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 Ron Menor, 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, Dion Mesta, Val Okimoto and Keone Simon.

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 8

Ron Menor
Party Nonpartisan
Age 66
Occupation Attorney
Residence Mililan

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Honolulu City Council member (District 9); state senator; state representative; past president and member, Mililani Lions Club; past member, board of directors, West Oahu Branch of the YMCA of Honolulu.

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

One of my top priorities will be to continue my work in creating more affordable housing opportunities for our local residents. I am greatly troubled that too many of our residents are unable to find housing that they can afford. This is especially so for many of our young people who are having to move away from Hawaii because they cannot afford our high housing costs.

There is no panacea. It will take a multifaceted approach which should include: approving more housing projects through the 201H process; utilizing city land; providing financial and other incentives for affordable housing development; tapping our city’s Affordable Housing Fund to refurbish distressed properties for affordable housing; and rehabilitating our city’s inventory of affordable rentals.

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

The scope and extent of future rail construction should be based upon actual and projected federal, state and city revenues that will be available to cover construction costs. Moreover, while construction proceeds, federal, state and county officials should undertake serious discussions about potential funding mechanisms and financial feasibility of extending rail beyond the Civic Center terminus that HART has currently designated.

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 believe that the vast majority of our police officers are working their hardest to protect the safety of the public under difficult and stressful circumstances. However, as is the case with any organization, there will always be room for improvement in the management and operations of HPD. Of particular concern is the apparent abuse of overtime by certain police officers.

In this regard, city elected officials and Police Commission members need to play a proactive role and ask the tough questions in monitoring the performance of HPD, and follow up on citizen complaints about the department that are brought to their attention. The Police Commission also needs to evaluate ways in which it can more effectively carry out its important responsibilities under the City Charter which include appointing and removing the chief of police, reviewing and making recommendations on HPD’s budget, and investigating police misconduct.

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? 

I would not support increasing real property tax rates on local residents, which would exacerbate our high cost of living. However, city officials should seriously consider creating a significantly higher real property tax rate for outside investors in high-end residential properties.

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

I am sensitive to the public’s concern that the recent spike in criminal activity is jeopardizing the safety of residents in our community. It is imperative that our city government provides adequate funding and resources for law enforcement efforts. In this regard, city officials need to work with the leaders of HPD to immediately fill the approximately 300 vacant police officer positions, which is an unacceptably high vacancy rate from the standpoint of protecting public safety.

In terms of improving our quality of life, one of my top priorities as a council member will be to ensure that our city government meets its obligation to provide important core services and improvements that our communities need and deserve. These include road, park and sidewalk improvements; adequate police and fire protection; bus service; trash collection; and programs to support youth, senior, and family activities.

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? 

The polarization that has occurred in our society is oftentimes the result of the unwillingness of individuals or groups of people on either side of a controversial issue to engage in a civil dialogue to find common ground or achieve a consensus position. As an elected official, I always tried to craft legislation on contentious issues that took into account diverse viewpoints within the community. I also supported the establishment of working groups comprised of different stakeholders to make recommendations on actions that could be taken by city government to resolve pressing issues.

In regards to health mandates, I believe that as our society returns to normalcy, we need to come together and move beyond this contentious issue, and focus our collective efforts instead on the significant challenges facing our city on issues such as homelessness, affordable housing and other concerns.

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?

I would support stronger ethics laws, and tougher laws against government corruption. Elected officials also need to take a strong stand when government corruption is uncovered. For example, as a council member, I rejected the request of Louis Kealoha to use city taxpayer dollars to pay for his defense attorney’s fees in federal criminal proceedings. Moreover, the council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee which I chaired, passed proposed charter amendments which strengthened the ability of the City Ethics Commission to enforce our ethics laws. These amendments were approved by the voters in the 2020 general election.

In regards to the City Council, it needs to maintain transparency and accountability in the legislative process.

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?

There is no “silver bullet.” It will take a range of solutions to more effectively address this difficult and complex societal problem. These should include: relocating homeless individuals to low-cost, temporary shelter facilities or structures where they would also have access to services and treatment for mental health and addiction issues that contribute to their homelessness; continuing to provide Section 8 and rapid rehousing rental assistance to individuals who are homeless because they cannot afford market rents; further improving our Assisted Community Treatment (ACT) laws to facilitate treatment of the chronically homeless who suffer severe mental illnesses and substance abuse problems, and building more truly affordable housing.

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 Department of Environmental Services recently released a document entitled Draft-Oahu Landfill Siting Study and Landfill Advisory Committee Recommendations, dated June 2022. The council should carefully review the recommendations contained in this report in order to determine the next landfill site by Dec. 31, 2022, in accordance with the 2019 decision and order of the Land Use Commission. Moreover, City officials should continue to evaluate alternative technologies to process and dispose of waste outside of 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.

One of the consequences of the pandemic is that it heightened public awareness about the needs in our communities, including the pervasiveness and devastating impact of housing insecurity. In addition to the solutions which I outlined in my response to the above Question No. 1, our city government should also move forward proactively to develop and implement rent-to-own housing options.

Moreover, the mayor and City Council should consider establishing a housing facilitator position which would have cabinet-level status and authority over other city departments. The housing facilitator would be responsible for expediting the implementation of affordable housing projects, and coordinating efforts between the city, state and federal governments with housing developers and housing advocates.

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