Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell didn’t announce any new initiatives in his fourth State of the City address Monday night, instead emphasizing that he plans to continue making headway on roads, sewers, buses, parks, homelessness and rail.
The mayor outlined his plans at Mission Memorial Auditorium near Honolulu Hale to an audience that included Gov. David Ige, City Council members, state legislators and city employees.
Caldwell said he plans to ask the City Council for $834 million in capital improvement funds in fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1, for road repairs, sewer upgrades and park improvements.
He called for more transparency and accountability regarding the rising costs of rail construction, but didn’t say specifically how he would achieve that.
And while his proposal to house 346 chronically homeless people through Housing First in fiscal year 2017 would double the number housed during the current fiscal year, that would still represent just 7 percent of the 4,903 homeless people on Oahu, according to the state’s 2015 point-in-time count.
He also said he plans to request $490 million in sewer capacity improvements, more than double the current year’s $213 million. The city is under a federal consent decree to improve its aging wastewater system.
The mayor touted his achievements in road repairs, noting that the city has already repaved 1,000 lane miles and is on pace to exceed its goal of repaving 1,500 lane miles in five years. He wants the City Council to approve $100 million to continue that effort.
He also said that the city is ahead of its goal in improving parks by restoring 27 restrooms, fixing 16 playgrounds and building 10 new ones. He said he plans to ask for $21.6 million in capital improvement funds for parks — particularly Ala Moana Beach Park and Thomas Square — and another $1.4 million to restore restrooms and playgrounds.
Caldwell heralded the city’s progress on homelessness, including controversial city ordinances that ban people from sitting and lying on sidewalks. The bans are popular among voters, but critics say they criminalize homelessness.
“You can walk down Kalakaua and not trip over people sitting or lying,” Caldwell said, referring to Waikiki’s main street.
The mayor said the city has housed 173 chronically homeless people through Housing First and is planning to ask for $6.6 million in his fiscal year 2017 budget to house an additional 173 people.
But housing 346 people would make a relatively small dent in the total number of homeless people on Oahu.
Councilman Ron Menor said after the address he was glad that Caldwell highlighted Housing First in his remarks, but said he believes “the city needs to do a lot more.”
“We need to be a lot more proactive,” Menor said. A recent Civil Beat poll found that voters generally haven’t been impressed by the mayor’s efforts in this area.
Caldwell seemed to recognize the public’s impatience on homelessness when he cautioned: “We are making a difference, but this is a long journey that we’re just beginning.”
The mayor also said that he’s frustrated by the increasing costs of building rail. Caldwell ran for mayor promising the project would be built “on time and on budget.”
But the project is running over a billion dollars over budget, having swelled from a total anticipated price tag of $5.2 billion in 2012 to $6.6 billion this year. Only 16 percent of voters feel good about the project, according to a recent Civil Beat poll.
“My reputation is on the line,” Caldwell told attendees Monday. “I’m going to see all of you for the rest of my life and have to explain what happened with increasing costs,” he said, sparking laughter.
While the mayor called for “more aggressive oversight and greater transparency” regarding rail, he didn’t say how he’s planning to achieve that, or keep costs down.
He declined to answer questions from reporters after the speech.
Caldwell said he supports a Honolulu Charter Commission proposal that would transfer the management of the rail system from the Honolulu Rapid Transit Authority to the city once the trains are running.
Afterward, Councilwoman Kimberly Pine said she supports that idea and that it might help address high administrative costs.