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.
The following came from Choon James, one of four candidates for Honolulu City Council District 2, which covers Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Mokuleia, Waialua, Haleiwa, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Kahuku, Laie, Hauula, Punaluu, Kahana, Kaaawa, Kualoa, Waiahole, and Kahaluu. The others are Heidi Tsuneyoshi, Robert Bunda and Dave Burlew.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
Shouldn’t these O&M costs be addressed at the initial stages?
HART, the semi-autonomous transit authority, was formed with nine appointed directors with no transit background.
The 2012 federal Porter Report stated that Oahu had the ability to pay for its rail project, but must forgo other expenses!
HART recently shifted this unknown O&M duty to the city Transportation Department. Earlier, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and HART disputed the City Council’s jurisdiction over HART fiscal decisions. Today, Caldwell and HART want the council to sell $44 million in bonds to appease the Federal Transit Administration!
Experts have questioned the ridership estimate of 119,600 trips per day. It’s nearly twice the ridership per kilometer of Miami’s heavy rail — a metropolitan area five times the size of Honolulu.
This ridership estimate is also a little higher than Atlanta’s with a population six times the size of Honolulu, according to Erick Guerra, assistant professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico, achieved only 23 percent of its ridership projection. Rail bonds contributed to its accumulated $74 billion bankruptcy.
When will the oligarchy stop this fiscal insanity and reassess this runaway project?
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?
There will always be the poor amongst us in this modern cash economy. There is no one silver bullet to this homeless issue. Some require mental health/ addiction help, but most need rental units. Coordination with state and federal is imperative.
Singapore efficiently provides affordable public rentals tied to the tenants’ income. We need to concentrate on creating more truly affordable rental units.
I do not support an islandwide sit-lie ban. Since the first sit-lie bill in 2014 for the Waikiki Special District, I’ve consistently testified at council hearings that sit-lie bills must be accompanied with options for those affected. Pushing the homeless around does not solve the problem.
Undoubtedly, we must maintain clean, vibrant and safe public spaces for the public and businesses. However, burning personal items into ashes is cruel. Confiscating personal papers and medication is inhumane and creates more complications for the down trodden.
Over a million dollars were squandered through court settlements and legal fees because the city violated due process in its sit-lie implementations.
HUD CDBG funds have been diverted from non-profits and homeless shelters for pork and pay-to-play projects.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
Concentrate on true affordable rentals first.
However, placing time limits on affordable rentals with developers is kicking the can down the road. Housing affordability will only get worse in time. I would check and see how many properties are owned by the city, state and federal governments and go on from there.
Singapore provided affordable rentals tied to a percentage of the tenants’ income. It’s been estimated that it would take 3.19 firemen, 3.6 schoolteachers, or 5.2 hotel clerk salaries to afford a medium priced home in Oahu.
We don’t just have a housing issue; we have an income issue.
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?
There have been various suggestions ranging from work schedules among civil government workers or UH and public/private schools students, bus rapid transit, telecommuting, and so forth.
I am no expert in this area. I could list some of the ideas put forth by others but it does not do the city justice.
What I think would be good is if we offer a substantial cash prize for a traffic decongestion competition. NASA does competitions regularly for solutions.
We need to be sure to keep the lobbyists, publicists, marketeers and the good old boys club at bay.
Allow the independent and fresh minds to have a go at the solutions. Then, allow the public to review and opine on the ideas put forth and choose the most viable and effective ones that reflect our island values and sense of place. Our residents have valuable local knowledge and wisdom and can contribute to the solutions.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
Why do I think of Nobel Prize Economist Milton Friedman, who stated that if you put the government in charge of the Sahara Desert, it would run short of sand in five years?
I’ve been participating in the city budget process for 10 years. There are misguided fiscal priorities like the $1.2 million consultant from New York and $20 million to upgrade the Ala Moana Park that irritates local residents to no end.
There are also systematic failures in the budgeting system that limit the council’s ability to control budget priorities and spending.
Huge amounts of funds were expended into consultants, planning and design renderings for the Blaisdell Center Master Plan but recently, Mayor Caldwell said he would hold off. So, are we going to repeat another expensive master plan again down the road?
