w Editor’s note: This is the fourth of profiles on those running for Kauai County Council. TGI plans to run at least one profile daily. Fourteen candidates are running for seven two-year seats.
In the face of major issues challenging the County of Kauai, from housing to traffic, it is easy to let some fall by the wayside or go unmentioned in the public arena.
Seen in the removal of park benches, locked doors on public restrooms, and court hearings over broken headlights, sometimes we fail those around us who are in need, whether it be a safe space or assistance during financial strife.
These institutional roadblocks, while not as headline-grabbing as transitioning cesspools or sea-level rise, are often those by which a society defines its character — if not its humanity — and it’s in this labyrinth of missed connections and overlooked opportunities where County Council candidate, out-of-the-box thinker, and social justice hustler, Felicia Cowden, shines best.
“I think someone could expect to see a lot of initiatives from me changing how we handle those who are struggling,” she said.
With decades of public policy involvement under her belt, she is ready to stick a linchpin in Kauai’s overburdened systems and move the island forward with a greater consciousness of where its leverage lies.
The 56-year-old North Shore resident moved to Kauai at the age of 21 and has a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Northern Arizona University. She spent 10 years teaching school and owned Hanalei Surf Company for nearly two decades.
Now a 10-year veteran of community affairs programming on Kauai Community Radio, she speaks and listens to citizens on issues important to the island and broadcasts knowledge from the numerous community events she attends on a regular basis.
Cowden ran for council in 2014 and has been going to the weekly meetings for well over four years. This experience has given her a good understanding of its day-to-day activities, helped her become familiar with the budget and projects, and allowed her to develop relationships with department heads at the state and county levels.
“One of the key reasons I’m running is that I have the time it takes to do this job well,” she said. “I’m already doing these things. I already have these relationships. I not only have the time, I’m willing to spend the time. (The county) is getting me, where my number-one priority is to do the right thing for the island.”
Addressing the housing crisis is a top priority for Cowden, as it is the “jugular” of almost every challenge on the island.
“We needed housing 10 years ago, not 10 years from now,” she said.
With that in mind, she is a large proponent of the recently passed bill allowing multi-unit additions to property and would like to see the council further similar measures to co-invest with home owners and help create safe and up-to-standard rentals.
And while she supports the General Plan’s ideas for density-rich town cores, she cautions that this solution may not be to the benefit of everyone on the island.
“I think having efficient urban centers is good for a certain amount of people but I won’t be encouraging that for everybody,” she said. “There is a competence of living on the land that you can’t develop living in an apartment building.”
If this sounds like farming may be in your future, you are not that far off. Her experience creating a classroom garden overflowing with native Polynesian edibles, reduced waste, the need to go to stores, and driving, while emphasizing self-sufficiency.
She would like to encourage more neighborhood food production for its direct and indirect benefits. Such small-scale measures like local farming and point-source reduction with businesses can have large-scale impacts.
“When we are bringing in less, the more we are helping the planet as a whole,” she said. “It takes a shift. We need to be eating food from the island, and we can do it.”
Such thinking is not uncommon for someone used to coming up with entrepreneurial solutions. Cowden supports such economic enterprises as doing business on the Internet, manufacturing green products, and promoting car shares to cut down the need for rentals or ownership.
“Every step forward we take is one step in the right direction,” she said.