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 Bud Stonebraker, candidate for Honolulu mayor. The other candidates are Keith Amemiya, Rick Blangiardi, Duke Bourgoin, Ernest Caravalho, John Carroll, Choon James, Karl Dicks, Tim Garry, Colleen Hanabusa, Mufi Hannemann, Audrey Keesing, Micah Mussell, Kymberly Pine and Ho Yin (Jason) Wong.
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?
When you think of our Hawaii economy imagine an aquarium. Our aquarium has different kinds of fish and nice coral features. We have a bubbler and even tools to clean it. But it isn’t big enough to have its own ecosystem and produce food for the fish. So we feed them. We have to add food from the outside. That’s the way our economy is. We need tourism. Thousands of jobs depend on tourism.
Do we have to have it at the same busy levels? Maybe not, but if tourism doesn’t open everyone is affected. If we lose tourism we may never recover as a city.
Don’t let all these candidates tell you the same thing, “We relied too much on tourism, but COVID taught us blah blah blah. Diversify the economy with high-tech, movie industry et cetera.”
The irony here is the city can’t fix its own roads but we’re asking how it can diversify the economy? Besides, who says it is the government’s job to diversify the economy? The government’s job is to get out of the way so the people can diversify the economy. The mayor just needs to take out the trash and that’s why I say that I am running to be the “janitor in chief.” I will fix the roads. I will pick up the trash and abandoned vehicles. I will clean up corruption and support our police. Lets go back to basics at Honolulu Hale or else our duties might be lost for our ambitions.
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?
Last year the city cut off its own foot by banning short-term rentals. That was 20% of the market, and a billion-dollar slice of the visitor industry. That doesn’t seem to make sense especially for kamaaina who live and rent out their own room or cottage just to get by. They pay the cleaners and landscapers and maintenance people, who all lost their jobs, mind you. All these people would pay taxes if only they had jobs.
I would design a temporary short-term rental unfreezing. For two years we will allow residents who rent on their own property to operate without penalty. This will be a shot in the arm for the economy and a job for all the local workers.
As far as cutting expenditures, we know that rail is draining money from other departments. The roads aren’t being fixed. Water pipes aren’t being upgraded (watch how many break over the summer). TheBus system is being cannibalized by the needs of HART.
I believe we should work to finish the rail up to Middle Street. It is about 90% done and could potentially be running by 2022. Imagine a Middle Street Depot with shops and restaurants upstairs, or grab a coffee before you get on an express bus direct to your office. The express bus system would go directly to Waikiki, Downtown, Ala Moana, the airport or even Kaneohe with just one or two stops. These would be supported with ride sharing, Uber or Lyft.
Postpone the last four miles until we see how it’s going at Middle Street.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
Initial concerns were warranted, but the Imperial model estimating massive fatalities and overrun emergency services was seriously flawed. None of those things happened. It wasn’t 2.2 million deaths and a 3.4% fatality rate like the World Health Organization told us.
The science proved this model wrong. But after they told us to flatten the curve the goalposts were moved. Instead of over-running our health care we were now trying to stop it. But as a virus must run its course through a body so it must run its course through a population. We had switched from a mitigation model to an elimination model without hearings or discussions in the legislature. Our executive officials continued to implement the same drastic measures the initial model projected even though this was wildly off.
It is the fear-mongering that is keeping our people in a state of panic. Masks are unhealthy. You breath about half a liter of air during normal relaxed breathing. That’s about 2 cups’ worth. This ‘tidal volume’, as it’s called, is decreased when you put even mild resistance on your breathing which a mask creates. Now your brain is getting less oxygen which in turn creates a cyclical state of stress.
The over-reaction of our leaders was like a cytokine storm in effect killing the host, our economy, far more than the actual virus did. The continued embrace of this narrative will cripple us for many years to come.
I would have monitored the hospitals for actual sickness (not infections) and fatalities before mandating quarantine and other heavy-handed measures.
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?
We have to answer this in light of the fact that there is corruption in the government. Nothing can get done in the people’s interest when the government leaders are in bed with the labor unions. Just look for whom they endorse and run away from that candidate.
