1. What should be the County Council’s priorities in addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19?
Our priorities should be keeping our residents safe, protecting our budget, and stimulating our economy to bring the island back to a new normalcy. Protecting the health and safety of our residents is of the utmost importance. Kauai has done a great job and in many instances, we led the State with our proactive approach to dealing with the virus and it paid off. Our island experienced the lowest number of active cases in the State, minimal community spread, and no deaths. Keeping a balanced budget and maintaining our reserve will be especially important. Not spending beyond our means and being disciplined with our reserves allows us to appropriate resources where it is needed, gives us the flexibility to react and address extraordinary storm events and endure the current economic downturn we are experiencing, ensuring that the county will be viable for future generations. As we attempt to slowly open up the economy, we need to be diligent in how we deal with incoming travelers. Travel will be the most likely means of contracting and spreading COVID-19 on island. We also need to focus on our infrastructure and funnel newly available emergency State and Federal monies to upgrade our dated infrastructure. Doing so will not only create construction jobs now, but will also stimulate further private investment along the upgraded infrastructure.
2. What is your vision for a thriving agricultural economic sector on Kauai?
A thriving agricultural economic sector consists of a variety of farms and ranches of all sizes and types. Farming would range from large seed corn companies and Kauai Coffee to smaller farms producing products for grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets. Both large and small farms would work together to share resources such as infrastructure improvements, machinery, and knowledge. I would love to see our products marketed and sold off-island. Ranching would consist of raising livestock for both the local market and exported to the mainland as Kauai grown beef. There needs to be a lot more tolerance towards agriculture. We hear a lot about people wanting to protect and preserve agriculture. You hear the terms grow what we eat, buy local, eat local, support your local farmer, but there is a big push to fight water for agricultural use, to oppose new agricultural ventures, and to vilify farmers, ranchers, and landowners that are trying to preserve agriculture. We need to be aware of this movement and the entire agricultural community needs to work together. Agriculture needs to succeed in order to perpetuate our ranching and paniolo lifestyle, to provide fresh local produce to our residents, and prevent urban sprawl from encompassing our open space and agricultural lands.
3. What role do you feel the visitor industry should play in Kauai’s economy?
While we have witnessed first-hand the vulnerabilities of industry to COVID-19, tourism will continue to be our economic engine. Tourism not only supports paying jobs within the hotel industry, it supports complimentary businesses: restaurants, shops, eco-adventures, and so many more. It will take time before the tourism industry is back up and running. Now is the time to support local more than ever. We need our local business to survive and if or when traveler confidence and local families confidence in safely receiving tourism is restored—the tourism industry will pick up and our local businesses we will be in a better place because of it.
4. If elected to the Council, how would you engage with the business community prior to your decision-making?
As a fourth generation farmer, Project Manager at Grove Farm, and current councilmember I have been particularly engaged with the business community. I am fortunate to be in positions that allow me to be exposed to a wide variety of businesses sectors. Engaging the business community is knowing and understanding the continued hardships that small businesses endure, either from unforeseen circumstances or under the various and often overly burdensome regulatory regimes in place here in Hawaii. I am always open for businesses input. Additionally, I meet quarterly with Chamber of Commerce’s government affairs committee and value their insight and input on all council matters.
5. How would you help ensure that working middle class residents can afford to buy or rent a home in Kaua’i?
So much of our existing government regulations are a barrier to affordable housing. I recently introduced a bill that passed to allow construction of multi-family dwelling units in the Residential Zoning District (R-6 and below). This means local families can now take advantage of reduced construction costs, such as shared roofs and walls, as well as running infrastructure and utilities to one building rather than two separate buildings. There is no single solution to our housing crisis. In addition to resolving regulatory barriers, the County has taken great strides in creating affordable housing. These projects stretch across the island with Kolopua in Princeville, Kealaula and Pua Loke Affordable Housing in Lihue, Koae in Koloa, Limaola in Eleele, and Huakai in Waimea. Furthermore, we as a County need to be more business friendly and help develop good paying jobs. From the start-up entrepreneur to the everyday farmer, much of Hawaii’s business regulations lack sensibility. We need to enable businesses to concentrate on their operations without gross government intervention. Allowing business to survive and prosper, even grow, will create greater economic opportunity/diversity. Allowing businesses to survive in perpetuity provides employees with a stable job, steady income, and means to put a roof over their families’ heads.
6. How would you effectively manage budget and operations compared to the past?
I chaired the past 6 budgets and am proud of the financial condition in which our County currently is. During this time, I have continuously stressed the importance of balancing a budget with a healthy reserve for emergency situations. It wasn’t easy, but a reserve budget has always been one of my primary focuses, and I advocated for, fought for, and ultimately was able establish and maintain a 30 percent emergency reserve. Our County reserve has since grown from $19 million in 2014 to around $60 million today. This reserve has ensured that we have the means to withstand natural disasters and economic downturns such as the effects we are currently feeling from COVID-19.
7. How can Kaua’i maintain its rural character while continuing to accommodate a growing population and visitor counts? How do your ideas fit with the current General Plan?
