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 Augie Tulba, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 9 representing Waikele, Village Park, Royal Kunia, Mililani Town, West Loch, Iroquois Point, and portions of Ewa Villages and Ewa Beach. The other candidates are Will Espero and Earl Tsuneyoshi.
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?
Yes, we need to continue to rely on our tourism industry as a major driver of our economy until new business models can be developed and proven sustainable.
In turning Hawaii’s tourism market back on I would:
• Set a date of July 15 to reopen so that hotel and airline management can have time to ramp up to receive guests;
• I would have the visitor industry provide a detail plan of reopening protocols to the governor by June 21 and to the public by June 30
• I would incentivize visitors to have COVID-19 testing within 72 hours of departure for Hawaii and for doing so we would provide their first-night stay complimentary. Most importantly I would approach these economic tasks with a renewed level of hope and aloha for our future and not saturated in the propaganda of fear.
The initial economic sector I would look to for diversifying our economy would be agriculture. The industry can provide an honorable and honest day’s work for a good wage and as importantly take a major step to sustain our homegrown food supply.
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?
I anticipate Fiscal Year 2021 revenues will be less than was projected in the related budget just approved by the council and forwarded to the mayor for his signature.
To address the reduced revenue, I would first return all department budgets to Fiscal Years 2020 levels. While I would preserve public safety budgets, I would then look at each department to seek further reduction, without doing an across-the-board approach to budget cutting. The better my staff and I understand the individual departments’ financial needs the better we will be able to make the hard decisions of what not to fund.
I have been concerned for years about city-owned property that is sitting idle or being underutilized. I would look to sell or redeploy city assets to improve revenues or reduce operating costs.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
It is always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I would have supported the initial stay-at-home order of the governor, but once it was obvious that our health care facilities were going to be able to handle our most critical cases, I would have asked industry sectors to develop reopening protocols and then moved to safely reopen our local economy by the end of May.
Once elected to office I will introduce a bill to the City Council that the mayor will have to seek certification for any emergency order he or she will issue after the initial 30 days. The initial reauthorization would require a simple majority of council members but any reauthorization beginning with the second would require a super-majority.
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 will be open and transparent in my work on behalf of the taxpayer. My staff and I will study each and every project before I make a public statement. Project partners, including the public, may or may not agree with my position, but they will never misunderstand where I stand on any particular issue.
First, building relationships based on trust and respect is critical and will help decision making both on the council and with those important partners in our business community. Second, we need to make sure that the goal of any project is specific and shared by all partners in the project, including the public. Finally, the cost of the project must be in the best interest of the taxpayer.
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?
For purposes of this response we will assume that the rail farebox will cover no more than 25% of the cost of operations and maintenance. I would investigate two areas to raise new annual revenue to cover the 75% shortfall.
First would be to negotiate the maximum possible rental leases with all vendors and tenants at the various trainsit-oriented development (TOD) stations; and second, I would maximize our advertising opportunities on the rail cars. We will need to develop additional revenue or city and county general fund monies will be needed to cover the shortfall.
As to additional financing for the project, I am concerned with what appears to be some short-term disturbance in the municipal bond markets and the mayor and Honolulu City Council uses that vehicle to cover short term cash flow requirements. If rates on municipal bonds begin to rise, then the cost of the rail project will once again increase.
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?
We need to bring fresh ideas and new solutions to the issue of homelessness on Oahu. It will be best if all stakeholders will agree to the objective and could also agree on a plan of action to accomplish the goal.
Having said that, I am committed to no longer allowing the homeless to live on the streets of Honolulu. Our compassion must be for the homeless individual first and foremost, but it would need to be clear to all stakeholders and the homeless individuals that residing on the streets of our community is no longer an option.
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 am a supporter of the Honolulu Police Department. The recent Black Lives Matters protest is an example of how our police department responds to Americans expressing their first amendment rights. I could not have been prouder of HPD.
While we need to encourage and support HPD to offer the best of training to our officers, we need to be vigilant for any members of the force that fall short of our standard.
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?
I would work with other City Council members and the mayor to see if a plan of staggered staff arrivals could be implemented in conjunction with an aggressive work-from-home program, where feasible.
If successful at Honolulu Hale I would reach out to the University of Hawaii to share our experience and see if their educators and off-campus student body could create a similar program. I am aware that UH is already working toward such a goal.
Finally, if traffic congestion remains an issue then I would implement a license plate program geared to the last digit of the plate number. Odd numbers have the roads on M-W-F and even numbers on T-Thur-Sat. This would encourage workers to form ride-sharing programs.
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 understand there will be circumstances where an executive will need to issue an emergency order. If he or she feels they need to suspend open government laws, then I would also support that decision.
However, should the executive want to extend the emergency order beyond 30 days then he or she would need to seek certification from their legislative body by simple majority. If the executive required a second extension or more, then the certification vote by the legislative body would have to be by a super-majority.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I would welcome discussions with groups that are known for their care of our natural habitat and coral reefs. My approach would be to develop a cottage industry about climate change offering education, exploration and hands-on preservation that will provide both well-paying wages and make Hawaii a leader in better understanding how man and nature can better co-exist.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I have knocked on the front doors of over 10,000 homes in District 9 since my campaign began in 2019. The No. 1 issue for residents of my district is public safety. They are specifically concerned about violent crime against our seniors and crimes of opportunity. The residents would like a more visible presence by HPD.
District 9 is made up of three Honolulu Police Department districts. As the West Side, and Ewa Beach in particular, has increased significantly in population over the last 25 years, the number of police beats in each HPD district has not.
My goal will be to work with other council members, the new mayor and Chief Ballard to begin the process of increasing police beats in each of the three District 9 HPD Districts.