Speeding cars, pedestrian fatalities and crime are top concerns for Honolulu City Council candidates in the race to represent District 8, the heavily suburban area of central Oahu where housing developments and strip malls proliferate.
Councilman Breene Harimoto is giving up the seat to run for the state Senate — a race he is sure to win because he has no opponents.
Four candidates, all political newcomers, are vying to replace him in the district that includes Waipahu, Pearlridge, Lower Aiea, Pearl City, Waipio Gentry, Seaview, Crestview, Newtown and Waimalu.
This includes a former Air Force colonel, a public relations and communications professional, a medical supplies manager and Harimoto’s legislative aide.
Russ Grunch, who recently secured the endorsement of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, is preparing to retire from a 40-year career as a colonel and civilian logistics manager for the U.S. Air Force. He also serves on the Aiea Neighborhood Board.
Grunch cites his experience with managing budgets and complex organizations as credentials for serving in the City Council and says he wants to bring greater efficiencies and cost-savings to city government.
But hazardous traffic conditions and pedestrian accidents prompted him to run. Four people have been killed by cars within a mile of his Pearlridge condo in the past couple of years, he said.
“It is extremely dangerous. People have been killed,” he said of the traffic. “Everyone is complaining to the city about putting speed bumps in to slow traffic down, and the city has ignored us completely. And that started to get me mad.”
Grunch said in addition to installing speed bumps, the city should improve motorist visibility around driveways and street corners and increase fines for drivers entering pedestrian lanes when people are crossing.
The traffic in the district is already bad, but it’s set to get worse over the next four years with major construction projects under way, including the Honolulu rail project, H-1 improvements, a Kamehameha Highway sewage pipe replacement project and high-rises going up at the former site of the Kam Drive-In in Aiea, notes Grunch.
He says that the state, city and developers need to have better project coordination to make sure all their projects aren’t going on at once.
As transit-oriented development projects begin to transform the rail line, including stops in his district, Grunch also says that there needs to be better planning to make neighborhoods more bike and pedestrian friendly. To this end, he says he would work with developers to put in pedestrian bridges connecting Kam Drive-In, Pearl Ridge Mall and residential developments.
To fund the bridges, he said the city should seek grants from the federal government or environmental groups.
“Congress funded a ‘bridge to nowhere,’ I’m sure we could get a pedestrian crosswalk funded,” he said in reference to the proposed Alaska bridge in Ketchikan that its advocates hope will link the city to the airport.
Baybee Hufana-Ablan, works for Quality Medical Supply Corporation, serves on the Pearl City Neighborhood Board and is a member of a number of community organizations, including the Oahu Filipino Community Council and the United Filipino Council of Hawaii.
She also worked as an executive assistant for the city and as a senior advisor to the director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department.
Hufana-Ablan also cites pedestrian traffic accidents as a major issue for her district and says that crosswalks should have better lighting and street signs warning people to slow down.
She also says that the system of traffic lights needs to be improved to ease stop and go traffic.
“There are a lot of traffic lights in Pearl City, that is one traffic issue,” she said. “We got to expand the time limit to keep (traffic moving). It should be much better. You pass one stop light and then it stops again. It’s so fast.”
Hufana-Ablan says she is also concerned about the number of burglaries in the district.
Brandon Elefante, Harimoto’s legislative aide, shares that concern. At 28, he’s the youngest candidate to compete in the District 8 race. Having grown up in the area and worked closely on city issues with Harimoto, he says he is well equipped to lead the district.
While going door-to-door campaigning, he said he found that many of the homes on one street in Pearl City had been burglarized multiple times.
If elected, he said he would work with first responders to make sure the community is safe.
“It all starts with neighbors watching out for neighbors, increasing awareness of what to look for and educating people about calling 911,” he said.
Elefante also cited traffic congestion as a top issue and said there needs to be more coordination between the state and city on road projects, including the Honolulu rail project.
Brysen Poulton, is CEO of Kukulu Manao, a communications firm. He also spent about eight years working in various positions for the state and city government, including four years as an education and community relations specialist for the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, according to his LinkedIn page.
He says he’s running because he likes to fulfill the needs of others.
“What piqued my interest is I’m happiest when people around me are happy,” he said. “Working in different state agencies made me realize when employed properly government can do a lot of good in the lives of people.”
Poulton says his top priority for the district is getting the city to host more activities for the elderly, such as bingo or a lei day so they don’t feel lonely or isolated.
And he too is concerned about public safety issues, but in this case that of police officers in his district who he says have been dealing with a broken restroom for months.
Poulton said he will be a strong advocate for “creating laws that promote greater public safety, making sure police and first responders have the tools and work in a comfortable environment and do not have to worry about where to go to the bathroom.”