PUHI — Kauai Community College students met mayoral candidates Derek Kawakami and Mel Rapozo Monday at a candidate forum hosted by student government and the History Club.
Seated in large circles, the candidates fielded questions from students, faculty and community members.
Benjamin Alaiafune, 19, a sociology major at Kauai Community College said he will be casting a vote for Kawakami.
“What he, (Kawakami), said brought the words out of my mouth,” Alaiafune said.
It was early afternoon and about 30 students had gathered at the Fine Arts Auditorium to hear what Rapozo and Kawakami had to say.
Alaiafune said he learned a lot about each of the candidates during the forum, where topics like traffic, education and the landfill were addressed.
Prior to the April flooding, Rapozo said 200 tons of solid waste was taken to the landfill each day and after the storm that increased to 300 tons of solid waste being disposed of daily.
His proposal to improve how the county handles waste is to look at alternative technology.
“Many people argue that we can’t do that and recycling at the same time. I disagree. I think we can, many municipalities throughout the country have robust recycling programs as well as waste management,” he said.
Rapozo said the county cannot continue to fill landfill after landfill on the island because it won’t work for future generations. He proposes curbside recycling until the County can use some of the newer technology.
Second-year accounting major Eli Jahborales, 19, said he attended the forum because he was curious about what the candidates’ plans and ideas for Kauai are if they’re elected for mayor.
“I generally came here for curiosity because I just wanted to find out what these guys think,” he said.
Prior to the event, Jahborales said he wasn’t sure who to vote for, but after hearing both of the candidates said he’s probably going to vote for Kawakami.
“I kind of like how he doesn’t sugarcoat things, he tells us how it is and I liked his opinions on things like public transportation on Kauai, how he can improve the funding for schools, police departments and fire departments,” he said.
One of the students asked Kawakami where he would propose building a new highway on the island and how he would go about doing it.
Kawakami said many years ago there were plans to build a new highway on Kauai through the island’s watersheds, but he’s opposed to that because the watersheds need to be protected.
“The fact is, we don’t have the revenue to build a new highway on Kauai. I wish I could tell you what you want to hear, but that’s not my job. My job is to be straightforward and honest,” he said.
Kawakami said his plan is to add some four-lane intersections, doing away with some traffic lights and stop signs and building more roundabouts on the island.
“Roundabouts are great because they keep people moving,” he said.
With 20 percent of the housing in Lihue and 60 percent of the island’s jobs in Lihue, is why people have to drive to work, he said.
Traffic is a land-use issue, Kawakami said.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to revitalize our urban core,” he said. “We’re investing in Rice Street, we’re hoping to be able to get affordable rentals for low income families and young students like yourself and we’re doing that by investing in the TIGER grant, and the council recently doubled the density with the hopes that you’ll have commercial retail and apartment style housing above.”
The other thing he said they’re looking at is investing in public transportation. The bus system is a social justice issue and it’s also a way to reduce traffic, he said.
Kawakami said the General Excise Tax, passed by the council this year, will generate $25 million, and that money is dedicated to roads, traffic and public transportation, meaning “we can’t spend that money on our pet projects.”
Photography student Hayden Castillo, 20, said he attended the forum because he is part of student government.
“Also because I went to the council event that we had a while ago and I wanted to compare how the mayoral candidates felt compared to the council candidates,” he said. “They all had different answers to questions we had to ask.”
Castillo said he’s not registered to vote and he’s not sure who he’ll vote for, but he will definitely be voting on Nov. 6.
Rapozo said he was the only member of the council who voted against the General Excise Tax. He said many people complained that he did that for political reasons, but that’s not the truth.
“I don’t do anything for political reasons,” he said. “You ask anybody that knows me, that most of the time I do things that are probably not beneficial to my political career, because I stand alone, I’m not afraid to.”
Rapozo continued: “It’s a tax that impacts the poor. It is a tax that impacts the senior citizens, our elderly. It’s everybody’s going to pay for every single thing you purchase.”
The Roads Division has been funded by the council every year, but the roads have not improved, Rapozo said.
“Our county is fat. Our county has way more people than we need and it’s difficult because we’re in a civil service type of situation but what I did at the council and I served for four years, is when people retired or left, we didn’t fill the position,” he said.
Since he’s been Council Chair, Rapozo said he’s cut overtime by 75 percent and has cut expenses more than anybody else.
“Simply because we controlled our need, we controlled our expenses. I’ll do the same as the mayor,” he said.
Tori Jime Craig is focusing on her liberal arts courses at KCC said she wanted to get to know the candidates better.
“I’m still on the fence about who I’m going to be voting for so I wanted to hear their stances on a lot of the questions that were risen today,” she said.
Katherine Egan, 20, who is focusing on getting her liberal arts credits completed, attended the forum because she wanted to know more about the mayoral candidates.
“I’d like to participate in this election because I didn’t last election and now I’m like, ‘oh, I really should have done that,’ just trying to be more involved in the community,” she said.
Egan said she’ll have to do some more research before deciding who to vote for, but the forum helped her gain some insight into both candidates.
“You should vote for people who represent your interests and if you don’t do that then you’re not represented and you miss out,” she said.
Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or firstname.lastname@example.org.