Editor’s Note: In June 2012, Civil Beat sent 10 questions to each of the candidates registered to run for Honolulu City Council District 1. All five responded, including former incumbent council member Tom Berg. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full, and will serve as a resource both to voters deciding whom to vote for at the Aug. 11 primary but also to constituents so they can hold Berg to his words should he be re-elected. To see how Berg’s responses compare to those from his challengers, click here. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Berg’s response.
Preferred Candidate Name: Tom Berg
Date of Birth (MM/DD/YYYY): 1/25/1964
Place of Birth/Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Current Profession/Employer: City and County of Honolulu City Council District One
Education/Alma Mater(s): Three years at University of South Dakota, Two years at University of Minnesota
1. Do you believe that Honolulu should proceed with the 20-mile elevated rail project from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Shopping Center? Why or why not?
Why not? To support rail is to support the State Legislature’s profiteering scheme off of the GET rail surcharge – the ten-percent cut the State Legislature has skimmed off rail each year adds up to over $100 million thus far and will amount to well over $400 million by the time the surcharge sunsets in 2022. Neighbor islands do not pay the tax, but get the rewards from it since the profits go into the state’s General Fund to help pay for neighbor island projects. I call that GRAFT in my book. Rail has gone bad.
HART is also fleecing the taxpayer with nineteen entities collectively being paid over $4 million a year to continue marketing the rail- money for pure propaganda that should be spent on construction- but instead is going into the vicious cycle of campaign contributions. The financial plan for rail is so weak and underfunded, that the city’s debt ceiling had to be raised for it to pan out on a ledger and that hurts us all.
In addition, over $1 billion in floating bonds has to be executed with taxpayers paying 4.25% interests on it – coupled with the $450 million line of credit proves the tax payer has been deceived by the pro rail faction that only the GET rail surcharge and federal subsidies will be needed. This has turned into a lie. Just ask bus and Handi-van riders what they think of the cuts to their services….
As I have said publicly, this rail project will bleed us dry and tap into core services such as sewer, water, road, and park repairs. Rail will be noisy, a visual blight, run on fossil fuel and most importantly, not relieve traffic.
The biggest deception is the city’s claim rail by this time will have already created 12,000 jobs for locals. Fact check, less than 600 jobs have been created and 40% of them are hires from out of state.
Then comes rail ridership. The city claims 116,000 will ride it each day and pay for the ride. Fact check, cities bigger than Honolulu can not even muster 20,000 riders a day and for us here, riders will not have to pay to get onboard- it will be an honor system deployed hoping riders will pay the fare in good faith.
Rail was sold to the voters that it would go to Waikiki and UH Manoa. It does not. To go the full 34-mile route will cost $9 billion. Tax payers will have to pay a rail surcharge tax for 30-years, costing a family of four on average $27,000 – just for construction. To support rail is to support tax increases and for the economically challenged, they cannot avoid it. When they buy medicine, clothes, or food, items of necessity, they have to pay for the rail. This is wrong.
Buses beat rail hands down and the poor get better served by it. This is why no other city in America has built what we are building in the last thirty-years, heavy steel wheel rail. Cities are going with all electric buses that can run off of renewable energy, are quiet, more efficient, and cheaper than rail. And when the time does come, and the tsunami siren sounds off, rail shuts down, moves nothing, serves no one…while buses can be deployed, move goods, services and emergency personnel where needed- and more importantly, evacuate us.
I support Ben Cayetano’s plan for Bus Rapid Transit, just like the city did back in 2002 when studies then revealed the bus beats rail. The State Legislature knew buses beat rail on all fronts and in every study, buses will beat rail in carrying capacity and have more impact reducing traffic. That is why the Legislature passed HB1309 (ACT 247 HSL 2005) to prohibit buses from using the GET surcharge on Oahu knowing in the alternative analysis, rail would lose. If buses were allowed to compete in a fair fight with rail, buses would win- so the Legislature fixed the fight so to speak so that rail would have to be built. There are millions to be had off of rail contributions, beefing up campaign coffers. Not so with buses. That is why the State Legislature prohibited buses for expansion to actually relief traffic congestion, and went with rail- to guarantee a pay-off for their own campaign coffers and bilk us dry in the biggest con job in American history.
