Politics — About The Council District 5 Race: Upper Puna

By Alan McNarie  

Incumbent Zendo Kern didn’t file for re-election for Upper Puna’s seat, leaving the race wide open.   As a result, it’s the most crowded on the island, with seven candidates. Daniel Paleka is a former adult corrections officer and union business agent who owns a bed and breakfast near Volcano. Cherish Lee-Ann Almeida is an outreach coordinator for a Puna church. Roxanne Hampton is a long-time activist for various causes and a former aide to former Councilmember Emily Naeole.  Frances Pua Pueo runs a no-kill animal shelter.  Tim Law is a Puna farmer, Daniel Cunningham is a former chiropractor who lost his license for giving patients illegal injections.  And Tiffany Edwards Hunt assists with her family’s retail business in Pahoa, advises students on publications at both the high school and college level, and is the Big Island Chronicle publisher, which has complicated our coverage of this election somewhat.  We’ve kept a firewall between Hunt and election coverage; she had no input into the campaign questionnaire, didn’t see it before other candidates, and has had very little input into this issue’s content. But her involvement as publisher may still explain why some candidates in this race didn’t respond to our questionnaire.

As of our deadline, of the seven candidates, we had gotten responses back from Hunt, Cunningham and Pueo. If we later receive other responses, we’ll post them online.  We didn’t find a Web site or direct statement from Paleko about his positions—only a Union endorsement or two.  After searching the Web, however, we found some statements from Hampton and Law about their positions. 

According to Tim Law’s Facebook page, he wants to “improve roads and emergency access and egress,” is “for GPS in ambulances”; favors “permitted ohanas on ag lots greater than 10,000 s.f.,” wants a “Kalapana beach park and keiki pond,” favors “registered GPS tracking devices to be hidden in personal property,” and wants to “manage growth for the benefit of both residents and business.”

Roxanne “R.J.” Hampton has been a frequent testifier at various County Council hearings, especially on issues relating to the Building Code— she said that as a legislative assistant, for instance, she “Wrote a bill to stop implementation and wrote an amendment to exempt residential construction. I actively lobbied to amend Bill 270, the Building Code adoption so I am experienced and learned in the strategies of constituent lobbying.” BIC found this statement about “some of the planks that I have already gathered and put in place in my political platform: “One of them is to concentrate on the economy and to increase employment opportunities for the people in District 5.

“Another plank is to create a District 5 office that is organized, efficient and supportive, which operates with an open door policy. Giving the citizen access to data and discussion on issues that are important to them makes for open government, and effective government.

“Furthermore, one of the concerns that people have shared with me, and I think needs to be addressed is the issue of the building codes. I consider it necessary to review and amend current building codes to reflect more of our island needs and our tropical lifestyle.

“We need real solutions for real problems facing our district. This is a very exciting time for we have an opportunity to rethink the shape of our future. I plan to work with the other council members and our state representatives to achieve everyone’s mutual goal of making Hawaii County as good as it can be.”

Hampton describes herself as a “fiscal conservative that would require all expenditures to be justified and beneficial to my constituents.”

“I support unions, she says, “yet the strong unions situation, and civil service rules hamstrings the ability to cut wasteful spending and creates inefficient operations in all County agencies. I will do a thorough investigation into cleaning up the inefficiencies and propose County legislation to correct these serious problems.

One big problem that Tiffany Edwards Hunt sees in District 5 is “a lack of representation.” She sees a pattern with previous Puna representatives:  “They go to Hilo and they don’t look for Puna in the rear view mirror.  As a result, she notes, problems, like the district’s shortage of ambulances — there is only one in Pahoa and one in Kea’au — don’t get fixed:

“Say somebody was en route with the Pahoa ambulance,” she says. “That’s a two hour transit time for the ambulance. If someone called from Leilani or Ainaloa, they would have to come from Kea’au. Then if someone from Kurtistown called, the ambulance would have to come from Hilo or Kau.  It’s just a real critical problem…. We had a representative say, oh, ‘this is a good budget,’ and we had it pass again, with still only on ambulance for Pahoa and one for Kea’au.

She thinks the district needs at least two more policemen, along with having serious infrastructure problems. One of the issues that people ask her about most, she says, is opening a second route out of Puna via old Railroad Avenue.

One island-wide issue, she says, is “our trash problem. Since 1993, the EPA has been saying that we have to shut down our unlined landfill in Hilo. The County councils have been playing hot potato with it ever since. She doesn’t think Mayor Kenoi’s incinerator is the answer, however: “Hilo is billing itself as a health and wellness mecca.  But if we burn our solid waste, we’re no better than Taiwan.”

Instead, she looks toward “social enterprise” to turn trash into an asset and create more businesses: such as those converting “tires to playground matting and glass bottles to road aggregate, or reusing them into bottles.

“Let’s put some RFPs out for some really innovative jobs that will deal with our trash. Think smart jobs, think livable wages.”

