2022 Election: Felicia Cowden
Name on ballot:
Kauai county council
No answer submitted
Previous job history:
Small Business owner-operator 18 years (Hanalei Surf Company), engineer at Intel, education provider, small-scale investor
Previous elected office, if any:
currently in second term as a councilmember
"I hold a committed full-time focus as a council member, 38 years on Kauai, decades of community advocacy with a willingness to work directly with the people to understand their specific challenges to best represent them in finding government solutions where appropriate."
What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what will you do to address that need?
The biggest issue facing Kauai County is too many of our long-standing residents are being pushed off the island through high housing costs and low wages. I will continue to support the budgeting for our Kauai Housing Department’s rapid building efforts and work to pass ordinances that support the state-level removal of barriers to building transitional and affordable housing for our people on the county lists of existing Kauai residents. I am thankful for the recent $15M Ohana Zone monies allocated by our State legislature to the County of Kauai to assist our unsheltered people into safety; tracking this progress will continue to be a passionate priority for me. The statewide allocation $600M for Department of Hawaiian Homelands is long overdue and deserves rapid implementation. Of parallel great importance is siting a new landfill and addressing our solid waste so the Garden Island does not become the Garbage Island.
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?
Partnerships are key. Inflationary pressure is a national problem. The county government experiences these rising costs, as well. Our trend towards Transit Oriented Development of placing living and working areas on bus routes, creating walkable communities with mixed use neighborhoods of commercial and residential living simplifies the costs in life. Embracing public, private, non-profit solutions like our Rise-To-Work program helps participating businesses and workers, alike. There are numerous food provision programs that have supported healthy nutrition. Broadband, fiber-optic improvements are being implemented that improves access to remote work, Telehealth, education, and business development at a lowered cost. The county funnels assistance grants from higher levels of government through non-profit organizations. There is also an understated layer of generosity quietly occurring through our more abundant residents helping youth programs, educational scholarships, medical assistance, cultural support, keeping the arts alive and more. Churches and individuals lovingly reach out to those facing hardships. We mahalo that heart-space and awareness for lifting the entire community. A rising tide lifts all ships.
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness and to make housing more affordable to residents?
Keeping people in their homes is number one. We have Federal rent and mortgage assistance managed through our local Community Development Financial Institution.The County offers buyer readiness training and has our first-time home buyers program underway with county built housing and additional partners such as Habitat for Humanity and Permanent Affordable Living. Affordable Workforce and Senior Housing Rentals are continuing to be built. The Real Property Tax rates have the visitor and part-time resident classes subsidizing the full-time residents. The $15 million Ohana Zone monies allocated by the State legislature gives me some fresh hope for our houseless people. The county’s Kealaula Transitional Housing program that includes wrap-around assistance to help displaced/unsheltered people reorient with modest rent requirements, childcare, health assistance, employment training and assistance into the workforce has been a valuable example of success. My hope is we can rapidly build more of these housing communities in the various areas of the island, included Hawaiian Homelands. Our county housing list is in place to direct support to our existing population. We do what we can. This is a national crisis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
The County has had a strong opportunity to experience what strategies work better than others. With the Federal emergency lifted, we are able to allow the people to rebuild the economy, travel freely and make their own health decisions with a high awareness of the well-being of others. Our Covid numbers are up, but life is largely back to normal and thankfully most who get sick recover to full health. Provision of free testing opportunities continues to be valuable. Opportunities for distance work and attendance to public events should continue to be available wherever feasible. In general, I have confidence in people’s ability to manage their own health strategies with their medical professionals. More access to low-cost health care, good nutrition, encouragement of exercise and disease awareness is my recommendation of where resources would be best targeted.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
There are numerous programs listed in the earlier questions on the direct housing, food, health and employment subsidization. Those programs are what has and is being done to help people. The small business class was hurt the worst and some fell through the holes in the Federal economic safety net. A hard reality is that too many of our small and medium sized businesses have closed permanently due to the pandemic policies. Other people lost their homes or had to sell. Some landlords became permanently discouraged by the eviction moratorium and sold or repurposed the housing. A portion of our workforce left the island, retired early or found remote work, thus leaving the business community unable to find staff and the working class unable to find housing. The county cannot help the people who have left the island nor the cherished businesses we have lost. We need to learn from our mistakes and not easily repeat such a strategy.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make county government more transparent to the public?
