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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 Kathy Davenport, 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 Naomi Hanohano, Galen Kerfoot, Anthony Paris 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?
The tourism industry will always be a foundational piece of our economy. But how it comes back and in what forms are the discussions we need to have. As an island community, I believe we should have an economic and environmental assessment of how much our island can continue to bear based on tourism. And mindful of the effects of tourism on our environment and our communities — we should develop a new strategy to target the specific types of tourism we want to grow and encourage.
Regarding economic diversity — just weeks before the COVID-19 crisis, I attended a community forum at UH West Oahu that discussed agriculture and sustainability and the potential for development using new methods and technology, to include vertical farming and the production of higher yield crops on smaller parcels of land. Expanding our agricultural base would address concerns regarding food security, provide less reliance on imports, and provide the potential for possible export.
Other areas that I feel we should explore include the field of creative media and cyber-security and technology. These are areas with footprints already on-island and I believe these industries could also provide higher-paying jobs for our residents.
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?
City financial responsibility is one of my highest priorities. I recommend the city take action on reports provided by the Office of the City Auditor. Upon reviewing these reports going back to 2004, I am concerned at the lack of progress city departments have taken in response. These audits have outlined areas of improvement — to include recommendations where millions of dollars could have been saved and efficiency improved.
At present, city departments update the City Council when it’s time to review and justify their annual budget requests. My recommendation is departments provide a quarterly progress and accountability report. A recent audit of the Department of Parks and Recreation shows over $49 million in council-initiated Park Capital Improvement Program projects went unspent between FY 2015 and FY 2017 because the department “lacks awareness of its CIP projects and does not sufficiently track financial data.”
Another audit shows that the city could have cut about $7 million in costs if it had diverted recycled materials to the H-Power facility. This same audit showed that diverting recycled materials could have generated about $30 million in revenues as the H-Power facility converts solid waste into electricity, which is then sold to Hawaiian Electric.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
While I was on active duty, I served on a number of crisis action teams which were activated in response to real-world contingencies. Crisis action teams were comprised of subject-area experts and collaboratively worked to identify the problem and develop a strategy based on the best available information at the time. Clear-cut lines of communication were established; resources identified, and short- and long-term goals laid out — knowing that the situation was fluid and uncertain and flexibility was key.
While I believe city and state government did as well as could be expected under the circumstances, I do believe there was considerable room for improvement regarding collaboration, communication, decisive action, crisis management and leadership.
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?
The biggest problem I have seen in years of working and observing projects that are meant to “serve the community” is the lack of true community involvement from the onset. For example, a housing project for homeless was brought to our community and we were told of the project only after it was already in the pipeline. The project was touted as being successful in the mainland and therefore it should be successful here. Upon further research, I found that the success of the mainland program for the homeless was dependent on the surrounding community’s involvement and support. Yet our community had been given no prior information or opportunity to be involved until it was outlined to the community.
Our communities want and deserve to be involved in projects that affect them. I have a set of critera/questions that should be answered for any project or decision brought to our community, to include: “How will this affect the health, well-being, and best interests of the community?” “What is the economic impact/cost of approving or disapproving — to the surrounding community and to the taxpayers at large?” “Where is the research as it pertains to this project?”
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?
What I don’t see incorporated into the design/construction of the rail stations are retail spaces that could be leased to businesses (i.e., coffee and sandwich shops). Twenty-one stations, three or four businesses per station paying rent plus a percentage of sales provides a steady income source. An added public benefit would create jobs for residents living along the rail corridor.
Another possible source of income would be to sell advertising space on the inside of each rail car. This should also be considered for TheBus. Transit systems throughout the mainland sell advertising space on their trains and buses, which generates income from advertisers longing to reach out to a captive audience. The ads can be shown on electronic flat screen message boards and easily changed when necessary.
Third, Seattle’s link light rail offered five free round trips when it initiated service. These tickets were good for both bus and train. Those who took advantage of these free rides realized how easy and convenient it was to use mass transit and won many converts. We could easily do the same thing to get people out of their cars and into bus and rail.
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 need to take a hard look at what’s not working and the first thing I note is that the city and state need to work more collaboratively. We keep putting band aid fixes on the problem and we’re still bleeding.
