as a Kauai resident, I would like to see all elected leaders in all branches of government appreciate the issues of our county. I would like to see them invest the time, energy and resources (funding) necessary to protect and improve our quality of life. To help us diversify and build our economy. To help us meet our affordable housing demand. To help us ensure public safety. To help us address food insecurity and poverty. To help us address traffic congestion.

While the rail is a huge issue for Oahu that will likely help with their traffic issues, we have serious traffic issues of our own. Hopefully, the state could help us with our traffic issues by continuing to improve our state highways, by expanding our contra-flow and by helping us acquire lands for additional bypass roads.

I would also like to see the state make major investments into restoring and protecting our significant cultural sites like several of our prominent heiaus and our Hanapepe Lo`i Pa`akai (Salt Pans).

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?

In order to build our Housing Development Fund, Council members Chock, Evslin and I recently voted to increase the vacation rental tax rate to the same level as Resort. We fell two votes short. I also helped spearhead sending a Council charter amendment proposal to the voters to approve dedicating 2% (an estimated $3.5 million) of real property tax revenues to our Housing Development Fund.      

Our county should work closely with the Department of Water to ensure water distribution expansion plans line up with plans for increased density and infill development within our town centers, as well as for other housing development in the larger town areas.

Our county planners should engage with Department of Water Planners updating the County Water Plan to guide system expansion, improvement, rehabilitation and rate structures that support growth consistent with housing development plans.

Our county must properly maintain our four wastewater treatment plants, which were built before 1980, and fund the necessary upgrades to our current systems; even if that means increasing sewer fees. Our county should also work in partnership with private entities wherever possible.

Lastly, our county should propose residential developments in Lihue in order to take advantage of that treatment plant’s significant excess capacity.

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?

Work with our mayor and our Office of Economic Development to implement our Kauai Comprehensive Economic Development Strategic (CEDS) Plan for 2022-2026; completed by community stakeholders from all six of our target industry clusters on Nov. 30, 2021. One goal is to build, attract and retain a 21st century workforce with strategies of:

-— Providing our workforce with the skills they need to be gainfully employed.

— Assisting our schools in meeting college and career expectations.

— Addressing talent gaps and “brain drain” by positioning Kauai as a desirable place for people to live and work. Another goal is to develop plans and continue to build capacity for economic development of the six target industry clusters with strategies of:

— Increase collaboration.

— Support economic innovation and digitization for all businesses.

— Develop infrastructure.

— Support the development of new businesses and markets for a diversity of products derived from agricultural and technological activity.

The 2022-2026 CEDS is designed to sustain and grow the progress from the previous CEDS; continue the ongoing efforts to mitigate the effects of Covid-19; and, create and achieve new goals that support the economic vision set forth in our Kauai General Plan.

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?

Although many had hoped the county would have started a curbside recycling program by now, the mayor and our administration has determined it isn’t economically feasible at this time because of the extreme cost and because it would only increase our diversion rate by 5%.

What the County Council could do is support our mayor and our Solid Waste Division with:

— The permitting of a new landfill across the highway at Kekaha Mauka.

— Seeking state approval for a vertical expansion of the existing landfill that would extend operations through November 2030.

— Doing extensive outreach and education to get our citizens to play a decisive role in helping us avoid a garbage crisis by changing more habits and diverting more waste; composting, recycling, reusing materials and source reduction.

— Excavating waste from the oldest part of the landfill, separating out recyclables and reburying the waste on top of the landfill’s newest section.

— Creating a construction and demolition reclamation center to dispose of construction and demolition garbage, which makes up the largest portion of the current landfill’s waste stream.

The council absolutely has to, together with our mayor, make solving this challenge one of its highest priorities.

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?

Work with our mayor, our Office of Economic Development and Business, Community & Tourism Industry leaders to help implement the Kauai Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP) 2021-2023, which presents a blueprint for managing tourism on Kauai. In the DMAP vision of tourism in 2040, Kauai is a global leader in the reinvention of the visitor industry. Collaborative action by community stakeholders has addressed unsustainable visitor growth as well as climate change and social inequity.

Tourism remains a valued economic sector, as other sectors have emerged to offer greater stability and opportunity for the island. The DMAP Plan goal is to rebuild, redefine and reset the direction of tourism over a three-year period.

The plan contains the following six objectives:

— Create positive contributions to the quality of life for Kauai’s residents.

— Support the maintenance, enhancement and protection of Kauai’s natural resources.

— Ensure the authentic Hawaiian culture is perpetuated and accurately presented in experiences for residents and visitors, materials and marketing efforts.

— Maintain and improve visitor satisfaction of their experience on Kauai.

— Strengthen the economic contribution of Kauai’s visitor industry.

— Increase communication and understanding between residents and the visitor industry.

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.

At least one of the current candidates for governor says we should consider housing as a basic human right and I wholeheartedly agree. My one big idea is that I will work with and push our mayor, our council chair, our Housing Agency director and our entire County Council to dedicate ourselves fully to addressing the housing shortage disaster. We know what we have to do. And, we even have a few examples of successful projects to emulate like our Kealaula transitional housing project that provides shelter for several of our homeless families.

Together, we all will work with and push the next governor to grant us an emergency declaration (fast-track permitting and a streamlined regulatory process) and emergency funding as was done with Ohana Zones for the Covid-19 pandemic — but, instead for the housing shortage disaster. With that, our county can expedite the replication of projects like Kealaula in two or three other locations across the island. And, we could also work with the state to develop two or three kauhale villages or agricultural villages as shelters for our homeless folks in different parts of the island.

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