1. What should be the County Council’s priorities in addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19?
The county’s priority in addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19 are to first ensure our residents health is cared for. This not only includes their financial stability to secure basic needs such as food and shelter, but also to assist with mental health needs for those most at risk. The county will have to assist the public in adapting to the new safety protocols in place in a clear and sensitive way. The county council should follow through on the Kauai Economic Recovery Strategy Teams recommendations and leverage the capital within our community stakeholders to achieve its identified action items. In addition, the county will need to be strategic in applying current federal Cares Act funding and any future funding that may become available. The council will need to work closely with our mayor, state legislature and Kauai state delegation to ensure priority projects are supported and completed such as our housing initiatives and road repairs. This will need to include addressing our unfunded liabilities and budget shortfalls in order to maintain services to the community. This will require us to make cuts where feasible and do more with less. Along with stringent budget management, must find creative opportunities to support new and existing businesses wherever possible in solidifying an emerging circular economy.
2. What is your vision for a thriving agricultural economic sector on Kauai?
My vision is that we have a fully integrated farming community that is working cohesively to maximize resources to ensure food sustainability on Kauai and preserving our rural island character. I see a new generation of farmers bridging knowledge from our ancestors as well as utilizing the newest technology to support a circular economy that honors our values and perpetuates the viability of our limited resources. The county will need to support infrastructure needs such as access to water, housing and processing facilities to ensure we have the ability to export our products. The county along with our whole business community will seek ways to assist distribution of local made produce and added value products to assist the farmers workload. In addition, the coordination of food distribution across the island from both small and larger farms will serve those in most need such as our kupuna and youth programs. This includes a more comprehensive farmers market program which would include reinstating the EBT program and working with our local restaurants to co-create economic opportunities. As an example, I want to extend EBT services so food providers and restaurants who are using local produce for takeout and meals can be supported by those in need and in turn helping to boost our suffering economy. In all, we need our agricultural community working together, sharing best practices and resources.
3. What role do you feel the visitor industry should play in Kauai’s economy?
Covid-19 has made it visibly clear what we were experiencing on our roads, feeling in how we lived, and seeing in our natural environment prior to the pandemic. It has convinced everyone that we cannot and should not depend solely on our visitor industry. While I know we will continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic in all industries, tourism will continue to be the largest revenue generator in the short term until we can further diversify our economy. Kauai is, after all, the most beautiful destination in the world. Because of this, it behooves us to manage it properly so that it can have a lasting, positive impact for both tourists and residents. Managing the flow and access points of our visitors will be important from a health standpoint as well as for the preservation of resources and lifestyle. A limitation on rental cars and a shift to multi-modes of traffic is imperative, which inevitably requires sound planning and changes to HRS. We need to manage our visitor destination capacity by region and enact control measures that limit access, by permit or entry fee, while preserving the beauty for both residents and malahini. We will need to highlight the privilege of being a visitor and the kuleana that comes with that both in behavior and in sharing the true expense of our infrastructure and services. There are many places around the world, such as Iceland that are a shining example of this commitment. We would merely need to adapt some of their practices to our culture and way of life. Interestingly, our General Plan identifies the ceiling limits experienced in the visitor industry and ways the county could look to support the balance being sought. Within that General Plan, the formation of a Kakou Committee was identified as a good avenue to continue working towards how we return our economy sustainably. Lastly, we must work closely with our visitor industry leaders to assist with our island needs as well as provide a positive, responsible and safe experience for all visitors to Kauai. If Kauai is deemed proud to be the most Covid-19 free destination, we would be in a position to enlist stringent parameters for entry to protect our citizens while providing a unique experience for travelers. In all, we must learn to coexist in the healthiest possible way where we all benefit, including our natural environment.
4. If elected to the Council, how would you engage with the business community prior to your decision-making?
As a leader, I believe the most important aspect to good decision making is an inclusive process that needs to take into consideration every stakeholder. As a Councilmember, I have always looked towards the many associations such as the chamber of commerce, neighborhood associations, laborers and construction unions and representative groups of our industries to receive feedback and collaborate on policy changes. I will continue to engage and work with our stakeholders so the best solutions can be reached by attending association events, listening to our business representatives, and participating in shared meetings. It may have to happen differently in our new way of communicating and holding group meetings, but I am committed to it.
5. How would you help ensure that working middle class residents can afford to buy or rent a home in Kaua’i?
It starts with proper planning and our general plan outlines what is necessary for us to increase our housing capacity on Kauai in a way that keeps it affordable for our residents. We must support mixed use and town core development to make all aspects of life more accessible and affordable. The county must amend the current housing ordinance in order to provide the tools necessary developers to engage and for more housing to occur for local residents. There is a bill to amend the housing ordinance right now before the council that will need much attention and scrutiny to maximize the opportunities to provide more housing. In addition, we must increase the county housing revolving fund to provide affordable housing projects or land bank for future needs. We have a good long-term affordable program and we may need revisit its thresholds to retain more affordable rentals. We need to strategize more incentive packages like ARU, and continue to revise our CZO to make it easier and affordable for residents to build eliminating barriers that stalled projects in the past. We need to expedite permits, help transition illegal TVRs into long term affordable rentals with the long term affordable rental exemption, and seek out funding to offer more section 8 HUD housing.
