Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Billy DeCosta, candidate for Kauai County Council. The other candidates for seven positions are Addison Bulosan, Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden, Luke Evslin, Fern Holland, Rosemarie Jauch, Ross Kagawa, KipuKai Kuali’i, James Langtad, Jeffrey Lindner, Lila Metzger, Nelson Mukai, Jakki Nelson, Mel Rapozo, Roy Saito, Rachel Secretario, Shirley Simbre-Medeiros and Clint Yago.
Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Kauai County, and what would you do about it?
Food security and housing. The average price of our 90% imported food has become outrageous. Our average cost of a home is close to $1 million. Too much agricultural land is not being used on Kauai. We need to inspire our farming and ranching landowners to create a sense of cooperative farming so multiple families may benefit from growing food (fruits, vegetables, livestock, eggs, etc.) which could be inserted into a cooperative food hub.
We need to create a farming/ranching dormitory style of single and/or couple living on these ag lands.
Our county has acquired land to build transitional, affordable and workforce housing. This past budget our county secured close to $15 million to ensure these projects are being carried out. But remember, there is a gap group that makes over a combined income between husband and wife of $128,000 which doesn’t qualify for any of our housing projects yet they pay a fair amount of taxes like everyone else.
We need to increase our supply of available homes by incentivizing the construction process. An increase in supply will bring the demand down which will affect pricing, basic economics. We need to make sure our local families in the higher income bracket are those who qualify for these homes.
2. In the last four years, Kauai’s north shore has endured two major weather events that have severed entire communities from jobs, schools, pharmacies, banks, doctors and other essential services for many months. Should this change the county’s approach to disaster preparedness, and if so, how?
Natural disasters are always a challenge and being a commentator after the fact is not my style. We always come together and get things done. During that 2018 flood, I was not a council member yet but I brought in supplies that I organized with my community connections.
This is who we are in Hawaii, we don’t do it for recognition but because it is engraved into our culture from our grandparents. We need another emergency route into the north shore. We need the council to be able to assist the administration with decisions if necessary.
3. There are nearly 14,000 cesspools on Kauai that must be removed by 2050. With an average cost of $15,000 to $30,000 to convert to septic, many homeowners say making the transition is not affordable. How can the county help to jump-start cesspool replacements?
Cesspool replacements will hurt almost all 14,000 homeowners. We as council have secured $1 million-plus annually to hopefully convert about 30-35 homes per year. This won’t solve the whole problem but we have the option to contribute more as a county.
We should be looking at going into sewer instead of septic which is much more environmentally friendly. This is why the council needs to budget your tax dollars fiscally responsibly to accommodate all of our pressing issues. My degree in business administration with a concentration in economics gives me that mindset to be innovative, efficient and accountable.
4. Traffic is getting worse on the island of Kauai, and different regions face different challenges. What would be your approach to improve Kauai’s transportation problems?
Traffic has been a problem that no politician has successfully solved, but I can tell you having our tourists stay in tourist-designated areas, eat, shop, walk to the beach and get shuttled to and from their activities across the island would limit the amount of rental cars on the road.
We need to monitor our carrying capacity of visitors to our island.
5. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of your county, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu?
Oahu has 1.2 million people, they will obviously get the attention of our political leaders, but if we could diversify into growing food (fruits, vegetables, beef, lamb, eggs, even a small organic dairy that services only Hawaii, we could all benefit from this diversified economy that would now get the attention of all politicians.
We need to support each island, its people, its businesses, resorts and restaurants with locally grown food products. Our local fishing and hunting community needs to have access to community kitchens and slaughterhouses to process their catch and create their value-added products to be inserted into the local economy, creating a sense of resiliency (for example ground-up marlin mixed with wild hog and burger to make sausage to be served at a hotel restaurant for tourists). Time to start thinking out of the box.
6. For more than a year the median price for a single-family home on Kauai has topped $1 million. What would you do to help address the deficit of low-income, affordable and middle-class housing?
Insert more funding into these county housing projects as long as we can balance our budget to fulfill the rest of our county services and public safety. We need to increase the building in our urban core where infrastructure is ready to accept (it). Live and work in the same area.
We need to increase our rental apartments to accommodate our younger generation who moved back from college. We need to increase the supply of single-family homes to satisfy the demand which would bring the prices down.
7. Even as the Covid-19 pandemic winds down, local businesses are struggling to hire and retain workers, which has led to shortages of everything from grocery store cashiers and restaurant workers to teachers and school bus drivers. What, if anything, would you do to address this economic instability?
Many adults weren’t working because our government subsidized their shortfalls. It’s time to return back to work.
Work hard, save your money, invest and make smart financial decisions so one day you can breathe and swim above this drowning financial crisis. There isn’t a magic answer, it takes determination and grit, not handouts from the government.
8. Kauai’s landfill in Kekaha will soon run out of capacity and there’s still no timely plan in place to build a new one. What can the county council do to address what could become a garbage crisis for the island?
Long overdue, site a new landfill. Condemnation if no one has the answer. We need about 75-100 acres, there must be one area where we can work together and agree to make it happen, the trash is all of ours.
This might be our most pressing issue that will cause us the most problems.
9. Overtourism can degrade the environment, threaten biodiversity, contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, generate traffic and disrupt neighborhoods. What more can be done to better manage the island’s tourism sector?
Management of tourists is a must, keeping tourists in their designated areas where they are staying in that area and shuttled to and from their activities.
10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Kauai County. Be innovative, but be specific.
I am currently working on this idea and if elected into one more two-year term, this will become a reality:
Co-op up ranching, where the ranch raises and owns the breeding herd of cattle and the ship-outs called “wean off cattle” would be purchased by families (like a deposit per calf of about 400 pounds). The ranch would financially benefit instead of shipping out those calves to the mainland feed lots which normally would take place. These cattle would be raised till market weight in two different categories:
— Grain-fed (alfalfa and corn from our local ag company on Kauai called Hartung).
These families would pay a grazing and or grain fee when their animal (tagged and recorded) reaches slaughter weight of 800 to 1,000-plus pounds. Their cow would be taken to the local slaughterhouse and that fee would be paid for by the customer. This process would ensure food security and give our families on Kauai an opportunity to enjoy either a grass-fed ribeye steak, fresh hamburger and stew meat and/or a marbleized grain-fed ribeye steak like they have at Costco.
Those fees ( deposit for calf, grazing or grain and slaughter) would be paid to the ranch by those families who own the cow and would still be competitive to what it would cost them at Costco or Safeway.
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