Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Zack. Stoddard, a candidate for Honolulu City Council District 6, which covers portions of Makiki, downtown, Punchbowl, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu, Alewa Heights, Papakolea, Fort Shafter, Moanalua, Halawa, Aiea, Kalihi Valley, Liliha and Kalihi. There are three other candidates, Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Ikaika Hussey and Carol Fukunaga.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
The city can and should pay for rail without raising taxes on the working class. Hawaii already has the second highest tax rate on low-income residents in the nation at 13.4 percent, which is insane in a place that has by far the highest cost of living in the country. I would push to lower — not raise — the tax burden on the working class, and instead find revenue from some of the following alternatives:
• Make tourists pay by increasing the transient accommodations tax and the share of it that goes to counties. Opponents argue this would slow tourism, but the TAT was raised recently and our tourism industry continues to accelerate.
• More progressive property taxes. Lower the burden on working class households and instead focus on luxury properties, non-resident owned properties, or properties that are left vacant.
• Luxury tax.
• Stormwater drainage fees. These fees would encourage landowners to capture stormwater on their property, which in turn alleviates flooding and recharges our water tables.
• Carbon tax, the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint.
• Development impact fees and sidewalk utility fees to ensure developers are paying to improve the neighborhoods they’re working in.
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?
Sit-lie bans are are short-sighted because all they do is shuffle homeless people around the island without addressing the cause of homelessness. The City Council’s focus on these rules exemplifies the lack of long-term vision. Here’s what I would do.
In the short term, I would tell police to direct homeless to areas away from schools and homes. Services would be directly provided on the ground at those areas.
In the long term, I would:
• Support community policing, whereby police to get to know and understand homeless populations and direct them to the appropriate social services, rather than crack down and burden our judicial system without solving anything.
• Fund social services by providing incentives for the non-profits doing the most effective work on the ground.
• Lower the cost of living (housing in particular) so people can afford to pay rent and stay off the streets. My housing strategy is below.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
• Strengthen affordable housing laws. Right now, only 5 percent of all residential units in new developments need to be affordable, and only for 30 years. Further, developers can put these affordable units across town from their market rate units. Even my opponents support concentrating affordable housing in Kalihi and Iwilei, which is a recipe for a Honolulu segregated by class. The rules should require 15-20% of all new units to be affordable for the long term, and built in the same neighborhood as the market rate units. That’s how to make a real, lasting impact.
• Redefine “affordable” so that it actually means affordable. The federal government defines affordable as available to people earning 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) and lower ($93k for a family in Hawaii), Hawaii stretches this to include people earning up to 140% ($114k for an individual)! Let’s stick to 80 percent and lower —those are the people who really need it.
• Introduce anti-real estate speculation measures (which have been effective in Vancouver, B.C.) such as raising foreign home buyers’ taxes, speculation levies on non-residents, or stricter financing rules.
• Enforce rules on illegal vacation rentals as explained in 6 below.
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?
We need to fund and expand our award-winning bus system and be smart when we integrate it with rail. But ultimately, smart growth is the only real long-term solution to creating an efficient city that is less car-oriented, more walkable, and ensures better quality of life. Smart growth means no more sprawling development outside of the urban core. Development should be limited to infill in the center of town and around rail stations, where we will have alternative transportation options and infrastructure capacity.
Smart growth means preserving ag lands and conservation lands. It means keeping the country, country and living harmoniously with our environment. It means mixed development so we can find homes close to work, and work close to home. We have traffic problems because our city is designed for cars. Let’s give people the ability to live without cars with smart planning. I am a city planner by trade and am the most capable candidate to understand and solve these issues.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
We need to eliminate waste before we boost revenue. We are already taxed a lot in Hawaii (see question 1). I work for the city and – surprise – there is plenty of waste and inefficiency. If we empower our agencies to work smarter, we can stretch taxpayer money a lot farther. I would make our government more efficient by:
• Using modern technology to store records, track data, analyze and evaluate progress, and streamline communication.
• Simplifying rules and getting rid of old clunky processes in order to make it easier for our civil servants to get the job done.
• Increasing collaboration across agencies and eliminating redundancies.
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?
Illegal vacation rentals are a problem when they take housing away from long-term residents. Tens of thousands of vacation rentals are in areas that were designed for residents, not tourists. The demand for affordable housing is around 25,000 units. Returning illegal vacation rentals to the long-term rental market would go a very long way to satisfying that demand. Strict enforcement of illegal vacation rental ads would be a simple and effective way of doing this, and would raise money for the city. Making sure vacation rentals are legal and pay taxes would also bring more tourist money into our economy.
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?
We need a much smarter, more transparent government. I work for the city government and we still have typewriters and use snail mail. Come on guys, this is the 21st century! Using modern technology in government can reduce waste, increase transparency, make government more responsive to citizens, and make taxpayer money go farther. Government transparency is widely accepted as a best practice and benefits everyone. I would work to streamline government processes and employ systems that are:
• Web-based, making them decentralized and therefore more secure, nimble, and publicly accessible.
• Open-source, so that the government is not tied into proprietary software agreements where the government overpays for bug fixes and maintenance, and can’t even access its own system.
• Public-facing, so citizens can easily access records themselves at no cost, and can communicate with government agencies directly without getting the runaround.
• Secure, so sensitive information is protected.
8. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Incumbent Carol Fukunaga killed the bill to ban styrofoam on Oahu — one of the main reasons I’m running against her. Her record shows she’s more concerned about fighting complete streets improvements than improving the health of our environment. So short-sighted. There is no separation between humans and the aina; the health of the environment determines the health of its residents. It’s time for leaders who care about future generations. We should:
• Develop in harmony with nature by building and rebuilding with sea level rise in mind, making our city more efficient and walkable, capturing stormwater and recharging our water tables, cleaning our waterways, and expanding native landscapes.
• Ban styrofoam and single-use plastics like Taiwan has done.
• Ban toxic sunscreens harmful to reefs.
• Impose stronger pesticide regulations to keep our food, groundwater, and nearby residents safe.
• Ensure solar makes economic sense for homes and businesses.
• Lead by example by making all government facilities carbon neutral and climate change ready.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
My four priorities are:
• Clean politics to make sure not just the wealthy are represented.
• Affordability so nobody with an honest career has to struggle.
• A clean environment that will sustain future generations and ecosystems.
• Smarter government that is more efficient and responsive, so taxpayer money goes farther.
Essentially what all these boil down to is quality of life. It’s getting more and more difficult to live comfortably here. Costs are increasing twice as fast as wages. There are a lot of effective policy options that would help (many of them listed above), but our leaders aren’t urgently addressing those issues because they’re beholden to their wealthy campaign donors. How can you focus on policies for the struggling working class when they can’t afford to donate to your campaign?
I’m the only candidate in this race running a totally clean campaign — self-funded from my modest $50k government worker salary. Meanwhile, my opponents have already had multiple 200 to 1,000 dollar-a-plate fundraisers. A modern campaign shouldn’t require large sums of money to be effective. I’m going door-to-door to earn votes and am also building a strong online presence. Visit my website and Facebook page to support me and learn more!
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