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.”