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Homelessness and affordable housing are top campaign issues for the six candidates vying to represent a key portion of Windward Oahu on the Honolulu City Council.
But the diverse opponents — a Native Hawaiian activist, two builders, a City Council worker, a former federal policymaker and a small business owner — have strikingly different backgrounds and plans for how they would address these and other urgent concerns, such as recovery from the mounting economic downturn.
The District 3 seat is being vacated by Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, who is term-limited. The district covers Ahuimanu, Heeia, Haiku, Kaneohe, Maunawili, Kailua, Olomana, Enchanted Lake and Waimanalo.
Campaign finance reports show first-time candidate Greg Thielen, who is backed by his mother, state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, and the Matson shipping company, raised the most campaign cash this election cycle — $35,920. He also took out a $10,000 loan.
Alan Texeira, another first-time candidate, raised the second-highest campaign total with $27,250. He’s supported by Matson, Monsanto, local trade unions for carpenters and engineers and real estate developer Bert Kobayashi, as well as two of Kobayashi’s employees, his wife Susan and daughter-in-law Kris.
Esther Kia‘aina, with her decades of experience working in state and federal government, reported raising $20,961 in contributions. She also took out a loan for $6,654. She is supported by the police and plumbers’ unions, U.S. Congressman Ed Case, state Sen. Laura Thielen and Jennifer Sabas, the former top aide to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Kalani Kalima, an activist and school teacher, raised $4,709 in campaign cash, according to campaign finance reports.
It was coronavirus that compelled Thielen, 52, of Kailua, to launch his inaugural political campaign.
Son of longtime state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, the home builder and small business owner said he had been asked to run for the District 3 council seat many times. He always declined because he never felt there was an opportunity to create change, he said.
When the pandemic hit, Thielen said he sensed a fresh opportunity to make a difference in local politics.
Top of mind for Thielen is getting people back to work.
“I come from a small business background, which leads me to be very fiscally conservative,” he said. “And I understand how the government works. I believe I offer both elements, whereas the other candidates in this race either offer one or the other — not both.”
If elected, Thielen said he would focus on creating opportunities to retrain employees for other fields, such as construction. He supports the idea of using business incubators to create new small business opportunities.
Thielen also endorses a plan to offer tax relief to hotels if they agree to renovate their properties during the economic downturn.
Texeira is running to take over the seat of his boss, Anderson, for whom he works as his community director. The 41-year-old Waimanalo resident has worked for Anderson for three years. Prior to that, he was the chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English.
Texeira said what sets him apart from his opponents is his experience working at the council and Senate.
Homelessness is top of mind for the first-time candidate, who said he would push the city to support the construction of more temporary homeless communities, such as Waimanalo’s Hui Mahiai Aina. Texeira supports sit-lie bans but said the city should make sure it has adequate resources available for people displaced by homeless sweeps.
The city should seek to maintain service levels during this period of economic upheaval, Texeira said. He also wants to update the city’s land use regulations to foster new industry growth.
“Our land use ordinance needs to be modernized,” Texeira said. “If we can tweak it, we can allow people to build additional (accessory dwelling units). We can do temporary homeless shelters. For businesses, we can do takeout alcohol and additional outdoor seating. The LDU is extremely outdated and does not allow these types of endeavors.”
If elected, Texeira said his priorities will also include improving city government operations, investing in solutions to waste disposal issues and promoting better stewardship of parks and city facilities.
Kia‘aina, executive director of the nonprofit Pacific Basin Development Council, is running on a platform that calls for progressive, proactive solutions to homelessness and the dire lack of affordable housing.
“I have 30 years of experience at the federal and state level and I want to be able to put it to good use to serve people,” said Kia‘aina, 57, who moved to Kailua last year. “I would be able to start on day one from a position of strength.”
Kia‘aina served as the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas at the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Obama Administration between 2014-2017. The position involved coordinating overall federal policy for the territories of Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Previously she worked at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools. And she worked in the offices of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
Kia‘aina has unsuccessfully sought election to the OHA Board of Trustees and the U.S. House.
She said Hawaii must achieve better balance with regard to the number of tourists each island can sustain while creating alternative industries to diversify the economy.
To raise revenue for public projects, she said she would consider increasing the real property tax rate for non-resident investors, as well as adding a residential vacancy tax.
Homelessness can best be solved by addressing the lack of affordable housing, Kia‘aina said. As a council member, Kia‘aina said she would introduce policies to add affordable housing units onto city properties and consider developer incentives to boost the island’s affordable housing stock. She also said she would work to identify more private and public land options that would be suitable for affordable housing.
Kalima, an elementary school teacher and leader in the movement to halt development of the Waimanalo Beach Park, is running for council because he said the city did not listen to community concerns over the project.
“The problem is all the protesting and sign waving that we did was a reaction,” Kalima said. “We need to be proactive. We need to protect our way of life and our quality of life and that’s why I’m running for council.”
If elected, the 45-year-old Waimanalo resident said he would work as a liaison between the community and government, especially when dealing with contentious issues. He said he wants to help communities reshape themselves around the values of environmental and economic sustainability, social equity and cultural acceptance.
Kalima’s platform also includes a bid to diversify the economy by enhancing support for food sustainability.
To better address homelessness, Kalima said the city should do away with the top-down approach and instead support programs that provide social and mental health services within a rehabilitative community setting.
With four graduate degrees, first-time candidate Kealoha, 60, of Waimanalo, said his seasoned analytical skills could add a new and sorely needed dimension to the council’s political makeup.
“I think the issues we’re facing going forward, like getting more affordable housing, are issues that have to do with better zoning and better planning and better allocation of the resources that we already have right now,” Kealoha said.
To address homelessness, Kealoha is calling for zoning and building code reform to increase the inventory of affordable homes.
Increasing government transparency is another campaign issue for Kealoha, who said public meetings need to be held more often across Oahu. Community feedback must be incorporated into project designs, he said.
To address the economic fallout of COVID-19, Kealoha said the city should freeze hiring for nonessential positions and either reduce services, furlough employees or raise fees at only tourism-oriented destinations.
Kealoha graduated from Iolani School and holds master’s degrees in business, public administration and international relations and political economy, as well as a law degree. He owns a small business and worked in management for more than two decades in the private and public sectors.
He is the founder of Hawaii Olympian Project, a project he launched to rally interest and funding to build an Oahu museum to celebrate Hawaii’s Olympians and house their medals.
Rounding out the field is Mossman, a 67-year-old contractor from Kailua who said he’s running to give communities outside of urban Oahu a stronger voice in determining their future.
To curb homelessness, Mossman said he wants to help homeless communities gain access to low-cost prefabricated housing options. Living on the beach or the street should not be an option, he said.
To shore up the pandemic-ravaged budget, Mossman said the city should cut nonessential expenses wherever possible.
Mossman, who in the past ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees, is also touting a plan to write a new land use policy that would make farming a profitable and attractive career choice.
“I’m just a regular guy who wants to use common sense and my background in planning and construction to get things done,” Mossman said. “So many people, they’ll make big promises, they’ll have a big press conference — and then nothing happens. I don’t want to be a career politician, but I do want to make things happen.”
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