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 Charmaine Doran, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 8, which includes Waimalu, Newtown, Pearl City, Seaview, Crestview, Waipio Gentry, Koa Ridge, Mililani Town and Mililani Mauka. The other candidates are Ron Menor, Dion Mesta, Val Okimoto and Keone Simon.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Oahu, and what would you do about it?
Preserving our quality of life is one of the most urgent issues facing Oahu and our entire state. Traditionally, local government led with aloha and supported innovative programs that helped local people thrive. This is no longer the case.
For decades, new homes have been built for rich speculators, not kamaaina. Residents now work multiple jobs just to pay the rent in micro-units and for most, a home purchase is entirely out of reach. Without adequate safety nets in place, homelessness has also continued to grow. Deprived of city enforcement, illegal vacation rentals, monster homes and other nuisances have invaded our neighborhoods. Finally, corruption has destroyed public trust and undermined the effectiveness of city government.
If we want change, we have to vote for it. If elected, I will have the courage to put local people first. I will diligently work to require more affordable housing units in new developments and strive to expand funding for the city’s rental and housing programs. Establishing a new community outreach and code enforcement program will help increase the overall effectiveness of the city. To restore public integrity, we must mandate more transparency and require greater ethical conduct from our government leaders.
2. The Honolulu rail project: What should be done?
In 2006, after a military vehicle struck the overpass, I sat along with thousands of other Leeward residents in traffic for hours. It would not be the first or last time I sat for hours in traffic. Of course, rail will not solve traffic congestion. But rail will offer residents a choice and increase transportation equity on the Leeward side. This is long overdue. However, the out-of-control cost and constant project changes are unacceptable.
Recently, our district felt the sting of rail changes, when its long-promised parking facility was unceremoniously postponed. Unbeknownst to us, the postponement originally surfaced in 2018-19. Yet, we, the public, did not find out until 2022. This is the type of mishandling that has caused dislike of the rail project.
The City Council exercises little control over the project or HART. And HART behaves like public funding is endless. Both must change. To regain control, the council must adopt a rail transparency policy for spending and demand an improved CIP program. HART also needs to secure other revenue streams now, such as advertising or developer fees. Finally, we must create a new fiscal and accountability board to oversee project finances and to better advise the Council.
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?
Corruption and bad conduct have plagued the Police Department and commission for years. Public confidence in these essential institutions has eroded considerably. Sadly, so far, the city has chosen to mostly ignore this truth, instead opting to punt to the state or order mostly symbolic audits. Rebuilding public trust will require more deliberate actions by the city.
To enhance police integrity, we must focus on three key priorities: transparency, accountability and improving civilian oversight. In other cities, body-cam videos are posted online regularly, executive sessions are limited, complaints are handled expeditiously and qualified immunity is waived in egregious cases. Departments federally investigated routinely adopt policing reform and reinvention platforms. Elsewhere, police commissions sit at the top of policing hierarchy and help to craft real policies in departments. All of these are options for Honolulu.
We have many good officers on the force that work hard to keep our city among the safest in the country. Formally tackling corruption will lift their morale, increase performance and boost public perception of the Honolulu Police Department.
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?
Not all cities are alike. Hawaii has a unique state-county system. Its taxing practices are incomparable to other areas.
Currently, the city has several different property classes and rates that may be adjusted to raise revenue, such as hotel, special residential (A/B), and bed and breakfast. If needed, it is possible to create a special tax rate for vacant homes and others. In addition, we could revisit special tax situations to confirm they are still warranted. Like the property tax discount given to off-base housing. These housing developments can be run by mainland real estate corporations that charge market rate rents.
In addition to property taxes the city has access to other revenues to finance operations. When determining whether to increase taxes or create new classes, the city must look at revenue needs and sources comprehensively. For example, each year the city retains millions in carry-over funds. Funds budgeted annually, but never spent. This is a continuous cycle. Developing a stronger financial forecasting plan would prepare the city for a healthier financial future. As a rule, the city should only take and keep the tax money it truly needs.
5. Is Honolulu a safe place to live? What can be done to improve the quality of life on the island?
We live in one of the safest cities in the nation. This is a direct reflection of our wonderful people and well-funded public safety programs.
