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 John Carroll, candidate for Honolulu mayor. The other candidates are Keith Amemiya, Rick Blangiardi, Duke Bourgoin, Ernest Caravalho, Choon James, Karl Dicks, Tim Garry, Colleen Hanabusa, Mufi Hannemann, 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?
We cannot drastically reduce tourism because it will be years before we can strengthen other aspects of our economy. State and county leaders, however, must address the issue of “How much is too much tourism?” There is no way to amortize the billions of dollars in resources currently vested in tourism so any change must be longer-term.
As a start, I agree with the many residents who believe that 10 million tourists are too many for preserving our natural attractions and our residents’ quality of life, and I would advocate for a reasonable number being about 8 million.
To help our legitimate tourist industry, I would lead an effort to severely crack down on illegal transient vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts.
Everybody talks about it but few do anything about diversification. Conducting business online has proven that more can be done at a distance. Electronics, communications, and medicine, along with new light manufacturing, are areas to consider.
My prime candidate for diversification is agriculture. As mayor, I will veto any attempt by the City Council to rezone even one acre of what is now land zoned for agriculture. Many acres of agricultural land have been taken over by developers, but many cultivatable acres remain unused. Making O’ahu self-sustainable for food is unlikely but an effort must be pursued to dramatically increase crops for local markets. Increasing high-rise housing developments on urban zoned land is one step toward preserving lands that will help make agriculture a major element of the island’s economy. I will, for example, urge one new dairy farm on the 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?
For starters, as mayor I will declare that a major renovation of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center is foolhardy during this decade. It should be properly maintained but not expanded. More effort should, instead, be made to market the underused facilities of the Hawaii Convention Center, thereby increasing revenues to be shared by the city. If new venues are desired for the NBC, let them be funded by the several major developers in Kakaako—who have already been given a “free ride” for the rail project (i.e., benefiting from rail’s proximity and stations but providing zero financial assistance).
To ensure a balanced budget, hard decisions must be made by the mayor and the City Council. “Pet” or “cosmetic” projects coming from the council will be immediately vetoed. In a harsh economic environment, “lean and mean” will be the order of every day.
We cannot continue “business as usual” and cannot automatically accept the need for every position occupied by a city/county employee. It behooves HGEA to negotiate in good faith for eliminating positions either not useful for providing city services or not even occupied.
COVID-19 has forced many businesses to shut down for good; therefore, post-COVID-19 re-openings or new businesses established will be the best source for new revenue — especially those that cater to island residents. Short of direct financial support, my city administration will do everything possible to expedite licenses and permits, environmental impact statements (where required), and the establishment of new transit routing where needed to ensure easy access to those businesses.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
This really is a question oriented more for the state than the city/county. Any new plan for Oahu must be coordinated with state and federal plans and requirements. It also must fit the needs for individuals’ planning.
I would have liked to see TSA testing at both the departure and arrival ends of any traveler’s journey. Obviously, our focus must be on the most vulnerable members of our island population to ensure their relative isolation and self-quarantining. Recent trends, however, indicate those at the least risk can still contract the virus so perhaps city officials should be addressing the somewhat “cavalier” attitudes of the young.
The new mayor must be ready to manage the city’s role in a post-COVID-19 economy that will have to be less dependent on tourism. We absolutely do not need additional hotels or other accommodations for tourists, and I will personally review every multiple-bedroom (above six) housing request for a permit submitted to DPP. I will declare war on “monster homes.”
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?
Depending on the nature of the project, one or more of the mayor’s offices and departments may be involved. For large and likely to be expensive projects, I will assign a task force made up of subject matter experts (SME) from appropriate offices and departments. he SME task force will either be headed by the director of the dominant office or department or by the managing director or his or her deputy. Community outreach meetings will be scheduled — and they will not be “sugar-coated” disinformation sessions. SMEs will ensure that every question is answered where possible or promise — and then deliver — later responses for those questions they are unable to answer “on the spot.” Task force members will brief neighborhood boards impacted by the specific project.
