JoAnn Yukimura: ‘Thoughtful growth’ still key

Editor’s note: This is the 13th in a series of articles profiling the candidates for Kaua‘i County Council. One will run each day until all candidates have been profiled.

by Charlotte Woolard – The Garden Island

Kaua‘i County councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura says the issue that catalyzed her first run for a seat 30-years ago remains central to her work today.

“I saw citizens struggling to make their concerns known about thoughtless growth that was going on, and I decided I wanted to be on the other side,” she said.

Her work on the other side has included six years as the county’s mayor and 12 more in the County Council, where she currently chairs the council’s planning committee.

“The most important issue is doing good planning for the island,” she said. “Almost every problem we’re facing is due to poor planning over the past few years.”

Those problems include a lack of affordable housing, the misuse of agricultural lands and traffic growth, she said.

But before the council can begin to chip away at those problems through laws, she said, the county Planning Department must deliver detailed information about the island’s growth.

“We can pass good laws, but we need good data or input or a good planning framework,” she said, adding that she has raised the issue with the Planning Commission.

She would like to start seeing quarterly reports from the commission, as well as clear goals and build-out analyses, she said.

“Show citizens what exists today,” she said. “Part of the planning process is to say how do we downzone or reduce the density.”

That kind of information would make it possible to propose effective changes that would lead the development of Kaua‘i, she said.

In the meantime, the council moves forward with the information it has, she said.

Last month Yukimura introduced a bill to revoke the Additional Dwelling Unit law that allows residential growth on agricultural land. The proposal seeks to end development that stretches growth away from town centers — a movement that runs contrary to Yukimura’s vision of Kaua‘i’s future.

“That vision is a sustainable, healthy and prosperous community living aloha,” she said, with “the majority of the population living in compact, bike-able, walk-able towns that are connected by other modes of transit.”

It would also include affordable housing insulated from the marketplace — sturdy, energy-efficient homes with payments totaling no more than 30 percent of household income, she said.

Owners would not be able to sell the homes on the open market, she said, because “that’s the only way we’re going to have a growing inventory of affordable housing.”

Her vision also includes a strong connection between town structure and transportation, Yukimura said.

“There’s a logical sequence of planning, and we haven’t been doing the follow up,” she said, noting that she has urged the county to dedicate a transportation planner to the task.

Planning that focuses on automobiles should shift its focus to alternatives like bicycles and buses, she said.

For example the Kapa‘a bypass road, valued at about $300 million, could be replaced by an $8-million, multi-modal system, she said.

“We have to look at the return on investment,” she said.

Yukimura’s political career, which includes administrative and legislative experience, gives her an advantage, she said. She has a track record of raising funds, passing laws, working with budgets and council members and state officials and waste plans.

She also admits to flaws, saying the council has introduced interim tax measures, but “we have failed in our responsibility to do comprehensive tax reform in a timely manner. We haven’t finished it and we really owe the public that.”

Born and raised on Kaua‘i, Yukimura received a psychology degree from Stanford University and a law degree from Washington University. She served as mayor of Kaua‘i from 1988 to 1994, becoming the first Japanese-American woman to hold that title in the United States.

She has served six terms on the council, with her most recent period of service spanning from 2002 to 2006.

“Our job is to apply the principles of sustainability to everything we do,” she said. “It’s a matter of the survival of the human race in my mind.”

By the numbers

JoAnn Yukimura’s results from the Sept. 23 primary election:

• Total votes out of 121,653 castable votes (17,139 ballots multiplied by seven council seats): 9,986

• Rank out of 15 candidates: 1

• Percentage of total votes: 8.5

• Charlotte Woolard, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or cwoolard@kauaipubco.com.

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