Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Brandon Elefante, a candidate for Honolulu City Council District 8, which covers Lower Aiea, Pearlridge, Waimalu, Newtown, Pearl City, Seaview, Crestview, Waipio Gentry and Waipahu. The other candidate is Kelly Kitashima.
1. How do you think the city should pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built?
I continue to believe that a surcharge on the general excise tax should be dedicated to the operation and maintenance of the rail project. A dedicated source of revenue is the norm across the country. This mechanism allows a contribution from visitors as well as residents providing a broader base of support while actually directly benefitting those who contribute by improving their mobility options and expanding the services available to them.
While it is likely the city will be able to receive additional transportation monies from the federal government as transportation options are expanded in our city and county, it is important that dedicated sources be provided for stability of the entire system.
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?
Comprehensive efforts such as the “Housing First” program, which seeks to address the issue of chronic homelessness in communities while also helping these people get back on their feet, are an excellent place to start. This program has low barriers for getting homeless into a rental home, provides wrap-around services, and gives direct assistance and protections to landlords participating in the program.
This particular program has been deemed a success in cities such as Seattle, Denver and New York. We need to continue the efforts to combine existing resources and work collaboratively with our state and federal governments. There are many reasons for homelessness and starting down the road to addressing the underlying issues requires a safe and secure place to live.
I do not support the sit-lie bans as they effectively criminalize homelessness and simply move the problem down the street or to the next neighborhood, park or sidewalk. It does not address the underlying problems such as the cost of housing, low wages, mental illness, drug addiction or difficult family situations.
3. Oahu has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. What specific proposals do you have to make housing more affordable?
My intention as a council member is to implement policies that encourage the creation of more affordable housing and especially opportunities for low to moderate-income people. I believe this “low-mod” category needs to be the city’s primary focus going forward. I was able to introduce, and the electorate supported, a City Charter amendment to provide more funding for affordable housing projects at the 60 percent AMI level with commitments for 60 years of affordability.
I introduced an amendment to incorporate affordable housing requirements into transit-oriented development. With TOD, we can enhance and revitalize older neighborhoods into vibrant economic destinations. TOD in particular, presents an exciting opportunity to encourage more affordable housing in close proximity to the rail stations and add to our housing supply. This additional housing can and should include moderate-income workforce housing, and “low-mod” units that are incentivized and realized through financing options available at the city, state and federal level. We need to create housing for local families.
This year at the City Council we were able to adopt an islandwide affordable housing policy requiring affordable units in all projects of a certain size.
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?
The Honolulu rail transit project and expansion of other multi-modal transportation options are the best ways to address the expanding transportation needs for our families. This includes expansion/refinement of the bus system, improving bicycle infrastructure, addressing walkability in our communities, and expanding programs like ride-share, van-share, and car-share.
Council District 8 will have five rail transit stations and transit-oriented development areas. I support TOD and smart growth principles because it will help spur the revitalization efforts of older neighborhoods to integrate for mixed uses and encourage more economic opportunities, social, cultural and housing opportunities along the rail line. Developing communities that allow additional residents to live, work, and play in the same general geographic area can significantly reduce car congestion and can improve their quality of life.
5. Does the city need to boost its revenue? If so, how should that be done?
It’s not a popular topic. But this is a serious issue facing Honolulu and cities, counties and states across the country as we all look to the future. Undoubtedly, inflation increases operating costs and increasing revenues can be necessary just to keep pace. That said, there are undoubtedly savings and efficiencies that the city can and must find before proposing increases. Both last year and this year, the City Council rejected a new bulky item pick-up fee and we were able to find other savings to make up for the “lost revenue.”
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?
The City Council is currently in discussion with the city administration to address this issue with a combination of effective enforcement, limited permits and strict criteria to control and address impacts on residential neighborhoods. There is also concern that allowing vacation rentals detracts from the available housing units for residents. All of these issues must be balanced in our neighborhoods.
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 believe that the ongoing efforts to convert to a “paperless” work environment at the city by storing city documents electronically will make searching and delivery of public records much more efficient and improve accessibility. It is also important that fees be kept to a minimum so as not to “chill” legitimate requests for public information. That said, there are privacy concerns that must continue to be acknowledged and addressed.
8. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The City and County of Honolulu currently is taking a proactive approach by looking into these areas of concerns with the assistance of the newly created Climate Change Commission. The commissioners have expertise in areas of climate change, sea level rise, and areas pertaining to climate change. Climate change will not only impact our ocean, and our near-shore structures and resources, but it will also notably impact our fresh water table and aquifers.
In 2016, voters approved a Charter amendment to create the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency. The City and County of Honolulu is also a member in 100 Resilient Cities, whose goal is “to help cities worldwide build resilience to the growing social, economic, and physical challenges of the 21st century.” As a council member I have supported, and will continue to support these efforts. These partnerships will help the city develop the needed expertise to understand these pressing issues, and determine effective options, best practices, and overall strategies for implementation to address these concerns. We need to be proactive and comprehensive in preparing for sea level rise and in addressing the threats to our reefs and our island environment.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Responsible community building and stewardship of our ‘aina. We need to create well-planned, thriving communities by incorporating good planning principles and addressing present and future infrastructure needs now, such as roads, sewers, parks, open space, school capacity and more. We must assure the safety and adequacy of our drinking water and the protection of our ocean resources; we must adopt sustainable practices appropriate for an island environment; we must include our kupuna and our children in efforts to improve the overall quality of life for our residents.
My top legislative priorities are pursuing transportation and infrastructure improvement; providing affordable housing; upgrading and expanding our parks and recreational spaces, including the Pearl Harbor Historic Trail revitalization; protecting our natural environment; and addressing community safety and public heath issues.
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