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 Colleen Hanabusa, candidate for Honolulu mayor. The other candidates are Keith Amemiya, Rick Blangiardi, Duke Bourgoin, Ernest Caravalho, John Carroll, Karl Dicks, Tim Garry, Mufi Hannemann, Choon James, Audrey Keesing, Micah Mussell, Kymberly Pine, Bud Stonebraker 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?
The concept of diversifying the economy has been a debated subject since statehood. Ironically the issue then was the dependence on agriculture, specifically sugar and pineapple. At that time, there was a third leg to the stool called economy and it was tourism. Today, tourism and the military dominate with probably government collectively being our greatest industry.
We should determine how much of each industry is needed. For example to generate the same amount of money today than in the past we have to accommodate more tourists. Tourism will always be a major part of our economy but it should not dominate. We must bring tourism back without jeopardizing the safety and well-being of our workers in the industry and the public who may be accessing the same services. Until there is a vaccine and better testing, I anticipate we will continue with masks and social distancing.
To diversify the island’s economy, we need to recognize that tourism is a service industry and diversification has to recognize this. I have always been a proponent of digital media and STEM-related industries; however, Hawaii must invest in the infrastructure for these industries.
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?
Recovery will be contingent upon having projects which will provide jobs and a quality of life. Cutting city services is not the answer; however, projects which may not be immediately necessary should be put on the back burner. The problem with revenue for the city is that it is constitutionally mandated that real property tax is the source of revenue. The city can have small fees, but it cannot, like the state, impose other taxes/fees.
For the immediate future, the potential for revenue is the federal government. What needs to happen is the HEROES Act must past and the city has to be granted flexibility in the use of those funds and with more grants from the federal government. I trust that my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives will push the infrastructure package that we have been advocating for years. This is very similar to the public works projects after the Great Depression.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
Physicians were approaching me early on to say that the government was not taking the pandemic seriously and we must shut down. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but I do believe I would have acted swifter in terms of isolating people. I am still unclear as to whether we did enough to secure test packages. The issue has been the overlapping jurisdictions of the state and the city and county. I believe in situations such as this the working relationship between all levels of government is critical. I believe I have that ability.
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?
It is unfortunate if “important projects” and “community” are at odds. I believe the problem with the projects at issue here has been the length of time. It would seem that possibly at one point in time certain members of the community may have been advocates and this waned over time.
I believe that with COVID-19 we know how important government projects are to the recovery of the economy. However, we also know that renewable energy projects like the turbines in Kahuku split the community because it was contended that what was approved and presented to the community differed from what was built.
Allegations are also found as to whether affordable housing is really for the working class people. I do believe that given the economic situation, the recreational complexes may have to wait, especially until social distancing can be addressed. The problem with these projects is transparency and representation to the public. I believe that there should be a time limit as to when these projects must be built and failure to meet these timelines will require re-notification to the public.
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 issue of whether the last phase will be constructed by way of a public-private partnership (P3) arrangement holds much of the answer to this question. When the Hawaii State Legislature granted the city the right to determine if it would enact the .5% GET, it was clear (and made clearer by the last two enactments) that GET cannot be used for operation and maintenance. Notwithstanding, there are operations and maintenance covered in part in the Ansaldo/Hitachi contract. This is why I believe how HART negotiated with Ansaldo/Hitachi on the P3 is critical to this answer.
The issue of the financing of the rail system and the pandemic has to be analyzed in terms of the status of various funding sources. The FTA contribution of $750 million has not been received to date. Also, it appears that construction has slowed and as such there does not appear to be an urgency for Tax Exempt Commercial Paper (TECP) to be implemented. Please note that to date HART and the city have not had to float revenue or general obligation bonds for this project. How long the pandemic goes, whether there is a P3, and the FTA contribution are all key elements to the response of this inquiry. HART and the city should satisfy the concerns of the FTA and secure that funding source, which I believe the city has not received for five years.
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 sit-lie ban has been ruled upon by the U.S. Ninth Circuit. Until there is sufficient shelter, the sit-lie ban cannot be utilized. I am not privy to the agreements made by the present leadership with the State of Hawaii; however, it does appear that there is a difference. I do not believe that the overlapping jurisdictions help this problem.
There was an effort for a unified effort early on and this may have added to the problem. I recall specifically why the city assumed jurisdiction over the Kakaako park area, which was under the jurisdiction of the Hawaii Community Development Association. The city should not accept the primary responsibility for enforcement without the adequate funds to support the necessary health agencies, etc. This problem cannot be disjointed in its approach.
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?
Discrimination should not be tolerated anywhere, including here. However, we are a unique place in the ethnic make-up of our people. Compared to the rest of the country we would be considered predominantly of “color.” It is time to look at the structure of the police commission and what its role is. Many of the city’s commissions appear to primarily be tasked with the hiring and firing of the chiefs or CEOs. The community needs to have input into whether a “citizen” organization like a police commission should have true oversight over the police department.
The burning issue is what should be the role of the mayor; and do the people want to hold the mayor accountable. If that is the case then this structure has to change. Only the voters can change this by charter amendment. If the mayor is to be accountable, then what is the role of the police commission? The question this should raise is who does the police chief report to or receive policy direction from?
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?
How we live, work and play will answer the issue of traffic congestion. The problem is we are commuting to downtown Honolulu. I have done that commute for most of my life from the West Side (from the eighth grade). The city should plan true transit-oriented developments around critical rail stops.
To stop the congestion, not only should it be convenient to use rail but there must also be a reduction in the flow to downtown Honolulu. Traffic is as such because people are trying to get to a destination by a given time. As a commuter, when the University of Hawaii and private schools are not in session, it is a completely different commute. COVID-19 has also shown us that with so many working from home, it is a lifestyle issue that can alleviate congestion.
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. I understand the fact that government did not want people congregating; however, making government decision making visible and open to the public could also be accommodated without suspending open government laws. It should have been an emergency proclamation which facilitated how the Legislature could continue to meet and make decisions in public.
So many of us have watched the various news stations for updates or the legislative sessions when they were televised. When I was Senate president we instituted the paperless system which, over the years, has improved. People should be able to testify. With Zoom and other methods of electronic interactive communications, there should have been some modification, but total suspension was not necessary.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
During this pandemic, I wondered why the city was not doing more in this area. Without people on the beaches, it would have been a perfect time to study and lay out plans. I am hoping that studies were being made as to the impact of people on the reefs as well. Now is the time to have gathered that data. This is very similar to the air quality comparisons which we saw in LA during the pandemic.
Honolulu’s major challenge with climate change will be Waikiki and our shorelines. Though Kamehameha Highway is a state highway, a more concerted effort should have been made on the Kaaawa side to fix that problem. The pandemic provided a unique opportunity in that sense.
11. What other issue would you like to discuss here?
The fact that we — the United States and the state — are a global economy, we have to be prepared for how we can address the effects of the pandemic and any future crisis. We have to understand what our role is as the most forward state in the Pacific.