Fukushima first official candidate for mayor

LIHU’E — Jesse Fukushima, a one-time member of the Kaua’i County Council, filed nomination papers Friday to run in this year’s mayoral election.

In filing the necessary paperwork with officials with the Elections Division of the Kaua’i County Clerk’s Office, Fukushima said, if elected, he will explore all traffic-relief measures, including building more highways and expanding the county’s bus system, revamp the property-assessment system to help longtime homeowners, and find ways to have more land available to cut the cost of building affordable-housing units.

Fukushima became the first mayoral candidate to file papers for this election year.

Fukushima, who is a Democrat, will be running in the non-partisan mayoral races in September (primary election) and November (general election), if he survives the primary.

If more than two candidates enter the race, the top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the general.

Republican Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, although announcing his candidacy for re-election to another four-year term and for whom supporters recently held a fund-raiser at the Kilohana Carriage House at Kilohana Plantation in Puhi at which more than 2,000 people attended, has yet to take out nomination papers.

Fukushima is no novice to island politics, having served on the council for 16 years, retiring in 1996 to spend time raising his family.

Ten years later, with most if not all his children out of college, he said he is ready to get back into the island’s political arena to try to improve the quality of life on the island.

One way that can be achieved once and for all, Fukushima says, is finding concrete ways to ease or resolve conditions that have led to long-standing traffic jams across the island.

Traffic piles up on Kuhio and Kaumuali’i highways not only during morning and afternoon commute hours, as was once the case, but throughout the day, due in part to tremendous growth.

Fukushima, in an interview with The Garden Island, noted that “bumper-to-bumper traffic” during the daytime hours is “bad for business” and anyone who uses the two highways.

“These are state highways, and I would, in tireless effort, ask and lobby Gov. Lingle to utilize part of the $500 million in state surplus to improve and create new highways for Kaua’i,” he said.

Initial road improvements have been budgeted for, and are ready to be made, but “what of phase two or three construction plans?” Fukushima asked.

Fukushima wants to explore all possible avenues of finding traffic solutions.

“Is it time to revisit, possibly, the power-line road from the North Shore to the Tunnel of Trees (in Koloa)?” he asked.

Negotiating with the new owners of former plantation roads that could be used to move traffic is another option, he said. Early on in his term, Baptiste secured the right to use some former cane-haul roads for emergencies that would potentially snarl traffic on Kuhio Highway between Hanama’ulu and Wailua.

Another way to help raise the quality of life for residents is to help them stay in their homes, he said.

The Ohana Kauai charter amendment to bring tax relief sent a clear message to government leaders that property-tax reform is a necessity, he said.

That proposal advocates reducing property taxes for residents living in their homes to the tax amount they paid in 1998.

The measure also would limit tax increases to 2 percent a year this year, a year after the proposal took effect.

Although the ballot measure passed successfully in the 2004 general election, county leaders have raised constitutional issues over whether the measure can affect the taxing authority of county governments. The matter is now before justices of the Hawai’i Supreme Court.

Members of the Kaua’i County Council and Baptiste, however, have approved legislation that sets a 2-percent yearly cap on tax bills for folks who own and occupy their homes.

In addition, Baptiste and council members have approved another measure benefiting landlords, a 6 percent yearly cap on tax bills as long as rental units remain affordable, and are long-term rental units for residents.

Aside from the Ohana Kauai controversy, Fukushima said residents who own their homes and live in them should get another break, one he is proposing through the revamping of the county officials’ methods of assessing values of properties.

“The county administration is the entity to dictate real-property valuations,” Fukushima said.

Fukushima said it pains him to hear of cases where the assessments of homes being sold goes up and affects the assessments of neighboring homes whose owners have no plans to sell.

“The market today has spiraled, and because it has done that, for me I can only get concerned about the family that has lived in a home for 20, 30, 40-plus years,” Fukushima said.

“Because the next-door property is being sold, why should the market evaluation affect the neighboring property?”

If elected as mayor, Fukushima said he would freeze real-property values for bona fide homeowners and owners of long-term rentals until an equitable tax ordinance is approved by members of the council and mayor, as recommended by a county real-property-tax-reform task force.

Fukushima also said he would do his best to find lands for affordable-housing units, although Baptiste says he has been working with Gov. Linda Lingle to do exactly that, proposing one day to use state lands on which affordable housing can be built.

Fukushima also said that government leaders have to turn their attention to finding a new, centrally-located landfill, as the Kekaha Landfill is projected to be full in five years.

The capacity could be enlarged considerably if county leaders follow through on a plan to horizontally expand the landfill and adopt an alternate waste-disposal method, and get approval from state Department of Health leaders to carry out such plans.

Fukushima said time is of the essence, and that “decision-making is definitely needed towards a site selection.”

Call 245-3181 for more information, or go to www.electjesse.com for more information on Fukushima’s candidacy for mayor.

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