Puna News — An Interview With State House District 4 Candidate Joy SanBuenaventura

joy for puna(Editor’s note: Following is an interview Tiffany Edwards Hunt conducted with Joy SanBuenaventura, a local attorney who is seeking the State House District 4 seat in the upcoming election.)


Tiffany: What led you to run for public office?

Joy: People asked me to run.  They have been disappointed with their representation and some of them are my strongest supporters.

And as an attorney for 30 years, people come to me with their problems that just cannot be solved with our current laws.  And I have asked our representatives to push certain bills through to help them, especially with recession.

Specifically Sen. Kahele to introduce certain bills which I believe are necessary in 21st century for Hawaii to catch up with laws in other states.  I presented the problems of working poor.  In Puna, a lot of people who are middle income have been put into poverty.  I presented in the Hawaii County Democratic Convention, and people were just amazed that Hawaii is so far behind, like other states, like California, that have laws on the books… California has an anti-deficiency law that prohibits creditors from attaching assets, from going after assets other than the deficiency.  For instance, people are getting foreclosed on… you probably know a whole bunch of them and so do I, they come into my office.

Banks can go after other assets to make up for deficiency.

For working people, they cannot make mortgage payments, they get into foreclosure… When wages are attached, they go further and further into poverty.

There are exemption laws that create a safety net so people will have basic assets from which they can start over again.

What is considered assets is outdated, going back to the ‘70s, and Hawaii hasn’t caught up.  These are technicalities that are necessary that people assume are there… unless you are a lawyer, you don’t see the problems.

Protection of working poor in debt is part of platform. I’m trying to get people to realize the laws in state of Hawaii that work against those in poverty.

That is the main reason (Joy is seeking the State House District 4 seat).  That, as well as people have come to me saying they don’t feel they are represented.  I guess it is because of the incumbent’s remarks in the press.  And because of that I am running.

Since I’ve started to run there are basic problems in Puna that people have told me haven’t been addressed for a long time, such as education equality, for lack of a better term.  Rural schools, because the funding for the state of Hawaii is based on a per student basis, Oahu schools, which have more students, get a lion’s share of the funding.  That is why the Pahoa schools, and you know because you are part of Pahoa Booster Club, get the short end of the stick.  Charter schools have to come up with facilities funding and the teacher’s pay is affected.

Just because we are poor does not mean that we should have less-than-equal services.

Tiffany: What have you learned in running? Any epiphanies?

Joy: Not only education, it’s also the infrastructure.  People have considered Puna, I guess because we have one of the lowest per capita incomes, second only to Waimanalo on Oahu, one of poorest districts in state.  It doesn’t mean we should have less services, less infrastructure.

Puna was allowed to have all these subdivisions without basic infrastructure and, because of that, we have a few bad roads.

(Joy noted what happens when Highway 130 gets “cut off,” people travel through Orchidland and Hawaiian Acres.)

There should be an equality of basic necessities throughout the state, and arterial roads and education should be among them, so that emergency vehicles would not have to think twice about going to a fire.  Like an ambulance, we don’t want another Dana Ireland. And that particular road after that has gotten better (in Waawaa). But we have roads in Hawaiian Acres, Orchidland, Tiki Gardens and other places in Puna; they need better arterial roads so that emergency response isn’t hampered.

That is my epiphany. We need to have more equality in services.

Another thing: the opportunity to get internet services — It’s the 21st century.  (Joy recalled the inventions of the electricity and telephone, and the accompanying incentives with those inventions.)  So we need the 21st century equivalent.  We need access to the education, information and communication that the internet provides.

 Tiffany: I’m curious if you as a candidate have experienced what I have been noting is, the apathy.

Joy: I run into people who don’t vote. But when I have informed them that when they don’t vote, Puna continues to not receive the services, I’m hopefully inciting them to vote, to at least be part of the system.

Tiffany: One of the biggest challenges Puna faces is lack of jobs… what are ideas you have come up with to keep people in Puna…? 

Joy: One of things I have come up with, it’s related to sustainability: non GMO farming.  We need to give incentives.  I’m for labeling.  But I’m also for creating incentives so that we can stay agriculture and promote the unique produce that we have in Puna.  We’ve got sapote, we’ve got all these types of fruits here that are not seen at Oahu farmers markets, or Waimea and Kona farmers markets.  I’m for creating types of incentives that would foster that type of agriculture and promote outside of Puna.  As far as growth in Puna, I really do think the high-speed internet is a necessity.  I have clients who have done well with web-based marketing, but you need to have the high-speed internet infrastructure so you can reach outside Puna, for instance to market the Puna produce.

