Editor’s Note: In June 2012, Civil Beat sent 10 questions to each of the candidates registered to run for Honolulu City Council District 9. Two of four responded, including 26-year-old junior high school teacher Sy Cullen. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full, and will serve as a resource both to voters deciding for whom to vote at the Aug. 11 primary but also to constituents so they can hold Cullen to his words should he be elected. To see how Cullen’s responses compare to those from his main competitor, click here. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Cullen’s response.

Preferred Candidate Name: Sy Cullen

Date of Birth (MM/DD/YYYY): 1/3/1986

Place of Birth/Hometown: Honolulu, HI/Waipahu

Current Profession/Employer: St. Joseph School Junior High Teacher

Education/Alma Mater(s): BS in Political Science with a minor in Social Science
Western Oregon University
Kamehameha Schools Kapalama
St. Joseph School

1. Do you believe that Honolulu should proceed with the 20-mile elevated rail project from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Shopping Center? Why or why not?

Yes I believe that Honolulu should proceed with the rail project because it will benefit the generations of today and those yet to come on multiple levels. It will help us on a transportation level and also change our livelihood for the better in transforming neighborhoods and how we live. Rail allows Oahu to be more rural friendly in their development. It allows us to “Keep the Country, Country and allowing developers to focus in our urban areas. Rail will relieve pressure on urban Honolulu and give it the opportunity to rebuild and revitalize our urban core with improved infrastructure where most people work. The rail will also regenerate purposeful growth towards Central and West Oahu and it’s overlooked areas bringing with it the socio-economic mobility and providing them with long term jobs and educational opportunities. ↩ back to top

2. Should the city continue to send municipal solid waste to Waimanalo Gulch Landfill until it reaches capacity, should it site a new landfill elsewhere as soon as possible, or should it pursue a different path? Why?

Some waste is not in our direct control, but by businesses that we use every day. However, the reality is that we all make a mountain of trash. More than ever proper waste management is vital. That is why I believe that we should look into improving innovations like H-Power and other similar landfill gas to energy and waste to energy projects. These projects help to reduce emissions that cause climate change and helps address natural resource sustainability. The innovations will allow us to capture greenhouse gases and use it as renewable and sustainable energy reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. It makes garbage collection more resourceful in helping to keep communities clean and maintain public health. Until we can continue to improve and implement such innovations I believe we need to look at all areas of possibilities of a new dump site. ↩ back to top

3. Has the sidewalk ban on stored property, in effect for six months, been a success? What should the city be doing to help Honolulu’s homeless population?

There have been some improvements with the sidewalk ban but with any of these laws similar to this there is need for modification. Sometimes it’s not the law itself but rather the implementation of the law. Also, to the effect of this law trying to deal with homeless population is another issue. It has an effect on the homeless population in that it moves them off certain areas of the sidewalk but these people will continue to find somewhere else and the officers again will have to implement that law. So what we really see is by nature what some homeless is accustomed to, which is a nomadic living style. It’s not the source of solving the homeless problem. We need to work together with the state and the ness and the Hawai’i Interagency Council on Homelessness that was created through the governor’s plan of dealing with homelessness. The city needs to help out in our city streets and parks where there is homelessness in support of the state’s plan. ↩ back to top

4. Should the city consider eliminating property tax exemptions for homeowners, nonprofits and other special interest groups if it means lowering rates? What other steps should the council take to improve Honolulu Hale’s financial picture?

Before we start lowering rates or removing any exemptions we need to understand the core services and ensure the funding for these core services and our infrastructure needs are taken care of. The city needs to be sure that our budget reflects the needs of our community and the entire island. We need to be mindful that we all have a responsibility to share our resources and prioritize our spending and infrastructure investments accordingly. ↩ back to top

5. Relations between the mayor and the City Council have been at times contentious. How would you work to improve those relations?

