County Council District 2 Questionnaire: Aaron S.Y. Chung

What do you think are the most important issues for your district, and what would you do about them?

District 2 is basically a compact residential community. As such there are two issues which come to mind: crime and road conditions. For crime, we need to increase police presence and encourage community involvement, such as through the Neighborhood Watch program. With regard to road conditions, we should identify roads which need to be repaired and then work with the administration in repairing them.

What do you think are the most important issues for the Island of Hawaii and what would you do about them?

1. There is no question in my mind that the most significant problem we face as a community is poverty. While many of us seek to improve the quality of lives that we and our loved ones presently enjoy, the sad reality is that at the same time many of our neighbors are struggling to provide themselves and their loved ones with the bare necessities for survival. Hawai‘i Island has the highest rate of poverty in the state by far, and one-sixth of all children in Hawai‘i under the age of 5 are at risk of going hungry every night. Consequently, and alarmingly, an increasing number of families will be facing cycles of homelessness, joblessness, teen pregnancy, educational malaise, untreated medical and mental health conditions, crime and substance abuse–all symptoms of poverty–from which few will emerge unscathed. The social and economic costs to our community should be painfully obvious to all of us. I certainly do not have the solution to this most vexing of social problems, but I do know that if we fail to take action, the situation will only get worse. I stand committed to bringing forth to the greater community an awareness of poverty and its costs, with the hope that we can all work together toward the common goal of eliminating extreme poverty and hunger on our island.

2. The single most important recurring task of the County Council is constructing an annual budget. When Hawai‘i County suffered through probably the worst financial crisis in its history a few years ago, the administration of Mayor Billy Kenoi skillfully navigated through this situation by implementing a program of budget cuts, hiring freezes and furloughs. However, these measures also compromised the services to which our residents had grown accustomed and, in the process, exposed the shortcomings of the County’s present fiscal structure and policy. We need to fix a system that is susceptible to “fiscal mood swings”—one in which government services are expanded when the economy is good, and then cut when the economy is bad. We need to build a governmental structure that will enable the County to deliver a consistent level of service to its taxpayers. This starts by exercising restraint when there is an uptick in the County revenue stream. But more importantly, it calls for a close inspection of the County Charter—that document which establishes the basic framework for the County—to determine whether there are any systemic problems which need to be corrected. In that regard, one measure which I intend to propose would call for all charter amendments to be accompanied by a fiscal impact statement so that voters can be fully informed as to how a particular measure might affect the County budget and, consequently, their pocketbooks.

3. The closure of the Hilo landfill, and deciding what to do with the trash thereafter, looms as potentially the biggest decision this or any other Council will ever make. Over 15 years ago, the County was informed by the State Department of Health that it would need to close its landfill in Hilo or face penalties related to its non-closure. For some odd reason, the County has been given numerous extensions to this closure mandate. However, at some point, the hammer will fall, and when it does, I am sure that it will fall very hard. It would be irresponsible for the County to allow this to happen. Some observers have suggested that trucking the trash from Hilo to the West Hawai‘i landfill in Pu‘uanahulu is the logical solution to this problem. However, resistance from residents in Hamakua, Waimea and West Hawai‘i has rendered this option politically unviable. Embarking on a zero-waste program of recycling and reuse, which any excess waste being sent to the H-Power facility on Oahu, has been discussed as a possibility. There has also been talk of building a new landfill. That option is expensive and carries with it environmental concerns. Finally, there is waste-to-energy, the process which has been embraced by Mayors Harry Kim and Billy Kenoi as the preferred method for addressing our solid waste problem. Newspaper reports indicate that the present administration is in the process of evaluating several proposals by vendors interested in servicing the County on this project. The evaluation of the proposal(s) selected by the administration will more than likely be made by the next Council. All council members must keep an open mind in this matter until all of the information is presented. Still, the County has been kicking this matter down the road for too long and a commitment has to be made toward resolving it once and for all.

If not covered above, what are your views on:

1. Do you believe the island should increase its use of geothermal energy?
If it can be done safely and translates into substantially and sustainably lower energy costs for our residents, yes.

2. If so, what can be done at the county level to address community concerns about geothermal safety?

Develop a solid evacuation plan, conduct proper monitoring, and establish community outreach.

3. Do you believe that Big Island farmland should be used to produce biofuels for local power generation and/or transportation?

I don’t have a firm position on this and will keep an open mind on the issue, but let me offer some thoughts. It is difficult for me to imagine that we would use prime agricultural lands to produce crops which will be used for something other than food. We should all be painfully aware by now of how the production of bioethanol has had on our global food supply. It’s now more profitable to raise corn for fuel than for food. If marginal agricultural lands were used, I might be more receptive.

4. Do you believe that Big Island farmland should be used to produce biofuels for off-island use?

Let me just say that if I had concerns regarding the use of farmlands for the production of biofuels for local power generation, it would be safe to assume that my concerns would be greater if the biofuels were being produced for off-island use.

