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 Anthony Paris, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 1 representing Ewa, Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Honokai Hale, Ko Olina, Nanakuli, Maili, Waianae, Makaha, Keaau and Makua. The other candidates are Kathy Davenport, Naomi Hanohano, Galen Kerfoot and Andria Tupola.
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?
Aloha. My name is Anthony Makana Paris, and I’m running to restore health to our communities.
Hawaii is known across the world for our aloha, and I believe our visitor industry will continue to be a part of our way of life and a substantial contributor to our economy for years to come. That said, tourism should not continue in the usual way — it must evolve and adapt. Economic diversification is critical for the successful recovery and long-term sustainability of our island home. We must envision a visitor industry in which our visitors, kamaaina, and aina mutually benefit from our continued investment and act in ways to bring that to fruition.
In our reimagined visitor industry, aloha must continue to be the center. Hence, we must protect the safety of the workers that take care of our visitors and their families. We can do this through adequate testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, sanitation programs and bolstering our in-state and on island testing capacity.
We should also explore investing in history’s greatest economic drivers – home construction, agriculture, education, and recently firm and renewable energy. If we invest in our aina and our people first, everything else will follow.
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 struggles we face are substantial. We learned from the last recession that austerity – increasing taxes and drastically cutting spending – is the worst possible response. We must draw upon our local wisdom and expertise as well as best-practices from abroad to shore up our finances. We should support the retooling, diversification and reopening of our economy and getting our people back to work, all while protecting us and providing essential services to our communities.
The Federal Reserve is buying municipal bonds at rock-bottom interest rates and we should explore issuing bonds to fund our operations and investments in a diversified economy and reimagined visitor industry. We should also explore taxes and fees that ensure that everyone is paying their fair share, including our out-of-state investors and visitors. I support spending wisely and planning to reduce maintenance costs and liabilities. One way we can increase city revenue is by reclaiming the island’s construction and demolition waste stream in a municipality-owned waste processing facility and landfill. This would result in an annual revenue stream of tens of millions of dollars in fees and sales of recycled material.
If budget cuts are necessary, they should start with council member salaries and expenses.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
I believe that we as citizens ought to extend grace to our decision makers, especially during times of crisis, while providing them with democratically appropriate feedback. In general, I believe the city’s actions have saved many lives. Our low confirmed counts and our current robust health care capacity and hospital open beds make us a role model for the U.S. and the world. I saw firsthand how the City partnered with the Hawaii Labor Coalition, unions, the MIT alumni network, businesses, the University of Hawaii, community health centers, the state, and other partners to establish the Tropical Medicine Clinical Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa – John A. Burns School of Medicine and get testing out to our community, prioritizing our most vulnerable.
Now having better knowledge and understanding of what has transpired during these unprecedented times, I believe that the city could improve by better sharing our collective journey of hope, mutual sacrifice, and resilience and care for each other – especially the stories of how we protected and cared for our keiki, kupuna and the most vulnerable among us. In addition, the city is now positioned to better respond to future public health crises.
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 can increase access to our residents during the community input process on projects, including by providing status update pages on projects of interest and their stages. City council members can encourage more active community input during the approval process. Council members can also play an important role in negotiating between residents and developers and helping them discern a mutually beneficial and satisfying way forward if major concerns arise after final approval of a project. The council can also better city processes and procedures by implementing best practices and our wisdom traditions.
Project delays due to administrative hurdles and community misunderstanding can set back improvements for our city. We must improve our permitting process and make community feedback more easily accessible. As council members, we must also continue to follow the open meeting laws, and ought to better present information to our constituents in order to rebuild trust.
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?
I support the rail project as a social justice issue for our working families and as an investment in infrastructure that will bring our families home with the development of affordable and workforce housing through transit orientated development. The pandemic has created new possibilities for us to reimagine and envision a more sustainable island community.
We should investigate issuing bonds to fund an acceleration of the rail project, including completion through Ala Moana and appropriate connections to Waikiki, the University of Hawaii and East Kapolei. The city should explore how best to capture wealth from the development around the rail stations to fund operation, maintenance, and future transit projects for the short-term.
For the long term, we should invest in parks, bike lanes, comfort stations, roadways, and sewage and water infrastructure. We can modernize and increase our city administrative capacity, including at the Department of Planning and Permitting. If we act swiftly, we could provide our city with an economic adrenaline shot! We will be able to improve our island’s economic health through wise investment today for generations to come. Thus, creating desperately needed jobs and housing while preparing our island home to welcome our visitors back.
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?
Houselessness is a social justice and public health crisis in Hawaii, made worse by the pandemic and economic devastation. Houselessness is a symptom of Hawaii’s significant lack of truly affordable housing. Affordable housing must be accessible to our most vulnerable that make below 60% AMI, yet most current “affordable” housing projects are constructed for those earning 80% to 140% AMI. Such projects are not accessible by most of our families. We must and can do better. We must explore partnerships with the state, charitable trusts and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to get our people into affordable homes. We ought to explore the creation of a city housing department and crafting policies to encourage affordable rentals.
