Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 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 Racquel Achiu, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 2, which includes Waikele, Village Park, Royal Kunia, Wahiawa, Mokuleia, Waialua, Haleiwa, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Kahuku, Laie, Hauula, Punaluu, Kahana, Kaawa, Kualoa, Waiahole and Kahaluu. The other candidates are Makua Rothman, Matt Weyer, Lupe Funaki and Chad Tsuneyoshi.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Honolulu City Council District 2

Racquel Achiu
Party Nonpartisan
Age 52
Occupation Rancher/farmer
Residence Waialua

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

North Shore American Youth Soccer Organization (2006-2013); North Shore Hanapa’a Jackpot Fishing Tournament (2008 - present); Waialua High Class of 2017 co-advisor and project grad coordinator (2013-2017); Waialua High School Community Council member (2016-2019), chair (2019-present); North Shore Neighborhood Board member (2017-present), vice chair (2021-present).

1. What is the biggest issue facing Oahu, and what would you do about it?

Housing: We have allowed too much out of state investment/purchases of homes and land. The influx of “bigger money” has made it easy for out-of-state money/investors/residents to literally buy out the local market. In addition to the out-of-state buyer relocating and buying in Hawaii, too often, purchases of homes and land are done on the internet, sight unseen and over asking price, consistently driving up the sales prices. This typically results in locals not being able to afford to buy a home or not afford the rent that is being asked by the buyers/property owner. This leads to homelessness of our own people; which in turn affects peoples’ mental health with depression and/or desperation which can lead to drugs and alcohol and increased crime.

Other countries have legal requirements to regulate the buying of land/property in their country. Although we are not considered our own country/territory/nation and are part of the United States, I would like to work toward some requirements and regulations on limiting out-of-state investment/purchases. Do not wish to stop all out of state investment but we need to regulate it better so it does not force out our local community.

2. The Honolulu rail project: What should be done?

At this point, we literally are too far in and over-invested to stop it.

However, the planning and financial management have been poor from the start. It’s just not acceptable. I would continue Council member Tsuneyoshi’s work in calling for accountability: set up checks, balances and audits.

I have no issue with the station cutbacks, EXCEPT with the elimination of the Pearl Highlands parking garage. The communities in my Council District closest to where the garage would have been built, are hugely disappointed since this would have significantly helped with their daily commute. By HART’s own admission this will result in an estimated 20% rider reduction.

3. In recent years, serious problems have surfaced within the Honolulu Police Department. At the same time, there has been a significant push to beef up oversight of police and reform some practices. What would you do specifically to improve accountability of local law enforcement? Are you satisfied with the Honolulu Police Department? How about the Honolulu Police Commission?

I have great respect for all of our first responders and the risks they take every day to ensure our safety. However, it’s incredibly disheartening that recent events, poor choices of trusted individuals with consistent negative publicity, have impacted our communities so gravely. Our communities are not satisfied with what has come out of HPD or the commission, resulting in a severe loss of trust in our system, our law enforcement and our governing agencies.

Unfortunately, I do believe we have reached a time when the need for additional oversight and reform is required. To restore any level of respect, confidence and trust from our community for our officers and our system, we must take action to improve/reform HPD.

After further research and discussion with appropriate leaders, agencies/groups, I would propose the creation of a reform/review board, consisting of members of agency (HPD and the commission) and community leaders (such as neighborhood board members from a variety of communities), with guidance and participation from law enforcement training resources and possibly representatives of City Council (likely the Public Safety Committee). This group would oversee the process and proposal of reformed practices for law enforcement. This would be an intense and specific process to ensure transparent, effective, efficient and accountable practices.

4. Honolulu has some of the lowest property taxes in the country. Is it time to raise those rates to help meet city obligations? Tax vacant homes at a higher rate?

Although our property taxes may be the lowest in the country, that statement would not be accepted among our residents, especially our kupuna.

No, I don’t believe raising our residents’ property tax would be an efficient means of meeting city obligations. However, I do think there is room to re-evaluate who is paying what and where we can restructure that criteria.

For example, our kupuna, retirees, owners of land that was passed on to them, etc., should be significantly reduced. Kupuna and retirees shouldn’t be worried about keeping up with soaring property values due to increased home sales they have no control over. Therefore, kupuna, retirees should have a significantly reduced property tax or even capped at what their original purchase or inheritance of property was at that time.

To cover that adjusted revenue, large landowners, out-of-state property owners should pay a higher tax. Yes, vacant homes should also require a higher tax. I know some of these taxes are already in place or just added, but we need to look hard at the rates — if you can afford an expensive home in Hawaii that you visit only a few months per year, you can afford the higher taxes. We make it too attractive for out-of-state investors and buyers.

