About the Author

Josh Mason

Josh Mason is a research associate and marketing director of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

If the government is supposed to be of, by and for the people, it’s doing a pretty terrible job.

That’s one conclusion to draw from the 2020 National Community Survey of Honolulu Residents, an annual report commissioned by the City and County of Honolulu that polls residents about their satisfaction and confidence in various aspects of life on Oahu.

Honolulu residents generally were positive about things like the quality of life, but not so much about issues like governance and the economy.

Below are some of the findings showing how citizens perceived local lawmakers, government agencies and economic health. The percentages reflect the proportion of residents who felt positively about the issues:

  • Cost of living: 3%
  • Availability of affordable quality housing: 4%
  • Street repair: 10%
  • Land use, planning and zoning: 16%
  • Confidence in local government: 18%
  • Being open and transparent to the public: 19%
  • Direction the city’s taking: 19%
  • Being honest: 21%
  • Employment opportunities: 22%
  • Economic development: 23%

In terms of “quality of local government services,” 33% were positive about it, but that still means two out of three were dissatisfied.

In addition, 35% of residents have a positive view of Honolulu’s efforts to assist the homeless — again, about one out of three.

Only 25% — one in four — thought the county acts in their best interest, welcomes resident involvement or provides valuable services for taxes paid.

The 2020 National Community Survey detailed residents’ feelings across Honolulu. When it came to governance, many felt the frustration reflected in the sign held by this protester (seen here at a rally at the Hawaii State Capitol for stronger gun control). Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Even some of the seemingly positive results weren’t so great.

For example, 75% of residents said they’re likely to remain on Oahu for the next five years, but that means one out of every four people on Oahu is thinking about leaving, most likely to another state as part of the continuing exodus from the islands.

The report wasn’t totally bleak. Honolulu residents generally were satisfied with the quality of the natural environment, 65%; their health, 88%; and recreational activities, 66%.

Almost all of these findings didn’t vary significantly from prior years, even though the respondents were surveyed during a year plagued with lockdowns and government-induced economic burdens amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking forward, it could be relatively easy for the mayor, City Council and other county government officials to boost resident perceptions about life in Honolulu. It would simply require a commitment to transparency and economic freedom.

Regarding transparency, the over-budget, behind-schedule Honolulu rail project is perhaps Exhibit A. People might differ on what they want to have happen to rail, but it doesn’t look good to anyone that the Honolulu Authority For Rapid Transportation, which is in charge of the project, has tried to escape accountability in numerous ways, including thwarting state audits, holding closed-door meetings and declining to discuss employee layoffs. Nor is it a good sign that the project is being investigated by the FBI.

Another example is the Honolulu Police Department, which, among other things, has declined to share why it refuses to issue concealed carry weapons permits to qualified applicants or provide the Legislature with information about police misconduct.

Even the City Council is loose with the state’s sunshine laws. In 2019 council watchdog Natalie Iwasa cataloged 13 meeting agenda items during the previous two years she says violated the state’s sunshine law for not providing adequate public notice. The topics included the Kealoha corruption case, appointees to the Hawaii Community Development Authority, zoo sponsorships and bike rentals.

Of course, being more transparent by itself won’t improve public perceptions about the county’s performance, but it wouldn’t hurt.

Other options to improve “customer satisfaction” could include lowering the cost of public services, ideally through greater reliance on the private sector; lowering county taxes and fees; removing barriers to commerce and labor mobility; and speeding up everyday functions such as firearms registration, driver license processing and the issuance of building permits.

Honolulu officials need to make some fundamental changes. Otherwise, Oahu residents will continue to be dissatisfied, and who needs an unhappy electorate?

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Josh Mason

Josh Mason is a research associate and marketing director of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Latest Comments (0)

Excellent opinion. Glad Grassroots Institute offers a counter to entrenched culture and mold Citizens of Hawaii are expected to fit within.  Term limits at the Legislature would be a great start to lift the spirits of the People of Hawaii.

BCCI · 2 years ago

For as long as Big Blue is in power, change will be a forgotten word. Pairadice will always be a cause ofno progress in Hawaii.

6_Pence · 2 years ago

Add disgusted to the mix in summing up our moods also. And it seems that the only way we’ll get transparency is when it’s either been divulged through one of Mr. Ian Lind’s well researched articles, another federal investigation uncovering more corruption, or more State audits, which continue to show fraud, waste and abuse. And am I the only one who thinks our State should have the auditing/ethics department separate from all other departments, like we have on the Federal level with Revenue Services?   

Kaleo744 · 2 years ago

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