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 Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, 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, Ikaika Hussey and Zack Stoddard.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
I am open to a public-private partnership (PPP) model to save money and minimize financial risk as the city builds the city center portion of the guideway and begins paying for ongoing operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. A PPP study is underway currently by the HART Board, and I look forward to reviewing their conclusions. If the study concludes that a PPP would meet the goals of reducing construction costs and providing for O&M savings for Honolulu, I would work to craft the legislation necessary for a sound PPP arrangement guided by extensive public input. This would also include ensuring that revenues from a PPP are dedicated toward rail O&M, not just construction.
Additionally, the city needs to seriously study implementation of tax-increment financing (TIF) districts in TOD areas. Many other cities utilize the TIF model, in which newly generated property tax revenues from new developments in TOD areas are dedicated toward O&M, so that existing property taxpayers in these areas aren’t excessively burdened.
I am opposed to a broad-based increase in property tax rates to pay for rail O&M, and thus believe the city needs to be much more diligent in exploring specific alternative funding models such as TIF.
2. A recent survey found that homelessness remains a problem on Oahu. What should be done? Do you support an island wide sit-lie ban? Why or why not?
I am opposed to an islandwide sit-lie ban, as such a blanket policy would not solve the underlying causes or treat the deeper symptoms of homelessness. Instead, I’m an advocate of an “all-of-the-above” approach to solving homelessness that includes staffed hygiene facilities, safe zones and navigation centers, family-based repatriation programs, mental and health care services, and more housing-first options. I’ve publicly supported several programs which would have provided housing for those on the edge of homelessness, including renovation and expansion of City-owned or -sponsored housing sites, and several private sector affordable rental projects. I was also proud to be a champion for the recently-passed state bill to require tax-exempt affordable housing projects to accept Section 8 voucher holders.
I also think we need to do more to pay attention to two particular groups within the homeless population: teenagers, to prevent vulnerable youths from falling into a lifetime of homelessness, risky behaviors and instability, and veterans, as there are federal funds available to assist with their needs.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
If elected to the City Council, I look forward to continuing my years of advocacy on affordable housing, especially along the rail line and in in-fill areas. In particular, I’d like to dedicate my attention toward the creation of more affordable rental housing, which is a huge need in the community.
Over the past several years, I’ve advocated for the construction of new units, additional funding for DURF and the Rental Housing Revolving Fund, more zero-interest down-payment and rental assistance programs, and innovative public-private-nonprofit partnerships for affordable rentals. During the last two legislative sessions, I led the advocacy effort to successfully create much-needed tax incentives for the production of affordable rental housing, including housing for Section 8 voucher holders.
The city needs to provide more incentives for rental housing production, particularly units targeted at the lower end of the income spectrum, and also needs to prioritize new creation of the walk up-style apartments which created so many reasonably priced units in the urban core. Two other areas which need immediate attention from the city are the infrastructure needs of urban infill areas and the city’s permitting process, which often holds up production of already-approved projects.
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?
As a user of alternate modes of transportation, including TheBus, walking, bicycling, and ride-sharing, I understand the importance of having viable and accessible options to avoid the one-driver-per-car type of congestion which plagues our city. Therefore, I support the thoughtful expansion of these alternative modes as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce traffic, particularly in the urban core.
In addition to re-evaluating traffic light timing along major thoroughfares – a topic which has long been discussed – we also must look at other ways to cut down on causes of congestion, including coordinating roadwork by different departments to reduce the time that roadways are out-of-service, managing delivery times and locations in certain neighborhoods so major arteries are not blocked during rush hour, and promoting off-street parking to cut down on congestion caused by drivers searching for parking in business areas.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
One of the most important roles the City Council can play in managing the city’s revenues is to exercise careful scrutiny of the city’s budget to ensure that needed priorities are funded first and foremost, and that wasteful or duplicative spending is reduced. The City Council must always diligently explore ways to keep local businesses and full-time residents from having to pay more in taxes.
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?
I am opposed to short-term vacation rentals (STRs also known as TVUs) operating in residential neighborhoods, whether hosted or unhosted. Illegal rentals do more than ruin the residential nature of our communities; these illegal rentals hurt local families by taking precious inventory out of our limited housing supply.
I believe that more effective enforcement tools are needed to deal with the proliferation of existing STRs in our residential neighborhoods, and support efforts to impose fines and liens for these activities and crack down on illegal advertising of these units. Should the mayor’s proposal or other alternative proposals be up for consideration during the next council term, I will work to ensure that affirmative enforcement mechanisms are included to give the Department of Planning and Permitting the tools they need to crack down on illegal TVUs.
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?
As someone who has utilized the public records request process on numerous occasions, I agree that the process can be at times be arduous and expensive. As a City Council member, I would urge the administration to ensure that all departments have clear and easy-to-follow processes in place to handle incoming records requests and ensure that processes are in place to properly archive, organize, and search for public records.
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 and sea level rise will be a top priority for me as a council member. Over the past two years, I have personally testified in support of the creation and full funding of the city’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency. As a Council member, I will work diligently to support the office and its mission.
Several immediate actions come to mind, which I would like to push for as a Councilmember. Regarding adaptation, I’d like to work on:
• Relocation of critical infrastructure (roads, wastewater facilities, underground utilities, etc.) sooner rather than later, as relocating facilities now may be more cost-effective, versus maintaining and repairing them when they become threatened or actually inundated;
• Examining existing building codes to promote and increase flood resiliency in coastal areas, including phasing out seawalls which are known to exacerbate erosion;
• Developing mitigation and managed retreat plans for low-lying or coastal City facilities such as our beach parks; and
• Incorporating climate change and sea-level rise analyses into the island’s community development and TOD plans.
For mitigation, I think it’s important that we remain committed as a city to the Paris Accord and carry out our obligations.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Homelessness is the most pressing issue in the district, whether on the streets of Chinatown, underneath bridges in Aiea, or in the wooded areas off of Pacific Heights. As homelessness has gotten worse and more visible in the past several years, it’s clear that more needs to be done to solve this issue. If elected, I will roll up my sleeves on Day 1 to tackle this issue first and foremost, along the entire spectrum of homelessness: from those who are on the edge of losing their home to those who have been living on the streets for years.
As explained in Question 2, I’d like to push for an “all-of-the-above” approach to solving homelessness that includes staffed hygiene facilities, safe zones and navigation centers, family-based repatriation programs, mental and healthcare services, and more housing-first options.
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