So in conclusion, to continue to support rail, is to support a fixed fight; to support a fleecing mechanism to pinch every penny we got and spend it as recklessly as possible hoping the other guy rides the noisy behemoth from nowhere to nowhere. Rail has more than gone bad, it has turned once honest politicians into vampires and all one has to do is look at their campaign contributions to see who supports bleeding us dry and is in it for their own gain at our expense. Follow the money. ↩ back to top
2. Should the city continue to send municipal solid waste to Waimanalo Gulch Landfill until it reaches capacity, should it site a new landfill elsewhere as soon as possible, or should it pursue a different path? Why?
Unfortunately, more resources are being spent on making certain landfills thrive and survive instead of putting those resources into making the need for a landfill obsolete with enhanced recycling techniques. I championed the effort in the budget bill this year to create a new position – a landfill recycling liaison in the mayor’s administration who will do nothing but scour the globe for technologies deployed elsewhere that can use ash, automobile shredded residue, and sludge. Let’s expedite the permitting process for bringing on the landscape new technologies and do what they are doing in Germany for example, which is to recycle everything- making landfills obsolete town by town. The city makes millions off of tipping fees from the landfill, and has really done little to wean itself from this cash cow operation. Waimanalo Gulch is an example of a broken treaty between the city and the nearby residents and that is why in the last two years, I have helped bring to them a community benefits package worth $3 million to go directly to their parks for additional improvements as the neighborhood boards deem fit. ↩ back to top
3. Has the sidewalk ban on stored property, in effect for six months, been a success? What should the city be doing to help Honolulu’s homeless population?
I voted for Bill 54 and thus far, it is making an impact as intended but needs to have more follow through for those being cited. We have roughly 30,000 acres of fallow ag land growing weeds when instead we could be growing families.
My turning shipping containers into livable housing units costing less than $10,000.00 per unit is truly affordable housing- with rents being less than a car payment. Pre-fabricated, modular housing is affordable housing and the private sector is being stymied from putting such on ag land to house those in need. My resolution, would allow folks to live off the grid, help deter property theft, curtail illegal dumping, promote agriculture, and all this by letting workforce housing / shipping containers on farms…..this would put families in peril, the struggling, the houseless, into homes whereby they could also bring their pets.
Let’s face it, when the world has got you down and out, and the only one who loves you is your pet, housing needs to accommodate both animal and human beings. Shelters that prohibit animals are not the answer and that leaves hundreds living on the beaches, in the bushes. My solution is fully documented on my website- www.councilmanberg.com ↩ back to top
4. Should the city consider eliminating property tax exemptions for homeowners, nonprofits and other special interest groups if it means lowering rates? What other steps should the council take to improve Honolulu Hale’s financial picture?
I am the only council member that voted NO to the property tax bills- that give credits to the mega-rich to fleece us all.
I voted to support exemptions for livestock, horses, and native Hawaiians. The exemptions for multi-million dollar businesses like BANKS- credit unions is a scam on all of us.
I am the only one who voted NO to the fleecing allowing mega-rich property owners to continue to bilk us out of millions in revenue. Want to improve Honolulu’s financial picture? Stop the rail and build roads- when traffic moves, the economy does so with it. ↩ back to top
5. Relations between the mayor and the City Council have been at times contentious. How would you work to improve those relations?
Vote for Ben. I will work with Ben Cayetano to stop the fleecing and bring sanity back to City Hall. The other candidates are on a crash course willing to sink the ship for personal gain….Ben Cayetano is in it for us, the people. Cayetano will need council members who will help him kill this rail project and instead enhance bus service, synchronize the traffic lights, build over/underpasses, and bring bus rapid transit to the landscape the people wanted before rail tainted, before rail corrupted, before rail came on the scene to bleed us dry and put us in debt.
