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 Hawaii Rep. Alex Santiago. 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 Santiago to his words should he be elected. To see how Santiago’s responses compare to those from his competitors, click here. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Santiago’s response.

Preferred Candidate Name: Alex Santiago

Date of Birth (MM/DD/YYYY): 6/6/1957

Place of Birth/Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

Current Profession/Employer: Executive Director, PHOCUSED,
Consultant, Hawaii Psychological Association, Marriage and Family Therapist, Hawaii Dental Hygienists Association, and others.
Prior related work experience: Legislator 1990 – 2000
Former Chair of the Democratic Party

Education/Alma Mater(s): Damien Memorial High ‘75
University of Hawaii MSW,
Additional graduate studies in the Urban and Regional Planning Department.

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?

Yes. As someone who lives on the West Side, I commute every day from Makaha and know firsthand how bad our traffic is already. All projections show that traffic will continue to get worse in the coming years. Doing nothing is not an option. While I understand that this alone will not “solve” our present traffic problem I am convinced the situation will become intolerable if rail is not built. To stop at this point would relegate our community to gridlock in the future – and that is unacceptable. I am therefore convinced that we cannot afford to not build rail at this time.

I am however frustrated and disappointed with the way the proponents have proceeded with the development and defense of this project. While business and union interest have been the primary response, I do not think enough has been said about the quality of life issues that families will be denied if rail is not built. Families are already being denied hours of quality time together due to commuting. Rail is not the sole answer but is a big part of the overall solutions we need to put in place if we are ever to actually create a “second city” in the Kapolei area.

The federal funds are critical and without them we cannot move forward. If elected I will do everything I can to make sure that we proceed on budget and on time. As the City Council representative from the area that would be most directly impacted I would see my role as one of leadership and active involvement. ↩ 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?

I think it is critical that a new landfill is identified and put into operation as soon as possible. We have taken more than our “fair share”, of our island’s opala and while many residents in other communities agree that the West Side has taken on more than our fair share of our island’s undesirable projects, such as the Industrial park, Electrical power plants, and the list could go on and on, few are willing to say OK, put it in my backyard.

It is therefore incumbent on our elected officials to make sure that all communities do their fair share. We are not the only rural community and we are not the only place where the landfill can be situated. There have been repeated promises to our community to relocate the landfill that have not been kept.

I am a strong advocate, and I will do all that is in my power to see to it that the agreements that were made to relocate the landfill is followed through on. I will be a powerful voice for my community. I have a record of being a strong advocate and I am confident I can be one for my community. ↩ 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 think it has been successful at displacing individuals, pandering to the loudest voices, and not actually addressing the real problem. By clearing up one section of town only to see the individuals you have displaced move to another section or to another community that does not complain as loudly, is not solving the problem. We have appeased a certain segment of our society who would prefer to not see the homeless in their communities. However we have not addressed the real problem.

I have in one way of another worked on this problem for years, and I know it will take a concerted effort to actually make a difference. I am glad that the city has hired a housing director and by doing so acknowledges the need to work collaboratively with the State and the private sector to deal with the issue of homelessness. Too many of the individuals who are living on the streets suffer from mental health issues that are beyond their ability to deal with alone. Our veterans and those with mental illness deserve better care. We can make a difference for those truly in need but it will not come about by chasing people away from one area thinking that out of sight out of mind is a solution. ↩ 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 not in favor of repealing the homeowners property tax exemptions at this time, because to eliminate them altogether would hurt too many families who are just struggling to get by. I would however welcome the opportunity to look at the exemptions for the other groups and to make sure we are not providing tax breaks to those who don’t need them.

As for improving the fiscal picture, I am wide open to any and all ideas. A few that are already on the table, include user fees and raising property taxes. As I said above, I would be very reluctant to look at any property tax increases. User fees have been implemented and received with mixed reviews, but I think we need to continue to explore that option.

