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 Ikaika Hussey, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 6, which includes portions of Kakaako, Downtown Honolulu, Punchbowl, Papakolea, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu, Iwilei, Liliha, Alewa Heights, Kalihi and Kalihi Valley. The other candidates are Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Nalani Jenkins, Chance Na’auao-Ota, Dennis Nakasato, Traci Toguchi and Chad Wolke.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Oahu, and what would you do about it?
Every day we read in the paper about another public official who has forsaken their duty, and has taken to brazen self-dealing. Most voters, across the demographic divides, have lost their faith in government. We need elected officials who see government as a sacred trust, not merely a way to enhance their lobbyist career or sweeten their rail contracts.
For my part, I am running a different sort of campaign for City Council. I am the only Council District 6 candidate who has signed the Our Hawaii pledge. I’m not accepting corporate contributions. My campaign is funded by the small-dollar contributions from ordinary citizens.
2. The Honolulu rail project: What should be done?
We cannot continue with the rail project as it has been. The council needs to hold rail contractors accountable, interrupting the cycles of waste and overspending that continue to plague the project.
As a fiduciary on several nonprofit corporate boards, I have extensive experience managing significant sums of money on behalf of the beneficiaries of these non-profit organizations. I will bring this experience and the concept of “fiduciary duty” to the City Council.
With that said, I love mass transit and enjoy visiting walkable cities where I don’t have to drive. I’m fascinated by how transit projects are done in these cities. In Tokyo, for example, the major landowners along the route paid for its construction. Why? Because they knew that transit will increase the value of their existing properties. This is called “value capture” financing, and it’s a common way to finance transit in many other jurisdictions.
I support completing rail, and even expanding it beyond its current scope. But I’d like it to be financed by the parties who will be its most immediate beneficiaries – the landowners.
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?
No, I am not satisfied with the current structure of our policing system, including the role and powers of the commission and the council.
The council needs to take a more active role in holding the police accountable, just as we would hold all city officials accountable. The council needs to use its authority as the city’s legislature to independently investigate and monitor the actions of HPD. (We need to do this for all city work, by the way.)
HPD officers have very difficult and challenging jobs. But I also acknowledge that the public is frustrated by the perceived (and real) lack of accountability and self-dealing plaguing the police force. It is the City Council’s job to look at the ways the city spends money and make hard decisions about how to spend in future budgets that align with our values as a community.
As for HPD, they need to shift from a “warrior” mentality to a “guardian” mentality. Our community wants police to succeed and wants to know they will be there when needed but also wants them to do their job with integrity and honesty — as with any public servant.
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?
Yes, vacant homes should be taxed at a higher rate. Vancouver has a 1% “Empty Homes Tax,” which is a useful model for dealing with vacancies and blight in neighborhoods.
The problem with raising property taxes across the board is that for senior citizens on fixed incomes, a property tax raise can be catastrophic. I’d support the state liberalizing the ability for the City & County to raise monies outside of property taxes and user fees. This island — with the lion’s share of the state’s population and economic activity — should be able to create our own methods of revenue generation beyond land values.
5. Is Honolulu a safe place to live? What can be done to improve the quality of life on the island?
The answer to the first part of this question varies greatly depending on where you live and what kind of safety we’re discussing. It’s not safe for women fleeing domestic abuse but are seeing the Judiciary budgets cut. It’s not safe for young children and elders trying to walk down a street in Kalihi where there are no sidewalks. It’s not safe for thousands of people on Oahu who have lost access to safe drinking water from the aquifer. It’s not safe for residents of Hala Drive in Kapalama who have had nearly weekly traffic accidents on their street.
We should take a page from John Rawls and assume for a moment that we are living in the most dire circumstances in our community, and design our policies from that perspective. That means investing in the core elements of our public life: walkable streets. A responsive police force. Water that’s safe to drink. Sidewalks and roadways which are clean and well-maintained because we’ve decided to invest in keeping them that way. Public, shared luxuries like clean parks with functioning playground equipment and graffiti-free restrooms. There’s a lot we can do, and these are budgetary commitments that the council needs to make.
