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 Warland Kealoha, 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, Paul Mossman, Alan Texeira 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?
The state has relied for decades on the tourism industry and not sought serious diversification of our economy. The City and County of Honolulu has had to provide services for the tourism industry as well as its own citizens. The return of tourism rests with the HTA and the HLTA as well as the tourism and airline industries. Frankly, the State of Hawaii already offers its valuable resources and a unique and safe environment to tourists. It is up to the hospitality operators and tourism destinations to provide a valued and memorable experience that competes optimally with other tourist destinations.
In my run for City Council, I possess but would reserve communicating my own economic diversifications plans. I would defer first to the 15 candidates vying for mayor of Honolulu for their specific plans for diversification so that if elected, I could work cooperatively and proactively to bring their economic visions forward.
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?
There should already be in place a freeze on hiring aside from essential positions (i.e. coroners). The city should evaluate and try to incentive early retirement where possible. New revenue for the city would mostly likely be borne by residents who are already paying exorbitant taxes and fees and contributing to a non-functioning HART. These same residents have had to withdraw savings, postpone vacations or large ticket purchases. The city should either cut back services, furlough where possible, and raise fees at only tourism-oriented destinations.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
While U.S. citizens were not informed as soon as they should have been about the potential deadly effects of the virus, there seemed to be no other crisis plan in place aside from waiting for the federal government to give each state guidelines. Yet island nations like New Zealand and Taiwan had been prepared and activated their pandemic response action plans resulting in less total deaths per capita and abatement of the COVID-19 spread.
I would have assumed that locally we had in place crisis plan responses for a variety of catastrophes cataloged with Civil Defense and the Department of Health and we would have taken emergency measures sooner to at least quarantine by sectors of the island to limit transmission to the local population by tourists as well as residents returning from the mainland. Contact tracing should have been launched as soon as it was confirmed to identify possible sources of virus-spreading carriers.
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?
Certainly, the question begs the follow-up question – important by whose standards and viewpoint? It becomes the responsibility of the City and County of Honolulu to adequately explain in detail the benefits to island residents as well as the shared vision for the public value of every project. Any and every project on an island must be able to substantiate its necessity as we are compelled to get it “right” by the limits of our geography.
Public meetings need to be held more often across Oahu where feedback is not vented but incorporated in design and location decisions of any project. It must also be acknowledged that a decision to forgo a project is also a valid decision to wait for better proposals. We live on treasured land; there is no realistic reason to lower our standards or expectations of developers.
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?
The PPP proposed has many unresolved questions and issues. HART has federal investigations to contend with and residents cannot afford an increase in taxes to underpin any shortfall or to offset the unknown timeline for tourism to recover fully to the state and generate a recovery. Any economist will call the pandemic unprecedented in its effects on our economy. The HART business plan and projections require extensive financial (re)modeling efforts to construct a conservative and realistic operational and maintenance blueprint before going forward. It will require an unprecedented revamp and reset of HART.
Project and financing plans need to be halted, altered and recalibrated immediately. If we experience an economic diaspora of a significant amount of residents, all city, county and state budget projections will have to be not only reduced (as they are being now) but also endure either further cuts to municipal services or failures to meet existing public sector retirement obligations.
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?
Homelessness on Oahu is not a singular problem. Yet it is approached most of the time with a disingenuous effort to shift or criminalize the problem. Given the multifaceted variables that lead to homelessness, a comprehensive and holistic approach must be realized before the issue can begin to be solved. The sit-lie ban has not worked on the mainland, has been adjudicated unconstitutional, and is completely ambiguous and absurd especially for an island state. Again there are states that have made some progress with homelessness and when the city can mount a collaborative approach, results will follow with multi-department support.
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?
The existing police commission (that is now fully staffed again) needs to review the national and international reach of public reaction to George Floyd’s murder. Lawmakers need to acknowledge and recognize that systemic racism and prejudice exists in Hawaii. All choke hold and aggressive tactics to detain suspects need to be outlawed immediately. All “no-knock” warrant activity must be rescinded immediately. Unlimited anonymity for police backed by SHOPO must be ended and amended.
Police funding to increase militarizing HPD needs to be halted and funds redirected to public social cause funding. Demonstrations of police militarized power achieves little in the form of deterrence but perpetuates an over-the-top display of fear and machismo. This posturing sends the worst public relations messages and no sense of public protection and community collaboration.
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?
We have an admirable bus transit system on Oahu that overall does an excellent job. Given the rise of residents working from home during the pandemic, it would be valuable to create incentives for businesses to enable and encourage their staff where possible to work remotely. To that end, there should also be concerted effort to increase higher speed and reliable internet availability to the entire island to facilitate this new normal in working protocols. Other potential solutions exist that would require collaboration with the state to achieve congestion reduction.
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?
The suspension of open government laws was an unnecessary overreaction. The citizens of the state would have been capable if alternate arrangements could have been made to disseminate meeting minutes, public records, and broadcasts (delayed sessions during the pandemic in lieu of live/current) for the public. Between Olelo and services such as Zoom, public sectors seemed to function relatively smoothly across the state over the last couple of months. There is no justifiable reason to suspend open government law. If necessary, steps could be taken to control access and egress from city government offices without disrupting access to public records.
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 has already launched an informational campaign regarding how and where the effects of sea level rise will be projected to be realized. It would be prudent for the Department of Planning & Permitting to be placing moratoriums on coastal construction. It would be valuable to see a coastal survey of beach erosion, an update on coral reef health, and a mitigation plan from the Army Corps of Engineers with potential solutions (aside from the Ala Wai concrete wall and ongoing dredging projects in the canal).
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
For District 3, the most pressing issue will be perceived to be homelessness. However, the actual issue is really access and availability of affordable housing. The ability to address these connected issues begins with a reform of the zoning and building code requirements for specifically affordable housing. In order to make changes, reform of the Department of Planning & Permitting as well as enabling local control of decision making under our realistic costs of building are required. The changes are critical to achieving an increase in any realistic inventory of housing stock under $1 million dollars/unit market value.