We need to keep urban, urban; and we need to keep rural, rural. However, running away from the reality of our island’s natural growth does not help solve the problem. We cannot cheat our way out of the fact that we as an island are growing internally. My focus on development is not limited to just growing the economy. For much of our past, Kauai has had a birth rate that exceeds our death rate, and as morbid as this sounds, the fact remains, we are birthing more children than people are dying. In order to accommodate for this growth, we need to develop certain areas to ensure that once our keiki grow up, they have a place to live. The question then is how do we develop, do we continue along the tract of urban sprawl to accommodate this growth or do we refocus our development within our existing town core areas. I am in favor of the later because this allows us to increase our housing stock while simultaneously preserving our agricultural and open space lands. Along with this need to facilitate more housing for our residents is the fact that much of our island was feeling overwhelmed with unfettered tourism. By no means should we stop tourism; however, we need to begin modeling the way our facilities that are shared by both locals and tourists can be adequately balanced. The program recently put in place to manage Kee Beach to have tourist reservations, a shuttle system to ensure rental cars do not consume the Haena neighborhood, and simultaneous provisions to provide for local families to access this treasured area serves as a model for so many of our shared beach and recreational facilities. The General Plan does lay this out and I fully support these types of measures.
8. Will you support efforts to ensure that all vacation rentals, home stay units, bed and breakfast, and all transient vacation units are charged resort property tax rates?
9. What two ideas do you have about economic diversification and how would you develop these two areas?
We need to strengthen our agricultural sector. There has long been a movement to buy local and grow what we eat. Making those products easy and convenient to purchase are key. The local farmers markets and roadside farm stands provide residents with a consistent location to purchase local produce. I find myself going to the roadside farm stands first before going to the grocery store. Another opportunity to connect farmers and customers is to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to County Housing Projects. A farmer can provide a list of produce and prices for the residents to pre-order and will fill those orders the following week. This is a win-win, residents will be able to receive fresh local produce without leaving their house and the farmer will be able to reach a concentrated area of customers. Rather than relying on visitors to come to Kauai and spend money, we need to market and brand our island products for sale around the world. E-commerce is one of the few ways we can bring outside money to our island. We have many unique products Kauai Coffee, Koloa Rum, Kauai Cookie, Kauai Shrimp, etc. We need to capitalize on these opportunities and really market our Kauai talents and products to the world.
10. What is your solution to best manage solid waste on Kauai?
Waste is expensive to manage. The general fund subsidizes our solid waste operation in the amount of approximately $12.5 million. I am open to any and all environmentally friendly and cost effective ways to manage or reduce our solid waste. Ideally, I would love to see a cost effective method to mine our existing landfill, turn the old waste into energy, and then reuse the mined area. The County has several programs in place to extend the life of the landfill and divert as much trash as possible. For recycling, composting, and reuse programs to work, we each need to do our part and pitch in.
11. As a member of the County Council, what steps would you take to mitigate the impacts of climate change on Kauai?
Kauai currently has one of the most robust shoreline setback ordinances in the country, which ensures that development does not negatively impact natural coastal erosion processes as well as marine life in and around the area. And, I am proud of that. This ordinance was implemented with most up-to-date scientific data available at the time; however, that data is quickly becoming stale. We need to be constantly vigilant with our scientific community and the data that they provide to ensure that this ordinance and others can adequately respond to climate change. We need to continue to use science, as the powerful tool to guide our future policies. So much of Kauai’s and Hawaii’s historical development has been around coastal and estuary areas, yet as the climate changes, and sea level rises, and the frequency and intensity of storms increase, we need to accept the fact that these coastal and estuarine areas are extremely vulnerable, and the further development of them is a massive liability to the industry and the County. Working on a systematic and realistic managed retreat for future development that is guided by sound science is in all of our best interest.
12. Do you support the continued use of the G.E.T. surcharge and how would you prioritize roads and transportation spending?
Yes, I was a huge proponent for the GET surcharge when it was in front of council. It is never a popular vote to increase taxes, but ultimately my decision weighed on the question of “what is my responsibility?” I did not feel it was appropriate to pass our road burden on to future generations, we needed to do something about it now. The longer we did nothing, the greater our obligation would be, and the harder it would be to catch up. Our roads were in dire shape and still are. We were facing a backlog of road and bridge work well over $100 million dollars with a budget of only $1.2 million per year. The surcharge was the only opportunity we had to realistically address our backlog and also spread the tax burden to the visitor industry. Without it, there would be no way we would have the resources to address roads like Maluhia and Koloa, which are in desperate need of reconstruction. We should also save money in the long run because we can start taking a pro-active approach to road maintenance rather than reactive and needing to completely replace roads in disrepair. It will be the Council’s job to ensure that the Administration implements and follows its roadway improvement plan to make the most of our taxpayer dollars.
13. What else would you like to share with the business community?
I am running for Kauai County Council because I care about Kauai and I care about its future. I bring with me my business and accounting acumen, six years of experience on the council as Chair of the budget, my commitment to community service, and the values and principles that were instilled in me from family, teachers, coaches, and the community. Growing up here, I believe I can represent the people of Kauai and Niihau well because I am a regular, everyday Kauai resident who works hard and wants to make the best life for myself and my family. I would be humbled and honored to have your vote and serve out my final term in office.