Land use issues, road repairs and the financial health of the city top concerns among the two candidates challenging Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin for the Council District 2 seat.
Martin didn’t respond to an interview request for this story, or numerous other interview requests from Civil Beat over the past six months on a range of issues facing the city. But his reluctance to talk to the media hasn’t spilled over into his visibility with the public as he campaigns for re-election.
His Twitter account shows that he’s been actively sign-waving in District 2, which includes Mililani mauka and Wahiawa, as well as the beach towns that wrap around the North Shore, from Mokuleia to Kahaluu. This includes the surf town of Haleiwa, as well as the famed Sunset Beach community and lush upcountry town of Pupukea, areas where bohemian surf culture meets extreme wealth.
For Dan Hara, a financial advisor from Mililani, this is his first political bid. Dave Burlew, an organic farmer from Waialua, is also a relative political newcomer, though he previously served on the North Shore Neighborhood Board.
Neither has raised any money for his City Council bids, according to campaign spending reports. Meanwhile, Martin had about $317,000 in contributions as of the end of June.
Burlew said his top concern for the district, where the slogan “Keep the Country Country” dots signs along the road and bumper stickers, is the effect that increasing development is having on agricultural sustainability.
“I understand the need for development and jobs, but I think we need to weigh the consequences if we lose the country,” he said.
He supports development in the urban core, such as Kakaako, but says that the country needs to be preserved and opposes the Envision Laie, a $38 million redevelopment plan that includes some 800 homes on ranch land.
Burlew’s also concerned about the planned Koa Ridge development, which would include up to 3,500 homes and commercial spaces between Waipio and Mililani, and the expansion of the Turtle Bay resort.
The state recently brokered a $48.5 million deal with Turtle Bay developers that will protect more than 600 acres of the property from development, but Burlew said he remained concerned about the new hotels and housing that the developer still intends to build on other parts of the property.
“Everyone is happy to a degree that compromise was met, which is a good thing,” he said of the Turtle Bay deal. “But it’s still going to increase their buildings and footprint, which is going to increase the traffic on our already challenged highway. People come up here on the weekend and everyone knows they are going to be sitting in traffic for a while.”
If he’s elected to the City Council, Burlew says one of the things he would focus on is increasing community gardens in public parks.
“The county could even generate revenue by having small leases for plots for people to grow food,” he said.
Hara’s top concern for the district is road maintenance.
Mayor Kirk Cadwell has made repaving 1,500 lane miles of substandard roads a top priority of his administration. Last year, the city repaved more than 300 lane miles and the mayor plans to spend some $100 million in the 2015 fiscal year to continue his road repaving plan.
Still, Hara said more needs to be done.
He said that it was hard to cite his top priorities for the district overall because of its diversity.
He rattled off the main issues facing the various communities without taking specific positions on them.
But it’s not district-specific concerns that have prompted Hara’s City Council bid. Rather, the financial advisor is worried about the city’s financial health, specifically its unfunded liability and debt service.
Hara said that the city has about $4.7 billion in outstanding debt and an unfunded pension liability of approximately $1 billion, which he called “cause for alarm.”
“If it’s not fixed within the next four-year cycle, we are going to be in a lot of trouble,” said Hara.
Hara and Burlew are up against a popular and well-known council member. Burlew conceded as much, while Hara said that Martin had strengths and weaknesses.
Martin, who is also an attorney, has led the City Council since 2011. He exudes a laid-back confidence at council meetings, often joking with colleagues and people who testify in front of the Council.
In recent months, Martin has sought to increase funding to tackle the city’s homeless problem. He led a move to insert $32 million into the 2015 fiscal year budget for moving homeless into shelters or long-term housing, boosting funding already proposed by Caldwell.
He’s also working to fast-track bills that would ban sitting or lying on sidewalks and urinating or defecating in public in the areas of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. The bills are aimed at addressing the homeless problem.
A former director of the city’s Department of Community services, Martin also been a champion of increasing funding for Oahu’s nonprofits.
He successfully passed a Grants-in-Aid program that doles out about $5 million a year to dozens of nonprofits, such as Lanakila Meals on Wheels, American National Red Cross, After-School All Stars Hawaii, Moiliili Community Center and Special Olympics Hawaii.