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 Val Okimoto, 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 candidate is Ron Menor.

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 8

Val Okimoto
Party Nonpartisan
Age 46
Occupation State representative
Residence Mililani Mauka

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Current state representative, District 36; director and treasurer, Mililani Town Association; Mililani ‘Ike Elementary School Community Council; Hoaloha ‘Ike Association; Mililani American Youth Soccer Organization; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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

Undoubtedly, our biggest problem is the cost of living.

Our campaign’s theme is “A Fresh Voice for Our Future.” If elected, I will focus heavily on economic development in our community and unleashing our district’s potential in the coming years. Here are some key ideas:

— Diversify Central Oahu’s economics by maintaining important locations near the harbor/airport as industrial, and growing areas of the Pearl City and Waipahu economic opportunity zones into centers of innovation, education, and creativity.

— Public safety: Champion policies that will directly impact rising violent crime rates, and address the issue of repeat criminals and the mental health elements of homelessness that go virtually unchecked.

— Economic relief: We all suffered from Covid-19, and now with inflation and rising business costs, they are wondering if there will ever be a light at the end of the tunnel. I will not support any tax increases, but instead, focus on providing immediate relief for working families.

The people of District 8 are looking for a fresh leader that will provide a vision we can all believe in — not politics as usual. If elected, I will serve as a humble voice for my community while paving the way for an affordable, exciting future for Honolulu.

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

Our residents should expect their public officials to take ownership of the project and find creative solutions before its projected completion at the end of the decade.

What it boils down to is the residents of Oahu were promised a functional rail system and fulfilling our government’s responsibility to our taxpayers has always been my priority. If elected to the City Council, I pledge to ensure that the completion of the rail is done expeditiously, transparently and prudently. I pledge to ensure that the public taxes are used judiciously and only for community benefit.

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 do not think anyone can say that they are fully satisfied with the Honolulu Police Department given its recent circumstances. Despite the problems at the department level, I remain fully supportive of HPD and the new chief of police to address them while continuing to protect and serve our communities.

We need to enforce the laws that are on the books and provide our law enforcement with the tools and support they need to keep our streets safe and sound for our community. We need to make sure that our law enforcement efforts to serve and protect are not being done in vain and I am dedicated to seeing our police officers are properly funded and trained.

So many of our officers dedicate their lives and careers for the safety of their fellow community members; we can also acknowledge the corruption of the past and turn the page in a new chapter of our history.

Overall, if elected to the City Council, one of my first priorities is to empower our police to recruit more highly qualified personnel and ensure funding for training.

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?

Honolulu is a desirable place to live and to work. What isn’t desirable is the burdensome permitting process and the cost to do business in Hawaii. I am committed to making Honolulu – and especially District 8 – more business- and investment-friendly. Producing more local, high-quality jobs with higher wages is a fundamentally better approach than creating or expanding new taxes.

Instead of raising taxes or creating new ones, I believe it is time to expand the tax base so we can lower the tax burden on middle-class families.

We have the highest property values in the nation. Raising the property tax will hit our middle working class the hardest, and will likely devastate those living on fixed incomes, retirees and kupuna. If anything is done in this area, it needs to be focused on those making over a certain income, speculators or out-of-state investors as provided by law.

The middle working class cannot afford to take any more hits to their bottom line and don’t need pressure on their ability to survive in this abysmal economy.

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

Yes, overall, I believe Honolulu is a safe place to live but it is time to get very serious about crime and enforcing the laws. We take for granted that we do not experience the violence we have been seeing on the mainland but, hope is not a strategy, and I am going to take this matter seriously and begin to find solutions now and will do whatever it takes to make it safe to walk in our communities without fear of being assaulted.

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?

Having been in the Legislature during the pandemic, I saw firsthand the growing division and outrage. However, this did not deter me from having respectful, though dissenting, conversations.

Serving as the House minority leader, I am proud to say that I did not shy from speaking out when our government was overreaching, particularly regarding state mandates. I was grateful to meet with both Gov. Ige and Lt. Gov. Green during the pandemic; while we may not have fully seen eye to eye on every issue, we were able to respectfully discuss and share our views, whether aligned or not. I believe it was and is critical to maintain pathways of communication between my constituency and the executive offices.

I do not believe that a disagreement on policy, no matter how enthusiastic, should deter from the aloha we show one another. I genuinely believe that example begins at the top.

I predict that there will be many enthusiastic debates in the days to come. Should I be elected to the Honolulu City Council, I will provide the same thing I did at the House of Representatives, an open door, an open ear and an open mind to all sides of the issue. I am committed to leading with integrity, aloha, and fulfilling the same local values my parents raised me with.

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 believe the best way to restore public confidence is to be the example, not the exception.

I truly believe that our local government needs new ideas and a fresh perspective on issues and how to solve them. No disrespect to any of the other candidates in this race, but they have been discussing most of the same issues we face today for decades with no real solutions. I hope to change the way we look at and approach issues that affect our communities the most.

I believe the people of District 8, and our public at large are looking for new leaders that will provide a vision our communities can believe in — not the same old Hawaii politics. If elected to the City Council, it will be my mission for me and my staff to serve as that example.

Public confidence cannot be restored by any one public official – especially just one member of nine in the Honolulu City Council. However, with the responsibility that I am given, I offer my commitment to serve with the utmost integrity and to make my decisions as a council member for the benefit of our community members.

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?

We talk a lot about affordable housing, but it is only a piece of the problem we face with our homeless community and is certainly no panacea to the problem.

It is time to speak about and commit to addressing the criminal and mentally ill homeless that affordable housing will simply not address. As I stated above, this demographic of homelessness goes largely unchecked and is growing.

It is critical that we address this issue now, and in other areas of Honolulu to prevent the rise in crimes and to stop the potential spread into District 8.

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?

As a City Council member, it will be my responsibility to facilitate conversations like this with my community and key stakeholders. If no new location can be decided at this time I would not be opposed to discussions about special permitting for temporary extensions in Waimanalo Gulch.

I trust that the commission will continue to work diligently to find a balance between public health and a necessary landfill. I look forward to working with all parties and expanding communication pathways to the community that will ultimately carry this weight for 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.

My One Big Idea is to capitalize on our district’s existing tax incentives along the rail line to promote local, sustainable development for the next generation.

We want to bring Central Oahu into the 21st century and give our next generation the tools to pave a brighter future for themselves and their children. As a Council member, I would support these areas as key centers of innovation, education, creativity and livable neighborhoods.

Federal economic opportunity zones and local benefits from transit-oriented development make District 8 ripe with opportunity – especially as we see (hopefully) the final stages of rail’s construction. I believe that these are tangible steps to diversifying Hawaii’s economy in a meaningful way that will bring necessary funds for critical programs.

For more information please visit my website.

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