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 Mel Rapozo, 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, Lila Metzger, Nelson Mukai, 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

Mel Rapozo
Party Nonpartisan
Age 58
Occupation Investigator
Residence Wailua

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Kauai County Council, 2002-2008 and 2010-2018.

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

While there are many critical issues facing Kauai County, the solid waste crisis is at its peak. We don’t have enough time left on the current landfill to deal with the siting and construction of a new landfill.

We must start the process to bring waste-to-energy to Kauai immediately. We live on an island with finite land resources and cannot kick this can down the road any longer.

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?

Kauai’s disaster response is second to none in my opinion. We have had lots of practice. The problem is not the response. The real problem is the lack of infrastructure to keep our communities safe.

For the 14 years that I have served in elected office, I have always advocated for alternate traffic routes on Kauai. I have asked local, state and federal agencies to start the discussion about safe alternate routes for our communities. Kauai has outgrown our highways and it is no longer safe for our county.

The remedy is costly and will take many years to implement, however we need to start now! We have one highway that serves the entire island and much of it is along the coastline. An alternate route is no longer just a convenience, but a necessity to keep our communities safe.

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?

The County Council passed Bill No. 2837 to set up the cesspool conversion program that will assist homeowners with the conversion costs. The county needs to implement that program as soon as 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?

As I stated in question 2, the county must identify alternate traffic routes for areas that are vulnerable to road closures.

There is a network of old cane haul roads that could be used, and I have advocated for the use of these roads for emergency purposes for quite a while. We need to approach these landowners and seek their cooperation for the use of their roads and if not, we should seek eminent domain for the use of these alternate routes.

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

While there is a perception that the governor and legislature are Honolulu-centric, we have been represented well as it relates to funding and assistance when needed.

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 need to redefine the term “affordable housing” and focus on removing cost barriers for developers to be able to provide housing units that are truly affordable. Providing land and sharing the cost of infrastructure is one way to lower costs. While Kauai County doesn’t have an inventory of available lands, we must work with the state to allow the use of state lands for the purpose of developing truly affordable housing.

The county needs to streamline the permitting for affordable housing. Delays in permitting only adds cost to projects.

We need strict enforcement of illegal vacation rentals to increase housing inventory on Kauai. Short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods not only deplete our housing inventory but they drive up taxes and destroy the character of the areas that they are in.

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?

Covid-19 is not winding down, contrary to what our state leaders have been saying. This is a problem across the country. Hawaii is not immune from the impacts of the pandemic. We are in the midst of rising cases and hospitalizations. There is a lot of virus in our communities as shown in the rising positivity rates in the state.

We must acknowledge the fact that Covid is not over. We must stress the importance of wearing masks indoors and practicing safe social behavior. Businesses are struggling because of a workforce that is regularly infected with Covid. We must stop the messaging that Covid is over.

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?

We are already in a solid waste crisis. As I stated in question 1, we need to start the process to bring waste to energy technology to Kauai. We have a finite inventory of lands and we simply cannot rely on landfills for future generations.

Waste to energy is a clean and safe way to get rid of our trash and create energy. Waste diversion is also key in reducing the amount of waste going to the landfill. I believe that curbside recycling needs to be implemented immediately. Making recycling convenient for residents is the key to a successful program.

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?

A carrying capacity study needs to be done immediately. While there is talk about airport expansions, tourism management and focusing on the “right” visitors, we fail to acknowledge the horrific impacts that tourism is having on our local residents.

Traffic, poor maintenance of public infrastructure, and abuse of natural resources are just a few consequences of overtourism. Weak enforcement of illegal transient accommodations allows for the destruction of residential neighborhoods. We must change our thinking to “locals first” and make sure that the quality of life for our residents is not compromised for the sake of the tourist dollar.

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.

I believe that Kauai did a very good job with the pandemic. This was possible because our county team worked with the Department of Health and did what was necessary to protect health and safety rather than to do what was popular.

Statewide, failures occurred because the state did not have a statewide response plan. Communication was poor. Messages were mixed. Conflicting information from the state administration was not uncommon. Technology to assess the impacts of Covid was inadequate. Hopefully we learned from this pandemic. Hopefully, the necessary changes will be made.

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?