I would also be open to looking at ways we can cut spending. I am however not in a position at this time to say exactly where that would be. Having served on the Finance committee in the House for many years I know how difficult it can be to actually make those decisions as every program and agency will justify their existence. However, I am willing to say that tough decisions will need to be made, and I am prepared to make them. ↩ 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?

I think it is important for communication to be done in a dignified and respectful way. Too much of politics today is couched in a, “I win, you lose”, style. It has always been my style to engage openly with those who are in disagreement with my position to achieve some level of compromise and/or understanding. Our constituents deserve nothing less. I am confident, given my many years of experience in various positions of leadership, I will be able to continue to provide a voice of reason and statesmanlike dignity to the office and to the communications with our Mayor, whoever that should be.

More specifically, I would encourage constant dialogue and communication between the two chambers. Always keeping our egos in check will allow all of us to do the peoples work and to avoid the contentious often times pointless bickering that we have seen all too often in today’s political arenas. ↩ 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?

I think we can wait and make sure we are ready to do this prior to implementing such a drastic change to the way we have operated in the past. I think it is a good idea, but we need to implement it correctly to make sure we achieve our stated goals. ↩ 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?

I believe that it’s not only important that the City continually update these documents but also work to ensure that the communities, impacted by these documents, have accurate information to work from. The City only recently began the process of identifying important agricultural lands and I believe that we need to push the City to undertake a far more comprehensive evaluation of existing land use designations in our rural areas. Many of the existing land use designations were established decades ago when the needs of our communities and island, as a whole, were far different from what they are now. Considering that, over the past decade, there has been a steady movement towards food security in lieu of commercial crop production, we need to be sure that current land use designations reflect this paradigm shift. Land that is suitable for the commercial production of sugar cane or pineapple may not necessarily be suitable for the production of diversified vegetable crops.

Nonetheless, we need to remain cognizant of the fact that there is – and will continue to be – a need for additional housing on Oahu. While growth is inevitable, I believe that the City’s role in managing development and growth should be one that reflects a stewardship of the land that protects and promotes the current and future interests of our families and communities. Where new housing is needed, the City can work with private parties to encourage a mixture of agricultural uses and residential developments. I certainly do not believe that residential and agricultural uses are mutually exclusive and they should not be treated as such. ↩ 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?

The City’s largest long-term challenge is not a particular function, rather it is the management of all of its areas of responsibility. Many of the problems that our City is facing are the direct result of poor management that occurred years and years ago. That being said, I understand that it takes time to recover from poor decisions. One immediate and simple solution is for the Council and the Mayor to work together to establish long-term objectives and goals for the management of the City’s areas of responsibility. This is something that the City lacks. This lack of objective metrics makes it very difficult for the public and elected officials to gauge the City’s progress in addressing the problems with things like infrastructure. If we can establish such benchmarks it would not only help us to quickly identify the areas that need improvement, it would also help us understand the level of support needed to realize those improvements. If we want to really fix some of the issues the City is currently dealing with we can’t rely on the old-age solution of simply throwing more money at it. We need to understand how and where these problems are occurring and focus the limited resources of the City accordingly. ↩ back to top

9. What would you want to be remembered for as a member of the City Council?

I would like to be remembered as an independent, effective statesman, who strongly advocated for his district. It is however also important for me to be remembered as someone who did so with dignity and honor.

I have spent all of my professional life building a reputation of being an honest and straightforward public servant. I continue to believe that serving in public office is an honor and a privilege that should never be abused.

I have never and will never be controlled by any special interest groups. If I am remembered as having honored these principles I will be content. ↩ back to top

10. If you could change one city decision of the last two years, what would it be and why?

The delay in advancing construction of the second digester at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant is one thing that stands out in my mind. As a result of this delay we’ve heard that the City may have to look at trucking and disposing of sewage around the island and/or instituting building moratoriums in some areas. When you consider that the City is already under numerous consent decrees; which were the result of lawsuits that were spawned by the City’s management of its wastewater operations, I think we all would have preferred to see the Council and the Mayor put their differences aside and focus on protecting the interests of Oahu’s residents and taxpayers. ↩ back to top