Editor’s Note: In June 2012, Civil Beat sent 10 questions to each of the four candidates registered to run for Honolulu mayor. Three of them responded, including former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full, and will serve as a resource both to voters deciding whom to vote for at the Aug. 11 primary but also to constituents so they can hold Caldwell to his words should he be re-elected. To see how Caldwell’s responses compare to those from rivals Peter Carlisle and Ben Cayetano, click here. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Caldwell’s response.
1. If elected, what will you do to mitigate the nation’s worst traffic congestion in the near term — within your four-year term? This would presumably exclude both rail and BRT (bus rapid transit) as those technologies will take longer than four years to implement.
Both Ben and Peter are single issue candidates. Ben is all about killing rail. Peter is all about building rail, telling everyone to get out of the way, it’s my way or the highway, including extending the excise tax. I am about building rail better and much, much more. I have submitted my “Road Map” for the City & County of Honolulu, and rail is a small component of the issues we need to face as a community. It will take eight to ten years to build the twenty mile segment of our rail system. In the meantime all the other issues that a city has to deal with on a day-to-day basis must be addressed, many of them health and safety issues, which is the number one job of any mayor. [My June 2012 Road Map is available at http://www.kirkcaldwell.com/roadmap-for-our-future/]
In the interim, traffic will grow worse unless mitigation efforts are undertaken on an ongoing basis. Peter is failing to do so in any meaningful way and in some ways he is contributing to the problem.
First, Peter is cutting back bus service on Routes 55 and 65 that serve some of our most rural districts, dooming bus riders to wait in the dark in the early morning or evening hours to get to work or home. The only choice is to travel by car which impacts congestion. We should be encouraging greater bus ridership, not less. While the price of diesel fuel is increasing, instead of mandating a cut in service to balance the budget for The Bus, funding or savings from other programs should be found to continue our award winning bus service. I would work with my department heads and City Council to find the funds to continue bus service, particularly in the rural areas.
Second, Peter recently cut the ribbon for the first phase of the Joint Traffic Management Center, something long planned and funded before Peter became Mayor. What Peter did not mention to the press at his ribbon cutting ceremony is that there are only two City employees managing the City’s entire traffic light synchronization program. Two people for all the traffic lights around the island and some of them are getting knocked down every week in traffic accidents and mishaps. This program needs to be strengthened with adequate personal to avoid complete burnout of the two individuals managing the program. With a full complement of staff we could better synchronize our traffic lights, improving the flow of traffic.
Third, if we do not manage traffic properly around the areas where rail is being constructed, such as along Farrington Highway in Waipahu, traffic congestion may worsen in the short term. This is where the Mayor must make certain that a strong traffic management plan is not only designed but also implemented, and that provisions are included in construction contracts so that contractors have incentive to mitigate traffic congestion. ↩ 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?
As Mayor I would stop all efforts to site a new landfill somewhere else on Oahu. We don’t need nor do we want any more landfills on our island. During the seven to ten years it would take to site a new landfill, including conducting a complete and thorough EIS and working with the community in which the landfill will be located, I would find alternatives for the small percentage of garbage that we still divert to the landfill at Waimanalo Gulch. Other countries have reached this goal and in an island community such as ours I believe we can, too. This would include issuing RFPs to develop alternative uses for the ash from the City’s H-Power facility, and to breakdown garbage that currently cannot be burned or recycled into material that can be burned, that generates energy, or that can be converted to other usable resources. As for the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, I would do two things. One, I would mine the landfill for garbage that years ago had been disposed of that can now be burned in the mass burn third boiler and for materials that can now be recycled. In this way, we would reduce and then eliminate the need for this landfill, except in times of natural disaster where debris would be stored on a temporary basis until it could be burned or disposed of in some other way. During this seven to ten year interim period, I would develop a meaningful community benefits package for Makakilo and the Nanakuli and Waianae coast for the burden of having the landfill in their neighborhoods. This would include a second access road for Makakilo, a district park in the Nanakuli/Waianae area, and a second access road for the Nanakuli and the Waianae coast. ↩ 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?
I worked hard on the sidewalk ban legislation while I was the Managing Director of the City and as Acting Mayor. Unfortunately this legislation did not pass while I was at the City. But I remain so passionate about the issue that I continued to move forward on the legislation even after I left the City and worked with Council Member Gabbard who took the bill, worked on it to address remaining concerns, and got it passed and enacted into law. It is an effective bill, but as with all ordinances it comes down to enforcement. Peter’s administration, while initially using the ordinance as an effective tool, has stopped making use of the ordinance, and hence we have seen an increase of homeless people and others camping on our sidewalks.
Instead of simply moving the homeless from sidewalk to sidewalk, a tactic embraced by Peter’s administration, I would be working closely with the Governor’s homeless czar by prioritizing homelessness and working with state and county agencies along with private providers to resolve the multiple, complex issues of homelessness. We need to find a better way to help that part of the homeless population that becomes homeless because of mental illness or addictions. When I was working at the City, we were working on a Housing First Model which focuses on providing shelter first, with support services available on-site. Peter recently repackaged this idea by calling it the “Pathways” project. The time to talk has long passed; I am committed to finding a site and starting this project.
