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 Kymberly Pine, candidate for Honolulu mayor. The other candidates are Keith Amemiya, Rick Blangiardi, Duke Bourgoin, Ernest Caravalho, John Carroll, Karl Dicks, Tim Garry, Colleen Hanabusa, Mufi Hannemann, Choon James, Audrey Keesing, Micah Mussell, 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 impact of COVID-19 showed that we have become too dependent on the outside world to feed us and employ us. As mayor, I refuse to continue this economic model. We must diversify our economy to thrive in the future. Our new industries must enhance and protect our natural resources, feed our people and protect the planet.
Tourism will continue to be a strong economic driver for Hawaii, but it should not be the largest one. We need to move back to a time when Hawaii attracted the higher-spending tourist of the 1980s that brought $18 billion to our economy (with inflation) vs. the $17 billion we have today. We have close to double the tourists today. For the sake of our island, we must manage tourism based on the economic benefit per person and based on environmental science and carrying capacity.
Currently, economic partnerships between local businesses and military bases are not being explored. The military continues to outsource projects to mainland companies but we have the talent here. These projects could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy.
Oahu is perfectly poised to become an international hub for the technology industry and cyber security. There are many opportunities that have yet to be explored in these areas. Boosting our local food production with government support could reduce food costs by about 60 percent. As mayor, I would prioritize grants to assist farmers so they can have access to water, affordable land and organic fertilizers.
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?
The city must reduce expenses across the board and only focus on providing essential city services to the taxpayers. As mayor I will improve the quality of services the city provides to the public. Newly proposed budget items that are not essential and do not contribute to the economy must be cut. For example, as a current City Council member I cut funding for improvements to the Neal Blaisdell Center and to Ala Moana Beach Park (over $100 million), both projects, which the community opposed.
Each year the Mayor’s Office budgets more then it spends in order to direct monies to special projects. I have been highly critical of this practice. As mayor I would use surplus funds to offer training to city employees to increase efficiency and to add staff to critically understaffed departments.
As Zoning and Housing Committee chair, I fast-tracked approvals of projects that had community approval and will generate over $100 million a year in new property taxes. My suggested improvements to DPP would bring another $500 million to the economy. If the city could invest in emerging technologies, it could bring in another $50 million in revenue.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
As a City Council member and mayoral candidate, my first reaction to the pandemic was to stop campaigning and focus on helping the community. My team and I helped people get tested, find food and pay for necessities. My team passed out thousands of masks and hundreds of meals. We assisted my constituents and local restaurants to get financial assistance. We set up a GoFundMe account to help pay a struggling restaurant owner pay for meals that were being donated to kupuna.
If I were mayor, I would have avoided confusion by coordinating public announcements and messaging with the Governor’s Office. The stress this caused people was evident. Coordination with the Governor’s Office and clear public communication should be the highest priority, especially in a state of emergency. I would have focused immediately on disbursing federal funds to existing free food providers instead of using city resources for numerous mayor’s food distribution.
As mayor, I would have encouraged the governor to do everything in his power to give the unemployment office the tools and resources it needs to get the money into the hands of the people who so desperately need it. The fact that people have waited for three months and still have not received any unemployment is unacceptable.
I would also have approached property management companies and mortgage lenders to temporarily suspend housing payments with federal funds so that residents experiencing unemployment due to COVID-19 would not face huge debts from deferred payments.
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?
Projects that take the time to get community input and respect and incorporate community feedback will be successful. This is where controversial projects have failed. I support my constituents and I see it as my job to reach out to communities and get their feedback before these types of projects go forward. Projects that have the support of the community and that are designed incorporating community input become a source of pride and increase the sense that communities have a stake in them.
It is unacceptable to leverage the governor’s stay-at-home order to begin construction on a project such as Mayor Caldwell did with the Sherwood Forest sports complex, which has been vigorously opposed by the community.
Clean energy has many forms. It is not productive to create an eyesore, such as windmills that detract from our resident’s peaceful enjoyment of their residences. I supported communities that opposed wind farms. Those communities supported solar farms, which produce most of our clean energy. We can do better.
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?
In 2008, voters opted for a high-speed rail project by charter. We have a mandate to complete the project, but we need to do it right. I am very disappointed in the people who allowed corruption and payoffs to infiltrate the rail construction and I hold them responsible for the delays that make people in my district still sit in traffic for hours. I am one of these drivers and so I will do everything I can to fix things at HART. It was the City Council’s investigation into HART that lead to the current FBI investigation. As mayor, I would ensure that people who cheated the public by misappropriating funds and misusing their powers within HART to benefit friends will go to jail.
