Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary 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 Alan Texeira, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 3 representing Ahuimanu, Heeia, Haiku, Kaneohe, Maunawili, Kailua, Olomana, Enchanted Lake and Waimanalo. The other candidates are Kalani Kalima, Esther Kia’āina, Warland Kealoha, Paul Mossman and Greg Thielen.
1. Oahu’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
I have long believed that Hawaii should not be a “value” destination intended to attract as many visitors as possible. The drive to bring more and more tourists has only adversely impacted our natural resources, public services, infrastructure and, most importantly, our people. While these are primarily state issues, as we seek to “reopen” Hawaii to visitors, protections are needed to minimize the health threats to our people such as certified pre-screenings before traveling to Hawaii. We also need to continue with vigorous enforcement of the rules for visitors, such as quarantines.
While government action can help to support economic diversification, it cannot compel it. We need to look at our regulatory environment and find ways that we can help support alternate industries. One issue I would like to pursue is a comprehensive revision to our Land Use Ordinance. By and large this is a document that is over 30 years old and has only undergone piecemeal changes while our population has grown exponentially and the entirety of how we live and work has undergone major changes. How can we expect new industries to emerge when the very core of how we regulate land hasn’t changed in a near-generation?
2. As the economy struggles, the city may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
This is a highly speculative and subjective question. Having worked on both the state and city budgets I can honestly say that the city’s budget tends to have very little “fat.” Many of the city’s functions are funded by special funds so, outside of real property taxes, a decline in one area of revenue doesn’t necessarily have system-wide impacts. Similarly, reducing expenses in one department doesn’t yield across-the-board savings. So we need to take each situation on a case-by-case basis.
More importantly, we have to remember that the vast majority of services the city provides are essential and any disruption to these services, by choice or force, can have an adverse impact on our economic recovery. So, to the extent possible, we should seek to maintain services levels — especially during an economic downturn.
We can look to the Great Recession to give us some indication of what maintained a fairly strong fiscal position and, aside from the “furlough Fridays,” services remained relatively uninterrupted. So this can give us some confidence that, at this time, layoffs or significant reduction in services are not likely.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
The Honolulu City Council’s response to the COVID-19 crisis was good. It enabled a majority of government operations and services to continue unhindered. The council was the first department in the city or state to close and send employees home to remote work. Subsequent remote testimony policies were adopted to allow public participation in council meetings to continue. A new council Committee on Economic Assistance and Revitalization was created to ensure CARES Act money is appropriately directed to those in need.
Much of what I would have done differently would have been implementing the policies we need before we needed them. Had we expanded paid leave and health benefits, established a living wage, and put people into affordable homes, the economic impact on our community would not have been felt so deep and so wide; we would have been able to better collectively share the burden and take care of each other.
To protect our local families during the reopening process, we need to maintain all necessary COVID-19 related safety precautions in the workplace, expand COVID-19 testing, including testing of airplane passengers for COVID-19 prior to travel and invest in infrastructure for timely contact tracing and quarantine services.
4. Oahu residents, government officials and developers have often been split over efforts to build new projects like renewable energy facilities, recreational complexes or even affordable housing. What would you do to make sure important projects are successful while respecting community input and concerns?
I would ensure that any project which proposes a significant change in a property’s use obtain community buy-in from the beginning and follow-up with updates on the project. City improvement projects that require extensive planning and funding must follow a lengthy completion process, sometimes six to eight years, and may lose community support along the way. It is imperative to keep the community informed of how long exactly a project can take and provide status updates of the project over time.
Given that there have been several city projects which, after having been in the planning phase for a long time were subjected to community opposition once construction began, I want to conduct a thorough review of all the pending projects that have been on the books for more than two years and ensure that community support is still present before we expend money on construction.
5. How should the city pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built? Do project plans or financing plans need to be changed as the economy struggles in the wake of the pandemic?
In an ideal world the operation and maintenance could be funded through a mix of: savings from reduction in redundant bus service, increased federal support and allowing the GET surcharge to remain in place and be used for system O&M.
The unfortunate reality is that the next council and administration are going to have to look at revenue increases or service cuts to fund the rail operation and maintenance. We do not yet know what the financial impacts of the pandemic are going to be on the city so it’s too early to say how the financial plans for the project’s operations and maintenance are going to be impacted.
