Mayor contenders offer views on traffic, homelessness

  • Contributed photo

    County Council Chair Mel Rapozo

  • Contributed photo

    County Councilmember Derek Kawakami

KAPAA — Two candidates for mayor of Kauai recently shared their views on two key issues facing the island: homelessness and traffic.

Their stances, while similar in ways, were in contrast, as well.

Councilmen Derek Kawakami and Mel Rapozo both spoke at the annual meeting of the Royal Coconut Coast Association at its recently.

“I mean no disrespect by saying we have attempted to solve these problems by trying the same solution for the same problem over and over again, expecting different results, which is the definition of insanity,” Kawamaki said.

“We need to take a holistic approach in solving our traffic problems,” the former state legislator told about 50 people.

Kawamaki pointed to Ke Ala Hele Makalae, the ocean path in Kapaa, as a “tremendous investment.”

“I think you folks probably see the economic development this multi-use path has brought to the Coconut Coast and it will help with our traffic solution. It’s a small piece of the puzzle.”

Public transportation is also a social justice issue, Kawakami said. There are two roadblocks faced by people who want to work: Child care and getting to and from work.

“Let’s be very honest, we need to help those who are willing to be helped, first and foremost,” he said.

He said public transportation was going to require the investment of significant resources — and creativity.

“It’s very hard for anybody to embrace change, whether it’s good change or bad change, change is a hard thing,” he said. “And in government, it’s even harder.”

He proposed the county take a look at how it could be causing traffic problems. For instance, almost everyone must be to work by 7:45 a.m., which means they are getting in their cars and on the highway at the same time weekday mornings, and the process repeats itself when they head home.

A staggered work schedule, or perhaps determining if some could work from home, should be reviewed to see if it’s feasible, he said.

“We need to stop measuring productivity by the amount of hours that we’re sitting behind a desk,” he said.

“These are hard things to implement, but I believe my private sector experience can help at least move the needle on some of these initiatives,” Kawakami said.

An example of that, he said, was what his family was able to do from their Menehune Food Market store on the Westside.

The county bus stops in front of that store, and he would watch as customers would go to Lihue to buy a bus pass from the county. That, he said, was “ridiculous.”

So he reached out to the transportation agency and offered to sell bus passes for them, even handling the administration expenses.

Low and behold, bus pass sales went through the roof, as people didn’t have to go to Lihue to get a bus pass, he said.

Another idea to ease traffic was the possibility of satellite city halls. Perhaps once or twice a month the county could bring services to different areas of the island, rather than everyone driving to Lihue.

“We can bring services to your neighborhood,” Kawakami said.

Rapozo, who works full time at the Kauai Beach Resort as night auditor, has served on the council since 2010, the last two terms as council chair.

“I always ask permission to be real because I think the issues we have are real,” he said.

“We’re real good at doing reactive, Band-Aid solutions,” Rapozo said. ‘We’re good at that. And we’re really good at spending a lot of money on temporary fixes and promises that we’ll get to the real deal, soon.”

The reality is, he said, that bus passes and bike paths will help, but not solve, the traffic problem.

“We need to provide more travel lanes for vehicles. We’ve got to find alternate routes for transportation for the people to drive, because you’re not going to get out of this mess by providing more bus passes.”

He said that many on Kauai have several jobs and families. They have to get to stores and schools and shopping and sporting events.

“You can’t do that on a bus. I think we have to recognize and accept that,” Rapozo said. “Nobody wants more roads, but we cannot have our cake and eat it, so we have to make a choice.”

“If we want to solve the traffic problem, we have to look at alternate routes,” he said.

He suggested opening the Wailua emergency bypass 24/7 to create more lanes coming and going, and save the state a million dollars a year spent on contraflow.

The county and state should work with private landowners to open alternate ways to get traffic moving.

“That’s not a very happy reality, but that is the reality,” he said.

Regarding homelessness, Rapozo said about 30 percent of “legitimate homeless. They ran out of paycheck. They couldn’t pay the bills. Those are good people. They need help.”

Rapozo said his proposal has always been to create safe zones for homeless.

“We need to get them out of the bushes and in areas where they can sleep, they can rest, they can eat, they can use the restroom facilities safely and cleanly.”

He said the Vidinha Stadium parking lot might be such a place. It’s not used from late night to early mornings.

“Give them a place they can be safe and clean and warm. Remember, we have grandpas, grandmas and kids,” he said.

Both men briefly addressed the half percent increase in the General Exercise Tax approved last year by the County Council. On Jan. 1, 2019, the GET will increase to 4.5 percent, with the county funds marked for public transportation improvements.

Kawakami supported the tax hike.

“That was the right thing to do,” he said. “That tax is putting your hard-earned money to work. It’s going to be a job creator.

“It’s not popular for us to raise taxes, but it’s the necessary thing to do,” he said.

“We placed our county in a very favorable position as being able to fix our potholes and start addressing these traffic problems on ways that the county has jurisdiction over,” he said.

Rapozo, the sole councilmember to vote against the GET increase, said the roads are not potholed filled because of lack of money, but because those responsible haven’t done the job to fix them.

The GET, he said, is a “very regressive tax.”

“The public can accept the fact we raise the property tax if we have to, if they understand what is going to be done,” he said. “My point is this: We can’t wish and think it will be fixed.”

