By Fern Gavelek
ADVOCACY—The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce recently welcomed Hawai‘i County leadership to a packed house at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel for the annual Mayoral Focus Luncheon. County department heads provided the 200 attendees with recaps on what they’ve been up to while Chamber staff collected written questions from the crowd. However, time ran about before any questions could be answered.
“We collected about 25 questions and will share them with county leadership and get back to you with the answers via our online Connections newsletter,” noted Wendy Laros, KKCC executive director. “While many of our questions were addressed by department heads during today’s panel presentation, there are some concerns that we’d like feedback on.”
During their updates, county leadership discussed two of the Chamber’s three key priorities for 2019: homelessness and the county permitting process. Mayor Harry Kim addressed the third: supporting the astronomy industry and Maunakea stewardship.
Mayor Kim explains his vision for Maunkea.
Mayor Kim read his vision for Maunakea, saying he hopes “we can all acknowledge the wrongs and intrusions done to the Hawaiian people” as this is needed for healing moving forward. “Maunakea can be an opportunity that gives the gift of aloha,” he emphasized. “Maunakea can bring people together.”
The mayor’s vision focuses on the importance of protecting and preserving the cultural and natural aspect of the state’s tallest mountain. He hopes Mauna Kea can be a model to bring science and culture together peacefully.
Roy Takemoto, Executive Assistant to the Mayor talks about homelessness as David Yamamoto, Director of Public Works looks on.
Chief of Staff Roy Takemoto dived right into the homelessness issue, saying the goals are to “reduce the amount of homelessness, make instances brief and not reoccurring.” And while there are a range of strategies to do that, Takemoto said the county is going to focus on prevention, outreach, providing emergency shelter and then finding permanent housing.
Takemoto cited a way to prevent homelessness is to provide homeless with “bridge loans” so they can make rent during a time of hardship. Outreach and enforcement involve locating homeless and creating a place to provide services and a sense of community support, and that includes mental health services.
“We have found that when police arrest homeless, they end up back on the street,” he noted. “While the county is addressing homelessness, there are also other partners working on this issue.”
Public Works Director David Yamamoto, who was the county’s former building division chief, said he is aware of concerns regarding the county’s permitting process. To address the problems, he said public works is set to roll out several initiatives.
“First, we are moving the permit intake process back to the building division for review,” he shared. “We will introduce an application check list so permits will be complete and eliminate the time-consuming back and forth.” Other improvements in the works include a one permit system that combines building, plumbing and electrical reviews and approvals; a non-refundable review plan that will be credited to the permit fee and charging extra fees for plans needing multiple reviews.
“New software will go up at the end of the year to give greater electronic access for supporting agencies to work concurrently and from remote desktops,” he added. “And we’re always identifying pinch points of the process to do better.”
Regarding road improvements, Yamamoto said the archeological assessment will start soon for the future addition of the Ane Keohokalole Highway from Hina Lani Street to Kaiminani Drive.
Roxcie Waltjen, Director of Parks and Recreation, gives an update about the Kona pool closure
Repairing Kona Pool
Parks & Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen reported the procurement process to fix the filters at the Kona Community Aquatic Center was done in record time and the $450,000 repair will take five to six months. In the meantime, the Konawaena Pool has extended hours and is open daily. She shared all the improvements underway at West Hawai‘i recreation facilities, including a $70,000 Kohala bike/skate project and improvements at several softball fields. She also said the former airport terminal building at Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area will be demolished.
Staffing the Police Force
Stressing “police work can be dangerous all over the island,” Police Chief Paul Ferreira said he especially needs more patrolmen for Puna. In West Hawai‘i, he’s asking for two detective positions and additional sergeants for the Kona and Kohala Districts. “We need more supervision out in the field,” he shared.
Admitting “recruitment and retention is one of the biggest challenges,” the chief noted the county police force numbers “only 450 officers to cover an area that’s larger than all the other islands combined.”
Chef Ferreira asked attendees to take a community survey coming out on April 1 to identify what is and isn’t working. “We are your police department, not the county’s police department,” he concluded.
Mass Transit Reliability
Brenda Carreira, who has been on the job since November as the mass transit administrator, apologized to the crowd for problems with timetable reliability. She said there were only 12 buses covering 33 routes when she started, which required renting services from Roberts and Polynesian Adventure Tours. “Now we have 20 buses and have cut down on rental expenses,” she stated, and there are plans to have four to six new mini-buses by the end of the year. Carreira is hoping to get federal funding for additional buses and that will take “14 to 16 months.”
During the event, attendees had the opportunity to enjoy lunch with representatives from multiple county departments. In closing remarks, Laros thanked the crowd and members of Hawai‘i County leadership for “coming together as a community.”
Before and after the luncheon, attendees browsed booths at the Chamberʻs Business Expo—which was also open to the public. Mahalo to Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union for sponsoring the Focus Luncheon.