By their very nature, public transportation systems are subsidized. Currently the city’s policy sets a target farebox recovery rate of 25-30% — which is down from the previous range of 27-33%. So whatever the final operating and maintenance costs for rail are, we can reasonably presume the subsidy will need around 75% of actual costs and increasing fares to significantly reduce the subsidy is an unlikely option. A good understanding of the full-year O&M costs for our public transportation system (rail, TheBus, Handi-Van) and how those relate to current economic conditions is needed.
6. Homelessness remains a problem on Oahu. What would you do differently from what the current leadership is doing? Do you support the enforcement of laws targeted at unsheltered homeless people such as the sit-lie ban? Why or why not?
I support sit-lie bans as we must provide a reasonable amount of safety and mobility to our residents when traversing municipal pathways. However, whenever the city conducts “sweeps” it must ensure that it can provide adequate services and facilities for the impacted individuals.
I would push the new administration to support and facilitate the construction of more temporary shelter spaces on private property. We have had a lot of interest, from private landowners, who want to provide space for the construction of temporary shelters but most of these initiatives have failed due to permitting and other regulatory issues. Government should be as vigorous in providing support as we are in undertaking enforcement action.
7. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. What should be done to improve policing and police accountability in Honolulu? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
Honolulu has one of the finest police departments in the nation. HPD officers are highly trained and are regularly recruited by other municipalities. At the end of the day, employees of law enforcement agencies are public servants and they should be upheld to the same level of public scrutiny as any other individual in public government.
As a first step, we should provide the Honolulu Police Commission with greater authority and oversight over the police department and its personnel. Compared to other municipalities, the police commission has a very limited oversight role and that must change. A safer process for complainants, to eliminate fear of reprisal, including an independent and outside body to investigate complaints and take corrective action against the department and its employees should be established.
8. 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?
For decades, options such as: telecommuting, flex hours for workers and staggering of class schedules have been suggested as tools to help reduce congestion.
If the pandemic has had any positive impact it’s that it has shown many businesses that telecommuting is both possible and does not necessarily result in reduced performance. It is also forcing us to revisit many of the prevailing paradigms of how business and schools operate. But more importantly: We have seen major declines in roadway congestion. As we think about how to operate in the post-pandemic era we should take this opportunity to embrace some of these temporary measures as permanent ones.
On the infrastructure side: We also need to look at improved management and coordination of our traffic signals and consider expanding the use of “scramble” pedestrian crossings which give pedestrians a dedicated window to cross rather than having pedestrians and vehicles compete with each other which, particularly at major intersections, can cause congestion. Expanding bike lanes and improvements to our sidewalks and pathways can also encourage reduced dependency on cars within our communities helping to lower localized congestion.
9. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
I do not believe that the suspension of a law immediately means the spirit or intent of such will be purposefully disregarded. Regarding the “open government” laws: Because of the highly restrictive and prescriptive nature of the Sunshine Law it would’ve been very difficult to experiment with different meeting options in the dynamic environment of an ongoing pandemic, had the law not been suspended.
Having worked for the council chair’s office during the pandemic I can say that the governor’s decision to suspend the open government laws actually helped the council to ensure continuity of business and facilitate public participation when other boards and bodies had to suspend their meetings.
10. 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 Council District 3 office is considering various proactive measures to address the impending effects of climate change. Working closely with the newly established City Office on Climate Change, Sustainability and Resilience (OCCSR), Bill 25 (2019) was passed to implement the state’s Energy Conservation code to meet Hawaii’s clean energy goals. In collaboration with the OCCSR office, various town halls were held across the windward side to provide information on climate change and determine focal points to address.
Legislation is being proposed to establish sea-level rise exposure zone rules and updates to our shoreline setbacks to ensure that whatever new construction proposed will not, in the near future, be competing with the public for beach space. Similarly, our core urban infrastructure plans need to take into consideration the potential for sea level rise and these need to be “living documents” that allow for accurate and regular updates based on scientific data.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
From Kahaluu to Waimanalo, homelessness and its accompanying concerns are an issue for all of us on Oahu. Continuing to provide much-needed facilities and services to our houseless communities like the Waimanalo’s Hui Mahiai Aina temporary COVID-19 homeless shelter, proposed Waimanalo Kauhale project and Kaneohe Joint Outreach Center are vital components to help address this issue.
As mentioned earlier, we need to push the new administration to support and facilitate the construction of more temporary shelter spaces such as these on private property. We have had a lot of interest, from private landowners, who want to provide space for the construction of temporary shelters but most of these initiatives have failed due to permitting and other regulatory issues.