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 Lila Metzger, 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, KipuKai Kuali’i, 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?
The biggest issue our county has is the financial dependency on the state; because of this we are unable to make changes or evolve in any way because we are stuck in a very bad business plan.
I would like to create a parallel business plan that weans us off of the state in a specific time frame. The plan would include repurposing resources we already have, restructuring the county pay scale, looking at contracts that could be awarded on-island in a fair way, exploring a way where certain taxes paid on-island stay on-island, and taking responsibility of managing and maintaining state land that has long been neglected and unused for the benefit of the Kauai County budget.
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?
Any preparedness plan should be constantly updated. These natural disasters revealed weaknesses in the county’s preparedness plan and necessary changes should be made to eliminate those problems in the future. The emergency planning agency should practice their plans with exercises and scenarios they create before real disaster strikes.
These two instances should motivate all members of our community to consider the sustainability and preparedness of their own households as well. If we all are aware of a plan and prepared with what is expected of us in a state of emergency we would be able to help one another on an individual level and allow the county to handle more expensive and large-scale supplies and equipment.
We need to not only prepare for natural disasters but intentional ones because, as Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
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?
Composting toilet systems and processing wastewater into reusable fertilizer should be explored. Working on a new startup farm I have realized this island has been so depleted of its nutrient-rich base from allowing chemical farming, experimental farming, the sugar cane industry, and the toxic chemicals used in weed killers, to name a few.
It would be wise of us to figure out a solution that takes our wastewater and instead of processing it with more harmful chemicals convert it into a substance that we can use to farm with and feed our soil. This might be uncomfortable to imagine, but this island is not going to stop making wastewater, which requires us to be open-minded to alternative ways to deal with our waste.
We need to investigate what is working in other parts of the world and bring it here.
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?
If we take the Kauai bus system and enhance the size of the buses, increase the service areas and communicate with the people about their main places of travel and times, that would encourage them to use the bus and alleviate business/school hour traffic.
The county needs to widen all of the roads and consider opening cane roads when fatalities occur on our main highway. We need to create new roads with direct routes to main hubs around the island for bikes and motorcycles.
5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of your county, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu?
I don’t feel they appreciate anything other than the fact we have to send them our money because that is what we are set up to do. Even the part of our island that they should care about because it is state property they neglect.
If you want to take one instance to gauge how much they appreciate what is going on here on Kauai, take a look at the low income housing in Koloa at Paa nau Village. You can see the county side maintained and under control and then you look next door at what is called the “brown side” and you will see apartments where people (with small children) are living with no hot water or electric, clearly a place to do and deal drugs. It is completely unsanitary, with trash bins overflowing and broken-down cars.
I know first-hand how bad it is inside as I have had family who lived there. This location is across from a public elementary school. People complain and ask questions and the only answer from the county is that it is “state run” and that leaves us feeling there is nothing that can be done.
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?
I would suggest imposing a tax automatically on anyone purchasing homes and property from out of state. The tax could be on a scale depending on location, the type of building being purchased and how many purchases this buyer has made.
The tax collected could become discounts available for local families. The seller gets his price, the buyer pays the discounted price and the county pays the difference out of the pool of taxes collected from out-of-state purchases.
We need to consider rent-to-own affordable housing options and offer a credit to responsible individuals who pay rent on time who can then apply this credit to a first-time home loan application. There needs to be an adjustment to the income qualification for low-income housing. There should be an entry income qualification, an increased rent to income, and an exit plan.
The county needs to encourage household incomes to increase to the point they can move out and afford housing elsewhere, which will make room for others in need. Right now there is no middle ground, which leaves many hardworking people with no choice but to settle with where they are at.
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?
As a small business owner I know this challenge first-hand. People have grown accustomed to the stimulus check and just don’t want to work anymore. This pandemic has set us on a cycle that is not sustainable.
We need to keep shopping local. The county needs to look at what kind of outside contracts they have and see if these goods or services could be provided by local vendors.
We need job training to be implemented from middle school to high school. I would change the legal employment age to 14. This would be an opportunity and investment into our future workforce. I know many 14-year-olds who desire to earn money and age should not be a stumbling block to anyone willing to work especially in our employment crisis.
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?
As I mentioned with the wastewater issue, I believe there is a better way to deal with our garbage by converting it to something useful. We need to look at what other countries are doing and be open to trying to deal with our garbage differently. For example, Sweden came up with a way to turn their trash into power by burning it. Less than 1% of Sweden’s trash is sent to landfills, and over 50% of Swedish household waste is converted into energy to heat their homes.
If we got down to 1% of trash going to the landfill the capacity would be reached at a tremendously slower rate, which would help us avoid a garbage crisis. I am not saying this model would work for our island but I do believe these types of options should be considered. We need to utilize the technology available to help our crisis areas.
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?
We need to revive our “Beautiful Kauai” slogan and have a priority to keep trash off the side of the roads and penalize any dumping or littering of any kind. We need to lead by example.
If tourists arrive in a place where it is clearly expected that you keep Kauai beautiful or you will be given a fine, that would be a start. We also need to direct visitors to specific destinations that are ready to be used and well maintained. These sights could also have at-rest cycles.
We also need to require a departure tax that is due upon the check-in when flying to Kauai. That tax should be used to refresh our island due to the impact tourism causes.
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.
My big idea would be to see the county of Kauai partner with a technology group that would help turn our waste into reusable energy or a nutrient-rich substance and convert nonbiodegradable materials into a product we can use to build desks, playgrounds, park benches, bleachers, doors and window frames.
Our trash today would become our playground tomorrow. We would be solving major problems and lowering the need for the county to import synthetic materials for county projects. This process would be absorbing all major garbage on this island to reuse in ways we need for the future.
The county should be the forerunner at demonstrating how this is possible and available for the rest of the island. We know we will always have waste and we will always have needs. I believe through creativity and technology there is a way to make these two things work together for a better future.
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