• 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.
‘OMA‘O — Growing up on Kaua‘i, incumbent Kaua‘i County Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro said there was always a desire to live up to expectations.
“It’s a small town, it’s a small island, I’ve always had to hold myself accountable,” he said. “I think the community and my family have held me accountable all this time.”
He encountered that with teachers, coaches and mentors alike when he came home from attending school and working in Oregon. When he moved back, he had no intention of getting into politics, he said, but then his priorities changed.
When he first ran in 2014, Kaneshiro said there was a big divide in the agriculture field with an anti-genetically modified processing discussion.
“A lot of agriculture people were feeling left out of the conversation and feeling battered,” he said. “I think a lot of people feel like farmers make up such a small percentage of the population so their voices aren’t heard and they can get really encompassed by the public. I think to some extent, they were looking for more farmer representation. our family was born and raised farming.”
His great-grandfather started a farm in ‘Oma‘o nearly 100 years ago, and his own father, Daryl, has always had cattle and now nearly 900 sheep and recently added hemp to his productions. Kaneshiro said they’d spend weekends creating a fence line down to ‘Oma‘o road by hand.
“The council’s role is to grow and support local businesses, and farming is one of them,” Kaneshiro said.
The council, too, he said, should be encouraging diversification.
“I think everyone enjoys looking at the open space and enjoys the notion of eating and buying local, but the cost of living here is high,” he said. “It’s understandable that we may say that but we go to Costco and buy the cheapest produce you can get. For me, it’s still supporting the agriculture tenants and supporting our agriculture, that’s what we grew up on.”
In September, Kaneshiro introduced Bill No. 2804 to the council, which includes amendments to the Kaua‘i County Code relating to the Agriculture Zoning District allowing new revenue options on these lands through agriculture retail stands, botanical gardens, farmers markets, food processing and packaging of products, restaurants and food services, as well as “zoological gardens” for exhibiting animals, in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
“It makes it easier for farmers to get their products to consumers,” he said. “A lot of (farmers) have lost a lot of their demand from either hotels or restaurants, they’re really looking for a way to get their produce to consumers faster, (and currently), they cannot do a roadside stand without having a use permit.”
During an interview in September, Kaneshiro said he hoped to get this passed by the end of this term.
“Government does take long, but that’s the process,” he said. “The process allows for transparency and public testimony.”
Kaneshiro, with his certified public accountant background, doesn’t want to speculate how the coronavirus pandemic will affect county finances but knows the county not receiving transient accommodation tax (TAT), the general excise and use tax (GET) will hurt. The budget, throughout his tenure, has been what he’s most proud of.
He said it’s important to provide county services and he’d be looking to cut more travel and training, putting purchases of equipment on hold. “These are not things we want to do, but considering the economy we’re in, those are the things we’re going to have to look at. What can we hold off on?”
“We just gotta make due with what we have,” he said, hoping that the county can leverage state or federal aid versus raising taxes. “Now is not the time. You have businesses that have gone out of business: commercial, industrial, hotels are out of business, TVR (transient vacation rentals) can’t open. We can’t do that now.”
The decision for GET his last term, he said, was not a popular vote, but he “couldn’t kick the can down the road” any longer. “Nobody wanted that tax, but you have to look long-term,” he said. “If we want roads that are safe, we need to do something or else there is no possible way to fixing our roads. That was one of those votes that was not popular for me, but something I fought for.”
In addition to being the council’s chair, Kaneshiro is also a project manager with Grove Farm Company, which often has him recusing himself from council decisions.
If elected, he’s bracing for the impacts of the virus.
“You’re really going to see the impact of people not having jobs, restaurants shutting down and businesses trying to survive. That’s something no one wants to see.”
The landscape for campaigning, Kaneshiro said, has changed and for that, he misses the sign waiving and events.
“For me, I think I’m fortunate that I’m an incumbent, but I really feel for the new people running for council because you don’t really have that platform like before to be around the public,” he said.
But he’s confident in the work he’s done.
“I would hope that they were voting for me because they have the confidence in me to make the decisions that are best for the island,” Kaneshiro said. “You know, decisions that they think represent them. I’m happy I have the same supporters. it’s interesting to see the same supporters from the start still supporting me. To me, that means a lot.”