We should not be targeting houseless community members with our law enforcement officers. We should target them through providing support services they need. I support a community-first approach where we address the root causes of houselessness. We ought to fund shelter beds, rehabilitation and mental health services, transitional homes, and provide greater access to food, education, and job training. We will reach our affordable housing goals for all our communities by building upon the good work of those councils and mayoral administrations before us.
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?
We learn from social justice movements and history that one of the structural issues with the police as an institution is a city’s over-reliance on them for non-law enforcement activities. Cities across the country, including Honolulu, have struggled with funding and supporting domestic violence services, mental health programs and youth activities for years. Police departments have had to provide support services to our community without the training or resources necessary to address them. Armed coercion should not be the first response to a non-criminal emergency — you should not send a firefighter to water your garden when your plants are dry.
The city must figure out how to provide essential services to better protect and safeguard our communities for the long term. By increasing these essential services, we can refocus our officers in blue on their primary kuleana of deterring crime, closing cases, and protecting our streets in cooperation with the community.
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?
I believe that a successful rail and integrated bus lines will ease traffic, including connecting our education institutions and building housing in transit zones. We cannot scuttle the rail by reducing its range and number of stops and then complain that it did not relieve traffic as promised. It is also a social justice and aloha aina issue: a successful rail will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and provide access to work sites while decreasing annual spending on transportation for the working families who are most vulnerable to our current economic crisis.
Additionally, the city should take this opportunity while we are not hosting so many of our visitors to modernize our infrastructure – repave roads, widen highways, create new bike lanes, and investigate other creative solutions like a downtown-westside ferry. The city should also investigate new incentives to truly make Kapolei a great city with new job opportunities so that traffic flows both ways instead of only one direction. Finally, the city should work with the state to investigate staggered start times for public schools, different shift times for governmental workers that provide services to the public, and ways to mitigate the traffic load from the University of Hawaii Manoa.
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?
The city cannot act alone to recover well from the pandemic. We need the support of our citizens to democratically weigh in on city proposals to move us forward. This will only happen if we can earn back the public’s trust.
Suspending the open government laws, poor public messaging about the pandemic and recent news stories about failures to follow open government laws do not build public trust.
We must change our approach to transparency if we are to regain the public’s trust. Our citizens cannot effectively participate in our democracy unless we have good information. We damage ourselves when we withhold information. We cannot tell our citizens to trust us when we have not given them a reason to trust us. We must give them that reason, the information justifying our decisions and recommendations.
One way to generate useful information might be to fund a nonpartisan, local think tank that could provide data and research to both the public and the city about the potential effects of different policies. Then we could ground our policy discussions on good information rather than on unfounded requests for the public to trust its government.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
As a trained MIT Environmental Engineer and a policy analyst, I have had the privilege to work with the city, state and community stakeholders to investigate our island’s approach to climate change.
Despite decreases in greenhouse gas emissions during this pandemic, climate change continues undeterred. The seas are rising, storms are getting stronger and we must coordinate on how best to adapt. We must explore zoning that encourages a mauka retreat, establish shoreline buffers through parks and estuaries, raise roads and bridges, and protect our critical services like our airport and harbors. Honolulu should seek federal resources to mitigate these inevitable effects on our island home and investigate public-private partnerships to give resorts and other stakeholders a direct way to participate in maintaining our coasts.
The reefs have had a nice rest during this break from visitors, but warming oceans, reef bleaching and soil runoff will continue to occur even without our visitors. We must encourage appropriate watershed maintenance up mauka and use advancements in reef maintenance and coral spread to maintain, replant, and create new reefs using environmentally safe refuse.
We must fight this environmental crisis, together, and strive to not let our neighbors become climate change victims.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Public health — restoring health to our communities is the beating heart of our campaign. Many of our people are at risk of significant health consequences due to combinations of age, chronic disease, ethnicity, poor public infrastructure, houselessness, economic insecurity or exposure to the disproportionate amount of environmental hazards located in District 1. Now our health is assaulted by the pandemic.
For years, I have worked alongside our communities to address the systemic causes and negative social determinants of our poor health including appropriate placement of landfills. Public health studies show that living next to landfills lower infant birth weights, increase birth defects and cause headaches, sleepiness, and psychological, central nervous system and gastrointestinal issues. Residential exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas from landfills is associated with lung cancer, respiratory illnesses and death. I am proud of the community’s advocacy and significant progress toward ensuring that any new landfills are at least a half-mile away from homes, hospitals and schools. District 1 lives matter.
To address our public health crisis, the city must fund and support essential services and create new policies that better prioritize public health.
E hoʻoulu lāhui aloha, join with us, to build a better Oahu for all. Mahalo.