Political newcomer Dru Kanuha is no novice when it comes to Kona history or some of the long-standing issues facing the newly created Central Kona district.
Unopposed for the County Council seat in that district, Kanuha is now councilman-elect. He will take office in December.
Kanuha, 28, said one small-but-important project he wants to tackle first is the long-promised Alii Kai subdivision park. It’s a park that was promised four decades ago, but has languished ever since. Kanuha said he questioned reports in recent years that said the park’s price tag had gone into the millions.
The county really just needs to put in “a few spaces for families, a basketball court,” none of which should cost more than a couple of hundred thousand dollars, Kanuha said Friday.
He’s on board with the idea behind impact fees, but he said he was open about just how those should be levied. He said he was concerned about island residents facing another hurdle to owning a home, which some people have used as an argument against impact fees.
“I always thought there was a need for certain developers to give back to a community,” Kanuha said, referring in particular to the need for parks and other infrastructure.
Kanuha, a graduate of Kealakehe High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a minor in business administration, from the University of San Diego. When he returned to Hawaii, he worked a year with state Sen. Clayton Hee, an Oahu Democrat, then moved to Kona and worked for Kamehameha Schools in the land assets division. He recently resigned from that position to prepare in earnest for his forthcoming position on the County Council.
He named Hee, Mayor Billy Kenoi and former Kona Councilman Curtis Tyler as Hawaii politicians whom he admires.
Hee “got what he needs for his district,” Kanuha said. “(Kenoi) knows how to get the hearts of the people. He treats everybody as equals.”
Tyler, as a council member, “was a fighter for Kona,” Kanuha added.
His decision to run for council was a result, in part, of realizing he was in the right place at the right time.
“I’ve always had the interest,” he said, adding he has been involved in community service for years. He served on the Hawaii Island Burial Council, the Hawaii County Redistricting Commission, the Alii Drive Scenic Byway Committee and was previously on the Kai Opua Canoe Club board.
He’s previously stated his support for the Kona Community Development Plan, and said he’s planning to meet with the advisory committee prior to taking office, to get a better understanding of the document. Hawaii County officials haven’t always taken the strongest stance in following the plan — Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, not long after starting the job, allowed a Kona subdivision a gated entry, despite the plan’s prohibition on gated communities. Kanuha said he doesn’t favor allowing exemptions to that provision in particular, because those gates discourage road connectivity, which is a big issue in Kona.
Kanuha is also planning to sit down with county department heads to learn more about what each department does. He said he’s more familiar with the Parks and Recreation Department and what it does than, say, the Finance Department. And while he tried to read through the county’s budget on his own, he found it difficult to understand fully, something a meeting with the department will be able to help.