5. Do you believe an undersea power cable should be built to transport Big Island-generated energy to O`ahu? Why or why not?

Again, I am open minded on this issue. We all must be. Having said that, let me offer some of my thoughts. First, I would need to see whether the development of this cable will result in substantially and sustainably lower energy costs to our residents. Second, while we must always be open to assisting the rest of the state, I am concerned that providing Oahu with an infusion of energy will provide a disincentive for them to reduce their consumption of energy. And I will say this, I will be hard pressed to be accepting of the development of more power plants on our island to satisfy the energy needs of another island. Lastly, there will be huge profits in this endeavor, and those profits will be leaving the island. That is not good for the economy.
6. What can be done to allow the county and its population to use less energy?

With regard to the County, I have been impressed by what I have heard and seen from its current energy coordinator (sorry, but I don’t know what his name is). So there is continual improvement on that front. With regard to the general population, it’s all about education.

1. What can the county do to encourage more local food production for local markets?

The real property tax laws of the County need to be revisited. I have long maintained that laws relating to the taxing of agricultural lands are too often abused. We must use those laws to advance an economic policy. This can be accomplished by bringing farmers, agricultural specialist and economists together to determine which crops or livestock need to be produced, for local consumption or export. These crops or livestock would then be specified in the Hawaii County Code as being those which would entitle agricultural land owners to tax breaks.

2. Do you support the regulation, at the county level, of genetically modified crops? Why or why not?

No, it might be subject to preemption because it is either a state or federal issue. The County cannot be all things to all people and we should not be overextending ourselves at the expense of more pressing needs.

3. Do you support increased regulation, at the county level, of agricultural pesticides? Why or why not?

No, same answer as above.

Housing, employment and homelessness
1. How can the county encourage the building of affordable housing?

There are three things that come to mind. First, there is a systemic problem with the way the Council is set up. By Charter, councilmembers can only serve, at most, for eight consecutive years. This produces short sighted approaches. Affordable housing is an issue, among others, which moves in concert with the economy. These economic cycles—from peak to peak, or trough to trough—normally extend beyond the eight year term of a councilman. Therefore, councilmembers nowadays are not able to draw upon first-hand experiences when attacking problems which have reared their heads on a new cycle uptick. That’s a big problem. Second, I think that the county should acquire land for affordable housing development when the market is down. Unfortunately, because of short-sighted thinking (brought on be term limits), the County will typically react to the problem when it becomes florid. By then it is too late and the land is too expensive. Compounding the problem is that when the market is moving, construction costs are very high. Finally, the County must to be able to balance the need for better, safer construction standards and energy efficiency, with the need to realistically understand the impacts that such measures have on the cost of building homes.

2. For decades, economic debates have centered on creating jobs, and jobs were often assumed to be employment with large companies or the government. But efforts to create jobs with large corporate endeavors have often met with fierce local resistance on this island—Oji Paper, the Ka’u private prison, and various proposed resorts come to mind. And Hawaii Island’s economy has always included thousands of people making their livings in other ways, such as self-employment and even subsistence fishing, hunting and farming. Entire communities, such as Holualoa, Hawi, and Honoka`a, have little corporate presence but many locally-owned businesses and home-based entrepreneurs. Given this context, what can the county do to promote more livings of all sorts on this island?

This answer will be done in several parts. First of all, let me say that while other politicians and elected officials have indeed used job creation as a rationale for supporting certain development projects, I am fairly certain that you will find no such references made by me during my time on the council or after. I have always adhered to the belief that job creation is the byproduct of a strong, sustainable economy. In fact, that is precisely the language that I have included in my website: Let’s look at land development, for instance. Many have used job creation as the rallying cry in support of various developments. However, these jobs are short term fixes and not sustainable by nature, unless one considers continuous and unrestrained development as being sustainable. I don’t. So while I support good land based development, large or small, it has never been for the sake of job creation, but rather for the amenities, direct or indirect, that such developments bring. One such amenity, oftentimes overlooked, is health care. Right now, health care is concentrated in a few urban areas of our rural island and, having done most of my legal work in the area of child protection, I have seen the havoc that an inaccessibility to health care can wreak on poor families. So even if the needs of our island’s health cars system have been well-publicized, some people ignore the fact that such inadequacies are somewhat a function of our lack of progressive urbanization.

Next, let me tackle the general assertion that job creation initiative by large corporate endeavors have met with fierce local resistance. It cannot be denied that such statement is accurate and that public resistance has contributed to the doom of many initiatives. However, the resistance has been for a variety of reasons. For example, opposition to the Oji Paper initiative was, as it related to the County, primarily over the use of county-owned lands. Many persons argued that those lands should be made available to local farmers and ranchers rather than a large company from Japan aiming to grow trees for pulp to produce paper. The prison was an example of not-in-my-backyard. Whatever the reason, though, I strongly feel that if any initiative is for the greater good, public resistance should not deter us from trying to advance it.

