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 Philmund Lee, 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 Calvin Say and Dave Watase.
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 tourism industry has potential to boost our economy. However, there needs to be safeguards, screenings, restrictions and quarantine and other measures to preserve and protect our island residents from coronavirus. I would encourage more advertising and promotion by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
We should diversify our economy to reduce dependency on tourism. We should promote industries and jobs to increase Hawaii sustainability and renewable energy goals of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. We need to promote and expand agriculture to maintain our food security and adequate supply levels in case of the interruption of shipping.
I would promote the manufacture of high-tech products and local products and produce that use Hawaii natural resources, and ocean products.
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?
First I will assemble the best and the brightest to collaborate to create a braintrust to see if city departments can be combined or functions coordinated to reduce duplicity and inefficiencies in providing city services.
We also need to gather all the stakeholders and the public to envision what new projects are needed and how the infrastructure should be designed to serve the needs of the public effectively and efficiently.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
The health and safety of our local residents is paramount, but the ability to work and make a living and sustain our economy is also a vital part of life. I would have invited all city employees, the public, workers, employers and businesses to help us with their ideas on how they can go back to work and what precautions they will take to safeguard and protect the worker and the public.
For example, beaches and parks and golf courses are vast and can be safely utilized if everyone followed strict guidelines to keep a safe distance from one another, do not come out if you are sick.
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?
Starting at the grass roots and neighborhood boards, we will involve the public to see their vision of what is needed in 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?
The first thing I would propose is legislation to allow public-private partnerships to build and operate the rail and repeal and dissolve HART and bring it back into the city administration directly under the scrutiny of the mayor and City Council.
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?
First of all, I would not sell off or grant long-term leases of city-owned affordable housing. And I would appoint efficient and effective leaders to fully maximize and utilize the many federal grants and programs for low-income housing and homelessness. I would grant zoning and building concessions to developers who would like to build affordable housing as part of their development efforts.
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 had the honor to serve as the deputy corporation counsel for the Honolulu Police Department and the Honolulu Police Commission. I am proud to say the Honolulu blues are highly trained professionals and mostly minorities as Hawaii is mostly minorities so we do not have the same kind of racial discrimination like on the mainland.
HPD police officers in general do not go around using excessive force or killing suspects. They are highly trained professionals. Body cams and more car cams can help to preserve evidence to help prosecute suspects. And nowadays, nearly everyone in the public also has the ability to video an incident like the one in Minnesota.
A police standards board and the licensing of police officers are ways to improve policing and police accountability. If would be proper and fitting to increase police oversight, but instead we need to ask how we can better protect our officers from being shot and killed by suspects like at Diamond Head recently.
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?
First of all there needs to be a strategic plan that ensures that there is adequate housing close to the job and work centers to reduce commuting. Ideally you can have a business on the ground floor and live above the business. Work can also be redesigned so that much of it can be done at home. Also the government and large companies can stagger their business hours or work shifts to alleviate rush-hour congestion.
We can not rely on the rail as traffic congestion is expected to be much worse than it is now. We need to revitalize and increase the bus transportation systems. Promote greater participation in ride shares and carpools.
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 am not in favor of suspending the open government laws. Open government and public scrutiny of government actions are the basis of democracy and a mechanism to ensure government accountability to the public.
10. 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 move to a net-zero carbon economy, an equitable transition that ensures that harmful impacts are reduced or wiped out completely.
We must take steps that are politically, culturally,and morally acceptable to all the stakeholders. We need to implement a people-centered approach where gains are shared fairly by identifying potential economic effects, vulnerable people, communities, industries and ecosystems for climate-change related impacts.
We must promote ambitious strategies that are clean, sustainable, balanced, equitable, resilient, strong and inclusive we move forward on clean energy and climate change goals.
All government agencies should establish zero-emission energy transition plans, working with energy experts, trade unions, business and government to ensure a just transition for workers and communities.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The high cost of living and rising taxes and less government services. I will work for a more responsive government and promote government effectiveness and efficiency to give the public a bigger bang for its bucks.