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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 Tommy Waters, a candidate for Honolulu City Council District 4, which covers Hawaii Kai, Kuliouou, Niu Valley, Aina Haina, Wailupe, Waialae-Iki, Kalani Valley, Kahala, Wilhelmina Rise, Kaimuki, portions of Kapahulu, Diamond Head, Black Point, Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach Park. The other candidate is Trevor Ozawa.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
A robust ridership should pay for majority operation and maintenance costs. Advertising on the train and at train stations will help. Transit oriented development is another revenue generator. Just as only residents use transit at discounted fares, the same higher user fees for non-residents (tourists) should apply. Our relationship with our federal lawmakers will increase federal transit subsidies for the bus, Handi-Van and the rail. Our job is to give them timely data. We all know that all public transportation is a subsidized service; we all know that car ridership and toxic environmental emission must decrease.
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?
The sit-lie ban is ineffective as a short-term fix to a long-standing problem. It gets folks off the streets with social workers and police support, but it really doesn’t solve the problem. The state and county can work together rather than compete to find real, long-term low-income units on state and county land, related to job training and employment, schools and subsidized education.
Long-term efforts are the challenge. Tax incentives for private developers who build low-income rental units; creative mental health outreach programs to help street folks live law-abiding productive lives, enforcing vagrant laws but ensuring that the interim shelters and social services are in place to make that enforcement meaningful.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
Due to insufficient affordable inventory, home prices will increase due to market demand. I support transit-oriented development using city and state land for affordable housing. I do not support illegal TVUs and B&Bs or other commercial use of residential zoned property for personal profiteering.
We have lost our way here with cost of living driving the rental housing demand by tourists rather than by residents who live, work and raise our children here. The city should consider waiving city permit fees and sewage hook up fees to builders of low income and affordable housing. Frozen rentals (rent control districts) are common practice in New York City and Berkeley. I am open to exploring these types of solutions.
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?
I believe the current administration has a vision of city diversified transportation routes from bike lanes and Biki bike sharing. I support “cut-outs” for bus stops; more left-turn lanes at critical intersections; improved and expanded contra-flow; pedestrian overpasses where feasible — these are all part of the discussion and decisions, but more importantly, should be publicized and the public should be educated to think progressively. I support alternative modes of transportation like ride-share and bicycles and I’m sure my children’s generation will consider it their norm.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
Before we look at boosting revenue, we should examine what we are doing with our current budget. Are we spending our monies that reflect our needs and values? Our parks, beaches, hiking trails and picnic areas?
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?
One word: Enforcement. Two words: Political will. Illegal vacation rentals have grown in East Honolulu in the past four years. While walking door to door, I have personally witnessed Airbnb rentals in Kaimuki, Kahala, Wilhelmina Rise, Portlock, Hawaii Kai and Aina Haina. The council has done nothing to address the issue. They punt to the Department of Permitting and Planning as not enforcing the existing ban, then complain they lack the tools to do so.
I propose we close loopholes in the land use ordinance and increase enforcement efforts. I stand for the political will to do what is right for the Honolulu community at large. We are not San Francisco or New York City with multiple levels of urban accommodations. We are a unique city and county island fighting to retain a healthy balance between quality and quantity of residents and tourists who love our Hawaiian heritage. I am proud of being one-quarter Hawaiian and want to share my rich heritage with anyone anytime!
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 wholeheartedly support the Sunshine Law. The Office of Information Practices needs to be well staffed with qualified personnel. I support deadlines for requests and possible fines if departments are non-compliant. The problem is administrative and public education as to what is deemed public and private. It’s a common sense standard, not another rigid legal application of administrative law. The government should not have anything really, to hide.
8. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We need to ensure that we meet our obligations and commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. We need to do a greenhouse gas inventory, greenhouse gas reduction plan and create a climate action plan. Additionally, we need to plan for where we move our infrastructure and how it relates to our general plan and community plan.
I also support continued funding for the city Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Public Safety is our first obligation. We need to make sure our police, fire and ambulance services are adequately staffed and funded as the operating standard and not just during disaster conditions.
Property crimes, burglaries and thefts are common occurrences in East Honolulu. Currently, the Honolulu Police Department is 200-plus officers short to do its job sufficiently. I support Police Chief Ballard’s efforts to recruit officer candidates from the university system, to strengthen community policing and to retain, rather than lose, good qualified police officers to higher-paying mainland municipalities.
Our ambulance services are hanging on by a thread. The one and only ambulance in East Honolulu is often called off as far as Nanakuli to assist other communities, leaving East Honolulu with no coverage.
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