UPDATED 12/31/12 9:15 a.m.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Honolulu Managing Director Doug Chin as saying that Honolulu Councilman-elect Joey Manahan would vote in favor of a second Sand Island sewage digester. Chin does not know how Manahan plans to vote and said that Manahan has asked to defer the issue to January so that he may speak to more constituents about the issue.
Kirk Caldwell may have been elected Honolulu mayor because of his support for the city rail project, but as leader of Hawaii’s most populous island he’ll also have a host of other issues to tackle.
But the honeymoon will be a short one. Experts say his administration faces a steady stream of pressing tasks, many of which are compounded by federal budget concerns.
The so-called fiscal cliff will likely push budget re-management to the top of Caldwell’s to-do list, said John Hart, chair of Hawaii Pacific University’s Communication Department. And the challenge, said Hart, is all the more daunting given the loss of Hawaii’s two longtime senators, both of whom brought home federal funds for the city budget.
“In terms of budget issues, he has to start planning now,” Hart said. “He needs to decide how we’re going to best raise our money and how we’re going to best spend it.”
One boon going into budget season for Caldwell will be the pending sale of 12 affordable housing complexes to a group of private developers.
The sale, slated to close in March, will bring in $142 million, creating a one-time income stream that Caldwell can choose how to spend, said outgoing city managing director Doug Chin.
Caldwell did not return a call for comment on Friday.
Of course, all this will all have to be done with one eye on the $5.26 billion Honolulu rail project that Caldwell committed to “building better.”
Caldwell’s next order of business is ramping up funding for upcoming construction, Chin said. Chin suspects that conversations will soon revolve around what types of short-term bonds the city should issue to maintain cash flow for the project.
“I think what you’ll end up seeing is an interesting discussion about what the city should be borrowing,” said Chin.
But that’s only part of the picture. Upon his inauguration the mayor-to-be will have to address and resolve urgent infrastructure issues.
Chin said one of the most critical decisions Caldwell faces is whether or not the city will go through with plans to build a second wastewater treatment facility on Sand Island.
Former city Councilman Romy Cachola, whose district includes Sand Island, last year quashed plans to build a second sludge digester, also known as a backup component system. The facility would relieve the current over-capacity digester at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“The longer that the Honolulu area goes without a backup component system, the more problems that creates for developers down the road because they’re going to need that capacity to be able to tap into for projects they’re going to build,” said Chin.
The City Council had been expected to vote on the funding the $21 million system this month. Cachola’s replacement, Councilman Joey Manahan, asked to defer the vote allocating $21 million to the project so he could hear from constituents on the issue.1
Honolulu’s sewage and water infrastructure are in dire need of repairs, too. Honolulu’s sewer and water pipes rupture and overflow on a regular basis, causing road closures, public embarrassment and untold amounts of environmental degradation.
Councilman Stanley Chang, who chairs the Public Works and Sustainability committee, said he expects Caldwell will abide by the city’s global consent decree with the federal government, which was approved in 2010 and mandates a quarter-century of improvements to sewage infrastructure.
Such improvements, Chang said, involve expanding the capacity of all the island’s sewage facilities and redeveloping infrastructure in areas that currently lack proper sewers. Chang also urged that Caldwell continue efforts to convert sewage sludge into energy.
“Given his previous experience, I think the mayor-elect will have a good picture of several points in a program that he’ll like to set right away,” Chang said. “I think he’ll find that some of the issues are really very much in need of new ideas and new approaches.”
Land-use and development were key issues during the election and won’t be fading from view anytime soon.
During the campaign, “Keep the Country Country” advocates openly criticized Caldwell for espousing the slogan while supporting the controversial Envision Laie plan, which would create a subdivision with more homes, a shopping center and office buildings in the North Shore town. The Koolauloa Sustainable Communities Plan, which touches on Envision Laie, is expected to be addressed in January by the city Planning Commission, according to Chin.
What do to with the island’s agricultural lands is another hot-button issue, Chin added, noting that the city is in the process of mapping out which areas should be reserved as farmland.
“The city has been tasked with coming up with a way to designate different parts of the land as agricultural, and I think that’s very important because, as much as the city is always going to be considering development as a priority, it also has to be considering preservation and conservation, food security, sustainability,” he said.
Caldwell also has a range of other nitty-gritty issues to address, including road maintenance.
Many of Oahu’s streets are riddled with potholes and need repaving. Still, Chin pointed out that the city in recent years has spent record amounts of money on repairing roads. It appropriated $100 million to such projects for the 2012 fiscal year.
“The reason roads are in condition they are is because so little was put into them [10 years ago],” said Chin, indicating that any funding approved during Caldwell’s administration will likely be put to use years down the line. “To get them fixed takes multi-year commitment.”
Chang said he hopes that Caldwell will make use of the city’s new pavement management system, which has documented the quality of all city roads across the island. The program, whose report is expected to be published shortly, evaluated roads based on a 100-point scale.
Caldwell also has his token campaign promise to consider when he takes office Jan. 2: He said he’d put soap in all the public bathrooms. (Watch a video report about the state of Honolulu’s restrooms.)
HPU’s Hart said such a task would be easier than others.
“I think it’s things like that that are possible to deliver, and it would be wise to deliver them early,” said Hart. “They can be quick accomplishments compared to challenges such as mass management of the budget. That was what Bill Clinton was the master at: the little victories, doing what you could do.”