Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 |
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Kauai Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami.
Derek S.K. Kawakami
• Age: 44 years old
• Occupation: Mayor, County of Kaua‘i
• Town of residence: Lihu‘e
• Duration of residence: 38 years
• Prior experience in government/leadership:
– Kaua‘i County Council from 2008 to 2011, and also from 2016 to 2018. During my tenure as a council member, I chaired the Intergovernmental Relations Committee and vice chaired the Committee of the Whole.
– Gubernatorial appointee to the Hawai‘i State Legislature, representing District 14 from 2011 to 2015. As a State Representative, I served as the Assistant Majority Leader; chaired the Committee on Economic Development and Business; vice chaired the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection; and vice chaired the Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection.
– Mayor of County of Kaua‘i from 2018 to present
– My volunteerism includes serving on the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board, Kaua‘i Police Activities League, Lihu‘e Business Association, serving as Second Vice Chair for Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, Committee Chair for Strategic Planning for Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, Chair for the Nominating Committee for Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, Kiwanis Club, Catholic Charities Advisory Committee, and AYSO soccer coach.
Q: The median price of a single-family home on Kaua‘i is over $1 million, and the County’s 2018 General Plan reported 44% of all households are cost-burdened. (Meaning their housing costs exceeded 30% of their income.) How will you address the affordable housing crisis in Kaua‘i County?
There is no silver bullet to solve the housing crisis, but rather a culmination of many moving parts to increase inventory of different housing options, identifying how government can lower the cost of housing development by acquiring land and building infrastructure, getting our local residents ready for housing opportunities through financial education programs, and partnering with both state and federal government agencies and the private sector to build more units. The notion that we can legislate our way out of a housing crisis has proven to fall short of its well-intended purpose.
Government should do exactly what our Administration has begun to do by identifying underutilized County and State owned-land that’s near existing infrastructure to make housing development more affordable, and to maintain affordability in perpetuity. Our Pua Loke workforce housing built out 54 units on what was previously a county parking lot behind the Kukui Grove theater. Directly across the street we developed Kealaula at Pua Loke that occupies a former state park that now provides a home and wrap-around services provided by Women in Need for over 30 families that were previously unsheltered. We recently upgraded the KEO Mana‘olana Emergency Homeless Shelter’s wastewater system to increase capacity and to serve more of our houseless community. Lima Ola, a vision of Mayor Baptiste, carried on by former Mayor Carvalho, and being built by our administration will provide homes for an additional 500 families when completed. And we’re looking forward to many more projects on the horizon.
Q: The coronavirus pandemic decimated the tourism industry Kaua‘i – and the state – is so reliant upon. Should Kaua‘i County make economic diversity a priority, and if so, how?
We need to move Kaua‘i towards economic diversification. Hurricane Iniki, the Great Recession, and the Great East Japan Earthquake which triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster all can be looked upon as warning signs of a worst-case scenario that could impact our quality of life.
The COVID pandemic was our worst-case scenario, and we continue our path toward recovery. The Kaua‘i Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy has been a blueprint that I have consistently used as a guide in moving our island forward. It identifies six industry clusters that should be further supported and grown. Health and Wellness, Renewable Energy/Sustainable Technology, Science and Technology, Food and Agriculture, Arts and Culture, and Visitor Industry Management and Preservation are industries that currently exist on island and should be supported. The recent Destination Management Action Plan lays out specific ways that new jobs can be created that also support the visitor industry as well as move our island towards striking the right balance. One of the first examples is the Hanalei Initiative’s North Shore shuttle. This is an initiative that was community driven, and government supported that has created jobs, supported the visitor industry, and has brought destination management to the North Shore. KIUC’s aggressive approach to renewable energy has helped to support jobs in the Renewable Energy/ Sustainable Technology sectors and Aina Ho‘okupu O Kilauea is another example of a community led and government supported initiative that promotes locally grown food and self-sustainability.