6. How would you effectively manage budget and operations compared to the past?
Management of the budget will require bold decision making to ensure core services are secured without any waste. We will need to be creative in how we achieve providing a high level of service without adding to our personnel expenses. There are two variables to consider accomplishing this. The first is increasing the output of your current workforce by investing in building the human capital of the organization. We need each county employee to be a leader, take initiative and fund creative solutions that will continue to arise. The second is an investment in the tools which in many cases involve technological advancements or systems to better operate. The council with the mayor will have to scrutinize every expense and consider drastic shifts as we continue to see revenue shortfalls. Because personnel expenses amount to eighty percent of the county budget, considerations will need to be made for addressing this huge annual bill. Considerations in dire times may require cutting salaries, furloughs, and eliminating premiums. I also believe we can further diversify our tax code with tiers to allow a wider tax base without inadvertently taxing our homestead and lower tiered residents with exceptions. We will need to work closely with unions to ensure contracts reflect the economic challenges that we are experiencing and will continue to experience. The next term will be different than any other I’ve worked on.
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?
The April floods of 2018 gave our north shore community the opportunity to reconsider how to manage their visitor and residential traffic flow. This is a prime example of a community led, government supported initiative that has helped deter traffic and safety issues and ultimately contributes to the rural character of our island. We need to duplicate this effort in high traffic areas starting with our visitor destination areas that will encourage them getting out of their rental cars on to these regional shuttles. Like the north shore shuttle, it will take the assistance of our businesses through tools like Business Improvement Districts to solidify a better outcome for both residents and visitors. No other industry has the ability to preserve our rural character than agriculture. We need to find the means to transition industrial agriculture into productive models that support our local economy and provide unique products that the world is seeking. Also, investment in agriculture we are already have a history and are known for in kalo production and fishpond cultivation are opportunities we have not fully realized that would preserve our culture, provide jobs, pride in our community and if done right sustain our environment. We must manage our internal growth better and that will take discipline to not sprawl outwards creating more traffic and making it more expensive to live on our island. If we follow the guidelines identified within the General Plan on where and how to grow, we would have done the next generation a service.
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?
Yes, I have worked diligently and consistently to find solutions to the Short Term Transient Vacation Rental impact on our Kaua’i housing crisis. I do think the implementation of a tiered tax class would allow the county to more fairly apply tax rates on use. TVRs should be comparable to hotel and resorts, however until we invest in this system, any changes will continue to run into unintended consequences based on the variances of situations and uses.
9. What two ideas do you have about economic diversification and how would you develop these two areas?
As I mentioned, one thing that covid-19 taught us was that we need to be ready to take care of ourselves. This means we need to be able to feed ourselves and provide for our own health. Investing in a circular economy is the answer we’ve lamented on for generations and now is yet another opportunity to move the needle in this direction. I have always believed that agriculture was our means to preserve our rural character, retain our lifestyle and provide for ourselves. To increase our capacity in this area, the county should invest as much as possible into infrastructure needs that include access to water, storage, processing and production facilities. We need to continue the current track we are on in supporting our local farmers and assist with a comprehensive and integrated distribution system so that residents continue to receive the local produce that is being farmed. Farmers markets need to continue to be expanded and invested in. At this time we need to reestablish the EBT program at the markets and expand the possibility of EBT with restaurants doing take out and using local products. Of course, we need to find ways to make it easier to do business in our county with housing and permitting processes that encourage entrepreneurship. We could double the production of kalo and barely meet the demand on the market. It’s time to go back to some of the basics we know and define us. There are many fishponds that can be put back into production. It’s time to reinstitute the Civilian Conservation Corps to act on these agricultural opportunities. Investing in Civilian Conservation Corps style work programs to extend past the cares act funding is a must. Along with work programs we should Increase our Transportation agency service to help people save money. Our ability to provide safe service for workers including evening service will be important. As much a possible we need to wrap our services around our workers can save money. It is foreseen that there may be a rise in pandemics in our future. We should be investing in our healthcare system on a local level. We already have an amazing nursing program but we need to solidify an emerging industry in manufacturing, production and distribution of medical needs such as tests. Why can’t Kaua’i be the place that provides the world with the tools to take care and protect itself as well as others. Investing in and developing local lab capacity must be a priority for self-sufficiency and health. Lastly we need to revamp the Hawaii Visitors industry experience as the only COVID 19 free destination. This protects us and makes it stringent to get here but it also makes us a highly sought after destination in the world. With the statistics of the Alaska model (what we are prescribing to) showing increasingly dangerous numbers, I believe we need a second test administered five days after arriving with quarantine in place until the second test is conclusive. This will lower the percentage of exposure to the island. Imagine, we could pride ourselves on making our quarantine hotels an experience to remember if our hotels take the lead and provide an exemplary hospitality experience throughout their quarantine period.
