Name on ballot:
Luke A Evslin
Kauai county council
No answer submitted
teacher, business owner, councilmember
Previous job history:
Kayak tour guide, retail store worker, canoe builder, newspaper columnist
Previous elected office, if any:
two terms on the Kaua’i County Council
Please describe your qualifications to represent the voters of your county.
I have been the co-owner of a small manufacturing business for 15 years, managing finance, human resources, and customer service; I have a Master’s degree in public administration with a certificate in public policy from USC; I have lived on Kaua’i my entire life (except for college and a brief stint on O’ahu); I part-time teach 10th grade Hawaiian History and American Government; I have served four years on the Kaua’i County Council; and I am a young father struggling to afford housing on Kaua’i.
What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what will you do to address that need?
Reducing the cost of housing is our most pressing need– 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.
Rising inflation has significantly worsened Hawaii’s already high cost of living. What can be done at the county level to help residents cope with high consumer prices?
The skyrocketing cost of housing and gas represent the majority of inflation. Housing is addressed in both the questions immediately above and below, so please refer to my answers there. For the cost of gas, it’s important to recognize that gas is a global commodity– and so locally there isn’t a lot that we can do to bring down the price. But, there are long term alternatives.
Number one, we need to build our communities in a way that people can choose to live close to where they work– so they’re not forced into long and costly commutes. For Kaua’i, that primarily means focusing on reducing the imbalance between jobs and housing in Lihu’e (nearly 60% of the jobs and just 25% of the island’s housing) by building lots more housing in Lihu’e. But it also means helping reduce zoning and other barriers to create jobs in communities other than Lihu’e, so people can find work close to their homes.
We also need to ramp up support for electric vehicle charging infrastructure through direct subsidies and by requiring that a percentage of newly constructed parking stalls have conduit and a receptacle for a future charging station (which is cheap to do during new construction and 5x the price to retrofit afterwards). Because KIUC has so much renewable power on the grid, unlike the other islands, the price of electricity here has remained relatively buffered by high oil prices. Meaning that for many electric vehicles, they are much cheaper to own (maintenance costs on EVs are a fraction of gasoline powered cars) and operate than their corresponding fossil fuel counterparts (as charging a car with electricity is much, much cheaper than filling it with gas). And, here on Kaua’i, you can be assured that our electricity will remain forever buffered from fluctuations in the oil market. While the County can’t directly help consumers with the purchase of an EV, we can help ensure that we build out the requisite charging capacity.
We also need to expand the Kaua’ bus to 30 minute intervals, to give residents more options to commute to work.
While none of these are short-term solutions, interest rate hikes by the Fed and, hopefully, similar rate hikes by other central banks internationally will do far more to reduce demand for gas and help bring prices down to earth than anything we can do at a local level. But, even when prices come back down– this work is still vital because we need to be better prepared for inevitable future volatility in energy markets and because each of these steps also has beneficial secondary impacts (such as reducing the cost of housing and reducing our carbon emissions).
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness and to make housing more affordable to residents?
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. We need to work with the State to ensure more access to inpatient treatment services on Kaua’i, we need to replicate the Pua Loke Kealaula transitional housing project to ensure that anyone who needs can have access to a clean, safe, and healthy home environment, and, most importantly, we need to reduce the cost of housing on Kaua’i.
Below are five guiding principles to reduce the cost of housing on Kaua’i:
1) We need to build more homes in and around our existing towns. Every study on affordability includes increasing supply as a prerequisite for affordability. This is the first decade since statehood where home construction on Kaua’i has fallen far below our population growth — and it’s this lack of homes that is the driver of our exploding costs.
2) We need to put more money toward affordable housing to leverage private, state, and federal funds. The County is currently pursuing three large housing projects in Kilauea, Waimea and ‘Ele’ele. We need the funding to make these happen.
3) We need to continually strive to make it easier for families to add on additional units (ARUs or ADUs) for their parents, children or long-term renters.
4) We need to build the infrastructure for more townhouses and condos in Lihu’e. These are the only non-subsidized units that can be built within a truly affordable range for many young families.
5) We need to continue raising property taxes on vacant second homes and vacation rentals, which make up one in five homes on Kaua’i. An effective tax rate for these homes can incentivize them to convert to resident housing and help fund the construction of affordable housing.
In line with these five general principles, I’ve introduced or co-introduced the following legislation over the last four years:
– Eliminate all fees for affordable accessory residential units (ARUs);
– Provide Kaua’i homeowners with free septic systems;
– Prohibit community covenants from restricting against additional units and long-term rentals;
– Allow the construction of ARUs in the Lihu’e town core;
– Reduce the building code requirements for tiny houses;
– Eliminate minimum lot size restrictions for multi-family homes;
– Allocate 2% of real property tax revenue annually toward affordable housing (still in process);
– Incentivize residential space on top of commercial space through tax exemptions;
– Create a tiered tax structure to allow us to increase tax rates on high-value vacant houses and vacation rentals to fund affordable housing and incentivize those units to convert to long-term rentals (still in process);
– Increase the vacation rental property tax rate to disincentivize vacation rentals and apply nearly all of the money raised to affordable housing (measure failed).
