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The Honolulu City Council’s District 6 covers much of Oahu’s urban core — including downtown Honolulu and a portion of the up-and-coming Kakaako — so it’s not surprising that high-profile issues such as homelessness, development and affordable housing are at play in the four-way Council race.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga is attempting to win a second term over three challengers, including Sam Aiona, a former state representative and past chair of the Hawaii Republican Party. He lost to Fukunaga by about 1,300 votes in a 2012 special election to replace Tulsi Gabbard, who was elected to Congress that year.
Meanwhile, the powerful Local 5 union, representing hotel workers, has thrown its weight behind one of its own. Joli Tokusato, a hotel worker and union member, said she decided to run after Fukunaga deferred a union-backed bill that would stymy the conversion of hotels into condominiums.
According to Local 5, hundreds of hotel jobs, particularly in Waikiki, have been lost in recent years because of the conversions.
Steve Miller, a phone technician, is also running and stressing fiscal responsibility. He supports the privatization of city services, such as garbage pickup, to reduce the longterm burden of health and pension benefits on the city’s budget. He also favors the legalization of marijuana to bring in more tax revenues for the city.
AiKea Unite Here, an independent expenditure committee, also known as a Super PAC, created by Local 5, has waged an aggressive campaign against Fukunaga, emphasizing her rejection of the hotel-condo conversion bill.
Fukunaga has said that the bill was legally flawed.
AiKea has also painted Fukunaga as beholden to the interests of developers over those of the working class and elderly.
If you want to “stop hotels from becoming condos and cutting jobs,” then vote for Tokusato, one AiKea mailer reads. But if you want to “give tax breaks to developers,” then vote for Fukunaga.
Another mailer includes a glum-looking senior citizen with the caption, “Carol Fukunaga Forgot Us.”
Tokusato has distanced herself from the ads. Campaign spending laws forbid a candidate from collaborating with a Super PAC.
Fukunaga has fought back with her own mailers, including one that shows a smiling senior citizen captioned, “Carol Fukunaga Never Forgets Us.”
Her mailers also accuse AiKea of flooding District 6 mailboxes with misinformation.
All four candidates cite homelessness or the lack of affordable housing as the top concerns for their district, though they differ on strategies for addressing the problems.
Fukunaga has been a supporter of the city’s Housing First strategy aimed at moving the homeless into apartments and then providing them with substance abuse and mental health treatment if needed. She helped secure some $3 million this fiscal year to address homelessness in her district, including expanding the number of beds for the chronic homeless.
She also proposed an ordinance that bans sitting or lying on sidewalks in Chinatown in response to a similar bill recently proposed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell that pertains to Waikiki. However, those bills were tabled last week.
The sidewalk ban is part of a larger strategy, dubbed “compassionate disruption” by the mayor, that includes enforcing city nuisance laws such as bans on public intoxication and sleeping in parks, to prod homeless into shelters.
Fukunaga said she proposed Bill 44 at the request of downtown businesses worried that stricter enforcement of Waikiki nuisance laws and a ban on sitting and lying on sidewalks would encourage the homeless to relocate to the Chinatown area, already its own hub for the homeless.
Fukunaga introduced a resolution that passed the City Council in January that requires the city to identify locations for restrooms in downtown and Chinatown in response to homeless people defecating and urinating on the streets.
However, she said that the possible location of restrooms in the area has become controversial with businesses worried that it would further encourage additional homeless people to stay there.
“Residents and businesses have noted that the location of that restroom facility has to be carefully thought through,” she said. “Because if we have a facility in a location that is otherwise a magnet for the homeless and people to come to that site, then it can have an impact on surrounding businesses.”
Another top concern for Fukunaga is the lack of affordable housing, particularly in Kakaako. She says that the “gap group,” those earning from 60 to 80 percent of the area median income — or about $41,000 to $55,000 for a single person — are being shut out of the housing market.
“That’s a large chunk of the affordable housing needs right now,” she said.
Fukunaga supports building micro-units that are affordable to students and seniors.
The city’s compassionate disruption campaign has been controversial, and Fukunaga’s opponents have criticized it.
Miller said he supported Housing First. But he said that the compassionate disruption tactics amount to “criminalizing the homeless.” He also called sweeps of homeless camps a waste of money that should be spent on housing or support services.
Miller also supports the idea of “safe zones,” outdoor areas where homeless encampments are allowed, and include water and bathroom facilities and a 24-hour-a-day police presence to ensure the area is safe.
Tokusato, who said she wants to emphasize the needs of the working class, also opposes aggressive tactics aimed at “disrupting” the homeless.
“I don’t believe we should criminalize the homeless, they are already destitute and disenfranchised,” she said. “It takes resources to arrest and put them through the judicial system, so I don’t think that is the proper way to handle things.”
Tokusato said that one of the keys to addressing the homeless situation is creating more affordable housing.
“I’m going to be different because I am going to be speaking for the people who are like me, the ones that are not well off and don’t have a lot of money,” said Tokusato.
Aiona said that he too supported the city’s Housing First strategy, but that more thought needed to be given to the long-term housing strategy and how to eventually move people out of the housing.
As a former board member of the Public Housing Authority, he said he’s seen people stay in public housing for decades.
“I’ll tell you, they aren’t going to leave,” he said.
The most important issue for Aiona is his district’s lack of affordable housing.
“That is what prompted me to get into the race,” he said. “We have an opportunity to build affordable housing in Kakaako and I think we are blowing it.”
“I’m not against development, but I would like to see more affordable homes in Kakaako and other places around the rail corridor, which is something as a council member I will strongly advocate for.”