Q: Kaua‘i continues to look for a new landfill site, years after its search began. The clock is ticking: The Kekaha landfill is currently projected to reach capacity in January 2027. What is your preferred solution?
The preferred solution is a diversified portfolio of solid waste management practices and technologies, which will take time to implement. In the meantime, Administration was successful in negotiating concurrence from PMRF to expand our landfill vertically which will help to provide additional time. We are also exploring mining the old landfill, relining it, and recompacting to add more space and again, buy more time. These strategies utilize existing landfill space and add capacity and are a part of our comprehensive approach to solid waste management. We will continue to further reduce our waste stream through diversion and recycling programs. The next leap forward is to address our construction and demolition waste which in turn would support our sustainable technology industry sector and would create new jobs. We are also exploring the feasibility of existing and emerging technology that can convert waste into reusable products and/or energy, and convert waste into commodities such as livestock feed and fertilizer. Multiple Administrations from the City and County of Honolulu have also expressed the willingness to accept our waste to supply H-Power’s needs.
It’s unfortunate the Maalo site, which was identified back in 2018, is not feasible due to its close proximity to the Lihue Airport despite best efforts to obtain land control. But we must continue to make forward progress, and are working with the State and stakeholders on a location in Kekaha that is further away from our coastline and residents.
Q: The reality of climate change is more apparent than ever. The Kaua‘i County General Plan notes the island can expect local sea levels to rise by 3 feet, minimum, by the second half of this century. How must the County adapt to this and other climate-related contingencies?
We are familiar with severe weather, such as the 2018 historic rain event and the close approach of Hurricane Iselle. Since then, our Administration was dealt another rain event which caused a landslide on the Hanalei hill, Wailua River flooding, another Koloa/Omao/Lawai flooding event, a Waimea rockslide, and more recently a historic summer swell coupled with King Tides that damaged infrastructure on our South Shore. Our Administration is the first in the State to recognize the necessity of planning and acting to address sea level rise and climate change. Our Planning Department has recently undergone a series of community meetings to formulate our Climate Adaptation Plan which is currently a work in progress. It begins the educational outreach and gathers community input for different approaches on coexisting with Mother Nature and doing our part to mitigate the risk and hazards that severe weather will have on our residents and businesses. We are also the first in the State, and one of the first municipalities in the nation, to begin to work on a Sea Level Rise Zoning Ordinance that has passed through the Planning Commission and is currently being heard at Council. This legislation will address potential safeguards to our community from Climate Change and the dynamic nature of our coastline. Although the Eastern European conflict is not defined as climate change, it has impacted our price of fuel and energy. Forward thinking by KIUC has helped to buffer those impacts from our cost of electricity and adds to self-sustainability.
Q: What is driving you to seek election or re-election, and why should voters give you their vote?
From my early days delivering newspapers in the Ulu Mahi Subdivision, bagging groceries at Big Save, working afterschool at Wilcox School’s A+ program, spending summer days making shave ice in front of Eleele Big Save, graduating from Chaminade University and coming back home to work the grocery business and starting a family of my own, I have never been far away from home. We are driven to make things better. We made significant strides in developing our people, improving the process, and delivering on our goods and services to the people of Kauai. Although we have been hit with one of the biggest challenges that the world has faced, we were still able to deliver on infrastructure improvements, modernizing our process and procedures, and rolling our sleeves up, getting into the trenches and getting work done. We represent change yet remain rooted in our history. From my mother’s humble beginnings in Huleia and my grandfather’s stories of immigrating from Japan to seek the American dream. We are driven to provide leadership and direction to improve the quality of life for future generations and maintain our rural character that Kaua‘i has been known for. To be strong and steadfast in the face of adversity. I hope that rather than giving me your vote, that I have earned it. I am still the local guy that can be found early in the morning at sea. A local boy at heart, driven to honoring our past and building our future.
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