Aside from project discussions, a city/county employee also will be assigned to represent the mayor at every neighborhood board meeting every month. Those representatives (and SMEs for ongoing projects) will brief me and all directors at an end-of-month meeting to determine future courses of action. Where applicable, developers, union leaders and community representatives will be invited to those meetings because my goals include community consensus and transparency of government.
“Back room deals” will not be tolerated in a Carroll administration.
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 city is limited in options to pay for rail’s operation and maintenance. By City Council resolution, fares can only cover 27-33 percent of O&M costs. Federal guidelines negate the use of federal funds for rail O&M for any municipality the size of Honolulu. That leaves the remainder of O&M costs to come from (city and county) taxes and fees.
A full review of HART’s status is necessary for future planning. What we do know is that the “moderate” HART estimate for O&M for the first year of full (20-mile) operations is $136 million. Using a midpoint (i.e., 30 percent), over $95 million will not be covered by fares.
The project plan needs to be changed by converting the rail technology from steel wheels to American-designed urban magnetic levitation. Vis-a-vis steel wheels, maglev O&M would be no more than one-third the cost, less than $45 million in the first year, or about $32 million after fares. That leaves $63 million in taxpayers’ pockets. With zero inflation over a 30-year life cycle, $2.736 billion would be saved; at 3% inflation, savings with maglev would be $4.339 billion. (NOTE: Savings would be reduced as long as some steel wheels trains remain operational. All steel wheels trains should be modified for maglev by 2030.)
An option to extend the current rail surcharge past 2030 to cover its O&M might be acceptable if the current half percent can be reduced dramatically
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?
Homelessness is “double-edged.” Of course I support the sit-lie ban as law and order must be maintained and the homeless must be moved off prime multi-million-dollar property where they often become a health and safety problem; however, sufficient shelters and affordable housing must become abundant for those urgently desiring to no longer live on the streets. I would urge non-governmental organizations to continue their efforts with the chronically homeless and provide city assistance where needed.
We must limit off-island purchases of housing units for speculation, and I will veto “sweetheart” deals to place money into the general fund in lieu of building affordable units. Many do not want to turn Honolulu into another Hong Kong, but offer no answers for making housing affordable to buy or to rent.
The tax base shrinks as more people move to affordable mainland locations. Processes must be “streamlined,” and some restrictions removed to enable building up rather than out to keep our people here. Distinct areas would be designated for high-rise affordable clusters that are near jobs, have minimal visual impact, are governed by strict guidelines, and will remain affordable in perpetuity.
These clusters can serve a dual purpose when sited near the rail alignment as part of a transit-oriented development (TOD) or in a transit-influence zone (TIZ; still within walking distance of a transit station). This will significantly increase rail ridership, a key criterion for measuring transit efficiency.
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 totally disagree with this “loaded” question that implies HPD is guilty as charged. A review of the issues that involve our law enforcement officers may be worthwhile, but not by starting with the assumption of even the slightest malfeasance. Instead, oversight should enable clarification of questions of authority versus responsibility. We also must carefully review laws governing law enforcement operations to prevent situations that could place officers into situations of vulnerability.
Any appointments I make to the Honolulu Police Commission will not be politically motivated to ensure that its advisories will be made in the best interests of both the public and the law enforcement community. We already have a diverse, well trained, and highly responsible police department. It will stay that way under my watch.
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 20-mile rail plan is part of the solution but even limited rail extension to the UH campus in Manoa — where over 20,000 students, faculty, and staff are on campus during school days—would greatly increase rail ridership and take more vehicles off the road. HART plans to spend $1.4 billion for the City Center contract just to reach Ala Moana Center.
