Name on ballot:
Luke A Evslin
Kauai county council
council race is nonpartisan
Kamanu Composites- co-owner.
Previous job history:
Civil Beat – Columnist; Island School- substitute teacher
Previous elected office, if any:
Kaua’i County Council- 2018
Please describe your qualifications to represent the voters of your county.
I have been the co-owner of a business for 13 years, managing finance, human resources, and customer service; I am the final 3 weeks of a masters degree in public administration with a certificate in public policy from USC and am finishing up my thesis on the future of public spaces post-COVID; I have lived on Kaua’i my entire life (except for college and a brief stint on O’ahu); and I am a young father struggling to afford housing on Kaua’i.
What will be your top priority if elected?
Reducing the cost of housing is my top priority as it impacts every other issue that we face. We can’t ensure economic diversification if young people can’t afford to take a risk on starting a business. We can’t increase educational outcomes if we have a teacher shortage because teachers can’t afford a house. We can’t increase opportunities for farming as long as properties are more profitable growing houses than crops. We can’t make a significant impact reducing carbon emissions as long as we keep building most of our new homes far from job centers which require lengthy commutes.
While the County Council has limited power for so many of our systemic issues — we have full authority over the density, location, and form of development. We need to use these tools to continually break down barriers to housing development within and around our town cores and we need to remove red tape and fees to ensure that families can easily add on a unit for their children or aging parents or just to get some rental income. We also need to use property taxes to further disincentive vacant home ownership and vacation rentals while incentivizing affordable rentals.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
Mayor Kawakami and his team along with Dr. Berreman from the Department of Health made the correct decisions for Kauai in quickly shutting down the island. Going forward, masks and continued efforts at social distancing are our first line of defense. At the moment, we are in an OK place without rising case counts, but I am concerned that if the situation deteriorates and COVID-19 begins to become widespread on the island, we again will need to shut down certain high-risk settings, like gyms, churches, and indoor dining.
While I know that there are a number of legal and implementation barriers, I believe that the quarantine duration can be reduced significantly with adequate testing of visitors both before they leave for Hawai’i and after they arrive in Hawai’i (ideally after five or six days). This will allow us to restart tourism, and to do it in a way that is safe and effective. With growing levels of depression and anxiety nationwide along with mounting evidence for the relative safety of the outdoors in reducing the chances of spreading COVID-19, I believe we also need to encourage the use of outdoor public spaces for social connection, recreation, and exercise.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
We need to do all we can to ensure our residents are fed Because we’ve so-far been spared from some of the deeper health impacts of COVID-19, we are able to spend our $28 million CARES Act allocation mostly on responding to the economic crisis. That means we were able to allocate around $10m in non-profit grants for agencies that can help solve community problems or ramp up employment as well as $5m in small business grants and continued funding for food distribution.
But, to stabilize our economy and provide a foundation for it to rebuild, we need to prioritize health and safety. As we can see with states and cities beginning to shut down again on the mainland due to rising case counts, the only way that we’ll have any economy is to keep our COVID-19 numbers low. Most indicators show that we have somewhere around six months before we can expect viable therapeutics and a vaccine. There is no easy path through these next six nightmarish months but we need to take every measure, such as those described above, to keep roofs over people’s heads, food in their refrigerator, and to keep as many small businesses alive as possible.
Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the county deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?
I do not support furloughs or downsizing. During any economic downturn, it is vital that the county pulls every lever it can to stabilize and revitalize the economy. In the face of declining revenue, that means prioritizing expenses that put money into the local economy such as social services, infrastructure projects, grants in aid, and employee salaries. We can ensure that the county budget acts as an economic stimulus by taking advantage of low-interest bonds and municipal liquidity facilities for infrastructure projects, as well as leveraging county money to access federal grants through, for example, affordable housing construction.
But, in the event of a long or deep recession, we will ultimately need to find new sources of county revenue as well as continue to make painful cuts to our budget.
New sources of revenue can be through paid parking for tourists at beach parks as well as by expanding our current residential investor property tax rate to ensure that vacant homes are paying their fair share of property taxes. As cuts are made, we need to first look at any money that flows off-island, like new equipment purchases and travel and training.
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness?
Homelessness has a variety of different causes, including high housing costs, a lack of economic opportunity, mental illness, and substance abuse — and so it has to be addressed from a variety of different levels. Because homelessness correlates to the cost of housing (higher housing costs, more homelessness) we need to do everything possible to reduce the cost of housing on Kauai ,which I discuss more in question 9.
Along with reducing the cost of housing island-wide and more subsidized housing for working families that cannot afford a market-priced home, we also need a Housing First policy, where those who cannot work have access to a clean, safe and healthy home environment. These policies aren’t only a moral imperative, but they have been shown nationwide to save money due to reduced health care and first-responder costs. The county is already moving in this direction in a number of ways, including building tiny home villages for the homeless.
Lastly, the state needs to invest more in-patient services for those suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Excessive use of force by the police is an issue of national concern and I think it is vital that we reform use of force policies nationwide, starting with looking at our use of force policies on Kauai. That said, we are fortunate to have a police department where the officers mostly come from our small community where everyone is connected in some way as well as a department that reflects the ethnic makeup of our island. Due at least partially to that, we have very, very low numbers of complaints of excessive use of force and I don’t know of a single complaint or lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by members of the Kauai Police Department.
While excessive police violence isn’t as big of an issue on Kauai as it is elsewhere, the systemic racism that is part of the cause is just as prevalent in Hawaii as elsewhere and needs to be rooted out through policy. For example, Native Hawaiians still suffer from discriminatory lending practices and are more likely to live in areas where they will be impacted by pollution or other environmental hazards, we have zoning codes which were developed exclusively to keep low-income people out of certain neighborhoods, and we have entire communities that are left out of the political process.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
Along with exposing deep flaws in government and widening existing rifts in our economy, COVID-19 has also brought us together in countless ways. Within days, everyone had a hand-sewn mask. Neighbors delivered food to each other and checked in on kupuna. Everywhere on Kauai you’re greeted by smiling faces and a helping hand. Our island’s biggest strength is our sense of community.
Because of the reduced risk of transmitting COVID-19 outdoors, I believe that it’s vital for us to revitalize our outdoor public spaces as a way to increase social connectivity, health, and resilience. As we face a prolonged period of social distancing which is already leading to anxiety and depression and a host of other negative outcomes nationwide, I believe that we need to ensure safe opportunities for the types of social connections that help foster community.
This means everything from making it easier for restaurants and coffee shops to add outdoor seating, utilizing federal stimulus money to invest in our public parks, investing in the tools (such as paid parking for tourists) to ensure that residents have priority in our beach parks, and, for the long term, designing our towns and communities around public places that can provide both a sense of place and social connection.
View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2020 Hawaii elections coverage.