Tiffany: How about sustainability… the question of housing, and bringing something forward at the state level? 

Joy: I practice personal sustainability.  We eat from our own garden. We produce our own electricity with a photovoltaic system, and I power my car.  I am going to do a wait-and-see… as a general rule, I’m for it.  I’m for staying in Puna and staying off Highway 130, and I want to make sure people comply with the law with their special-use permits. I want to make sure there is balance in private property rights.

We all live in Puna and we need to respect each other’s neighbor’s rights.  So, it should not infringe upon the neighborhood rights…

 Tiffany: Medical marijuana. I am wondering about your position on dispensaries, safe access, and legalization.

Joy: You’re not only one who has asked. There is already a law on books that makes medical marijuana legal under certain quantities and conditions.  It’s a non issue as far as the law on books. The question is, dispensaries.  The Legislature is trying to address that now.  It seems to me, one, I want to wait and see, with the current Legislature, how they tackle it… but my position, generally, if you’re going to have a law on the books that allows for it, you should have access, so long as it is controlled legally…

Someone brought up, and no one has brought this up before, whether we should have marijuana as a crop.  One , I think Hawaii is far from that right now.  As a concept, let’s see what happens with Colorado and Washington, whether they have an increase in mental health or driving while intoxicated issues. But someone brought up to me yesterday that marijuana as a crop actually depletes the soil from nutrients so that it actually makes it — it’s not a sustainable crop that you can keep planting on the ground over and over again.  It depletes the soil of nutrients, so it becomes like a wasteland —and I don’t know if that’s true.  This guy said, regardless of whether or not you are for marijuana as a crop, you cannot be supportive of agriculture and support marijuana as a crop.  I do know that the Big Island has passed a measure stating marijuana should be lowest in enforcement.  The Big Island as a whole, a majority of voters, are aware that marijuana as a crime should not be enforced as badly or fervently as ice, cocaine, heroin or the other drugs.  What I tell people is, we have to do this on a step-by-step basis, first with dispensaries, and dispense marijuana to those who really need it, without having social, criminal or after affects.  Then decriminalize it.  What’s wrong with decriminalizing, so we don’t over-populate jails with minor crimes? So I’m going to go slow, but move toward a decriminalization.

Tiffany: Mental health. I want to talk about that.  There seems to be a high need here and not much going on.  

Joy: Mental health, and substance abuse. In East Hawaii there is no residential drug abuse center.  We may need more therapists on the island to be able to sustain any type of center for mental health and drug abuse.

If we go towards decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, it will get abused with people with mental health problems because they will self medicate.  We need to address that. I don’t know if we have enough qualified therapists in East Hawaii and, if we do, I am, in the state Legislature, going to advocate for any grants to establish a residential treatment facility in East Hawaii.  I’m not sure if there is the population in Puna to sustain it but certainly East Hawaii.  But we need dedicated volunteers, like those with the Puna Community Medical Center.

Tiffany: You’re suggesting a partnership between community stakeholders and state Legislature? Like a Grant-in-Aid?

Joy: Yes, to establish a residential treatment facility.

Tiffany: Sanitation.  If you talk with the County they point to Department of Health.

Joy: Ginny Aste, of all people, says the state should consider creating a park at Wai`Opae, so there would be bathroom facilities and park facilities.  And as far as downtown Pahoa, we need bathroom facilities.

On a state level, I know we can create a state park.  But as far as downtown Pahoa, creating bathroom facilities there, that to me sounds more like a county type thing.

It’s kind of a loophole nightmare, Tiffany. I’m back to having it on a location by location basis.  I’m not for facing it in the middle of nowhere with no security. As an aside, when you travel on Saddle Road and you need a bathroom, there is Mauna Kea State Park.  But we need more parks or bathroom facilities along the coast… I can see the need for it — especially like in the beach areas.  The sanitation at Wae Opae and Kapoho is really bad. That obviously need to be addressed.  If we want tourists or residents to come to Kapoho, you want to make sure it is a sanitary place — otherwise the state is liable.

Tiffany: Do you have a message to voters and readers of  Big Island Chronicle?

Joy: They have a choice in this next election who their representative should be.

And at the very least, they should not accept the status quo, because Puna deserves better.

For more information about Joy, visit her website: www.joy4puna.com.

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