If that contract were written at the same amount for conversion to maglev, there would be $300 million available for the following enhancements: extension of the two-way maglev guideway to UH Manoa, with new stations at the Hawaii Convention Center, the Marco Polo condominium, and atop the UH parking garage; conversion of the steel wheels guideway for use by both acquired steel wheels trains and (steel wheels modified and) new maglev vehicles (with steel wheels trains turned around at Middle Street and maglev trains using the full 22-mile length of the guideway); and six additional maglev.
Even a much more comprehensive rail plan will not fully solve our traffic problems. As mayor I will add traffic cameras at the intersections of many key DTS-managed arteries such as Kapiolani, King, Moanalua and Kalakaua. These cameras will feed live video to the Joint Traffic Management Center, where operators will be able to control the traffic signals to expedite movement.
I also will advocate for the state DOT to do the same for arteries such as Pali, Likelike, Nimitz/Ala Moana, Kamehameha, Farrington and Kalanianaole. Second accesses are urgently needed for residents of the Waianae Coast and Makakilo. This is not only for congestion management but is also a safety issue.
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 the governor’s suspension of the law. It is one thing to have the public access all meetings, but it is entirely another to simply provide a record of such meetings in a publicly accessible manner. There must be full accountability for all government actions. The posting of information about government meetings should be made available through both government and public print and television media.
I will set deadlines for the posting of meeting synopses on the city and county’s websites. The IT Department will be directed to maintain the sites’ security with multiple encryption techniques and the city and county will be extremely cautious about any use of especially vulnerable social media.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
There is enough evidence to indicate that earth is warming and sea levels rising—although not to the extent that “Green New Deal” backers proclaim. Selling of carbon credits is a politically motivated scheme to enrich certain special interests. The United States is doing much more to combat warming than heavy polluters such as China and India.
President Donald Trump intends to launch an enormous tree planting effort, as recommended in a Swiss study last year that a trillion new trees worldwide would capture 800 billion tons of carbon dioxide, about 25 years’ worth of carbon. Oahu must participate in the effort. I strongly support the effort under way by UH Professor Camilo Mora for an annual state planting of 1 million trees.
There still is too much carbon dioxide emission killing reefs as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Despite the state’s goals for green energy, movement has been relatively slow. The following steps should be taken to expedite the state’s and the city and county’s process toward green energy goals:
• Move to electric buses immediately.
• More (primarily state) investment is needed in offshore ocean thermal energy conversion, specifically for a 200-megawatt plant, developed in units of 25 megawatts. As mayor, I will vigorously pursue the issue with the Hawaiian Electric Company as a means to lower the costs for electricity on Oahu.
• Install solar panels wherever a suitable return on investment can be made within 30 years.
• Encourage the use of “green” concrete in city construction projects, wherever possible.
• Analyze efforts elsewhere to move toward hydrogen-powered vehicles, especially forecasts for cost comparisons with gasoline.
11. What other issue would you like to discuss here?
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 was enacted to extend the protections of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act to crew members on U.S.-flagged ships and to restrict trade between two ports within the United States) to Jones Act-registered ships.
It is known as a cabotage law, which protects a shipping industry from foreign competition. Its major impact has been on Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam. In 2011, it cost almost three times more to transport cargo on U.S.-flagged ships as opposed to foreign ships because costs for labor were five times higher on American ships and it costs more than twice as much to produce a U.S.-flagged vessel than the same type of vessel in another country.
Food aid data collected following the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico showed that carrying goods on U.S.-flagged ships increased costs by as much as $50-$60 per ton.
By letter to President Trump in 2017, I pointed out that: only a mere two politically connected Jones Act shippers service Hawaii, which imports 80 percent of all goods; Hawaii continues to suffer the highest cost of living in the country; the act clearly violates the requirement that eliminates constitutionally guaranteed interstate commerce between Hawaii and the other states; and local consumers and businesses desperately and urgently need to benefit from a reduction in our cost of living by allowing the benefits of all shipping companies worldwide competing for Hawaii’s business. I requested that he use the president’s executive authority to permanently exempt Hawaii from the Jones Act.