1. What should be the County Council’s priorities in addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19?
Revitalizing our diversified agriculture is one important way. We can incentivize this lowering property tax for ag lands being actively used for or beginning diversified ag, and creating a higher “vacant ag land” property tax to offset the incentive (as other counties have already done). Also, offering installation of water infrastructure (a critical start-up cost). Active diversified ag begins to create an internal economy, and creates opportunities for new value-added businesses to start.
2. What is your vision for a thriving agricultural economic sector on Kauai?
We have so much potential here. Kauai can grow enough food to not only feed our island, but we could feed the entire island chain. Whatever we cannot consume, we can export with the valuable Hawaii & Kauai branding name. In addition to food, we can grow other highly sought-after materials. We also have the benefit of a year-round growing season, fertile soils, and plentiful rainfall. We must categorize agriculture as critical infrastructure due to our geographic isolation for public safety.
3. What role do you feel the visitor industry should play in Kauai’s economy?
Tourism is an important economy sector, and will continue to be so. It doesn’t mean we should be almost entirely dependent on it. Massive unemployment figures are due to our reliance. It is important to improve our infrastructure so we can handle the volume of tourism we have. Better materials for highly-travelled roads, opening new bypass routes to reduce congestion, and expanding/reimagining parking areas for popular stops, and limiting new hotel developments are just some of the ways.
4. If elected to the Council, how would you engage with the business community prior to your decision-making?
I am the owner and operator of “Talk Story Bookstore” in Hanapepe–Kauai’s last remaining bookstore–which I started in 2004. As a small business person, I definitely understand the direct impacts that government decisions can make upon a business, and why we must reach out first. In fact, I was the one who insisted that the County ensure that revocable permit applicants get permission from the business or property owners before they would be allowed to set up in front of someone’s business.
5. How would you help ensure that working middle class residents can afford to buy or rent a home in Kaua’i?
There are a few ways. We can raise property taxes for non-resident home owners, using those increased funds to lower property taxes for actual residents, thereby reducing rent and homeowners costs. We can also incentivize TVR owners to switch to renting to residents by creating a higher TVR tax rate. This would free up available spaces and help to reduce tourism impact. Like Oahu, we need to make a tiered residential tax rate–far lower for most residences and higher for high-value homes.
6. How would you effectively manage budget and operations compared to the past?
When the State closed my bookstore as “non-essential”, I did not have any revenue stream. I had no choice but to let go of my employee and streamline expenses. Painful choices had to be made. The County is no different. If we want it to be able to function for our critical services, we have to make some cuts. Most of the budget is tied up in pension/payroll, and we must also have this crucial conversation with the unions on riding out this storm. We must heed the advice of our Cost Control Commission, too.
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?
Thankfully, the vast majority of Kauai’s land is designated agriculture and conservation/open space. This means we will always have a rural feel. However, most of the traffic congestion from population and tourism increases can diminish that feeling. We can relieve some of this pressure by opening up more bypass roads on Kauai (many of which are on older existing plans). This is one important way, and would fit in with the overall intention of the General Plan.
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?
Residential rentals are very limited here and often expensive. I personally know the anxiety-creating displeasure of trying to find a place to rent on short notice. This is why we need to create the higher property tax incentive for TVR owners to convert their tourist rentals into residential units. My wife, Yuriko, and I actually live in a place that was once a TVR, and it works well for both parties. I would also support specifically taxing resorts higher due to their traffic impact.
9. What two ideas do you have about economic diversification and how would you develop these two areas?
Bringing back agriculture is actually a two-fold way to diversify the economy. Not only does it create new jobs and offshoot businesses that support this industry, it actually creates the opportunity for entrepreneurs to create small businesses based on value-added products made from what agriculture is producing. It is the entire downstream effect of incentivizing and opening up an underused sector of our economy. As an entrepreneur, believe me, people will act on the opportunities once there.
10. What is your solution to best manage solid waste on Kauai?
Source Reduction: food styrofoam & plastic utensil ban; create a home/business compost collection for agricultural use, since 60% of our landfill is already from compost. Landfill: With sea level rise concerns, we shouldn’t build another right next to the ocean. Recycling: Unfortunately, most is contaminated and unusable; we need to reexamine its effectiveness. Incineration is the final answer, but Hawaii cannot make waste-to-energy plants work, so the rest can be shipped to cities that can.
11. As a member of the County Council, what steps would you take to mitigate the impacts of climate change on Kauai?
First, Bring Back Agriculture: For example, growing just one acre of corn removes 8 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere in a single growing season. This is far more effective than the guinea grass that covers ag land now. Secondly, Ban on County Purchasing Materials Made in China: China is the world’s largest polluter. It is better for the environment and for our economy that the County purchase goods & materials made in the USA whenever possible, prioritizing Hawaii & Kauai vendors first.
12. Do you support the continued use of the G.E.T. surcharge and how would you prioritize roads and transportation spending?
The impact of increased tourist travel on our roads demands we have the funds to improve and fix them, so the GET surcharge is one way. Heavily travelled roads are in desperate need of repair and should ideally rebuilt with superior materials that can handle the traffic load. For example, as much as Papalina Road in Kalaheo where I live had issues, I would have rather seen those repairs go to the terrible situation on Koloa Road first. Our main routes need to be dealt with first.
13. What else would you like to share with the business community?
We have many town cores that need revitalization. The County can create these into opportunity zones to incentivize the restoration and rebuilding of dilapidated or missing buildings. This would create places for new small businesses to open up and be able to provide services for their community. We can offer fast-track permitting processes, infrastructure assistance, and possibly even temporary public-private partnerships to get things off the ground. Prioritize our existing communities first.