One of the best lines I heard was Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi telling HART CEO Dan Grabrauskas that she took risks with her own money, not the taxpayers’.
Our residents work very hard for their money. Our job is not to plunder the city treasury but to protect it.
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 pits neighbors against neighbors. There continues to be inconsistency in the executive branch. At a recent budget hearing, a council member offered new positions but the DPP acting director said it was not needed. But, earlier, the reason for the lack of compliance was due to insufficient inspectors.
Furthermore, the proposed revisions by the DPP to the Oahu General Plan encourage more vacation rentals throughout Oahu, including building “neighborhood hotels.”
If City Hall is disjointed, how can there be solutions?
I live next to out-of-state-owned vacation rentals. I have strangers show up at my door, woken up by violent quarrels in the middle of the night. I don’t know who the transients are.
Owner-occupants should be allow B&B to help augment their income.
We are obligated to follow the city ordinances and zoning laws.
It should be noted that many involved are independent contractors with no benefits like health care or pensions. What will happen to them come the inevitable retirement years? Will it become an unfunded liabilities for taxpayers in the future?
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?
Absolutely and unequivocally, government records must be archived and made easily available to the public! History showed that one of the first things tyrants and conquerors did was to burnt the records.
The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest has been steadfast in protecting and pursuing this pillar in democracy. I’m just as outraged about the costs because I had to cough up over $2,000 to get some records from the city through FOIA – Freedom of Information Act.
I should add that most of our government workers are fair and helpful, but they are told what to do and what to redact from “the higher-ups.”
Government must agree that public records must not be expunged. Website information cannot disappear. Emails must not be deleted.
Convenient access to public records is not the only concern. Accurate reporting is another concern. There are also frustrations that public records do not reflect what actually transpired. Minutes are whitewashed, substantial dialogue ignored or new info added to the minutes.
We must protect open and accurate records in our democracy! I will examine the process and do my best to help improve it.
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 hope we can agree that Earth is a living planet; we humans are an integral part of this cycle of life and ecosystem. We need to respect and malama it.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, it’s prudent to make public and economic policies based on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats surrounding us.
Climate Change not only encompasses sea level changes and threats to reefs, the multiplier effects could include longer periods of hurricane seasons or rain patterns or cloud cover that could impact vegetation and cause flooding.
Our North Shore coastlines interact with the waves and changing shorelines on a daily basis. The hundred-year-old narrow Kamehameha Highway from Kaaawa to the North Shore fights against ocean erosion and waves constantly. Large swaths of shoreline properties have disappeared through the years.
It’s imperative that the Department of Planning and Permitting consistently incorporate this threat into all land-use planning and permitting of projects, including the Honolulu Rail Transit project and the Oahu General Plan.
I also look forward to the Office of Climate Change contributing overarching and cohesive approaches to sustainability and resiliency issues.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
District 2 is diverse and the biggest district from Mililani Mauka to Heeia and filled with outstanding residents.
Cost of living is the most pressing issue. Many have to work two to three jobs to survive or are trying to figure how to make money to sustain themselves.
Our kupuna worry about being priced out of their homes; their fixed Social Security and income are not keeping up. They want the family home to stay in the family. Even our unionized friends are worried they may have to take another job after retirement to keep up with costs of living.
We need to protect and stabilize the home front and put our residents first.
If I have the privilege to serve in this public office, I will work hard with the other eight council members to place a cap on property taxes for owner-occupants of 15 years or more. Incentives are also needed for those who rent long-term to local residents.
District 2 also has issues like carrying capacity, quality of life, housing, traffic, recreation and parks, crime, homelessness, jobs creation and economic opportunities, environment, farmlands, sustainability and resilience and others.
During this unique election season, we appreciate that you and others like you have relied on Civil Beat for accurate, objective coverage of the candidates and their races.
Covering the pandemic has taken a lot of our collective energy. But through it all, our small team of reporters made sure you didn’t forget about electoral politics. Because we know that elections not only test society’s participation in our democracy, but journalism’s commitment to safeguarding it.
If you’ve relied on our election coverage this season, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to support our newsroom.