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 Dave Watase, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 5 representing Kaimuki, Palolo Valley, St. Louis Heights, Manoa, Moiliili, McCully, and portions of Ala Moana, Kakaako and Makiki. The other candidates are Philmund Lee and Calvin Say.
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?
Due to our island’s beauty, tourism will always be the driver of our economy.Developing diverse and sustainable sources of revenue will take time, and we need to focus on reopening our doors to tourism with safety as a top priority.This requires testing, tracking and making sure our hospitality industry is well-equipped with hygiene supplies and cleaning processes.
With the opportunity to diversify, we can support entrepreneurs, whether it is cleaning services, a plate lunch wagon or shell jewelry, by not burdening them with taxes. We need to incentivize businesses to source locally, buy local products and lessen our dependence on imports.
Keeping the farmers market open and doing farm-to-car programs were great examples of connecting people to local products during the stay-at-home order.We should also promote initiatives that support spending locally so that each dollar that enters our island economy changes hands as many times as possible before leaving the state.
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?
The city must hold off on projects that are not essential and focus on taking care of the city’s residents and basic needs first; it is a difficult time to seek new revenue sources now. We have to be more selective in our spending and look for opportunities that will rebuild and diversify our economy. Opportunities that provide the largest benefit in our community.
Spending, during times of crisis, should focus on supporting our local industries and residents to prevent business closures. Jobs pay the rent and put food on the table. We need to ensure that CARES Act funds are not saved for a rainy day, but are spent and circulated now. We should also encourage the community to spend locally within our closed economy until our visitor industry opens back up.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus in the United States, which can be attributed to the actions of our state and city leadership. But in hindsight, better communication and coordination could have prevented much confusion and frustration.
I would have made sure that the unemployment programs and any other programs that provided for people in need had adequate resources to help. In addition, I would focus on helping small businesses and other groups reopen in a safe manner.
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?
Community collaboration is necessary whenever any large project is being proposed.
I want to ensure that the community members have the opportunities to provide feedback and are actually heard. We must thoroughly study the details of the plans, check for any inconsistencies and problems, and work together to achieve success.
Most people aren’t against sustainable energy, recreational complexes or affordable housing. However, we need to keep the best interest of our locals in mind, and everything needs to be done in a balanced manner and rate.
I am against the 568-foot wind turbines in Kahuku when by comparison the tallest structure in the urban corridor is 400 feet. These residents were ignored when they pleaded against installing these large structures in their backyards.
I am also against projects like the Ala Wai Flood Mitigation Project as originally designed with upstream detention basins and concrete walls, the world class playground on Ala Moana Beach Park, and the bulldozing at Sherwood Forest for the Waimanalo Bay Beach Park Master Plan. With all of these projects, government officials and developers went through the motions without really listening to the people’s concerns.
I have personally experienced the frustration of not being heard and, as a council member, I would make sure to be the voice for the community.
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?
HART is supposed to be looking into a public-private partnership (P3) as the means to pay for the operation and maintenance. But there is a lack of transparency and accountability with the rail. The question is: How much of the rail-associated costs will have to be covered with property tax revenues even with a P3?
The cost of living in Hawaii only seems to be increasing and during these hard times, we cannot tax the residents any more. We need to make decisions that keep all of our locals and future generations in mind.
I would like to see a forensic audit and hold the people who abused their powers accountable.
It seems like a lot of the benefits of rail hinges upon future population growth around the transit-oriented developments (TOD) where higher densities are built around all the rail stations. In concept, this sounds like a plan, but I question if our island can accommodate all this future growth in a sustainable way.
Honolulu has a limited amount of resources, and instead of selling them to provide for new developments, we must target their use for the benefit of our children, rather than just the highest bidder.
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?
The intent of the sit-lie ban is to steer people into shelters and programs while keeping public places safe and open to all. However, the ordinances are ineffective and inhumane if we do not have adequate options for shelters and programs. I support services that immediately transition individuals into shelters and am committed to funding more facilities to help with mental health and drug addiction.
