Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 3 General 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 Radiant Cordero, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 7, representing Kalihi, lwilei, Kalihi Kai, Mapunapuna, Salt Lake, Aliamanu, Hickam, Foster Village, Ford Island and Sand Island. The other candidate is Jacob Aki.
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 shouldn’t solely rely on one industry for economic vitality. We must diversify our island’s economy and assess potential industries that we can capitalize on to provide and keep jobs locally for our residents.
First off, we need to protect those who experience socioeconomic disparities and economic inequality by supporting economic inclusion and equitable development, which are critical factors for the public health, safety and economic competitiveness of our city. A considerable percentage of workers in tourism, emergency responders, health care, maintenance workers, grocery store clerks, warehouse workers, delivery people — are our frontliners. To bring tourism back, I would ensure that we have policies and procedures to protect our residents, workers and visitors.
I will hold companies accountable to enforce physical distancing, extensive cleanliness guidelines, and provide proper personal protective equipment for workers. I will push for mandatory testing before and after visitors board their plane and work with the state to ensure that tourism agencies are held accountable and these guidelines are enforced.
To diversify our economy, we need to assess industries that currently outsource for goods/services and support them by constructing infrastructure/materials locally. We also need to invest in green jobs to create a resilient and sustainable future for our economy.
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 fiscal impacts of the economic downturn from the pandemic are not just numbers on pages — this significantly affects the city’s essential services that touch the lives of the million residents and their families. Furloughs or layoffs will only hinder the city’s response to our communities and negatively impact our local economy.
As the only candidate in this race with experience working with the city’s budget, I will work to assess contracts and/or vacant positions to be cut, just as the City Council did with the approval of $130 million in reductions from the proposed budget in June. Also, I believe in expeditiously implementing a unified permitting system for the city Department of Planning and Permitting to tackle Honolulu’s housing shortage and support local jobs. I propose auditing city facilities and implementing up-to-date technologies to ensure that the city is leading by example to save money and our environment.
For revenue enhancements, I support a vacant home tax. Just like vacation rentals, vacant homes decrease supply and increase rent/housing costs. These homes are often owned by out-of-state investors. This proposed tax would increase revenue and encourage owners to put vacant homes back on to the market, to increase supply and bring down rent.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
The pandemic has shown us not just how fragile our economy is, but how fragile the standards of communities are valued at the state level. I would have pushed for better communication by the state Department of Health to all of the counties and demanded better transparency and cohesion from the orders. There were conflicting orders and rules that created a lot of confusion, especially for personnel who were tasked to enforce the rules of the orders.
I also would have urged the state to reach out to the community through different avenues to ensure we got the word out to as many people as possible. I would have worked to allow for more COVID-19 testing sites earlier during the outbreak that are readily available in all communities, not just communities that are equipped with large lots. As a community leader and staff member with the Honolulu City Council, I experienced how difficult it was to push for testing in my district. Along with testing, I would have led efforts to expeditiously implement technology and systems for contact tracing and tracking the spread.
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?
I support green and community-oriented development that will benefit the community where it’s located. However, the most important factor throughout these processes is engaging with and respecting the community members and their concerns. We see projects being proposed and presented at community meetings that do not take input or concerns seriously, leaving many feeling voiceless and disheartened from the process that is supposed to ensure everyone is heard.
I will bring together all stakeholders involved and be informed of potential projects, which include residents, neighborhood boards and other groups impacted. I see my role as a liaison that will help with consensus building, negotiations and advocacy for the community’s best interests. I would encourage developers to begin engaging with the community ahead of time and hear their issues and concerns before any approval process takes place. Collaboration and engagement should go beyond neighborhood meetings and be an ongoing discussion on any updates or changes to projects that keeps the interests of the community in mind at all times.
In the end, our commitment should always be to the residents and overall community, who should not be left out of any critical decisions that impact the place and space they call home.
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?
Over the past three years the City Council has increased real property tax rates on hotel and resort and Residential A classifications as well as increased the vehicle weight tax, enough to cover the rail’s initial operations and maintenance conservatively. The City Council should not raise taxes for revenue enhancements for local residents until the economy recovers. We must focus on our economic recovery and then collaboratively work on new sources of revenue generation with the Legislature.
If not, the only way without cutting current levels of service or resorting to furloughs would be to borrow money from the city’s enterprise fund, which would have to be paid back. We should consider working with the Legislature to impose a fee on travelers to help counties offset their costs of operation during a pandemic.
