Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 General 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 Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, 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. His opponent is Traci Toguchi.

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

Candidate for Honolulu City Council District 6

Tyler Dos Santos-Tam
Party Nonpartisan
Age 34
Occupation Business consultant
Residence Kakaako

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Member, Liliha Neighborhood Board, 2011-2017; commissioner, Honolulu Neighborhood Commission, 2013-present; chair, Honolulu Neighborhood Commission, 2017-2020; honorary consul of Portugal in Hawaii, 2019-present; president, Portuguese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, 2019-present; chair, Democratic Party of Hawaii, 2020-2022; co-founder, HI Good Neighbor.

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

Affordable housing, first and foremost. I will work diligently each and every day as your  council member to focus on expanding our inventory of housing, at all levels that local families can afford.

Of all of the candidates in the race, I have the strongest track record of supporting and working to create more affordable housing. I was a supporter of – and testified on – creating housing for those on the edge of homelessness through renovation and expansion of city-owned or sponsored housing sites in Chinatown, and also worked with a coalition of housing stakeholders to expand the requirement for tax-exempt projects to accept Section 8 voucher holders. I was also proud to have been the chief advocate for new legislation to expand the state general excise tax credit and the corresponding city fee waiver program for affordable rental apartments.

As a council member, I’m not just going to sit around and talk about the challenges we face when it comes to housing; instead, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and take action. As stated before, we need to create more affordable housing that is within reach to our local residents and I am ready on Day 1 to introduce legislation that would break down barriers to creating affordable, low-rise apartment units in our existing apartment zones and within our existing height limits.

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

I believe rail needs to go all the way to Ala Moana Center in order to maximize ridership and reap the long-promised benefits of housing in transit-oriented development areas along the rail alignment. Stopping short in Kakaako, as has been proposed, creates additional questions, such as the additional operating costs of enhanced bus service to replace the last segment of rail, and what impacts the new interim “end” will have on the surrounding neighborhood.

We need council members who are willing to take on the tough issue of rail, which many candidates have tried to shy away from. The council cannot continue to duck the hard questions or defer to HART or expensive consultants. The next City Council will need strong leadership to take on these looming questions: expediting the opening of the first segment and ensuring successful initial operations; funding operations and maintenance; integrating our award-winning bus system with the rail; and creating a mechanism to capture the increased revenues from TOD developments.

With my background in the construction industry – and with my willingness to speak out if things aren’t right – I hope to be able to take on these questions and more, and come up with workable solutions especially as the rail project gets closer into the urban core.

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?

This is a delicate balance: on one hand, we need more oversight to prevent the most egregious of incidents within HPD, but on the other hand, too much micromanaging from the mayor or City Council risks politicizing the HPD’s internal operations at a time when a functional department is needed the most. Striking the right balance is going to take a collaborative effort from the City Council, the mayor, the Police Commission, the Police Department, SHOPO, and the Legislature as well.

In evaluating proposals to reform and improve oversight over HPD, the main questions that I will weigh are: whether such a proposal will reduce crime, whether such a proposal will make our neighborhoods safer for all residents, and whether such a proposal will actually be able to be implemented.

Having visited so many constituents at their doorsteps, I acknowledge their concerns about crime in their neighborhoods and will work diligently on reducing crime if elected. I am committed to working immediately with HPD on recruitment and retention of officers, especially given the current list of vacancies and the growing number of retirements; supporting and expanding our Neighborhood Watch and Community Policing programs; and working with the HPD and the Prosecutor’s Office to address repeat offenders.

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 am opposed to an increase of property tax rates for local residents who own their own home. Too many local families are being squeezed right now.

That said, for non-owner-occupied properties or speculative investments, I am willing to explore amending our existing “Residential A” rate, so that those owning investment properties at the highest of values (above, say, $3 million) are paying their fair share.

As a separate but related issue, I have also been very concerned about the accelerating increases in property valuations, which is driving higher property taxes overall for local residents. We need to examine the opaque way that valuations are done, especially considering that a spike in valuation can be driven by a nearby sale, at no fault to the existing homeowner.