Finally, with regard to the thousands of people making their livings through self employment or even subsistence, fishing, hunting and farming. You have asked what the County can do to promote more livings of this sort. I am not too sure what this question means. There are two interpretations that I see: 1) what can the county do to promote these types of livings for the individuals involved?; or 2) what can the county do to promote this as an overall industry? For the first question, I will be open to listening to the concerns of people who engage in these livings to see if there are areas where the county could reasonably help them. With regard to the second question, I will not be leading any charge to promote this as an alternate industry for our island.

[addendum, sent later:]
As I am sitting here in the sweltering heat of Riverside CA, I wanted to make one clarification on my response to your question relating to “livings.” This does not answer your question specifically, but I would definitely promote subsistence lifestyles for a homeless village for our, and I emphasize the word “our”, homeless population. Fishing, farming, etc., with wrap around social services. But, as I related previously, I would not devote my energies or public resources toward promoting that type of lifestyle for the general mileu. I’m not necessarily against such a thing, but I don’t think it is something that should be actively advanced by government.

3. Historically, planning for housing and jobs on this island has not been conducted with energy sustainability in mind, as evidenced by the long commute between affordable housing in East Hawaii and jobs at the resort nodes in West Hawaii. What can the county do to put people and livings closer together?

4. How can the county do to get more homeless people into housing without taking their things or putting them in prison?

This will require a great deal of coordination on all levels of government. First we have to classify the homeless people. We don’t want those with severe untreated mental illnesses integrating into the general milieu. In addition, the state needs to step up its funding for the treatment of these people. Then there are those that just don’t want to live in a home. I honestly don’t know what we are going to do about that. But for those who want to live in a safe environment but due to various circumstances are unable to, we can and should help them. A lot of people I have met on my door to door campaign have suggested that we build villages for these people. I think that is an idea that has merit, but there are so many other things that need to be coordinated with such a a plan, ie. wrap around services, construction, amenities in and around such villages, management, etc. Still, we must begin the process.

Crime and prison reform
1. Would you favor the building of a privately-owned prison on the Big Island?

That is a two part question: 1) whether I favor the building of a prison on the Big Island; and 2) if so, whether it should it be privately-owned. With regard to the first part of the question, I’ve always supported the construction of a prison on our island. Too many of our inmates are incarcerated in prisons on the mainland. That’s cruel to them and their families. We have the most land of all the islands in our state. It seems like the sensible thing to do. With regard to the second part, I have always had an inherent aversion to contracting with non-Hawaii companies for projects such as this because it creates an outflow of money from our state.

2. What can the county do to reduce domestic violence and promote domestic harmony on the island?

3. Do you favor the legalization of marijuana? Why or why not?

While I do not favor the legalization of marijuana, I am a realist. For the first time in history, a majority of the American public favors the legalization of marijuana. We must accept that within a very short period of time cannabis will be removed as a Schedule I controlled substance and then legalized by either the federal government or the state. Therefore, I believe that it behooves our state government leaders take proactive measures in bringing together the many segments of our society to begin planning for WHEN cannabis is legalized.

4. What else can the county do to reduce crime and/or lower the number of incarcerated island residents?

Reduce poverty.

1. What is the biggest transportation need in your district and what can be done to meet it?

Not unlike other districts, we need to improve our mass transit system. The situation in Hilo is, of course, not as bad as the rural areas of our island where getting to health care and other appointments is a HUGE problem. Still, I envision the addition of smaller, more nimble vehicles as part of a regularly scheduled circuit connecting the university area, recreational facilities, grade schools, various medical facilities, and shopping areas, among other places.

2. How can the county reduce the amount of driving that its citizens must do?
1. Continue to improve the County mass transit system. 2. Making our urban communities more biker friendly.

Waste and recycling
1. Do you support Mayor Kenoi’s plan to build a waste-to-energy conversion plant in East Hawaii? Why or why not?

see “Important Issues for Hawaii Island,” above

2. What can be done to reduce the amount of solid waste created in Hawaii County?

Increased public education.

1. Do you accept campaign contributions from outside your district?

Yes, but for the primary election, my expenditures will not exceed the amount of money that I put in to my own campaign.

2. Do you support publicly funded elections?

Absolutely not! Don’t get me started on this issue. I have testified before the Hawaii County Council, submitted testimony to the state legislature, written a viewpoint article which was printed by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, and was the sole dissenting attendee of a pro-“Clean Elections” forum held at the UHH. I believe that it is a socialization of our electoral process, unfairly favors incumbents (contrary to the beliefs of program supporters), is a waste of the public’s money, and I am prepared to refute any statistical propaganda used by the proponents to support the success of the program goals.
It is my hope that the County can avoid engaging in divisive issues and concentrate of matters that will positively affect the quality of life for the greater community





0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *