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 Will Espero, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 9 representing Waikele, Village Park, Royal Kunia, Mililani Town, West Loch, Iroquois Point, and portions of Ewa Villages and Ewa Beach. The other candidate is Augie Tulba.
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?
Tourism will be a major source of our revenues for a long time. We are limited due to our geography. Military spending and construction are significant industries as well. Construction by government and the private sector will help us now as we need our residents employed.
We can do more to diversify our economy in farming or agriculture, alternative energy, and culture and the arts. I believe hemp, breadfruit and cacao can be attractive crops for Hawaii. Food security should be a priority for the state, including aquaculture.
Continued support of the film industry will help promote tourism and Hawaii. A new film studio in West Oahu would be a major asset for our state.
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?
I would first need to look at the total budget and review the revenue projections and proposed expenses. Then I would meet and speak with the city administration to see its proposals.
Out-of-state travel, pay raises for high-level appointees, grants in aid, new equipment purchases and new unimplemented programs would be considered for cuts or reductions. New revenues can come via a visitor fee and higher property taxes for out-of-state owners of investment properties valued at over $1 million.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
Our coronavirus death rate is low compared to other states. Unfortunately our unemployment rate is high. The state should consider extending unemployment benefits where practical.
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?
Community outreach and input are crucial for new projects. Focus groups and surveys are very useful for generating community responses. Communication and dialogue are key to consensus and solving differences. Compromise can be useful if all involved actively participate and genuinely want to find a solution.
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?
The daily or monthly charge paid by tourists and locals will help pay for the operation and maintenance of the rail. Vending machines in the rail stations can generate income. Advertising in rail cars and on the rail platform can also raise funds. Expect rail to be subsidized by taxpayers like TheBus.
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 don’t like the idea of criminalizing homelessness. Our justice system should not target houseless individuals. Let’s build and create as many temporary shelters as possible. I support ohana or safe zones in parks with tents, containers and repurposed buses for sleeping.
I believe dormitory-style housing for adults could be a solution. Tiny home communities can also help.
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 can strengthen police oversight via the mayor, City Council and the police commission. Areas of reform should include full transparency in police misconduct and bad behavior, national and local data base for fired law enforcement personnel or officers forced to resign, 100% body camera use, statewide standards for law enforcement (currently being developed), more training in de-escalation tactics, renegotiate contracts with union, reviewing responsibilities that could be done by other agencies.
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?
The city can encourage more car-pooling, bike lanes, work-at-home opportunities, and a four-day work week to help traffic congestion. A PM zipper lane to West Oahu would be beneficial.
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 suspending our Sunshine Law and will advocate for the lifting of any edicts or orders contrary to openness in 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?
We are already weaning ourselves from using fossil fuels and encouraging alternative energy where possible. We should not allow new construction close to the coastline, and we should develop a plan to relocate infrastructure that is susceptible to rising sea levels.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
With the coronavirus here, the most pressing issue will be reopening the economy and getting residents fully working again. I will work with the business sector and government on a plan to open the Hawaii economy as soon as possible. Testing incoming visitors and checking on them daily is part of the plan.