I have not gotten one penny from rail proponents. However, my opponents Kym Pine and Alex Santiago if elected, will go against Cayetano and push for rail regardless because they got their campaign money from pro rail entities and have to pay homage to them no matter what we the majority want. ↩ back to top
6. Should the city wait until July 2015 for the recently approved plastic checkout bag ban to take effect, implement something sooner or go a different route? Why?
The bill is workable because it gives us time to adjust our habits. I supported the bill to ban plastic bags, and think we can all cater to promoting a cleaner environment in the long run. ↩ back to top
7. Do the Oahu General Plan and regional planning documents as currently written need to be overhauled to protect agricultural resources and manage growth or are they sufficient as is? What other steps should the city take to control or promote development?
Bottom line- if rail is not built, not one inch of land on the North Shore, Hawaii Kai, Kailua etc., will get developed. The biggest farce and lie for the rail is that rail creates more open space and will keep the country country- a total deception. Take Hoopili for example- the 1,550 acres slated for development on the Ewa Plain. DR Horton, the owner of the property, will not create one extra inch of open space with rail. In fact, if rail is not built, the same acreage and number of homes built on Hoopili will be the same.
There is not one project in the making on any part of the island that will get developed or turn ag land into urban if rail does not get built. The pro railers have lied and duped the public into thinking that if rail does not happen, their country habitats will get turned into cement- a false scare tactic. ↩ back to top
8. What do you see as the largest long-term challenge facing the city — sewers, water, roads, traffic or something else? What immediate steps will you take to put Honolulu in a stronger position to deal with its largest long-term challenge?
Stop rail. Priority number one- put all resources into upgrading sewer and water. Rail will suck all the money we have for generations to come away from the necessities- water, roads, you name it- all will suffer at the expense of rail.
Fix the parks, fix the roads- enhance the buses.
Do away with the Jones Act so we can turn our ocean into a super highway. ↩ back to top
9. What would you want to be remembered for as a member of the City Council?
One who cannot be bought. One who fought against the corrupted system. One who took on the lobbyist and spoke up for the one, spoke up for the people over greed and profiteering schemes that line politicians’ pockets and their ilk with our hard earned money. ↩ back to top
10. If you could change one city decision of the last two years, what would it be and why?
Repeal HART. Dear lord, we could not afford to put kids in school on Fridays, they have no books- their bus ride in jeopardy, teachers without raises, satellite city halls closed, no raises for workers across the board, no money to even put toilet paper and soap in city park comfort stations, but we turn around and give the director of HART $322k a year? Are you serious? What an affront to us all.
HART is scamming us and untouchable to recourse…what a disaster HART has turned out to be. They supported and signed off on a contract to give Ansaldo from Italy $241 million more than Bombardier to accomplish the same job.
HART has no heart for native Hawaiian burials, no heart to find cheaper office space to rent, and continues to spend millions on propaganda to sell us something we have learned is one big bait and switch ploy. Repeal HART, where not one transportation expert is on that board. What a scam HART has turned out to be.
I would put rail back on the ballot and let the people decide, for we have gotten wiser and see through this boondoggle for what it is- pure fraud. The ones pushing rail are the ones making a buck off of it- simply put. If pro railers are not using the bus now, what makes you think they will use rail? Pro railers think you will forfeit your car so they the pro railers have more room on the highway for themselves with you out of the way….just visit my website at www.councilmanberg.com for the truth.
Fact, if you got on a bus at 6am on a weekday from Kapolei, you will get downtown faster on the bus than on the rail. A bus uses express technology- uses the zipper lane while rail stops 21 times, mandatory stops, getting you to your destination via rail much later than a bus would. Repeal HART and stop the madness. ↩ back to top