LIHU‘E — At the top of Wednesday’s Kaua‘i County Council Forum, candidates were told to keep in mind that when surveyed, young people have said, “Kaua‘i is not for us. It is just for the tourists,” forum host Juno Ann Apalla said.
Candidate Addison Bulosan tackled this head-on while answering a question sharing his support of a higher non-resident permit fee for home building.
“Kids, us, young people … feel like this might not be the place for us, let’s be real,” Bulosan said. “We can solve some of these problems like affordable homes … (to make Kaua‘i) not just a place just for ‘us’ young people, but a place for us as the future coming through.”
The virtual forum was sponsored by Just Transition Hawai‘i Coalition and locally sponsored by Community Coalition of Kaua‘i and 350Kauai.org Climate Action Coalition.
“For those who have joined us, we thank you with a full heart,” Apalla said. “For participating tonight, you are providing an opportunity for the public to learn about you during this difficult period of COVID-19 that has made campaigning almost impossible.”
The three-round forum focused on topics like agriculture, housing, economic diversity, social and environmental topics.
Some main topics of the night centered around waste, plastic and landfill use.
Candidate Ed Justus, owner of Talk Story Bookstore, recalled his childhood home in Virginia banning plastics as a good potential step for Kaua‘i while event manager Donovan Cabebe presented an idea on alternative waste management systems as a method to diversify the local economy.
“There’s not really a solid waste management method that we can employ at the moment,” Cabebe said. “Our island is small and as a society, globally, we haven’t really taken the time to address how we dispose of our waste.”
Current incumbent candidates, like Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro, were able to highlight the work they’ve been a part of during their time on the council.
“Housing has always been an issue as long as I’ve been running and even prior,” Kaneshiro said, noting that while he’s been on the council there have been initiatives for multifamily houses to help save costs for residents and increased density in Lihu‘e to incentivize building. “We’re following the General Plan, we’re trying to push housing that have infrastructure, we’re trying to prevent urban sprawl.”
When faced with a question about wealth inequality, current councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i, who has been part of the council on-and-off since 2011, shared his support for labor unions and fair wages across the island.
“Every time the Salary Commission would come before our council, I would argue against the large raises to the high paying positions,” he said. “I really don’t know why anybody on this island working for our county would need to earn over $100,000.”
There are at least 30 positions in the county that have maximum annual salaries of more than $100,000, according to a Salary Commission resolution in July 2019. In December, councilmembers will make $67,956 and the chair $76,452.
Many candidates touched on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the economy and the tourism industry.
Councilmember Felicia Cowden shared that while it’s important for tourism to return, there needs to be less.
Rev. Jade Wai‘ale‘ale Battad shared that she has over 40 years in the tourism industry. “I don’t think there’s any way we can get away from tourism or no longer have it be our economy,” she said. “It’s who we are, it’s what people want.”
The virtual forum had minor technology gaffs and provided an open-notes of sorts because candidates were given some questions in advance to formulate and prepare their answers. Questions were gathered from viewers, organizations and other groups prior to the event.
Some candidates, like incumbent Luke Evslin, pivoted his question on broadband internet infrastructure to pivot to a topic he felt more strongly about: climate change.
“I have no great answer on how to ensure broadband,” he said, sparking an answer listing off the ways climate change will affect Kaua‘i’s ecosystem. “Our primary goal, and every decision that we make here, has to take into account the necessity to get to zero carbon by 2050.”
Seven council seats are open for the 2021-2023 term. The primary will be held in August by mail-in ballot, which will be delivered by July 21. Ballots must be received by the Office of Elections by Aug. 8 to be counted.
The top 14 vote-earners will be on the Nov. 3 election ballot.
The forum is available to be rewatched on Just Transition Hawai‘i Coalition’s Facebook page.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.