The public is an essential part of effective government as the needed balance of direct feedback on policy ideas. We need greater public participation. Pro-active engagement in inviting stakeholder groups into policymaking would be a strong improvement. The Covid stay-at-home and virtual participation shift weakened what was already low involvement. The six-day notification of agendas on various websites or in newspaper classified sections is not apparent enough to inform even the deeply interested. Sunshine Laws, intended to stop collusion, create a system that is not easily transparent to those within government, thus unfortunately creating “silos” of knowledge and authority within departments and layers of government. The Kauai mayor’s video updates on social media are a step in the right direction of training both government and constituents to have active communication and awareness of what is under consideration in county government. Perhaps, elected leaders and commission chairs would do well to emulate this weekly habit. As a council member and program host on KKCR, I regularly discuss council and county items every week (while not in campaign season).
Do you think more needs to be done at the county level to manage tourism? If so, what would you propose?
We need carrying capacity numbers of how many visitors Kauai can comfortably handle at one time. The residential community and the visitors become uncomfortably frustrated when the island is crowded. The Commerce Clause of the US Constitution can be an interpretation on not restricting business growth, so there are various breakpoints, such as rental car lot sizes and resort approval requirements. The Lihue Airport Master Plan is under development, at present, with the recommendation of three more flight arrival gates. That is an area of needed influence, currently underway, to limit this potential to one or less additional gates. Adding 2000 arrivals per day would overly burden our infrastructure that is exhausted at today’s volume. The recent Kauai Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP) emphasizes quality over quantity in outlining visitor plans. Both our DMAP and our recent General Plan envisions a redesign of the visitor expectation to be a visit for the culture and nature of Kauai rather than a location for theme park style self-entertainment as how Hawaii was marketed almost since the time of statehood. We have community agreement that over-tourism is no longer wanted.
What would you propose to help diversify the county’s economy beyond tourism?
Remote work has naturally risen as the significant new diversification of our economy over the last couple of decades and strikingly since the national pandemic policies. Increasing amounts of our existing population have been working remotely as well as new arrivals. This typically introduces external money into our local economy. Our new broadband fiber-optic cabling will expand this capacity. There is little environmental or infrastructure impacts with this type of economic development and minimal need for local government intervention. This creates more opportunity for our young population to stay on the island with income levels that allow them to compete in our economy. Kauai Community College can continue to strengthen as a partner in training for more of these ready opportunities. The worker shortage is demanding a higher, more livable wage. I support this trend. We need to continue to encourage our people who do the heavy lifting of operating the functions of the island as real work, beyond virtual, will always be needed. We are working on ag policies and ag worker housing possibilities that are intended to increase island food and resource resilience.
What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise?
The County of Kauai is working on our climate change adaptation plan to assist communities in participating in their regional strategies. We need to plan for inward and upward roadways, plausibly utilizing and adapting former cane haul roads, especially where our state highways are close to the shoreline. Traffic flow would benefit with the parallel roadways long before the sea level rise is striking. Floods occurring at the same time as king tides is more of a near term threat. The introduced changes humans have made to nature are our strongest challenge with wild overgrowth of albizia, hau and other plants choking the natural flow of our waterways. This causes wetland flooding, stream stagnation and heavy property damage in storms amplified by high tides. Both our traditional Hawaiian people and the plantations had holistic or ahupua`a land management practices that have been abandoned over the past 30-60 years. The trees need to be cut and the rivers need management, regardless of the changes in our culture. Updating our flood/hazard mitigation strategies need updating in the context of the larger land areas with an awareness of the increasing patchwork of the hardened developed parcels.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I am an enthusiastic extrovert that enjoys engaging the public, listening to ideas and working with the people. My passionate interests include neighborhood food production and resilient living. My home is like a small farm. I love learning and am eager to experience the knowledge of the communities around the island. Walking meetings are my favorite. I have the time and am available for the communities of Niihau and Kauai. 808-652-4363