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 Dion Mesta, 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 Charmaine Doran, Ron Menor, Val Okimoto and Keone Simon.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Oahu, and what would you do about it?
Lack of truly affordable housing and affordable rental units for working families. The state, city and county of Honolulu and private developers need to work collaboratively to increase the inventory of affordable housing and maintain these units, ensuring that they remain affordable in perpetuity.
Actions include considering land trusts, increasing down payment subsidies at the city level, building affordable housing for teachers and emergency personnel, providing state and city lands for affordable housing development, purchasing and refurbishing existing units for affordable housing, and having experienced developers maintain these projects under contract.
2. The Honolulu rail project: What should be done?
Finish the project in its entirety to Ala Moana and use public-private partnerships to finance Pearl Highlands Parking Garage. It is essential to continue the open dialogue and tough scrutiny with HART’s board and CEO on the status of HART’s finances and monies spent.
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?
More transparency and accountability to help restore public confidence, but not micromanagement. While a cloud has been cast over the HPD and Police Commission due to recent events, there has to be an acceptable level of confidence in the leadership of both HPD and the commission.
It is clearly a significant public safety issue when we are experiencing problems with recruitment and retention of police officers simultaneously with an upswing in crime. We need to strengthen our recruiting and retention practices and provide competitive compensation for our police officers. Working collaboratively with SHOPO to better understand the challenges and possible solutions could make a major difference.
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?
No increase in taxes for our local working families. Raising property taxes at a time when appraised values are increasing beyond the reach of our middle class is not the answer. This would make it even more difficult for working families to find housing for purchase or for rent. A tiered system is more equitable where high-end properties are taxed at higher rates.
Regarding vacant homes, I’m open to exploring higher rates, especially with foreign real estate investments, to increase our much-needed city revenue but with certain exemptions to prevent any unintended consequences and again, protect our local families.
5. Is Honolulu a safe place to live? What can be done to improve the quality of life on the island?
Generally speaking, Honolulu is a safe place to live but there is always room for improvement. To enjoy a decent quality of life, residents must feel safe in their homes and we can increase safety in the community through various actions, including the following:
— Increase HPD surveillance and patrols in higher crime locations. We need to train and maintain more recruits and increase community policing teams, who are familiar with the specific problems in each neighborhood.
— Residents can hui in neighborhood watches. Neighbors looking out for each other’s homes and property and alerting police to suspicious activity is very effective in reducing property crime.
— Electronic surveillance at our parks, prompt removal of abandoned vehicles, elimination of homeless encampments near residential areas and business locations, and mandatory treatment of diagnosed mentally ill vagrants can greatly increase the public’s sense of safety and security.
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?
Open communication and respect for differing opinions is key. People should always be given the chance to be heard and finding a middle ground can go a long way to a peaceful resolution. With that said, there is absolutely no tolerance for physical violence and government policies must ultimately favor the common good, even in spite of minority protests.
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?
Current Sunshine Laws and reporting requirements imposed by law on the Honolulu City Council appear to be sufficient. The public is afforded ample opportunities to weigh in on legislative matters before the council.
The recent corruption cases, still subjects of ongoing investigation, demonstrate the need for more trustworthy leadership, not more laws.
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?
The list of things we have been doing and could do more of is a long one:
– We need to focus on beefing up existing programs such as The Crisis, Outreach, Response and Engagement program with a focus on responding to the medical, psychological, and social needs of houseless individuals.
— We need to increase shelter capacity.
— We need to work closely with nonprofits to provide wrap-around services.
— We need hygiene centers, partnering with navigation hubs of city and nonprofit partnerships to connect homeless and mentally ill with services needed.
– We need a “one-stop shop” housing center where city and nonprofits housed under one location provide a range of services.
The fact of the matter is that the situation will remain the same as long as individuals choose to be homeless by refusing government and charitable help. What is sorely needed is a more specific approach to each of the following three categories of the homeless population with government resources allocated accordingly:
— Individuals or families temporarily homeless and in search of assistance.
— Those homeless by choice, often plagued by drug addiction, who avail themselves of assistance with little or no intention of moving off public property.
— Those who are suffering from mental illness in need of medical assistance, who are often a threat to themselves and others.
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 Landfill Advisory Committee appointed by Mayor Rick Blangiardi has until Dec. 31, 2022, to recommend a site for the island’s next landfill. I would be open to suggestions from the committee on this issue. Not only would I have concerns for the community that resides in close proximity to the landfill but also related to the location of the landfill and possible contamination of a water source.
Needless to say, recycling efforts need to continue and expand as a small but important part of a solution to the need for landfills.
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.
Climate change is adversely impacting many areas of the country, with residents looking to relocate to a place safe from catastrophic flooding, devastating droughts, recurring wildfires and sea level rising. People with the means to relocate to Hawaii will displace residents who cannot afford escalating real estate prices. To prevent Hawaii from experiencing the inevitable economic disparity, we need to curb real estate speculation.
Properties bought and sold within a specific period of time could be taxed at a higher rate, with decreasing rates the longer a property is held by the current owner. We could also explore various tax incentives for property owners to hold onto investment property as rentals rather than turning it over in relatively short time for a profit that affects the comparable values of surrounding properties.
Foreign investments could be taxed at a higher rate of property tax and assessed a greater percentage upon sale of the property, which is now at 7.5% under Hawaii’s Real Property Tax Law. Past estimates show 24% of homes in Hawaii were bought by out-of-state buyers, with 4% to foreign investors. Non-resident sales on Oahu hit 15%, with Maui, Kauai and the Big Island showing over 40% of sales to non-residents. Climate change will affect the real estate market in Hawaii in more ways than one.
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