I oppose any additional costs to residents, especially with so many residents out of work. I believe we must resolve any uncertainty about our economic recovery before we make any decision regarding this expensive project. That is especially true because HART is undergoing federal scrutiny amid incredible cost increases and delays. I will not throw more money at HART until I know how that money is being spent. I will seek public input on the short-term bonds being increased to longer-term bonds that will spread out the cash-on-hand during our economic crisis.
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 must try every innovative solution to resolve homelessness, including construction of tiny homes, repurposing buildings that are now out of use due to the shutdown as shelter space and additional facilities for care and counseling.
Last year, I brought a plan to the council to spend $23 million to address homelessness. That could be used as each district saw fit, and included shelter, rest stop, outreach, affordable housing and service zones and hygiene facilities.
This year, I proposed that the city invest more in mental health and addiction recovery. We do not have enough recovery/treatment facilities to address the problem. We must also eliminate barriers that keep our houseless residents from getting the help they need. This includes reducing tedious paperwork that proves to be too much for individuals with mental illness and addiction, who are without computers or cannot access to information required on the forms. We need boots on the ground to evaluate and bring help to those who need it without delays that can keep people on the streets in declining health for years.
Any sit-lie ban is only moving a homeless individual from one sidewalk to another. It does nothing to solve the problem. It is a means to reduce the visual and social reminder of homelessness.
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?
As a woman who is half white and half a woman of color (hapa), I deeply understand the complexities of racism. As an interracial couple my parents experienced much pain in the past, but my existence shows that hate can be resolved by love. People have every right to protest in anger over the shameful death of George Floyd. I watched the video and I am heartbroken for the entire country. I am proud of those whose protests are reaching the ears of politicians and finally, and finally, creating change. I too, demand an end to systemic racism.
We are so lucky to be here in Hawaii, where diversity is one of our biggest strengths as a community. I wish the world could see how we live as one.
Our police department must evaluate officer practices and procedures to ensure that there is no tolerance for police brutality and that innocent lives are spared. The police commission should be strengthened to investigate complaints against officers and enforce civil procedures. No one is too big to fail, as we have seen in the past few years with the Kealohas. My administration would respond swiftly to clean up corruption. I also want fresh eyes on public spending, a review of recent audits of our departments and a response to auditor’s recommendations with action that will make City Hall more effective and more efficient.
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?
As a resident of Ewa Beach, I understand the need for rail as a solution to traffic congestion. As a council member, I must make that drive. But more needs to be done to curb traffic and pollution. Last year, I introduced Resolution 20-8, asking the city to adopt a four-day, 10-hour work week, which not only gives our employees an extra day to recover, it reduces traffic congestion and the associated pollution. I created the annual Hire Leeward Job Fair initiative that helped 6,000 West Oahu residents get jobs closer to home. We can build on the jump-start we have made in telecommuting and allow workers who are able to work from home. It is time for Honolulu to re-examine shared mobility options, including vehicle sharing, automated bicycles and even curb cuts to ease pick-up and drop-off for ride-share services. Every option should be on the table.
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?
It was wrong to suspend open government laws. That is especially true given recent events that have already greatly undermined the community’s faith in Honolulu’s leadership. Government should be transparent. The best results occur when an informed electorate participates in a robust conversation that produces true collaboration. Therefore, I introduced Resolution 20-123 on May 20, which changes the rules of the City Council to allow the public to testify remotely for all City Council meetings.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Oahu must continue our progress to fight climate change. I am proud of my work at the City Council to help pass Bill 40, the most comprehensive phase-out of plastics in the nation. Last year, I introduced Resolution 20-8, asking the city to adopt a four-day, 10-hour work week, which not only gives our employees an extra day to recover, it also reduces traffic and associated pollution.
I created several pieces of legislation to “Keep Hawaii Hawaii.” Bill 34 requires the visitor industry to provide annual reports on the progress of sustainability efforts to the city. Bill 51 asks tourists and locals to sign a pledge to respect the environment, wildlife and cultural spaces. Bill 68, which I introduced, gives visitors the option to purchase a pass to several city attractions that would create a fund for the proceeds to supplement tourist impact mitigations. I have asked the Legislature to require that videos be shown on airline and cruise ships to inform our visitors about their impacts on our island.
I have lobbied extensively for clean energy, and I have met with leaders in those fields whose visions for a sustainable Oahu I would like to implement as mayor. With Bill 25, we passed legislation that requires electric car chargers in new construction. We passed other legislation that requires deeper setbacks and raised first floors for new construction in waterfront dwellings. Oahu tourism must be managed to allow the aina to rest and regenerate in sensitive environments, including our ocean and coral reefs.
11. What other issue would you like to discuss here?
As mayor, the community can count on my administration to restore integrity and transparency at Honolulu Hale and law enforcement at all levels. The city faces many challenges right now and we need a mayor that is not afraid. We need someone with experience who can get to work right away and will not cater to special interests. I believe the current crisis is an opportunity for the city to change for the better.