• Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of profiles on those running for Kauai County Council. Fourteen candidates are running for seven two-year seats.
The next time you see Billy De Costa, shake his hand. He considers a firm handshake akin to his word; it’s a promise, something honed through reputation and honored through hard work.
People like him are a rarity, usually found in some dusty corner of Americana, born, bred and raised on stewardship of the land. A Kauai cowboy, or as he self-proclaims, Davy Crockett, you won’t find the 53-year-old rancher, fourth-generation boar hunter, and County Council candidate wearing a coon-skin hat.
In fact, most days, you can find him in Kokee, educating fourth- and fifth-graders about environmentalism on two-night and three-day camping trips, complete with Spiderman pajamas.
“Something about pajamas, roasting marshmallows and outdoor fire, just brings people together,” he said.
“State environmental educator” is the most recent chapter in the Pakala-raised teacher’s career. After attending Taft Junior College and Humboldt State University to double major in business management and elementary education, he came back to Kauai to work as an accountant, longshoreman and then, 18 years ago, a teacher.
He and his wife, a registered nurse at Wilcox, with their three sons settled down in Omao, where they have 10 acres of ranchland. As someone with a bootstrap, grassroots background, De Costa has always gravitated toward opportunities for leadership roles and is seeking office a third time to bring cohesiveness to the council.
“I feel that I can assist the county to make good decisions that will help our youth to have a future on Kauai,” he said. “Our traditions and culture are evaporating and we’re becoming a playground for the very wealthy. I believe I have what it takes to bring people together and work cohesively to get things done.”
In order to balance traditional practice with modern industry, he argues that we have to live on that fine line. De Costa would like to see a shift in industries to highlight the everyday life and history of Kauai.
In particular, he is interested in agritourism, which brings visitors to an agricultural operation or activity on a farm or ranch, such as the one he is developing outside of Kalaheo.
“I’m personally working on a project right now to create an agriculture school and park where local kids can come from the school system and learn how to farm,” he said. “The tourists can come and learn how to farm from our local kids and see us living. Respect for the island will grow.”
He has a similar hope for the perennial issue surrounding sugar mills on the Westside. As historical sites, many in the community would like to see the buildings preserved. De Costa envisions a mini-scale mill demonstrating how to make sugar and a coffee shop. Visitors can tour the mill and taste the sugar, buy Kauai-made products to take home with them, and generate revenue for the community.
This out-of-the-box thinking is just one example of how De Costa hopes to address Kauai’s key issues. He sees opportunities to tackle heavy traffic with alternative routes, more tourist buses, and even a passenger ferry from Lihue to Port Allen.
On the topic of truly affordable housing, municipalities have a chance to be more self-sustainable through efficiently increasing urban density or communally farming acres of land on the back of single-wall, plantation-style houses and being small-scale food producers.
“I don’t see $400,000-500,000 as being affordable. You become rent- or mortgage-poor and stress really rolls in,” he says. “We have a big market for local foods — a million people on Oahu. We just have to find a more feasible way to farm and get the food (there).”
De Costa is a practical environmentalist. He believes the Earth is to be loved, cared for, and utilized. He is both a proponent of alternative energy sources and bringing back evening football games.
“I think thinking out of the box and having practical people who can make practical decisions is where I’m at,” he said. “Building a relationship with the six other councilmembers will be the key. Maybe they have to come with me to Kokee Discovery Center for two nights and three days and roast some marshmallows, and bond, and get real with each other.”
Cat Frazier is a Kekaha resident who writes periodically for The Garden Island.