Most politicians owe somebody a favor. These guys have to pay their friends back, usually with lucrative deals and shady contracts. Another way they do it is that big money jobs will go to the lowest bidder, somehow connected to the politician, a cousin or uncle. They get the job but then there is a change order, and another, and another. Pretty soon the cost is through the roof and they are robbing us blind.
Removing the corruption from city government will wipe the slate for a cleaner process of smart development. I also believe the neighborhood boards should be empowered to have an actual say over the projects in their communities. Their recommendations usually get ignored by the City Council.
Also, some affordable housing projects avoid rigorous scrutiny by coming under a blinding halo of “caring for the poor.” Permits are often rammed though without oversight. Laughable “studies” are done offering support. One traffic study in Kailua concluded that a proposed 72-unit building, with 56 parking stalls, (on less than an acre) would have minimal congestion impact. But the traffic study was done during lockdown.
Then, sometimes the units don’t go to the poor. They go to friends of the developer or somebody connected to the mayor; these are insiders.
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 rail’s operating budget is estimated to be around $150-$175 million a year and I believe the farebox recovery is 30% based upon a daily ridership of 100,000 (at 100,000 per day it will cover 30% of the operating cost). We can realistically only expect around 30,000 actual riders per day, which means the rail will need to be subsidized at approximately 90%.
Where do we get that money? Some suggest surcharges on goods and services built in or on the rail line or letting the GET increase remain. Though I am leery of these options I would consider the former. When I voted against this tax increase almost 20 years ago I stated on the House floor that “there is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax increase.” I do not support raising property taxes to finance this.
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?
Public-private partnerships in local communities can provide assistance for local homeless (houseless). Some cities fly their homeless populations to Hawaii with a one-way ticket. This is cruel to them and unfair to us. If they will not work and become productive we should send them back to their homes where they have a support system in place. The sit-lie ban may a good, though largely ineffective, attempt which forces a mere migration of camps from one area to another.
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?
Hawaii’s police have been a shining example of non-discrimination in the country. We have not seen anywhere near the social problems that have arisen in many US cities. We want to keep it that way. We are proud in Hawaii to have such a variety of ethnic groups. We grew up with Rap Reiplinger, Andy Bumatai and Frank De Lima teasing every ethnic group, including our own. We all loved it and laughed together.
Racism is largely absent in Honolulu’s Police Department and our police especially need our support. HPD recently came out from the cloud of scandal that has rocked their department. We need complete closure from that as well as healthy transparency moving forward.
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 first step is to fix the roads we already have so they are as fast and as safe as they can be. Then we can do all the other stuff every other candidate will probably say; staggered work schedules, public transportation, traffic light recalibration, bike lanes and the like.
One interesting area to be looking forward to is the self-driving car era. Huge investments are going into working out the details but it is an exciting industry. Imagine a time when your car drives you to work in the morning and, instead of parking, it keeps driving Uber for you during the day, earning money. It also solves a parking problem. After work your car picks you up to head home while you watch the evening news or eat your dinner. Traffic is going to change for the better with high tech.
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 disagree with his actions. The suspending of Sunshine Laws that Ige has done is a dangerous precedent to set. It is especially worrying that the Legislature has sat idly by allowing these powers to rest with the governor long after his 60-day period was over.
The Legislature needs to get involved. It is unconstitutional and I am surprised that other mayoral candidates aren’t concerned about this serious civil rights issue. Lawsuits have been filed and we can expect that more will be until this is rectified.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Before we try to tackle global warming why don’t we pick up our own trash? We live buried under abandoned vehicles all over our island. Our public restrooms don’t have sinks, or doors or sometimes toilets. Before we ask the mayor how to tackle a global issue let’s see if he or she can fix the bathroom or the showers at the beach park.
That is what I am going to do. Honolulu needs to focus on the essential services like roads, water, trash, police and zoning.
11. What other issue would you like to discuss here?
I am a keiki o ka aina and I love this land. I am greatly concerned with the overbearing nature of our government as of late. I believe in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The policies of the government have caused our people to live in fear and worry. And I see that our freedoms are being taken from us under pretense.
It has been said that a politician is someone who puts their finger to the wind and follows the crowd. They’ll say or do anything to get elected. But they’re there for themselves. On the other hand a statesman is someone does what is right for the people, regardless of the pressure or the next election. I am not a politician. I am a statesman who will do right for the people of Hawaii.