14 Comments
  1. billyjoebob March 19, 2018 3:01 am Reply

    Look anywhere, the places that don’t have homeless issues are places where homeless don’t want to live, or it is too difficult.
    Does anybody really think that using The Stadium parking lot is a viable option? Oh sure, ” no camping from 8 to 5 during the day “, and times of events, to be announced. Making clean and safe ” comfort stations “, if it’s not being done for the general public and tax payers I really don’t think they will stay clean and safe in a homeless camp, but that would be Lenny’s area of expertise.
    There are a couple good ideas to help in this article but to think that either of these candidates will change anything is fooling yourself.
    Look for more congestion, higher fees/taxes ( with no results ) and the quality of life for the average islander to get worse.
    Only so much ” stuff ” will fit in a five gallon bucket.
    Get an education, learn a good trade.


  2. Imua44 March 19, 2018 6:27 am Reply

    Mel is right. Get the alternate routes open. The bus does nothing. It is nice to be one of the largest commercial land owners like Derick is. He does control must of our lives, even if not as mayor. Wealth is nice


  3. Chamundi Sabanathan March 19, 2018 6:50 am Reply

    Kudos to Mel Rapozo for advocating the use of property tax instead of GET for road improvement. After all, improved traffic conditions raise property values. Why tax people’s hard-earned income to line the pockets of the landowners?


    1. DevelopmentIsRegression March 19, 2018 1:06 pm Reply

      So you want to raise property prices in the midst of already High-prices?


  4. BlowHard March 19, 2018 8:28 am Reply

    These boys been on council for years and haven’t done anything. Do you all really believe that they’re gonna fix the problems? Talk talk talk talk as all they do. What about the council session these boys had to clarify what the word shall and may meant? All that will be accomplished is their family and friends will get the jobs and exorbitant county contracts like 7 million dollars to build a parking lot. Kauai Mayoral candidates are impotents that blow hard and accomplish NOTHING.


  5. jeffrey kimoto March 19, 2018 9:09 am Reply

    Great opinions and wonderful insights from both these individuals.
    Mel expresses reality, which many cannot accept. Derek has compassion and understands the locals.
    Can we have two mayors??


  6. coolio March 19, 2018 10:19 am Reply

    Rapozo on the council for 8 years and all that has happened is a tax hike? More than that actually…Besides higher taxes we have giant potholes, terrible roads and traffic…Homeless and an ever growing bunch of thefts from the druggies and desperate…Horrible park conditions and disgusting bathrooms…No solutions except to ask to be on the council forever…Well done County Council…It’s cool…They obviously never go into the traffic…It’s time to vote someone in who actually wants to do something for our island and not just get paid to cruise through their term…(For another 4 years or forever if they get their way)…


  7. DevelopmentIsRegression March 19, 2018 1:14 pm Reply

    Both Mel Rapozo and Derek Kawakami are heavily funded by developers like Grove Farm and Alexander&Baldwin. That’s why they don’t talk about limiting their high-end unaffordable developments to just housing targeted for locals who need it. They both use the need for affordable housing as an excuse to allow more High-end unaffordable developments and hotels. No talk of limiting the number of rental cars. No talk of holding developers responsible for infrastructure upgrades like roads leaving the residents on the hook to pay for new roads.

    Both voted for the General plan which doubles the number of hotels and houses on kaua’i meaning twice the resident and visitor population. Raising the population to 200,000. They both voted for the new Urabn Commuter city in the middle of Kaua’i coffee which will cause even more traffic.


    1. Sue March 20, 2018 11:07 am Reply

      So what do you propose? Who is the better of the worse? I agree with you, though. The develpers HAVE these two pocketed!


  8. Blitzspeer March 19, 2018 1:14 pm Reply

    These issues are too complicated for either of these two. Nice guys that want to help, but not really willing to put in the hard yards and put forth actual solutions. Research around the world has shown that adding roads has proven to alleviate traffic, but it is still a band-aid to open small sections of bypass. Why has the traffic become so bad? What has changed? Who causes the most damage to the roads? What other adverse effects are we suffering because so many tourists are here? What are the advantages? How long can our infrastructure withstand the overload?

    We need someone who can think, listen, and offer real long-term solutions. Not quick, half-baked sound bites.


  9. DevelopmentIsRegression March 19, 2018 1:24 pm Reply

    Mel Rapozo – $17,500 from A&B

    Derek kawakami – $7,250 from A&B

    Voting for people funded by developers and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.


  10. Lenny for mayor March 19, 2018 1:43 pm Reply

    Everyone knows that lenny is gonna win in a landslide. Face it, it’s lenny time now


  11. Steve Martin March 19, 2018 2:30 pm Reply

    Mr. Rapozo… Everyone uses our roads not just Property tax owners. Everyone should share in the cost. Our public transportation system needs to be re-done. It can do everything we need it to do if it’s put together to do the job. Again everyone needs to pay for it not just the property tax owners that are used to subsidize it. Neither one of you mentioned the car rentals. why. they are the biggest culprit to traffic congestion not to mention poor county and state management. Put the road maintenance on contract with the private sector and you won’t need to raise any tax. The way you both speak shows the track records of the past and only what you know how to do which will be more of the same. Not one word about what will get done because no one likes change just like you say! Twenty years ago I offered the traffic solution to morning traffic coming in from west side. Put Kauai high school on a later or earlier start time so people don’t sit bumper to bumper. Oh but no one wants change even when they don’t realize it’s the best move for the situation. You both have been to use to a poor management county and state and therefore neither of you no other solutions on how to be creative and get things done!


  12. Sue March 20, 2018 11:05 am Reply

    Kawakami is a nightmare. He wanted so badly to take away the term limits like a crook. The developers love him, he wants Urban West, which will only make the traffic worse! Especially through Kalaheo which is now like a second Kapaa. I agree with Rapozo, we need to widen the streets, as sad as it sounds. AND, we need to STOP development until we get this straightened out. This had gotten completely out of hand and they really don’t care, they just want a job.


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