We definitely need to approach our dealings with a team mindset. I honestly believe that we all have a personal opinion and we have a right to voice our opinion but not in a way that is going to be disrespectful. At the end of the day we need to remember that we are all on the same team, citizens included and we are working towards a greater goal. That goal is a better Hawaii for you and the future generations to thrive in. We as leaders need to set an example filled with morals and values because we know that others are looking at us for guidance and direction. I believe as a leader you need to be of righteous word and action. As a teacher and coach I demand a tremendous amount of respect, responsibility and integrity from my students and players and I don’t ask anything of them that I don’t ask of myself. I believe as city officials we should hold our standards higher in that regard and do what is right, as it is setting an example of how we all should treat each other. ↩ back to top

6. Should the city wait until July 2015 for the recently approved plastic checkout bag ban to take effect, implement something sooner or go a different route? Why?

I like how this will possibly help lessen our environmental footprint. However, the ban does not put a ban on all types of plastic bags. It’s true that people will now be using biodegradable and reusable bags when time comes but it does not mean that people will all of a sudden stop littering and misusing these bags. It could also have an effect for those who commute with groceries and those like the elderly or children who need an efficient way of carrying their items. However, I believe that people need to be educated on how to properly use, reuse and dispose of the items to ensure a sustainable environment. ↩ back to top

7. Do the Oahu General Plan and regional planning documents as currently written need to be overhauled to protect agricultural resources and manage growth or are they sufficient as is? What other steps should the city take to control or promote development?

I believe that the Oahu general plan is a work in progress. More than 4 decades ago, City and State planners, along with community leaders throughout Oahu, purposefully directed growth toward the agricultural lands in Central and West Oahu through the use of the City’s General Plan and its Development and Sustainable Communities plans.

We are now just starting to realize those benefits through the completion of Kualaka’i Parkway, the inner city street grid in Kapolei, the opening of the Kroc Center, the planned opening of UH West Oahu scheduled for this August, and the start of construction of an integrated mass transit system. These are all improvements that our kupuna and trusted community leaders such as Patsy Mink, Mits Shito, C.O. Andy Anderson, Ernest Maltere, Crawford Sullivan, Coach Silva and many others who worked hard and invested much time and effort in bringing forward to this point. We must not waiver in continuing their vision and sacrifice in making these needed improvements come true. ↩ back to top

8. What do you see as the largest long-term challenge facing the city — sewers, water, roads, traffic or something else? What immediate steps will you take to put Honolulu in a stronger position to deal with its largest long-term challenge?

In order to maintain a quality of life that keeps Hawaii a special and unique place in our hearts, I believe the most important issue is how we manage growth. How we manage change in the terms of new jobs and needed economic development and how we harness its energy for our benefit vs. their impacts and concerns will be our most important task that we handle together. Concerns over inadequate infrastructure, traffic congestion, and affordable housing are tied into government’s ability to keep up with economic growth. As your councilmember, I will make it my highest priority to work with county officials to purposefully directed growth toward the agricultural lands in Central and West Oahu through the use of the City’s General Plan and its Development and Sustainable Communities plans in order to “Keep the Country, Country”, preserve Windward Oahu and relieve pressure on urban Honolulu. We need to be sure that our City’s budget reflects the needs of our community and the entire island. I will make sure the City continues to be able to provide the level of service needed by our people. If it means some non-essential projects may need to be delayed so that we can stay within our means, than we will need to delay them. ↩ back to top

9. What would you want to be remembered for as a member of the City Council?

As a person who worked diligently and energetically for the people of Hawaii. Someone who was of great character and exemplified it through the people he worked for and how he treated the people. A person who took ordinary tasks and did them extraordinarily well and that’s what made the difference. ↩ back to top

10. If you could change one city decision of the last two years, what would it be and why?

I am not one to dwell on the past but we could rather learn from past decisions in order to improve what needs to be done in the present. We have no guarantee that if we went back and changed a past decision it would of have the power to have made a difference. The power of making a right choice lies in the present and that’s what we need to do in order to move forward not backward. ↩ back to top