Wednesday | May 24, 2017
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Safarik seeks to improve transportation in county

Gary Safarik, a former County Council chairman running for the Democratic nomination for the state Senate’s 2nd District, said transportation issues are the district’s most pressing problem.

For one, he said, “there’s a disconnect between where the buses run on the main highways and not in the subdivisions. It’s almost as if, in order to ride the bus, you have to have a car.”

The subdivisions don’t connect, either, which also leads to transportation problems and traffic backups, Safarik, 63, said. Further, Puna has only one state highway that runs into its lower regions.

“We need to have an alternate route coming out of Puna,” Safarik said. “That would probably be a county, state and federal partnership.”

If elected, Safarik said he wants to get more of Lower Puna and eastern Ka‘u’s transportation projects on the Statewide Transportation Improvements Project list. He proposed smaller buses or vans that could make trips into the subdivisions to alleviate some of the lack of access to public transportation in those areas.

Geothermal is one of the most risky alternative energy sources, Safarik said. He said he supports having a buffer zone, with no houses around any geothermal plants, up-to-date evacuation plans and more transparency from Ormat Technologies, the company that runs the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, and other companies involved.

Reducing Hawaii’s dependence upon fossil fuels is particularly difficult because only 7 percent of the fossil fuels that come to the state are used for energy, Safarik said. The vast majority of fuel is used for gasoline for cars and jet fuel for airplanes.

“We would definitely have to find an alternative to driving,” if the state wanted to use less fossil fuels, he said.

Safarik said he supports the state moving away from its reliance on imported foods. He’d like to see children being taught to be more excited about growing their own food and for farmers to get help covering their expenses.

Looking at the state Department of Education, Safarik said he doesn’t think teachers “being held accountable for a federal mandate like test scores” is fair. He also said he would like to see more parity in funding for charter schools.

Certain areas of state spending — Safarik used school bus funding as an example — “should not be touched,” and the state needs to have policies to make that clear, he said.

An islandwide, and statewide, issue he would like to address is land use policy.

He said he was concerned about “unbridled, unplanned” growth. He’d like to see state land use policy do more to encourage using land for agricultural purposes.

Safarik said he did not support any tax increases.

He said if state departments wanted to increase any user fees, he would need to evaluate the request.

The state has some areas in which it could be “more prudent” in how it is spending tax revenues, he said. One area, he said, are the tax credits and incentives business get when owners claim they will create new jobs.

“Nine times out of 10, they fail,” he said, adding the state could be more careful with those incentives.