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 Ikaika Hussey, 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, Carol Fukunaga, Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and Zack Stoddard.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
Honolulu deserves a high-quality transit system that encourages smart urban growth patterns, that is financially stable for the long term, and which anticipates the environmental changes that our island faces because of global warming. Unfortunately that’s not what we currently have on order. I support a shift in our strategy on rail in order to achieve these objectives. It is not too late to make rail work for us.
After consultation with experts in this field, it is clear to me that rail should connect immediately to the university via a mauka subway, funded through a value-capture mechanism along the route. This meets the needs of commuters while encouraging development and investment out of the Sea-Level Rise Exposure Area (SLRXA). The marginal increase in cost should be financed by a climate bond, as part of a broader city strategy to prepare our island for future environmental challenges related to climate change.
Utilities should be run underground, sewer capacity expanded, and housing should be encouraged above the SLRXA. In order to service Kakaako, where we know we will have to raise the roads to accommodate flooding, I and others are recommending a more-flexible solution like a tram or Phileas bus.
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?
Houselessness is at least three problems in one: 1) drug addiction, which requires investments in rehabilitation and enforcement; 2) mental health, which requires intensive wraparound services; and 3) most urgently, affordable housing.
Recent scholarly studies argue that the third item is really the first – that people forced to the streets because of the high cost of living eventually fall into drug use and develop mental illnesses. I am particularly concerned about working families one hardship from not being able to make rent.
Sit-lie bans are cruel, costly, and do nothing to solve the systemic problems that make homelessness such a persuasive problem on Oahu. Our strategy needs to focus first on reducing housing prices to keep people in housing and off the streets, then on getting currently houseless people housed. From there, people suffering with addiction and mental illness can receive the rehabilitation and services they need.
Government should take extraordinary measures to help our people. Papakolea, in my council district, started as a “squatters’” community, formed by families who lost their housing and needed shelter. We need a new generation of solutions to address the profound inequities of the 21st century. Right now we’re building housing for the world’s wealthiest people.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
Affordability is our number one problem. As a member of the City Council, I will make housing more affordable by:
• Strictly enforcing vacation rentals so as to ensure that housing is first and foremost for residents.
• Tying property tax increases to social security, so that homeowners on fixed incomes are never priced out of their own homes. (One proposal from a constituent in Moanalua would allow the city to track a higher market-based value and assess that amount if and when the property is sold).
• Increasing the progressivity of our property tax structure by creating higher tiers.
• Amending the Land Use Ordinance to encourage mid-rise affordable housing in walkable urban-core neighborhoods.
• Working with public agencies and a range of private partners to construct permanently affordable housing projects in the urban core.
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?
Rail, if designed and executed correctly to meet commuter needs, will help to lessen traffic. But more fundamentally we need to design communities that do not require the use of an automobile to accomplish the routine tasks of the day. Well-designed, multimodal communities allow you to take your children to school, visit your doctor, get to work, and pick up groceries without requiring a car. Honolulu’s future direction should be to encourage development of mixed-use, pedestrian-based, mid-rise neighborhoods. The new communities we build mauka of the SLRXA should be precisely of this variety.
We should also look at policies which encourage the use of our excellent bus system. I support a scaled carbon fee whose revenue is used to subsidize expansion of TheBus.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
Yes. We need to increase revenue and use those resources to invest in our people.
Honolulu real estate has become, much to its credit (and to the chagrin of our local community) an excellent store of capital for the world’s investors. That is why I support creating higher-tier property tax levels for these luxury investments. Our elders with older homes should be paying property taxes at lower rates relative to the luxury condos built in our newer neighborhoods.
Secondly, we should work with our counterparts at the state legislature (and possibly the constitutional convention) to liberalize the funding streams available to the city, especially those that align with our goals to reduce carbon emissions.
Third, there are smarter ways for the city to collect fees and solve city problems in a way that maximizes tax dollars, spurs business, and protects public health and the environment. Take for example our challenge with curbside dumping and bulky item pick up. Imposing a bulky item fee at the time of disposal will actually encourage illegal dumping that is costly to enforce and clean up. Instead I propose a refundable fee on durable goods assessed at the point of sale at local and internet retailers.
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?
Yes. The key is enforcement of our existing laws. The mayor’s new proposal for 4,000 allowable transient vacation units strikes me as arbitrary, and likely too large a number. That number should be tied rationally to our carrying capacity for tourism, with a fee structure set via auction so as to maximize revenue to the city.
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 draft and support legislation requiring that all government documents be published automatically to the web, with “publicly viewable” as the default setting.
8. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Climate change is our greatest challenge. My kids are 3, 9 and 11; the oldest two are old enough to understand the scope of the problem, but too young to vote. We adults need to work on their behalf to both mitigate the most disastrous impacts of global warming and also to take the necessary steps to adapt to the swiftly approaching reality.
We know that rail should be moved out of the SLRXA. We know that our massive investments in housing and commercial real estate need to be protected and new developments created mauka of the SLRXA. And we know too that climate change will bring new unpredictabilities in weather, so we should work to harden our infrastructure, bury power lines, and assertively enhance and expand our water and sewer management. I propose utilizing a climate bond, which is a new type of funding vehicle specifically for climate adaptation, to finance a type of Green New Deal for our island’s future.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
We have this incredible resource: a beautiful island in the middle of the sea, with a rich melange of language, culture, food, history, customs. It’s no surprise that we are a destination for people the world over. But this paradise too often comes at the expense of its own people. Last year 7,000 local residents left Honolulu because of the high cost of living. And they leave behind many, far too many of my constituents who feel squeezed out of their own communities. The “issue” is far greater than a single talking point on a campaign flyer. It is the overarching question: Who is Hawaii for? Is it for investors or for residents? For the rich or the regular? When a proposal for a new development or a draft of a new bill comes across my desk, that’s the question I’ll be asking.
I believe that our city will flourish if we shift our priorities towards our citizens. I take inspiration from our name, sheltered harbor. By investing first in our citizens and the core infrastructure and programs that we all use, Honolulu can become a vibrant, dynamic city connected through trade and ideas to the global community. I’m willing to work hard to make this happen.