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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 Earl Tsuneyoshi, 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 Augie Tulba.
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 coronavirus pandemic has shown that there is a need for Oahu’s economy to diversify. However, efforts to diversify should be in addition to a continued focus on the sustainability of our tourism industry because the reality is that tourism will always be a driving factor in our economy.
The concrete steps that I would recommend to bring back tourism is to develop a feasible unified coronavirus mitigation plan with all stakeholders involved to establish Hawaii as a leading safe tourist destination. It’s imperative that we identify and implement these mitigating factors and standards rapidly to facilitate the full reopening of our state while reassuring our community that we have done our due diligence to keep our families safe as well.
My focus on diversifying the island’s economy would be threefold. One area would be further developing industries that are already present, including the military and film industries. Secondly, we should incentivize through tax credits, etc., for the development of current and new industries that would ease the cost of operating here. Thirdly, we must evaluate the current master plan to ensure that we support diversifying the economy while also preserving the landscape of our island.
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?
It is necessary for all stakeholders and experts to come together and to facilitate informed decision making on what areas we can cut and to prioritize expenses based on necessity. Priority needs to be on expenses that will maximize effects on the quality of life for our community and set the conditions for our economic recovery.
It will be important for us to leverage the available CARES funds to assist in rebuilding our economy through maximizing allocation of these funds toward eligible expenditures focused on services provided by our local companies.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
The primary difference would be to have a unified and consolidated effort from both the state and county levels across the state from the onset of the pandemic to facilitate a clear understanding of the situation and manage expectations of the community for our response.
The presence of competing efforts was clearly evident on multiple occasions and resulted in duplication of efforts and confusion for many in the community.
It is necessary to have a unified plan from our government when facing the uncertainty brought upon by this pandemic to impart confidence and to reassure the community in such a time.
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?
My focus would be to bring in the community and stakeholders early in on the process and ensure that the concerns and friction points were addressed prior to finalizing the plans. The importance of transparency throughout the process is vital in addressing concerns early on and gaining support of the community to execute these projects.
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?
It will be important to leverage the lessons learned from other similar communities worldwide in the operation and maintenance of the rail. We must incorporate best practices along with the knowledge of experts in the industry to ensure the viability of the operation of the rail.
Our already dire economic situation requires us to do this right from the start. We owe it to our taxpayers to do our due diligence.
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 believe that we need to address not only the immediate issues, but more importantly, take action to ensure that our hardworking families are not faced with becoming homeless themselves because of the hardships brought upon by our economy. We need to develop programs and implement initiatives to aid our hardworking families in overcoming these hardships.
I support the enforcement of the sit-lie ban laws in situations in which by doing so protects the corresponding rights of others to utilize the same areas in a safe manner. The ability for everyone in our community to enjoy our public areas should be afforded to all.
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 believe that the Honolulu Police Department has taken great strides in the recent past to continually improve policing practices. We must not generalize what is occurring across the nation and place that negative connotation on our own police force.
As in all organizations, accountability and transparency is critical in maintaining the trust and confidence of our police force and we must ensure that we hold those that choose to break the law and regulations accountable. We have systems in place for the oversight of our police department and we must ensure that we use these systems effectively to maintain this 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 recent stay-at-home order has provided our community with the opportunity to utilize and refine teleworking practices which has been extremely successful. We should encourage businesses and potentially incentivize this practice to continue remote working as we continue to open up.
The city should also focus on further strengthening the second city of Kapolei as it was originally intended. We have the infrastructure in place and the city should take the lead with our city and county departments to reorganize to promote a live-where-you-work, work-where-you-live concept. This will also attract more businesses to the West Side and overall reduce the traffic congestion on the road.
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 believe that the intent of the suspension was to allow our immediate focus to be on reacting to and overcoming the pandemic. In addition, the nature of the pandemic and the associated health precautions resulted in either a reduced presence of the workforce or use of remote work which does not facilitate these laws.
However, I do recognize the importance of these laws for transparency and accountability of our government and would support reopening meetings and public records in a timely fashion while also maintaining the safety and health of the workforce.
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 for us to continue short term and long term efforts and initiatives to address climate change effects on Honolulu through programs such as the City and County’s Climate Action Plan. We must continue to collaborate as communities and with the experts to effectively combat climate change and set the conditions for the effects that climate change will bring to our islands.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue in my district is the ever-increasing cost of living. We must focus on initiatives and action to allow our kupuna and local families the ability to continue to live here along with the ability of our keiki to return home as well.
It is imperative that we identify affordable housing options and ensure that we have truly affordable housing incorporated into future development.
We also must focus on minimizing additional tax burdens to our already encumbered working class local families and kupuna. Additionally, efforts should be made to identify tax credits and initiatives that could further assist our hardworking local families.