She thinks geothermal “perpetuates the grid and we shouldn’t see any more of it — certainly not until we address the health concerns that were laid out in the recent health study.

“We’re paying 40 cents per kilowatt hour, and that’s the highest rates in the state, and we are the only island in the state that currently has geothermal operations.  There’s no incentive to have more geothermal, particularly if we’re not seeing economic benefits now.”

She’s wants to do more research about biofuels before deciding about them, but she’s against a power cable to O`ahu.

The island can use less energy, she believes, if people could live closer to their work—which can be helped with better Web connections, for example.  Relaxed building codes that allowed for tropical living could help, too—“What’s wrong with a little grass shack?”— as could less imported food and a different style of tourism: “Really promote ag or eco-tourism, rather than build a big mausoleum type building that’s air conditioned and consuming mass quantities of food in buffets that gets thrown away and drinking bottled water that isn’t recycled.”

She suggests a campaign to label local food, and more farmers markets promoting verified local produce.  She supports county regulation of GMOs and pesticides, and suggests that the county set an example by finding alternatives spraying in parks and on roadsides.

One alternative could tie in with prison reform.  For all but violent or dangerous offenders, she thinks, prisoner could be out improving the community—cutting roadside grass with weed-wackers, for instance.

Relaxing the building code, she believes, is also one solution for homelessness. A single mother, for instance, who can’t afford an $800 apartment, “could pay $400 for a jungalow.”

She thinks the state should legalize marijuana, “not just as an income generator, but also to destigmatize marijuana…I also think that it will legitimize a lot of entrepreneurs who currently exist here in an underground economy.”

We offered all candidates to option of handling the questionnaire via interview if they didn’t want to fill it out. Daniel Cunningham took us up on that offer—which was probably just as well, because his ideas don’t fit the interview questions very well, anyway.  Cunningham believes that the county should mortgage all its assets to build a floating city powered by a surplus nuclear submarine power plant. That city would be able to “harvest” pollution from Fukushima and process solid waste into useful products. People could live in the city and the Big Island could be turned into a bird refuge.

The city could also become a refuge in the coming “race war” that Cunningham believes is inevitable. He claims that “the Neanderthals never died out”; they are, he says, physically identical to “Ashkenazi Jews,” who are taking over the economy through the Rothschilds and other bankers.

Highlights from Frances Pueo’s 11-page response:

Pueo’s priorities for both her district and the whole island include “protection of Puna’s [and Hawaii’s] precious natural resources; conscious, controlled development creating green jobs and businesses; “non-GMO agriculture and safe food laws; alternative , safe, renewable, cheap energy; priority community services, recreational areas”; and “planned infrastructure and roads.”

Pueo doesn’t just oppose further geothermal development; she wants it phased out. She cites, among other things, threats to air and to groundwater from toxic contaminants: “Geothermal power is not-safe, it is not reliable, and certainly not environmentally friendly as pro-geothermal factions want us to believe,” she maintains. “We need to invest in safer alternatives, such as solar and wind sources.” she maintains.

She gives limited support to biofuels: “some Big Island Farmlands could be used to produce biofuels possibly from various assortments of waste material from agriculture, as perennial grasses, sugar cane, and GMO papayas, she says. She opposes an undersea power cable, believing that each island should develop its own energy resources.

Re food: We have thousands of acres of what used to be sugar plantation land, that the county owns that could provide long-term leases at a very low rent as long as food products are grown on the land. We may look into the reduction of imported food products or a “Fair Trade” type pricing policy to encourage local farmers to grow food and create a sustainable livelihood for themselves and their families. She supports “strict” regulation of pesticides and GM crops at both county and state levels, and cites multiple health studies to back her position.

Re affordable housing: “First, the building code must be changed.  Hawaii County boasts of the most complex building code in the US…. It has regulations that are costly and unnecessary for the tropics. She also wants the county to apply for federal and state grants to build affordable housing, and to relax regulations on where that housing can be built. And, more long-term, she thinks the county should grow its own: instead of importing building materials, reforest with rot-resistant timber such as redwood and cedar.

She looks to the land, too, to provide more livings: “We have food rotting on the ground because we don’t have people to pick it.  We sell raw food produce cheaply to companies that make products from this produce when we could easily take raw materials and produce products ourselves.  Having the facilities available at a reasonable cost is important to making a profit.

Entrepreneurship should be valued and encouraged with training and support.”

She wants an expanded, more efficient bus system that give free passes to those who use it to commute to work. She opposes private prisons, favors a pu’uhonua program for the prison system, and thinks marijuana should be legalized, but that legalization in other states and countries should be monitored closely for problems.

She opposes the Mayor Kenoi’s waste-to-energy plan because she believes it would create a “monster” that constantly demands to be fed and could create multiple pollution problems.  She wants the County to revamp its Humane Society contract to give dogs and cats equal time to be rescued and to expand current shelters.

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