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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
District 6 includes portions of Makiki, downtown Honolulu, Punchbowl, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu, Alewa Heights, Papakolea, Fort Shafter, Moanalua, Halawa, Aiea, Kalihi Valley, and portions of Liliha and Kalihi.
Name: Joli Tokusato
Office: Honolulu City Council District 6
Profession: Hotel guests services representative
Education: Waiakea High School
Community organizations: UniteHere Local 5, AiKea, and Faith Action for Community Equity (F.A.C.E.).
1. Why are you running for the Honolulu City Council?
I am running for the Honolulu City Council because I care about my neighbors and our community. Those of us who live and work in Honolulu’s urban core know first-hand how ineffective our city leadership has been in tackling our most critical issues: homelessness and affordable housing, core city management (including traffic, transportation, and resource management), and land use.
I have spoken with lawmakers and regularly testify before the Honolulu City Council. I am frustrated that proposals offered by the community are pushed to the side to further interests of corporations and major donors. I represent the experience and voice of those living in District 6. Given the opportunity to serve, I will fight for laws and policies that strengthen our shared Hawaii by strengthening our middle class. I will fight to make Hawaii a place where working people are respected, where our keiki and kupuna are cared for, and where the least among us are not forgotten.
2. A recent survey found that homelessness has increased by 30 percent on Oahu in the past five years. How would you tackle the problem?
I am dismayed that homelessness is worsening and that our current lawmakers cannot effectively address this issue by implementing long-term solutions. I have worked in Waikiki for nearly 24 years and understand the impact homelessness has on tourism, as well as how unsustainable development contributes to homelessness. When city lawmakers sell us out to their largest campaign contributors,corporations pocket short-term profits and burden hard-working people and subsequent generations with the long-term costs. After widening the inequality gap between the mega-rich landowner/developers and minimum-wage earners (who can’t keep up with skyrocketing costs of living in Honolulu), our city leaders point the finger at the homeless as if they are the source of the problem — not the result of poor decisions and policies.
For example, our city lawmakers mandated that all public restrooms be locked for the night. Though increased safety was the goal, unforeseen circumstances resulted: public lewdness from people being forced to relieve themselves in public, additional burdens on city staff tasked with locking up restrooms, and tax dollars wasted in the processing of the violations by the Prosecutor’s Office, in the paying of police officers for time in district courts, and by the state judiciary.
The more we criminalize a citizen for being destitute, disabled and/or disenfranchised, the more difficult we make it for them to get back on track. For some houseless, the city-funded shelters feel like prisons or internment camps with guards and rules that are designed to address some of the needs of some of the population. Yet such a rigid structure forces some to remain jobless as they must meet a curfew and cannot take work that requires a flexible schedule.
We need alternative housing options for individuals who cannot live in captivity, who cannot sleep, bathe, or eat on an imposed schedule. We need to reopen the public restrooms and install more public toilets like they have in Paris and London. The City Council must partner with state policymakers working to address homelessness. Together, we can apply for federal funding to implement a multi-pronged approach. The existing shelters, which work for some, must remain in place. However, increased access to drug-treatment programs, health care, and mental health services can address the critical needs of the homeless community so that individuals with capacity can be connected to employment and a path to self-sufficiency. We must also be willing to find housing and health services for those individuals who are incapacitated and cannot sustain employment or be self-sufficient.
Implementing all of these solutions would be less costly to our society than the expense of arresting, processing and recycling houseless humans through our criminal justice system.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. Do you think the City Council should play a role in trying to make housing more affordable?
Our City Council has played an active role in creating laws that facilitate our runaway housing market, depletion of affordable housing, and current homelessness crisis. Lawmakers must not raise property taxes on elderly residents on a fixed income. Instead, lawmakers can demand that the very rich pay their fair share of the taxes. Property taxes on second homes (any home or residential property that does not serve as a primary residence to an owner or renter) should be significantly increased. We need to implement scaled conveyance taxes that discourage “flipping” property as commodity — and balance that with scaled tax-credits that encourage multi-unit landlords to rent a portion of their units to no/low-income renters. As long-term tenants increase their earnings, landlords can raise their rents and then offer a tax-credit subsidized unit to a new no/low-income tenant ensuring that landlords can continue to offer affordable units.
4. Honolulu has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Some see rail as part of the solution. What other strategies should the city employ to alleviate congestion?
Our bus system was considered one of the best in the nation and cutting bus routes was a mistake. We should reward bus riders with cheaper fares, more routes and more express buses so that more riders can have a seat. We could increase occupancy requirements for the HOV lanes, which would increase neighbor ride-share opportunities, like the one that started in the Bay Area during the BART boycott.
We also need to take care of our bicyclists with more designated bike lanes and ad campaigns that increase driver education and decrease car-on-bike accidents. The state passed “Complete Street” legislation — however, it was enacted without funding. As city roads are improved, we can ensure our streets are safe and usable for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
We also need to examine the current barriers to fully actualize the “second city” concept in Kapolei. It is critical that City Council members, state lawmakers, and planners collaborate to maximize traffic-abatement opportunities created by the new communities on the west side. Rather than allow money-driven developers to dictate what easements and public improvements they will “give” to the city, our City Council can drive the creation of new public spaces and infrastructure that make sense. For example, can the city help the University of Hawaii address the needs of the University of Hawaii West Oahu campus to increase enrollment and options for people living west of the airport?
