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New Year Welcome, 2014

Residents, officials weigh in on top priorities for the New Year

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Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 2:00 am

LIHUE — As residents kick off the new year with a new list of resolutions, including, perhaps, a few old ones from last year, Kauai County officials are doing the same and setting their sights on new goals for 2014.

So what do those lists look like?

What are the important issues heading into the New Year?

It depends on whom you ask.

The answers, it turned out, were as diverse as the views and voices of the county’s leaders.

Those goals ranged from Councilman Ross Kagawa’s suggestion to bringing back night football games for the entire KIF and youth football seasons to Councilman Gary Hooser’s mission to protect, preserve and expand coastal and mauka access to public resource and recreation.

There were, however, several overlapping key issues identified as a priority by county officials and several community members, including expanding affordable housing opportunities and bolstering The Kauai Bus service.

Ed Volungis, who moved to Kauai from Las Vegas about a decade ago, said times have been tough for him and other residents who work stable jobs but struggle to pay their rent each month.

In the nearly 10  years that he has been on the island, Volungis said Kauai has become his home.

“I’m committed to being out here and this is one of the nicest places to live,” Volungis said. “It’s supposed to be one of the nicest islands on the planet.”

But the struggle to make ends meet became even more real last month, while Volungis said he was moving out of his old apartment in Lihue and searching for a new one.

“There’s nothing available that’s affordable and it’s hard to find a room to rent — you have to beg and then sit on a waiting list just to get a room,” said Volungis, who is now renting a room in Hanamaulu and is on a waiting list for his own place.

“They make it hard for people to stay out here,” he added. “When you want to start out all over again, it’s hard to get a second chance ... but I’m motivated to stay out here. I almost bought a ticket and went back to Vegas, but you know something, I would be right back where I started.”

It is a problem that could be solved with more transitional housing opportunities that would allow people to rent units on a weekly or monthly basis until they can get back on their feet, he said, which is why he put more transitional housing as a top county issue for 2014.

“Finding an apartment out here is just like finding a job,” Volungis said. “Finding a job is supposed to be hard but finding a place is supposed to be easy, but here, it’s almost the same and just as hard.”

Preston McCain agreed and said he too has been struggling to support himself and find a place ever since he was struck by a car in October while walking on the crosswalk at the intersection of Eiwa and Rice streets.

“After I got hit, the money just wasn’t there anymore,” McCain, a former painting contractor, said. “Everyone wants first month’s rent, last month’s rent and everything else. By the time you pay everything off, you have nothing left.”

County officials say, however, that some progress is on the horizon.

“2014 promises to be a very good year for affordable housing projects,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. wrote in an email.

This outlook, Carvalho wrote, is based on several projects scheduled to begin within the next few months.

In a few weeks, Kauai Habitat for Humanity officials said the nonprofit’s volunteers will break ground on the second phase of its Eleele Iluna subdivision, which calls for the construction of 48 lots.

Exterior rehabilitation work for 73 units at Lihue Court Townhomes is also scheduled to begin in February.

During March and April, construction is also scheduled to begin for the first phase of Rice Camp Kupuna Housing in Lihue and Kolopua in Princeville, which will open up a total of 104 affordable housing units when the projects are complete.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro also identified “affordable rental housing within the concentrated employment centers on the island” to be one of his goals for next year.

As a part of her top goals for next year, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she will continue to work with the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee to update the affordable housing ordinance.

The move, she explained, is being done “to ensure the most effective and fair way for the county to work with developers in providing well designed, energy efficient, permanently affordable housing close to work places and needed services.”

But those aren’t the only issues that she’s looking at for 2014.

Another goal, Yukimura said, is securing “a sustainable funding for the Kauai Bus, so the county can provide better and expanded bus service over the next 25 years.”

It is an initiative that Anahola resident Billy Baker said he would welcome instead of other county projects like the proposed roadway changes to Hardy Street.

“We need bus service on the weekends,” Baker said. “Some people have to work on the weekends, too, you know? I use the bus and pay about $300 a year for a bus pass, so it would be nice to go to places on the weekends and have a little more dependability past 4 o’clock.”  

In his goals for this year, Carvalho said construction on the first of 49 bus shelters is expected begin in the spring.

Another common issue identified by some County Council members included “improving the conditions of our county roads around the entire island,” according to an email from Councilman Ross Kagawa.

The goal, Furfaro wrote, is to keep “county road maintenance improvements within a seven or eight year resurfacing cycle rather than the 10-to-12-year cycle currently in place.”

Another lingering issue, Yukimura pointed out, is the need to accelerate the county’s landfill diversion efforts, such as recycling and composting programs, so that “we can extend the life of our existing landfill.”

These efforts would, she said, avoid a potential $9 million price tag on retrofitting and Kekaha landfill avoid possible tax and fee hikes.

Carvalho said the county is also working on two ordinances that will require commercial businesses to recycle more of certain materials, such as construction and demolition debris.

As a part of that initiative, Carvalho said the county is also working to identify a site for a materials recovery facility and begin the environmental assessment on that project sometime this year.

• Darin Moriki, county government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com. Follow him on Twitter at @darinmoriki.

© 2015 Thegardenisland.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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