LIHU‘E — While serving in the Kaua‘i Fire Department for 12 years as a firefighter, incumbent Kaua‘i County Councilmember Mason Chock, 49, was tested by a pivotal moment.
He survived a helicopter crash in 2001 while serving on the search-and-rescue team during a rescue off Napali Coast, which stood as the catalyst that changed his life into the direction of serving the community by doing what he knows best, creating leaders and empowering Kaua‘i’s keiki.
“I broke my back, ruptured three disks, and subsequently ended up having to retire from the fire service, which led me to youth and leadership development,” said Chock, a Koloa native. “We started the Challenge Ropes Course out in Waipa, and helped start other Native Hawaiian programs like the Kanuikapono Charter School.”
Chock also founded and owns Kupu A‘e Leadership Development, of while he is facilitator and moderator for Leadership Kaua‘i, chair of the Kaua‘i Resilience Project, and president of Malama Hule‘ia.
Last month, Chock glanced over the Menehune Fishpond from the lookout, and talked with The Garden Island about his childhood.
Chock said the idea of service has come from his ‘ohana and kupuna, who really understood that kuleana is something that chooses you, rather than the other way around.
Chock’s dad, Gary, a retired executive chef at Po‘ipu Beach and Waiohai hotels, was a pillar in his life, and his mom, Lorna Poe, introduced him to the idea of serving his community.
“They probably also instilled the concept of following through with your commitment and promises and having high integrity in everything you do and hard work,” Chock said.
Chock is a Kamehameha School graduate and holds a business degree from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Chock resides in Wailua Homesteads with his youngest son, Ka‘ena, 7, and with his wife, Shyla Ayau.
“Shyla is a driving force in our home, providing encouragement, insight and guidance in all of my endeavors,” Chock said.
Chock also has two older sons, Hilo Chock, and Kamalani Chock, who he said he is very proud of.
Family is important to Chock, who credits all he does to them. He has three sisters and two brothers.
“My ‘ohana is my backbone and support system in all that I do, and I am so thankful for their love,” Chock said.
Chock explains how he got involved with clearing the mangroves at the Menehune Fishpond.
“It is an innate desire to look towards supporting our people, all of our people, our pristine environment and natural cultural environment is really key, that’s why I am here today,” Chock said. “This is a place where my mother use to take me on her way to work at Kaua‘i Surf in the ’70s, and at the time we used to stop here for breakfast and talk about the future of this place.”
Chock said when an opportunity came up and the idea that he and others would start to look at how to take care of the watershed, he jumped on board because water is such an important aspect to everyone’s well being and also a very natural piece of our environment.
“This naturally became the focal point for us,” Chock said. “Fast forward to five years later, here we are, we cleared the Puali Stream through the organization we formed called Malama Hule‘ia. Here at the fishpond, clearing 20 acres of the fishpond that was once overgrown with mangrove.”
Chock said this is his fourth and final term if he is reelected. He was first appointed in 2013, and elected the last three terms.
“This past term has been my most productive term out of all, mostly because I think there is cohesiveness between the administration and our council. And when I look at the things that we can move forward, it’s not just about what my interests are, it’s about what we can all agree upon that is the highest priorities.”
Chock’s main platform includes protecting the people and island, agricultural sustainability, affordable housing, technology, and broadband for each keiki’s education, leadership training for adults and resiliency.
“My main focus is going to be and has always been the health of our people and this place, and that is a complex solution,” Chock said. “There are many needs as it relates to that, and those needs are evolving.”
“So people, as you know, even now today, with COVID-19, are coming from the mainland and purchasing on-site with cash on hand and can outbid any local resident,” Chock said. “We can only build a house with what we can pay for. And that cost for us on the market is $400,000 minimum. That is the cost of the developer’s standpoint.”
Chock said he is passionate about affordable housing and other housing programs.
“So to answer your question, though, the (county) Housing Agency’s interest has been not so much to create supply but to create affordable options. That’s why we have (federal) Department of Housing and Urban Development programs and affordable projects like Pa‘anau.”
Chock discussed the current county housing ordinance.
“The housing ordinance has limits, so if a developer comes to Kaua‘i and they want to develop over here for 500 units, a percentage of that needs to go to the county for affordable,” Chock said. “The problem with our county housing ordinance that was passed in 2007 is that it never once produced any housing. No developers ended up building here.
“Like I said, after 5 to 10 years only the county has been building houses. We have a 4,000-unit shortfall in the next 10 to 15 years, and we are doing about 200 a year, mostly county housing,” said Chock.
Chock said the county housing projects are the kind of projects people should support.
“We need infrastructure cost paid for and we need land,” Chock said. “The county is not land-rich, the state is land-rich. The county has limited land. But we have been building.
Chock said he is against any illegal TVRs (Transient-Vacation Rentals) on Kaua’i.
“What we need is to build more funding into the Affordable Housing Revolving Fund. Two budgets ago, Derek Kawakami and I, increased the TVR rate and directed that funding to the Affordable Housing Revolving Fund,” said Chock.
“I think it starts at the governmental level. All those things like textiles, whatever we need to build for ourselves,” Chock said. “By investing in those alternative companies that are willing to come here and be a part of this community. That’s who we want here. We don’t want the TVRs. They exasperate our market. We need to get a handle on tourism. These are the things we need to invest in.
“So when I say we need infrastructure, the government should be looking at ways that we can fund infrastructure for this textile markets to emerge that are specific for a circular economy,” said Chock.
“We need a little bit more long-term funds, is what I am saying,” Chock said. “I am looking forward to the second round of CARES Act funds. Well, Congress is dragging their feet on trying to figure this out, but that’s what I would like to see.”
A strong relationship with the state is also important for the rebuild.
“Establishing into governmental relationships as we talk about how we are going to rebuild because we have grassroots efforts happening on Kaua‘i for developing in our future,” Chock said. “But we need our state’s help to make it into our reality.”
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.