5. Is Honolulu a safe place to live? What can be done to improve the quality of life on the island?

Overall yes. Compared to other states our crime rate, although it may not seem as such, is considerably lower. Hawaii’s violent crime rate of 2.5 incidents per 1,000 people is lower than the national rate of 4.0. However, crime is still a serious issue with grave impacts on our community.

It really boils down to being able to address and effectively implement more community-based interaction programs that support positive activities, resources for daily life, especially for our youth and building relationships with our law enforcement officers.

6. Hawaii has seen a growing division when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. Protests are getting angrier. What would you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences?

Everyone is allowed to have their opinions or positions of how to handle the best interests of themselves and their families. That doesn’t negate the fact that we still need to continue to engage civilly with and educate our communities.

We have to engage more and interact with them on a personal level. People want to be heard. They need to know they matter. So we need to make a stronger, consistent effort in interacting with our communities. Respect, engage, listen and educate. Most times when people feel they have been heard, they are more willing to sit down and discuss solutions.

7. Like the state, the City and County has had its share of corruption cases – from the police department and prosecutor’s office to the mayor’s office and the planning department. What would you do to restore public confidence in our public officials? What if anything needs to change about how the City Council operates?

Recent corruption cases have severely impacted our communities. The trust and respect has been lost and will be difficult to regain.

Much like the situation with HPD in Question No. 3, the prosecutor and Mayor’s Office must be held accountable for leadership and practices. These offices could also fall under the review of the reform/review board suggested in Question No. 3. This board would be involved in the review of practices and matters of each office. They would also be able to consult with certified resources to advise the offices of practices that would better support operations and policies. Because this board would include community leaders, I believe this link to our communities is critical in making a positive impact and restoring confidence with our public.

I have participated at our City Council by testifying and working with council members on various issues for a few years and don’t have any real concern or suggestion of how to improve this body right now. It has been very inclusive of our communities. The only thing I would like to see improved is a more effective means of public notification and explanation of resolutions and bills coming before the council for consideration.

8. Homelessness has been an issue for decades yet we don’t seem to be making much progress. What new ideas would you suggest to control this ongoing problem?

I reflect back to where it starts in my response to Question No. 1. We need to effectively navigate our housing market (sales and rentals) so our residents aren’t pushed out of their homes, eventually leading to not being able to retain jobs that ultimately take them out of the market all together in both housing and employment. This leads to homelessness, leading to mental health issues, leading to drug and alcohol abuse.

I will work with agencies that serve and advocate for our challenged community members, such as Achieve Zero, to provide facilities/resources in each community. So not to just push our challenged neighbors from place to place, it is critical to have facilities that are accessible, in close proximity to each community, that can provide shelter, hygiene, treatment and resources that will enable individuals to transition/return to the workforce and housing as a productive and positive community member.

9. No one wants the island’s landfill in its backyard. Should it stay on the West Side and Waimanalo Gulch be expanded? Or are there other solutions?

Let’s be honest, no one wants a landfill in their backyard, period. I know I don’t. I live on the North Shore and we had a landfill but that was also a different time with far less people and trash than we have today.

As for the West Side and Waimanalo Gulch, everywhere has a limit. As we approach that time, it isn’t unreasonable to consider/research alternative options for our waste system. Looking at how other states and countries manage their waste and looking for ways to implement a more technological means of managing waste seems necessary. There are places on the mainland that are one stop for all recycling, wet waste, donations of lightly used goods and then pick up your mulch from the previous waste. Every community should have a similar type of recycling facility, not just for blue can/green can.

In light of recent contamination to our water resources with the failed Red Hill tanks, it’s natural that one of the greatest concerns of a landfill is the impact/risk that a landfill places on our aquifers. It would be irresponsible to not consider alternative options that could potentially support a more productive and effective waste management system.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Oahu. Be innovative, but be specific.

Technology is key!

Our agencies are grossly outdated in resources and processes.

I would like to see all of our agencies with updated technology backed by operational support with consistent review and maintenance of each process.

Technology is paramount to an effective and efficient operation. However, we all know, as great as technology is, it can also be crippling when it is unavailable. It is critical to retain the knowledge and skills of our employees within each department, agency, etc. Everyone should be cross-trained.

Each department/agency should go through a process mapping their operations to ensure effectiveness and consistency but also to eliminate steps that are repetitive or ineffective. This would then be followed up with annual training to remain updated, educated and skilled in the processes they follow.

If we can support our processes with the appropriate resources and technology I believe we will not only improve our systems but also improve the workplace, ultimately resulting in a more positive experience for the employees and their customers. In turn, the scrutiny/criticism and dissatisfaction of the departments, agencies, workers would be significantly reduced or eliminated.

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