10. What is your solution to best manage solid waste on Kauai?
Diversion is and has always been a high priority for me. The truth is that since the adoption of our county solid waste plan it has not received the attention I’ve wanted it to. Diversion must be the first step in changing how we think and how we view our waste. We can already begin by banning what we put into our landfill such as food waste, concrete and other construction/demolition materials. Once these are banned it will increase the need for us to strengthen our diversion programs such as composting and it will give us an extension on our current landfill. We need to find a way to afford a Material Recovery Facility. We really need our private industry to partner with on these type of ventures, including KIUC. Once we have a solid diversion program set up we can expand our curbside recycling opportunities. We now have less than seven years left on our current landfill site, we must act now to secure a solution to our landfill. Every solution must be considered at this point, including citing a new location for our landfill.
11. As a member of the County Council, what steps would you take to mitigate the impacts of climate change on Kauai?
There are many things the county is doing and can do more of moving forward. This includes: • Increase bus and shuttle services. We need to develop regional shuttles particularly to get our visitors out of rental cars. In addition we need to incentivize use of the bus to help people get out of their cars which are a huge contributor to climate change. • Invest in electrical vehicles and busses which are becoming increasingly competitive. The county has already begun this transition along with the installation of charging stations. • Enlist best practices for planning our island its outlying communities. We need to plan our communities well in a way that limits points of travel and supports multi-modes of traffic. • Redo maps identifying areas of impact by sea level rise, stop building and retreat where-ever possible with rezoning changes. We need to redraw setbacks and boundary lines for building in order to retreat from the sea. • Invest in coral regrowth projects. • Support the Aloha Plus Challenge on a much more integrated local scale through private-public partnerships • Develop our diversion programs including our non-organic composting programs. We need to act on our solid waste diversion plan. We need to consider alternative means of dealing with our waste. • We need to site a new landfill, ban recyclable materials for our landfill such as food waste and concrete and other items. • The county needs to join the crusade to litigate and hold liable our fossil fuels companies. • We need to plan for the future floods with our public safety agencies. We need to empower our communities and landowners by allowing access to maintain and clear the streams to keep us safe. • Once we can develop our cesspool transition plan with the state, we will be able to determine which homes will be eligible for county sewer in the future and which will not making it easier to determine how to subsidize through a revolving loan program or other repayment programs for the homes that will only have septic systems as their choice.”
12. Do you support the continued use of the G.E.T. surcharge and how would you prioritize roads and transportation spending?
Yes. It is the only realistic means for funding the maintenance of our county roads. We already have a priority list based on need. We need to stick to the plan and follow through with completing what we set out to do. We are only in the first year of actually receiving and utilizing the GET funds and are on the cusp of taking on some of the big issue roads like Maalo and Koloa Rd. Once we catch up and complete the required maintenance of our roads, I would consider eliminating the GET surcharge. Transportation receives a much smaller percentage of the GET fund, and we need to continue to provide services particularly in this economic crisis where it is much more financially feasible to catch the bus than to have a car.
13. What else would you like to share with the business community?
In addition to my role at council as the Planning Committee Chairman, In 2019, I have been serving as the Kauai representative of the Western Association of Counties which is focused on how we can bring local issues to the national floor. Such focus has involved me in hazard mitigation efforts as it relates to our flood, fire and sea level rise so that we can better manage our watersheds, plan for our roads, housing and infrastructure. I have been actively engaging with organizations such as the Army Corp of Engineers and other Federal entities to ensure Kauai is not forgotten. I have also been active in introducing housing initiatives such as the additional rental unit incentive package and guest house conversions and have even begun planning workforce housing for educators. I have been successful at supporting tax relief to properties that have ownership ties and helped to ease the burdensome process to accessing these exemptions. Lastly, I have passed resolutions gaining access to our beloved beaches and introduced a polystyrene ban county wide. If you visit my website, mason4kauai.org will find more details on the bills I introduced and passed, resolutions that I introduced and passed, measures that I supported and items that I am working on. As you know, In addition to legislating, our job as council members extend into budget oversight. I have been active in not only solidifying a balanced budget, but also securing a stable future for our county without raising property taxes on our local residents. Through my work with the Hawaii Association of Counties, I have addressed abuses in overtime, helped to establish a community led Kauai shuttle system, initiated internal performance audits, and increased efficiencies in our abandoned and derelict vehicle program. Most recently, in response to Covid-19 I took action to secure funding for Kauai Makerspace to print thousands of faceshields for our healthcare and first responders. I was also able to engage over forty seamstresses to make over 500 cloth masks. I also helped coordinate funding for a meals program called Nourish which continues to serve those in most need today. I also, led the Kauai Economic Recovery Strategy Team, Education Sector gathering over fifteen education stakeholders to provide eight recommendations within the plan.