Finally, we also need to look into how we can implement a structure like tax increment financing (similar to what many mainland jurisdictions have done), for new developments in TOD areas so that the city can meaningfully capture the new property taxes generated by those TOD developments.

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

Crime has been on the rise in our neighborhoods, and we need to say enough is enough. Lately, it’s taken on more insidious forms beyond property theft and break-ins, and now includes illegal game rooms, drug use in our parks, and violent acts even in broad daylight. It’s clear that public safety needs to be the No. 1 priority of our leaders, and I will work diligently to make people feel safer in their own neighborhoods.

To improve quality of life, we need a city government that is going to be responsive, proactive and follow through on its promises. It is hard to have a good quality of life if your street floods every time it rains, if speeding and a lack of sidewalks make it difficult for you to walk around your neighborhood, or if our parks are run down and unenjoyable. As I’ve been out on the campaign trail, I’ve been acting on concerns brought up by neighbors, both large and small, and will continue to be responsive as your City Council member.

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? 

Clear, understandable and constant communication is key. While people may not always agree with the decisions that our government makes, it’s necessary for our government to explain why we made those choices, and also the pros and cons of the alternatives. I think our community is akamai enough to understand the “why” behind decisions if we patiently and clearly explain them.

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 have been vocal about corruption issues within the city, especially within the Department of Permitting and Planning. Through HI Good Neighbor, I have worked to root out, uncover, and expose the seemingly preferential treatment that some permit applicants receive, and have called upon DPP to make sure that their processes are fair and fully above-board. I worked with local media outlets to expose the inspectors who took bribes, and I will continue to be a vocal advocate for a clean, effective city government if elected to the City Council.

To deal with corruption, we cannot simply be reactive when bad news breaks, but we need to work proactively within the departments to update, upgrade, and streamline their internal processes – which should be applied fairly and equitably to all – and to insulate them from the whims of bad actors. One initial step is to immediately put more information and processes online, so we know who is involved in applying and making decisions on discretionary matters, and to also make city records more easily accessible to the public.

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?

As a Council member, I will advocate for an “all-of-the-above” approach for homelessness that includes staffed hygiene facilities, safe zones, family-based repatriation programs, mental and health care services, and housing-first villages.

Specifically, I will work with Mayor Blangiardi to expand the CORE program beyond Chinatown to address encampments throughout the district; secure additional housing-first units; and ensure that the council is proactive in assisting the administration to apply for and receive every federal dollar that we are eligible for.

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 Legislature passed Act 73 in 2020, which imposed restrictions that made it practically impossible to site any type of landfill in almost any part of Oahu, other than a handful of pockets in Kunia, Central Oahu and upland Pupukea. If these are the only options allowable under Act 73, then that’s the hand we’re dealt. Government needs to make the tough calls sometimes, especially when the city’s hand is constrained by state law.

In addition to promoting recycling and reuse of waste products, we also need to look at ways we can upgrade H-POWER to process additional types of materials in order to reduce the volume of incoming waste to Waimanalo Gulch and to any future landfill. This means exploring how we can process waste materials which currently are unsuitable for combustion.

 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.

We have talked for years about how to diversify our economy and also revitalize our urban neighborhoods. As a council member, I would be excited to work on programs that foster and support community entrepreneurship. I think we also need to implement an entrepreneurship or urban enterprise zone in certain neighborhoods of Oahu, as some cities on the mainland have done to boost local economic activity.

This would help us to clean up our arts and culture areas like Chinatown, which will help to allow fledgling businesses there to flourish without the threat of crime and homelessness affecting them. We could also re-engage the small mom-and-pop business hubs that we have in our older neighborhoods, such as Liliha and Pauoa, and help to promote them.

Finally, we have a grand opportunity in Iwilei and Palama as those neighborhoods start to evolve in their own ways, to learn from the lessons from redevelopment in Kakaako – and think about how we can apply the positives (more housing, especially rentals, as well as opportunities for small businesses to take root) without the negatives (quick gentrification).

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