At the end of the day, it is affordability that affects the rate of homelessness in a community. Affordability is vital for those who are on the verge of homelessness or are homeless. On an island such as ours, one of the ways the City can help facilitate affordable housing is to encourage it around rail transit stations through transit oriented development. This can be done through tax increment financing and other incentives provided by the City to developers to build truly affordable housing. By developing housing around transit stations, working families can save more of their hard earned dollars by not needing a car since they are provided the additional option of using rail along with the bus to get to and from work and to commute to other places around town. This savings can then be used towards rent or to purchase an apartment. ↩ 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? Why?
Eliminating the real property tax exemptions for homeowners to lower tax rates is a regressive tax that hits those homeowners who reside in their homes, who may be on a fixed income, and who may be dramatically impacted by any increase in the amount of real property taxes they must pay. The $80,000 exemption for individuals of any age who own and occupy their homes promotes home ownership in a county where the average price of a home is one the highest in the United States. The additional $40,000 exemption for homeowners 65 years of age and older allows for a $120,000 exemption from the tax-assessed value of their homes. This helps seniors age in place as their retire and go on fixed income, while helping these seniors balance increasing medical costs with the cost of maintaining and living in their homes.
The Real Property Tax Commission recently addressed the issue of these homeowner and other types of exemptions. Many of these exemptions were put in place to meet direct social needs in our community. For example, I believe that places of learning, such as preschools, should be provided a real property tax exemption of some sort. This is just one instance where problems may be created by an outright repeal of exemptions.
A better way to eliminate the pressure on real property tax rates is to encourage and expedite the development of residential and resort and commercial building projects in Waikiki and the urban core areas of downtown and Kakaako, such as the International Market Place project, the Hilton Hawaiian Village project, the Nordstrom project and the A& B projects. Some of these projects will create housing in the urban core, and thereby help to relieve pressure to build in our “keep country, country” areas. Other projects will result in new product in Waikiki, increasing our ability to compete in the international tourism market. The projects also create enhanced real property tax values in these urban and resort zoned areas and grows our tax base without raising the real property tax rate. A good example of this is the Aulani Resort, which is now generating millions of dollars in additional real property taxes. ↩ back to top
5. Would subsuming the Board of Water Supply into the city administration help it address infrastructure improvements without raising rates? Or is continued semi-autonomy the way to go? Why?
I do not support subsuming the Board of Water Supply into the City administration. A semi-autonomous Board of Water Supply acting more like a public utility serves the public better and it takes some of the politics out of the decision-making process. As Mayor, I would coordinate with the Department of Transportation Services to make sure that as the Board of Water Supply rebuilds its aging water main system, the roads are torn up only once, saving money for city taxpayers and causing less inconvenience for our residents.
The good news is that the Board of Water Supply has refinanced its revenue bonds, thereby reducing the interest rate it is paying on these bonds, and resulting in lower expenditures. In addition, the Board is managing its rate increases to help ensure that it has funds to rebuild the City’s aging water system. As Mayor, I will urge the mayor-appointed board members and the City’s chief engineer to carefully review the rate increases to assure that they are reasonable in the light of the needed upgrades. ↩ 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 think the Honolulu City Council deserves a big round of applause for passing its plastic checkout bag ban. This is long time in coming and it is great that Honolulu joins its sister counties in banning plastic bags. I would have preferred the “Plastic Bag Fee Program” where customers would be charged a fee for each bag until the effective date of the ban in 2015 that was contained in the earlier version of the bill. I can appreciate the concern of the Council that such a “Program” could be challenged in court without supplemental State legislation. As Mayor I would work with the State legislature next session to expressly permit Honolulu to charge a fee until 2015 in order to give our residents a transition period in which they would have a choice on using plastic bags or using their own bag or paper bags provided by the store. I also would seek to amend the legislation to encourage the use of bio-plastics made from cornstarch and other plant based materials as they decompose in a much more environmentally friendly manner than standard biodegradable bags that are made from petrochemical-based materials similar to those used for conventional plastic bags. ↩ 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?
The current General Plan was adopted in 1977, and was last updated in 2002. It is time for another needed update. The City’s ongoing program to update the eight regional Development Plans and Sustainable Communities Plans is moving forward, but not as fast as I would like it to. The Department of Planning and Permitting is finding that the General Plan’s directed growth policy has been effective in directing growth to the Primary Urban Center, Ewa and Central Oahu. This includes protecting valuable agricultural land outside the General Plan’s urban growth boundaries from the pressures of development. This is a good thing as it helps “keep the country, country.” By this I mean the communities from Kahe Point through the Waianae Coast to Waialua to the North Shore to Kaneohe to Kailua to Waimanalo and the other communities along these coastlines.