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?
People have common interests despite their differences. The situation in Kahuku could have been avoided if the outside energy developer had been willing to listen to the community and adapted their project to address the community’s valid concerns. The best solution is for the community to own these types of projects themselves, so that they are the decision-maker and the beneficiary.
With regards to Covid-19 mandates, I’d like to share a conversation I had with a voter in Kalihi. The voter was anti-vax, and I am pro-vax. Their point was that it doesn’t make sense for the government to be so keenly concerned about Covid, but not about other pressing health concerns for their family, such as diabetes and hypertension. They made a good point. My takeaway is that we should use this Covid moment to build out a more robust and holistic public health program.
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?
An elected official can be a very affordable investment for a corporation; for $4,000 (for council, $2,000 for a state House member) they can guarantee that an elected official will always take their phone call.
I’m handling this by simply not accepting corporate contributions. Instead, I’m raising money directly from my community of voters, at the doors. I’m incredibly proud of the few dollars that Mr. Nakamura in Liliha gave me, or the $1 from Felice in Hauiki Homes; those dollars aren’t an attempt to buy access — they just want a better community.
In the longer term, we need robust campaign finance reform. The only way to level the playing field between wealthy corporations and every citizen is to have all campaigns for elected office publicly funded. One step is taxing campaign accounts to fund publicly financed elections.
Lastly, we need to realize that city employees work very hard to deliver services to the public. But because city operations are opaque, most residents don’t know if their request for a sidewalk, for example, is actually being worked on. I would urge the city’s information technology team to provide a public interface or API for the internal work order and ticketing systems that the city uses, so that we can all see the status of our requests.
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?
Homelessness is the confluence of several problems: working local families that are priced out of unaffordable and scarce housing; women fleeing homes where they are not safe because of domestic violence; the mental health crisis; and substance abuse.
“Housing First” is still the logical starting point. The city needs to aggressively build housing on its own lands, and also acquire and assemble parcels to create new units. Subsequent redevelopment can be done by the city itself or in partnership with private and nonprofit developers.
But housing itself won’t solve this problem. We need to expand and iterate on the LEAD program. And I’d invite a productive conversation with civil libertarians about the best way to administer care to those who otherwise refuse it.
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?
We all need to take responsibility for our trash, and stop exporting it to Waianae.
Let’s start from first principles. The first goal should be to decrease the waste stream. Community-based and centralized composting schemes would be useful to decrease food waste, which is 15% of the residential waste stream. Secondly, plastic materials are 20% of the waste volume. I stand for hard restrictions on disposable plastic use, for a host of reasons (climate, landfill).
I also support attaching a refundable disposal or circularity fee at point-of-purchase on major goods, such as appliances and other durable goods. Similar to the bottle bill, this refund would encourage end users to refurbish, recycle, or properly dispose of durable goods.
We need to take a hard look at the HPower contract. This contract undermines our climate goals, circumvents the natural circularity of our society, and costs the city millions of dollars. HPower may have a role in meeting our immediate energy needs, but that role should significantly decline over time.
Finally, I’m bullish on pyrolysis, gasification and other techniques to deal with terminal waste. If we start now, we can have a gasification or similar low emissions waste management system up and running by 2028, when the temporary permit for Waimanalo Gulch ends.
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.
One Big Idea: Think like an island. An incredible future awaits us if we’re willing to solve our unique problems, at our particular island scale. The goal should be to import only what we cannot produce locally, and repurpose and reuse waste into new useful products. After all, it’s very difficult to bring goods into Hawaii. As an example of this is my company, HIFI, which is working on recycling waste CO2 into jet fuel.
Our forebears created an incredible civilization here, using earthmoving techniques (such as auwai, loko ia, naulu forests) to engineer the land toward incredible productivity. I’m excited by the new possibilities that await us when we embrace island thinking.
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