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?
I would not expand the sit-lie ban. As council member, I instead will lead efforts to refocus our city budget to prioritize support for social service agencies that address the vast range of issues that cause barriers for persons experiencing homelessness.
What I would do differently is incorporate bridge housing to focus on closing the gap of the continuum of housing for all people.
I have been a proponent for tiny house villages, and after reevaluating the city’s inventory, I would push for vacant units in buildings to be repurposed for housing that ranges from cost-free to $200,000. I will also forge immediate partnerships with the state to push for further opportunities in housing as the city has limited land but can help build these opportunities.
Overall, we must invest in our mental health services, substance abuse treatment centers, and homeless youth outreach. We must prioritize employment opportunities and training for all — coming from a nonprofit background focused on employment and job retention for persons with disabilities, there are many job opportunities that we can tap into to support persons experiencing 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?
When we talk about starting anew, we are going to take time to engage the public to talk about what ways they do not feel safe, and what would it take to actually be safe. Before we take necessary actions to provide reform to the police department and even fill these important seats on the police commission, we need to hear from the communities which are directly affected by their conduct. I want to directly engage the people in our working-class neighborhoods who most need the police to work for them, not against them, to hear what changes they would like to see made.
We have to look at the roots of the issues that we are now normally having police respond to, and assess if we should be investing less in police force of action and more into an array of other professions that can resolve many of the issues (such as social services, mental health counselors, conflict management specialists, etc.).
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?
First off, traffic and transportation should be reprioritized to put people first. If we do that, we will focus on the mobility and accessibility of all residents no matter their abilities and capabilities.
“Fixing” traffic congestion is not the movement but what safer streets and systems provides for people getting to school, healthcare, work, grocery shopping or to the park.
To answer the question posed, to further “alleviate congestion,” I support investing in redesigning safer streets, not expanding street networks for vehicles, ridding our walkways of visual pollution, and working to improve our bus system (routes, operations, and support for drivers and riders) to complement the rail. We also have the opportunity to look at the timing of our traffic lights to ensure that they are adequately timed, but working in general.
Once again, though, we should focus on how transportation and how we design streets and systems around it can make it easier for people to access economic opportunity, instead of how to move cars around faster.
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 Gov. Ige’s suspension of the open government laws in his emergency order. Although it was suspended, the City Council continued meeting and kept protocol according to the sunshine and open records laws to keep the city moving through the pandemic. Our open government laws should also remain a standard and need to be revisited as to hold our state Legislature accountable as well.
As a council member, despite any suspension of laws, I will work to reach out to the media of all avenues to ensure that they are in the loop as they serve as an integral means to keep residents apprised of government efforts, changes and opportunities.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
My district has much to lose from climate change: Mapunapuna is going underwater, and families and businesses are being flooded along Kalihi Stream during extreme rains. This is a climate justice issue and I will fight to make sure it’s not just people in affluent neighborhoods who can have solar, electric vehicles, and hurricane retrofits for their homes — we need to adopt policies that assist those who are being hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change.
I am a strong supporter of the Oahu Resilience Strategy and see it as a long-term blueprint for our island. I supported its adoption as a guiding policy document for the city, and I will make it a priority to keep it front and center for the next city administration and council. With those issues, and the issues of flooding in Kalihi Kai, infrastructure has become a top priority of mine. We cannot continue to use impermeable materials as a standard for our roads. We also must work for a city funded or incentivized to not let our rainwater go to waste, and recycle and repurpose that water for the benefit of our parks or food security.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Tenants fear eviction, landlords fear foreclosure. We need a bold plan for housing stability for property owners and renters alike so we do more than survive this crisis. We must rebuild for a safer, healthier, and more equitable future. I will collaborate toward fundamental mechanisms to ensure that current tenants are not displaced, that enough new units are truly affordable, and that they’re more integrated and sustainable than what we’ve built to date.
I’ll work together with our courts to establish a comprehensive renter-diversion program and income-based payment plans before any eviction can be filed. We need a limited extension of the eviction moratorium once orders are lifted so we can buy ourselves time to get these programs underway.
I will also work to strengthen and help meet the demand by updating our zoning and density requirements and repurposing both city inventory and older buildings to add more units. Another way to ensure housing is prioritized is to make sure we’ve got the infrastructure needed to sustain growth. Also, we must genuinely engage community voices to shape places where families will thrive, and that new units are built with the climate crisis in mind — near transit and energy-efficient.