City Audit 2017 states “the city and state lack a strategic plan for homelessness that establishes specific timelines, performance benchmarks, allocation of resources and other quantitative measures of success. Leveraging and pooling of resources are lost. City and state offer similar programs. As an example, both City and State support Housing First – but the city’s program costs 48% more.” We need a better plan.
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?
Being a police officer is extremely stressful, at times thankless, and always dangerous. And yet, every day these people proudly put on their uniform to serve. With that said, from incidents of excessive force to accusations of corruption and abuse of power, it’s no secret that HPD has had its problems. Denying they exist, or failing to properly address them is irresponsible, an insult to the many officers who serve with honor every day, and an insult to the people of Oahu.
Chief Ballard’s recent claim that there is no racial bias is at best myopic. The recent resignations of two members of the police commission is an example of the frustration felt by those charged with the oversight of city departments who refuse to acknowledge any problems exist.
The officers I’ve spoken to take pride in the jobs they do and they want to be able to do them as safely as possible. A loss of the public’s trust and respect hinders that. Better screening and training of personnel, a police commission with strong oversight, and top-down transparency is a must if we expect progress.
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?
Yes, rail is part of the solution, especially if the proper incentive is provided to get potential riders out of their cars. I’ve briefly outlined that incentive in my answer on question No. 5. If there was any silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis, it is that we saw how our schools, colleges and universities stepped up and incorporated 21st century technology to the learning process.
Online classes and Zoom meeting technology can easily take thousands of cars off of our roads. UH Manoa, UH West, and other schools should work cooperatively with state and local government by maintaining e-learning technologies to reduce congestion. And finally, working with large employers (public and private sector) to stagger work hours would also reduce the amount of vehicles during current peak travel times.
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 suspension of Hawaii’s public records law by the governor was disappointing. If we were in the midst of a national security crisis then this might be a necessary and understandable measure. However, the COVID-19 situation was far from a prelude to war and disclosing any information pertaining to the pandemic, from morbidity, mortality, associated costs etc., would not have made us any more susceptible to disease, only skepticism.
As it is, the public already has a distrust of government. When the chief executive executes an act that is commonplace in a dictatorship, removes citizens from participating in the free and open democratic process that our republic was founded on, we no longer have a representative government. Fortunately, he relaxed his suspension of the open meeting and public records laws in early May. Going forward, I would urge the state Legislature to take whatever legally binding action necessary to protect the public’s right to access records and attend legislative hearings.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
District 1 will be heavily affected by climate change and the associated effects (flooding, shoreline loss, damage to infrastructure, decreased precipitation.) The entire Waianae Coast is/will be impacted by rising sea levels as there is only one highway allowing residents into or out of the area. Our district also houses numerous industrial projects serving the island — two landfills; Kahe Power Plant, two refineries and four power generating facilities at Campbell Industrial Park; and the island’s largest solar farm located in Waianae Valley and solar farms on Kaleloa.
Our district also has a high number of parks, gathering spaces, cultural and historic areas, and residential communities located near shorelines. Also, the large number of farms on the Waianae Coast which serve the entire island of Oahu will be impacted not only by the single road access, but also by decreased rainfall, freshwater availability, the potential for flooding and disruption of healthy ecosystems. Here in Hawaii—and most specifically on Oahu—we need to immediately develop and implement strategies to make Hawaii more resilient in order to protect our food and water security, shorelines, marine ecosystems, infrastructure and health.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Aside from the important issues of transportation and the economy, the most pressing issue I am currently hearing expressed is the fear of increased property taxes and ensuring fiscal responsibility at Honolulu Hale.
As mentioned previously, I’ve reviewed city auditor reports and have deep concerns over the apparent lack of fiscal responsibility and transparency. There is a lack of quality control, lack of communication and coordination between departments, and concern over span-of-control and too many management levels. All of this relates to how well our city departments are serving the needs of the taxpayers and how our taxpayer dollars are being spent.
One of my proposals is to create a Department of Oversight and Accountability to do the following:
• Ensure recommendations by the city auditor are followed or followed up;
• Ensure interdepartmental coordination and oversight on any project or constituent concern;
• Development of economic impact assessments/statements as part of a project planning process — we need to know the cost to the community through end-life of a project. (For example, wind farm presentations to our community did not include what happens when the turbines fail or reach their end of life at 18-20 years. Who pays?)