If re-elected, I will continue to work on policies like those outlined above to help reduce the cost of housing for Kaua’i residents.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
The County Council has no authority over emergency orders to protect health. Given that vaccines are universally available and that they are incredibly successful at preventing severe illness and death, I don’t think the County needs to take further emergency actions. However, because caseloads are still high, because there are real long term health risks from COVID, and because immunocompromised and non-vaccinated individuals continue to be at relatively high risk from COVID– I think that individuals should still stay vigilant to avoid the spread of COVID by wearing a high quality mask when in crowded indoor spaces and shifting dining and socialization outdoors when possible. In the long-term, I do think that there is a role for the County Council along these lines to develop the policy to make it easier for restaurants to move outdoors and to invest more in vibrant outdoor public spaces.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
Everyone deserves to have access to healthcare, food, and housing– regardless of their economic situation. The Federal Government provides the bulk of support for food and healthcare funneled down through the State (i.e. Medicaid funding through Quest) and they provide some support for housing through various funding mechanisms. However, federal support for housing is not funded nearly well enough to ensure that all low-income residents or those temporarily impacted by the pandemic have access to a home. We can see evidence for this every time a family is forced to move into a beach park or move off island. It’s on this front that I think that the County needs to provide more funding. I tried (and failed) to increase vacation rental property taxes and allocate the $4.5M in annual revenue towards affordable housing. And, if re-elected, I will try again next term. And I have co-introduced a proposal to allocate 2% of real property tax revenue towards affordable housing, which will help leverage more state and federal money as well as ensure that the housing agency can access revenue bonds to pay for large affordable housing and infrastructure projects.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make county government more transparent to the public?
One of the major problems that we face in local government is the lack of trust from the public. And, to be effective and to work on some of the big and systemic changes that we need to solve our problems, we need to work hard to regain the public’s trust. While the Sunshine Law does create some barriers for effective policy making, it is effective at ensuring that all deliberation happens in an open and public format. The issue that I’ve heard recently is that especially during COVID, some public records requests are taking longer than required by law. I think ensuring that we comply with all public records requests within 10 days is an important component of transparency.
Do you think more needs to be done at the county level to manage tourism? If so, what would you propose?
Kauai is already over-capacity for tourists. The county has no legal authority to enact an arrival fee or cap the number of visitors. The best tools that we have to achieve similar ends are through user fees, property taxes and zoning.
In 2020, I co-introduced a bill to give the county Parks Department the authority to charge tourists a fee to park at beach parks. The Parks Department is currently working on implementing the legislation for Black Pot, Lydgate and Poipu Beach Park.
During the budget process, I have repeatedly tried to increase the vacation rental property tax rate to equal the resort property tax rate — with nearly all of the revenue raised allocated toward affordable housing. While the measure has failed both times, I’m committed to try again next year.
While the primary intention for both measures is to raise much-needed money for infrastructure and housing, they are also important tools to increase the cost of traveling to Kauai to help regain some sense of balance.
Lastly, we need to be vigilant in our zoning powers to ensure that we are not adding any new resort zoning and to better regulate the vacation rental industry.
What would you propose to help diversify the county’s economy beyond tourism?
We cannot achieve economic diversification if the next generation can’t afford to live here. You can’t take a risk on starting a business if you can’t afford rent. And a primary barrier for many businesses right now is attracting and retaining employees– which stems at least partially from the high cost of housing. While I think that the State and Federal governments can play an important role in helping support both agriculture and domestic manufacturing– for the County, I see our primary role in stimulating the economy as reducing the cost of housing, investing in vibrant and walkable town cores, reducing zoning barriers to small home-based businesses, and ensuring that real farmers are paying very minimal property taxes.
What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise?
Every land use decision has to be based around a future of rising seas and stronger storms. The county is currently developing a climate resilience and adaptation plan which will include detailed policies to equitably retreat from rising seas and a framework on how and where to build resilient infrastructure and housing. We already have some of the strongest setback laws in the state and the Planning Department has been really innovative in coming out with other tools to ensure that newly built homes aren’t built within the sea level rise exposure area.
There is no avoiding some of the disastrous impacts of climate change, but we can do our part to avoid the worst possible scenarios by reducing our carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. And by doing so, we can also keep money in our local economy and save residents money. It’s not a coincidence that KIUC’s electricity rates are the lowest in the State AND that we have by far the most renewable energy on the grid. As decarbonization and saving money go hand in hand. While I anticipate that KIUC will get to 100% renewable far ahead of schedule, we need to fully decarbonize ground transportation and do all we can to reduce emissions from our landfill.
When you account for the cost of gasoline on an average commute and the cost of maintenance, many electric vehicles are already cheaper to own and operate than their fossil fuel counterparts. And, every year they come down in price. For many, the barrier to converting to an EV is access to charging stations. The County needs to help fill this void by requiring that a certain percentage of parking stalls in new commercial and multi-family construction be EV-ready (meaning that it has the conduit, receptacle, and amperage in place for an EV-charger, without having to rip up the parking lot in the future), we need to help reimburse property owners for installing EV chargers, and we need to facilitate access to the $16M in Federal EV infrastructure money getting funneled through the State.
We need to also continue to reform our zoning codes to reduce the amount that people have to drive. As we push development into our agricultural areas, we’re forcing residents into longer and longer commutes. By reversing that trend through some of the land use policies discussed in the previous question on housing, we can reduce carbon emissions while saving residents time and money by giving them an option to live close to where they work.
Lastly, we need to divert food waste from our landfill to composting facilities. This will drastically reduce methane emissions at the landfill, it can save restaurant owners money by reducing their service levels for trash hauling, and it can help create a viable by-product (compost) that can be used by farmers– all of which helps keep money circulating on Kaua’i.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
Serving Kaua’i these last four years has been the greatest honor of my life and I am incredibly grateful to the voters for giving me this opportunity. The problems we face are graver than ever, but I am confident that we have the tools as a county to reduce the cost of housing while transitioning to a zero carbon economy– and to do it all while improving our quality of life and strengthening our communities. Please check out my website at www.lukeevslin.com to see a full list of policies that I’ve worked on and a list of proposed policies for the future. Please don’t hesitate to reach out via email (email@example.com) or phone (635-6623) if you have any questions for me.
View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.