I look forward to expanding the recently launched Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons program, a step in a positive direction with the police, state and city working together to help people off the streets.
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?
I stand with many others around the world to end discrimination, racism and injustice.
In Hawaii, we are lucky to live in a diverse community, but racism still exists. The HPD is a part of our community too, and they have improved policing strategies and practices over the years. However, improvement is a constant effort, and I support continued training and education. We need to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the community, making decisions transparently and allowing voices to be heard.
I would also work to support community partnerships with organizations and individuals such as social workers, mental health counselors, and education specialists to get people the help they need and to allow police to focus on their primary duty: responding to crimes and protecting public safety. It is also important that oversight boards have adequate resources to ensure accountability.
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?
The state-issued “stay-at-home” order emptied our roads like never before. The majority of the traffic congestion is the back-and-forth between town and west Oahu. Businesses and organizations should continue to explore options of telecommuting and video conferencing, or adjusting normal business practices to embrace staggered work hours.
We can promote the benefits of living closer to where you work. We can also invest more into housing development and business infrastructure in Kapolei. The city can then incentivize businesses to operate in the area, with plans for residents to live there. This will reduce the time spent commuting for many, and will thus alleviate congestion.
UH Manoa being in session also impacts our traffic. All three of my children attended UH Manoa while living at our home up Saint Louis Heights. This saved them lots of time in commuting and allowed them to use that time for studying. We should increase the amount of student housing and dorms and make these options much more affordable for local students. This can help lessen the amount of students needing to commute back and forth during the week.
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?
Government transparency is important, and especially so during times of a national crisis when there are lots of unanswered questions and uncertainty. It is understandable that delays during the pandemic may have been due to limited workers and resources. Nevertheless, the government has a responsibility to the people and should have prioritized communication with the public and access to records in a timely fashion.
The decision to suspend the open government laws showed just how much we lack in technological resources. Live-streaming and videoconferencing are ways that allow transparency and public feedback while still practicing social distancing. Going forward, I think the use of alternative communications would be great to allow easier access and remote testimony, as well as helping us be prepared for any future emergencies.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
It is important to be prepared for climate change. The creation of the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency is the first step. I believe our city can act as an example, as many city projects fall within the sea level rise zone and should be designed to accommodate sea level rise or be pushed back to an area outside the zone.
My first-hand experience with climate change and sustainability issues is with the Ala Wai Flood Mitigation Project, which incorporated sea level rise considerations. However, the Army Corps abandoned all ecosystem measures including ecosystem restoration, removal of invasive species, the use of bioswales, reduction of impervious surfaces, residential stormwater storage and repurposing of nonpotable water, which were all sustainable techniques.
The Army Corps failed to consider traditional Hawaiian floodwater management systems as alternatives. I see too many projects being pushed forward with a disregard to cultural practices and those who live and work on the land. All too often the community engagement is just a formality with no real outreach and all the listening is done with ears that cannot hear.
Protect Our Ala Wai Watersheds, a nonprofit, invited the Army Corps and other governmental agencies to a community-generated forum displaying softer alternatives to detention basins and concrete walls. Community outcry forced the Army Corps to truly engage the communities of seven neighborhood boards, which resulted in the Army Corps verbally stating that they are changing their plan and removing six detention basins.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Out of the many issues I hear about at the seven monthly neighborhood board meetings in District 5, the most pressing issue is affordable housing (with crime and homelessness as a close second).
Our residents are being squeezed from all directions with the cost of living and taxes and fees constantly increasing. Too many of our children look at this and decide to leave for the mainland. We need to keep Hawaii affordable for our families and our future generations.
I want to see more truly affordable units that would provide ownership opportunities for first-time homebuyers. I want residents to have a chance against the foreign investors and large corporations. I want to put an end to illegal short-term rentals and monster homes. I will try my best to do what is right and what is in the best interest of my constituents.