• Editor’s note: The Garden Island sat down with all 14 candidates running for seats on the Kaua‘i County Council. Profiles will run in no particular order throughout the month of October leading up to the election.
WAIMEA — Kaua‘i County Council candidate Wally Nishimura has a vision for long-term change for his children.
“For me, it’s about bringing government back to the people,” Nishimura, 29 of Anahola, said. “To be by them, for them, with integrity, respect and honor.”
A father of four young girls, Nishimura first ran for council in 2018. Though two years have passed, he’s still angling his run toward improving the quality of life for locals. Part of that has to do with stabilizing tourism and the economy, improving roads and ensuring there’s affordable housing.
“I’m fortunate that I was brought up to really pay attention to politics, to see how our home was changing,” Nishimura, a regional environmental services superintendent/safety officer for Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation, said in September. “Now, it’s becoming a place where local people have a hard time staying where they were born and raised.”
Many of his friends have moved away because of the lack of opportunities on Kaua‘i.
“It’s either you work for the government or in the tourism industry,” Nishimura said. “Either way, you have three jobs. I want to make a change for local people so they can stay.”
In light of the pandemic, Nishimura said county goals need to be more “tangible,” meaning “everything is tied to our finances, and our finance will be heavily, heavily impacted.”
“You have to really focus on safely opening up our economy, and once we have revenue streams going back, I’d like to make sure (the economy is) more diversified.”
Nishimura grew up in Kapa‘a. He went to work at the Westin Hotel in Princeville after graduating from Kapa‘a High School and worked multiple jobs ranging from security to general management along the way to where he is now in the health care industry.
He and his family now live on Hawaiian Homelands in Anahola.
“Depending on the phase of my life, I probably wouldn’t have been able to live here if I didn’t live where I lived,” he said. “I’d like to reach out to Hawaiian Homelands and push them. They haven’t acted quickly to get people off the waitlist and build. If we get local, Hawaiian people on Hawaiian land, that can get more inventory for locals.”
Kaua‘i has historically struggled to meet the demand for housing, Nishimura said.
“In the bigger picture, whatever we build has to have a minimum of the affordable amount and it has to stay there,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ll ever meet our demand for housing. I don’t think we ever will. We could build on every single acre of land on Kaua‘i, and every single house would be bought.”
He pointed to housing in Honolulu, stating that Kaua‘i doesn’t need to build to the sky.
“We can’t just have an open market and expect it to work,” he said. “We have to work with developers that when they build something, there’s housing for local people.”
He sees the county coming back from COVID-19 with stabilizing tourism safely by managing the quality of tourism.
“I would have like to see us control tourism,” he said. “I want to see a Ha‘ena type setup in Po‘ipu Beach Park where we have stalls reserved for locals and shuttle services and permit fees.”
That idea partly stems from a bit of frustration he’s faced in the past.
“What drove me nuts working multiple jobs over the years, was that I got one day off, I’d go down to Po‘ipu Beach Park and there’d be nowhere to park. You end up parking on the side of the road and might get a ticket.”
A couple of ideas Nishimura has for diversifying the economy have to do with taping into local potential.
“After we open the economy safety, we diversify with industrialized hemp,” he said. “Kaua‘i is going to be fighting with our neighbor islands to grow hemp.”
In the past, Nishimura worked security at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. He noted that many of the jobs were outsourced or contracted, and he supports the idea of trying to get more locals in these positions.
“I see so much opportunity for jobs that will pay more than liveable wages if we could get some more federal support down here”
Part of what Nishimura would like to see is a resurgence of plantation-style housing.
“If people can live and work and be able to survive, they can stay on Kaua‘i, they don’t have to leave.”
With less money coming in from the state, major projects, including roads, will be pushed to the side, he said. “It’s beyond the traffic issue and the maintenance issues,” he said. “It’s connection issues.”
Nishimura commutes east to west daily.
“On the West Side, it’s a big problem going home,” he said. “Us leaving to go back home is horrible.”
And he’s worried about the implications that’ll have with climate change and sea-level rise, specifically by the Wailua Bridge.
“The entire workforce from Wailua up will be cut off from Lihu‘e,” he said. “There’s no other way to get across. We have to start looking at moving our roads toward the mountain. Roads are big for me, and whatever we can get from the state and from the federal government, we need to prioritize that.”
Nishimura speaks passionately about establishing change for the next generation. At the heart of it, he wants to use a seat on the council to advocate for those around him.
“People want change,” he said.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.