However, our quality of life is definitely under attack. Each year residents are forced to carry larger burdens with much less. With the government among our largest employers, when the U.S. census considered our outrageous costs of living, the bureau concluded that we have one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. Crucial to changing this gloomy reality is electing leaders who will put local people first by requiring more affordable housing units, assistance, and funding.
Many residents feel that certain offenses have long been ignored and this is also impacting our quality of life. To address these issues, the city must explore alternative approaches to traditional enforcement. As a member of the Pearl City Neighborhood Board, we requested that the city establish a Digital Neighborhood Watch and also create a new community outreach and code enforcement program to focus on noise, fireworks, animal control and things like monster homes. A digital watch and a new enforcement program will facilitate quality enforcement and greater community empowerment.
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?
We are raised to live with aloha. We are innately kind and respectful of others. As a community of native peoples and home to countless minorities, we all warrant the same mutual considerations.
In modern times, we have all learned how to maneuver the noise of social media, political fodder and performance activism. Our elected officials must do the same and remain vigilant in separating truth from fiction.
If there are genuine gaps between residents, it is essential that we use the central tenets of aloha — unity, kindness, agreeableness, humility and patience — to find a common ground.
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?
Despite years of endless scandals, our city has not yet addressed the numerous systemic failures that occurred. We cannot continue to bury our heads. We need to act now to replace our paper tiger policies with laws that expand transparency and strengthen ethical conduct.
In 2017 when the police chief’s payout surfaced, the council could have halted the entire fiasco by demanding a full council review. Instead, they keeled under political pressure and abandoned their most important duty — serving as the “check” on executive power.
Similarly, the council opted to sweep under the rug the city’s mismanagement of the domestic violence shelter funding.
Nevertheless, as the legislative body, the City Council still can work to rebuild public confidence and integrity through effective lawmaking. To increase transparency, the City Council can require that all financial disclosure filings include tax records and also guarantee that ethics complaints are made public. To strengthen public integrity and raise ethical standards, the council should limit its own use of executive sessions and expand conflict of interest provisions to include campaign donations and abstentions. Finally, mandating a citywide reform and anti-corruption plan is long-overdue.
8. Homelessness has been an issue for decades, yet we don’t seem to be making much progress. What new ideas would you suggest controlling this ongoing problem?
Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis at the local level. We cannot arrest our way out of homelessness. We must proactively work to prevent homelessness and actively house those in need of help.
Recently, federal Covid-19 recovery funds have been earmarked to help establish everything from wrap-around services to shelters. This is a good start. However, we must also concentrate on preventive services such as housing, rental and utility assistance. We must work to keep local people thriving and offer aid if they encounter financial, health or housing crises.
Finally, as one of the larger employers in Honolulu, the city must evaluate its current pay structure and its benefit package. Way too many of our essential public employees live near or at the poverty line.
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?
The city must do more to address climate change. While the city has made strides in making plans, it has not adequately evaluated its landfill practices nor the current waste to energy facility.
Changes in technologies present new opportunities to decrease our waste output and develop a waste-to-energy facility that is environmentally sound. As a city, we should be striving to become a zero-waste and zero-emission community. It is good for the earth and our island.
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.
Covid-19 highlighted how vulnerable and isolated we are as a people. It also underscored a lack of proper emergency protocols at the city — despite years of planning and millions in funding. Further, it brought to the forefront how we all live on the edge of financial ruin and that it does not take much to render families hungry and homeless.
Our residents that work in the tourism industry were hit the hardest by the statewide shutdown. With that said, my one big idea would be diversifying our island economy. At one time, Honolulu led the nation in connectivity and tech enterprise zones. Of course, this is no longer the case. However, it is still possible to build up a tech sector. We already have a global online retailer here and numerous viable economic incubators.
In 2019, the Pearl City Neighborhood Board requested that the state and city work to establish Honolulu as a remote hub. By reinvesting in technological infrastructure, providing businesses with tax incentives and lobbying global businesses to look toward Honolulu, we can begin to diversify our economy and provide our residents with greater economic opportunities.
We know not everyone can afford to pay for news right now, which is why we keep our journalism free for everyone to read, listen, watch and share.
But that promise wouldn’t be possible without support from loyal readers like you.
Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.