Editor’s note: Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
Every time we go to the grocery store, pay a doctor’s bill or rent, we are paying for the rail. The general excise tax is the most regressive tax we have and hits low-income people the hardest.
I have consistently opposed rail tax increases and extensions and will continue to do so. However, with the decision to build rail comes the need for taxpayer subsidies. The first thing I would do is make sure that taxpayer funds are not wasted.
Since we’re going to have to pay for operations and maintenance (O&M) one way or another, we should look at a “rail tax,” so that everyone knows how much they’re being charged. The truth may be painful, but we have to face it.
I believe that while there are no good alternatives, payment of rail’s O&M out of the city’s general fund would be better than the state GET surcharge. Little has been done to rein in the cost of rail. I am concerned this will be the case with O&M as well, but if the funding for O&M has to come from city resources, then perhaps there will be more political will to cut the O&M budget.
2. A recent survey found that homelessness remains a problem on Oahu. What should be done? Do you support an islandwide sit-lie ban? Why or why not?
Homelessness is a huge and desperate problem. I do not know the answer, but pushing them around from place to place is not the solution. It needs a multifaceted approach. The first step I would take would be to focus on those who are homeless as a result of severe mental illness. Based on my experience, it can be difficult for family members to assist relatives due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. I would work with state and federal representatives to suggest potential changes to that law.
Some homeless people should be sent back home. In addition, I would continue to support Housing First and partnerships with nonprofit organizations that provide services and assistance to the homeless population by providing funding for those programs.
I do not support an islandwide sit-lie ban, because it doesn’t address the problem. In addition, my understanding is that there are concerns that it may be unconstitutional.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
Affordable housing is largely a matter of supply and demand. To that end, I would look favorably on developers who are willing to build affordable units, especially those that are 80 percent to 100 percent of area median income. I would also consider possibly rezoning certain areas to allow for apartments or smaller units and support keeping units affordable in perpetuity.
In addition, it’s important to recognize that regulations often increase the cost of housing. An example is the recent requirement that certain condominiums either install sprinklers or go through a costly fire-safety evaluation. I oppose similar requirements on other condominiums.
4. Honolulu has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Some see rail as part of the solution. What else should the city do to alleviate congestion?
First, let’s be clear that while rail was sold to us as a solution to traffic congestion, with Hoopili and the additional associated traffic, it was estimated that H-1 will operate at Level of Service E under the best case scenario, which includes an optimistic rail transit operation, according to former State Department of Transportation Director Brennon Morioka. Level of Service F is gridlock.
To reduce congestion, we should build affordable housing where the jobs are, i.e., in town.
I also support other transportation alternatives such as ride-hailing services and ride sharing and bicycling and bike sharing.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
No. What we desperately need is fiscal restraint and control. Recently the City Council passed four budget bills that authorized millions more in expenditures than was originally requested. That is not fiscal prudence. As a CPA, I have the experience and skills to look for and propose changes to city taxes, fees and budgeted expenditures to help reduce the tax burden on residents.
For example, I will review the city’s real property tax system, special funds, usage of sewer and water fees, and selection and award processes for all city grants and propose changes accordingly to improve efficiency and fairness. I will also make smart cuts to the city’s and HART’s budgets.
I will work with state administration and legislators to provide county access to limited taxpayer information that would assist the administration in reviewing businesses and organizations for compliance with state general excise tax and transient accommodations tax laws. This is important, because the city should not issue contracts or grants to entities that are not in compliance with our laws.
I will also follow up on businesses and organizations that are apparently not in compliance with laws.
6. Illegal vacation rentals are proliferating and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry, and what would you propose to do about it?
This issue has been festering in our communities for decades and deserves to be addressed with both sides being willing to compromise.
I understand the concern that vacation rentals remove housing units from our rental supply and that short-term tenants are sometimes disrespectful of neighbors. To this end, I support publication of permit or other identification numbers in advertising to allow for better enforcement.
On the other hand, I recognize that some people depend on the revenue they receive from vacation rentals to help make ends meet. In addition, we should recognize that technology such as Airbnb is here to stay. I support a controlled number of additional permits, perhaps one per live-in homeowner with a few per each district. However, I do not support corporations running this type of service through homes they may own.
7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. And yet the cost for search and redaction is often prohibitively expensive and it often takes months for the records to be released. What would you do to improve our public records system?
I would encourage and support groups such as Code for Hawaii and the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest to continue working with the city regarding this issue. These organizations worked together to create UIPA.org, a website that allows people to easily request public documents.
In addition, this site posts successful request and is searchable. This should cut down on the number of multiple requests, reduce costs to requesters and free up government staff time.
8. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I feel climate change and related sea level rise are inevitable. I am not an expert on this issue, however. As a CPA, I do wonder if a nine-member Office of Climate Change is the best use of limited taxpayer money.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Rail has become a bloated monstrosity that is taking much-needed resources from other pressing concerns such as homelessness, affordable housing and infrastructure.
We continue to pay for unnecessary public relations projects such as trade shows, poster contests and elementary school visits that are meant to sell us on rail. I will cut this fluff from HART’s public relations budget.
Rail construction is only a little more than one-third complete. The last major contract to be awarded – the section from Middle Street to Ala Moana — is budgeted at $848 million. Over and over again amounts that have been budgeted have come out way too low, so why should we believe this one – the section that will be the most difficult? We would be foolish to think it will come in on budget.
There’s still time to make a change before the final contract is signed. I support stopping at Middle Street and improving and increasing bus service as well as ride hailing and ride sharing.