• 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.
NIUMALU — Twice a week, incumbent Kauai County Council member Luke Evslin, 35, hoists a canoe into Hule‘ia Stream after dropping his two kids, Finely and Levi, at daycare.
He moves swiftly, lifting his canoe from atop his grey pick-up truck to the grassy area in front of the Kaiola Canoe Club.
Evslin, in his first two-year term as a member of the council, is running for his second term. Much of his platform, policy and ideology revolves around how to sustain a viable future by enacting policies that make the most out of the present. That includes incentivizing affordable housing developments to one day meet demand, environmental policies and stabilizing tourism infrastructure.
Last week, Evslin took to Facebook to highlight some of the policies he’s helped draft, pass or propose, including eliminate permitting, building and assessment fees for affordable additional rental units (ARU) and allow those units to be built within the Lihu’e town core, he said to provide housing closer to where the jobs are.
Co-Owner at Kamanu Composites, an O‘ahu based outrigger canoe manufacturing company, Evslin is also a board member and treasurer of Malama Hule‘ia; a paddling coach at Island School, a former member of General Plan Citizen’s Advisory Committee and Open Space, Public Access, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund Commissioner.
Evslin is constantly researching, finding policies that work in other tourism-destinations or small towns, searching for measures that would protect local residents. One of those includes a bill that came up this past session. He, along with councilmember Mason Chock, recently introduced a bill that would allow the Department of Parks and Recreation to institute a fee on non-residents to park in county beach parks, similar to what was enforced earlier this year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, he observed teenagers skateboarding at Kukui Grove. Within 10 minutes, he said, a security guard asked them to stop.
”As they sat there looking dejected, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much we’ve failed them at every level,” Evslin wrote in a Facebook post.
Evslin wrapped up his master’s in public administration with a focus in public policy with a thesis on open spaces from the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy this year.
The interaction he watched, he said, reminded him of his own time as a teenager growing up on Kaua‘i. And not much has changed in the way of public spaces for youth. Evslin, who grew up in Kapa‘a, moved back to Kaua‘i in 2010 after a paddling accident.
Transparency, Evslin said, is imperative. He hosts a weekly policy conversation on Zoom, with participants ranging from one person to about 10. He tries to keep a record of as much of what happens in the council chambers as possible.
As for the pandemic, Evslin believes the community, the mayor and administration, and the Department of Health “have all come together and done a great job of keeping us safe so far.”
While he wished the county would have been able to opt-out of the single pre-travel test and continued with the quarantine, but believes the community will continue its responsibility to keep each other safe.
“Because three out of 1,000 visitors will likely have COVID and make it through the single test screening undetected — I am deeply concerned that we could end up with rising case counts, widespread community spread, and another costly round of business and in-person school closures,” he said. “Regardless, I know that the community will continue to do our best to minimize the chance of spread by wearing masks and social distancing.”
Evslin explained a productive council is one that’s passionate.
“I want to be clear that I do not think that I am any better of a candidate than anyone else,” Evslin said. “From my perspective, I think it is vital to have a council that represents a variety of diverse perspectives. And, along with a real passion for public policy, one of the things that I think I bring to the table is a commitment to helping create the space for disagreement.”
To that end, he said, each decision will be felt for years after it’s made.
“I think it’s vital that we as a county council can argue, sometimes heatedly, about issues without ever making it personal,” he said. “Part of that is to do the hard work of trying to really understand the positions and perspectives of our colleagues around the table.”
And for that to happen, he said, there needs to be “deep trust and respect for each other, which takes a long-term commitment to build.”
“Building that type of space for respectful disagreement so that we can create good policy is one of the fundamental roles of a council member and something that I am committed to continually working toward.”