5. The mayor unsuccessfully sought to create additional sources of revenue for the city this year, including charging residents for trash pick-up and placing ads on the outside of buses. Do you think the city needs to boost its revenue? If so, what types of proposals would you support?
The city does need to boost revenue. One reason I am running for office is because the City Council “deferred” an opportunity to maintain an existing tax base in the industry that drives our economy. In the visitor industry alone, we have lost thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue — Transient Accommodations Taxes and General Excise Taxes — that the city relies upon to run the functions of government. With deferrals such as Bill 16, which would have stopped the hotel-to-condo conversions which are hurting the hotel industry and diminishing our tax base; taxpayers are then left to make up for those losses. We need legislation that makes sense.
We need to ensure that the steps we take to boost revenue are not regressive taxes on the poor or needless giveaways to the wealthiest citizens. For instance, electric car owners are able to afford new cars and should not be given free parking. While I applaud the less-harmful environmental impact of electric cars, their owners are already sidestepping state gas taxes that help to pay for some of the roads they drive on. We cannot afford to lose out on even the smallest of revenue.
6. The City Council often has to sign-off on important development decisions. Where do you stand on the development of Kakaako, transit-oriented development and the Envision Laie plan?
We must have affordable and integrated housing opportunities in Kakaako. The artist and small business communities that have revitalized the area must not be exploited as a marketing concept to further gentrify the area and sell luxury condos. We must ensure that the artists can afford to live there, create there, and grow old there. There should be a commitment to small local businesses by prohibiting leases to national chain stores and restaurants.
Honolulu is not the first urban sprawl community to be retrofitted for an elevated rail system. We need to learn from the long-term mistakes and successes of these other municipalities. I support smart growth within the urban corridor, including transit-oriented developments, so that we can preserve the city’s rural and agricultural areas.
I believe that those of us who live in Honolulu’s urban core support keeping the country, country. We need to protect our rural and agricultural communities from developers and zoning exemptions that allow corporations to exploit the lands and communities they claim to protect and serve. The massive development proposal known as Envision Laie is an attempt to move the urban boundary into a State Agricultural District in Malaekahana. I support the recommendations of the city-appointed Planning Advisory Committee for Koolau Loa, which recommended building affordable housing within the existing community of Laie (as approved in the 1990’s). I feel that the Department of Planning and Permitting made a huge mistake by revising Bill 47 to include this unfortunate and untimely project.
7. Local officials have become increasingly concerned that a long history of leaks at the Navy’s Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility, mauka of Pearl Harbor, could contaminate drinking water supplies. What steps do you think Navy and government officials should be taking to address the issue?
The health and safety of the community is my priority. Clean drinking water is the kuleana of the city and county. Immediate action is required. Our city has an obligation to exhaust every legal recourse to force the U.S. Navy to prioritize repairing its leaking tanks and pay for the resulting harms from neglect. After 9/11, it was considered an act of terrorism to contaminate any municipal water supply. Yet when this is done by our own government, there is silence. We need lawmakers who will use their positions of power and access to ensure the people are protected. Our city officials have done little to organize themselves and our state lawmakers to demand that the U.S. government take action. We need to work with our representatives in Congress to bring more attention to this emergency before permanent damage is done. Without a vigilant City Council making this a priority, one of our most critical natural resources is placed at risk forever.
8. What do you think of Mayor Kirk Caldwell? Is he doing a good job?
Like everyone who has a job, there is always room for improvement. Our representative democracy functions best when there are checks and balances. A productive collaboration is important; however, the City Council must hold the mayor accountable when necessary to advance the best interests of our community.
9. Do you think details about police officer misconduct should be made public? If so, why?
As a union member, I believe in the grievance process. Police officers must be afforded a fair review; however, because they serve the public, they also must face the same level of scrutiny as every public employee. Once a claim is exhausted and validated, only those who are culpable of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty should be identified.
City leaders must prevent and address police misconduct so that the public can truly believe in the police force and its principles of “integrity, respect, and fairness.” We need to invest in a police force that works smart: avoiding excessive use of force (including the overuse of Tasers beyond what the U.S. General Accountability Office prescribes), appropriately serving people with mental health issues and perceptable disabilities, implementing officer-worn, tamper-proof cameras that records audio and visual footage, and allowing external auditors to review complaints of police misconduct.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Many of the issues our city faces stem from the disconnect between government and the hard-working citizens of our community. I believe that everyone in Hawaii should be able to work, learn, have a place to live, and enjoy our islands.
I want to live in the Hawaii I grew up in — where my father was able to be the sole provider for his family of seven on a construction-worker salary. With his one job, he could afford to buy our family a home and still spend time with us.
It is time to restore our thriving middle class and restore the dignity of hard-working people in Hawaii. Given the opportunity to serve, I will fight for laws and policies that strengthen Hawaii for all working people.