Having said this, Oahu’s agricultural industry has undergone a fundamental shift since the General Plan was first adopted in 1977, with the demise of plantation agriculture. It is hard to believe that as late as the early 1990s, sugarcane was still being grown in Ewa and parts of Kapolei. Change can happen very quickly. As a result of this demise in plantation agriculture, there are approximately 30,000 acres of productive agricultural land on Oahu that are fallow or used for low-value grazing. Our agricultural industry has been finding it difficult to find new uses for this former plantation land. The City’s challenge is to identify and preserve Oahu’s agricultural resources. This includes identifying and preserving Oahu’s best A and B designated agricultural lands outside the urban growth boundary, locating and preserving water resources, and maintaining and preserving irrigation systems and road networks leftover from the plantation days. This prevents existing farmers and those who want to get into farming from accessing and making productive use of fallow acreage. The City also must undertake efforts to encourage food production on Oahu by revamping its zoning and permitting requirements for agricultural land and by reducing other roadblocks for farmers who are attempting to manage a business with a very thin profit margin.
Approximately 85% of the crops grown on Oahu are exported. Data suggests that a greater volume of food can be grown and consumed on Oahu, and grocers say they could sell more local produce than is currently grown on Oahu. Therefore, I will push for a review of the General Plan with amendments that place agriculture on Oahu in a central sustainable role that includes providing a larger market share for food grown for the residents of our island. I will fight to preserve and protect high-quality agricultural lands outside the urban growth boundary and make sure that this goal is included in the General Plan. The focus should be equal to the focus devoted to the directed growth policy called for in the current General Plan. ↩ back to top
8. The Honolulu City Council last year added funding for road maintenance, and did so again this year. But the mayor ultimately has the power to spend or not spend the money. What’s an appropriate funding level for annual road maintenance — be specific, please — and why?
I believe the Honolulu City Council took the right action for the second year in a row and put back or added more funding for road maintenance and repair than what was proposed in Peter’s budget. Peter wants to “bend the debt curve” by cutting back on funding for road maintenance and repair during the worst recession since the Great Depression. President Herbert Hover followed the same type of general approach that contributed to the deepening of the Great Depression. I believe that now is the right time to increase our road maintenance and repair efforts. Because of the ongoing Great Recession, bond interest rates are very low, meaning the City could do more road repaving with the funds appropriated by the City Council. Furthermore, as we found out when I as Managing Director and we expedited approximately $150 million in road repaving, bids come in lower during a recession because contractors are hungry for work, meaning that we could do more miles of road repaving for the same amount of money. In addition, putting more work out on the streets in road repaving would mean more jobs now, when we need them the most to help our residents climb out of our lingering recession. Finally, and most importantly, we could have better-maintained roads for our residents, meaning we could reduce the wear and tear on cars, and reduce accidents and congestion caused by dodging potholes and driving on uneven road surfaces.
As for the appropriate funding level, I think we should look at the FY11 CIP budget for the City, submitted in 2010 when I was Managing Director. The Six-Year CIP schedule for Road Rehabilitation shows a $77 million appropriation for FY11 and a $73 million appropriation for each year after that until 2016. I think this is a base starting point and I would look to increase this amount depending on the condition of our economy, our City revenues and the condition of our highways, streets and roads. I would also focus on resurfacing more of our moderately damaged roads with slurry seal so that we can get more life out of our roads before having to repave them, saving taxpayer dollars. ↩ back to top
9. If you could change one city decision of the last two years, what would it be and why?
I would reverse Peter’s decision placing a five-year moratorium on issuing building permits in the Pearl City and Aiea area due to exceeding the capacity of the City’s sewer system in this area. I believe the City needs to work on a short-term solution to this problem, while also addressing the long-term solution of rebuilding the City’s sewer system in this area, which will take years to complete. This is why it is so important to proceed with implementing the City’s Consent Decree for rebuilding our sewer system in the most expeditious manner possible so that we not only meet deadlines, but finish upgrading our sewer system in advance of these deadlines. The moratorium put in place by Peter affects the area where rail is going and where transit oriented development is to take place around rail stations. This will have a dramatic negative impact on development in this area for both homeowners and the creation of badly needed jobs. ↩ back to top
10. If elected, what would your first three actions be immediately after you’re sworn in?
One, I would meet with the management staff of each of the departments in the City to set priorities so that we can work most effectively together to get the City working again. I would continue this style of management by getting out from behind my desk and meeting with departments throughout my term because that is what mayors should do.
Two, I would expedite current and previously appropriated road work projects so that road repaving work is out on the streets faster. We would proceed until all the work is bid, contracts are signed, and the projects are finished.
Three, I would facilitate the major construction projects on Oahu, starting with sewers and rail and proceeding to private construction projects, so that we set plans and deadlines to ensure that the work is done, starting with the building of the short term and long solution to the City’s sewer over-capacity problem in the Pearl City and Aiea area. ↩ back to top