POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2012
Former state Sen. Ron Menor is the biggest name in a field of four candidates vying for far-flung Honolulu City Council District 9, which runs from Mililani Town to Ewa Beach.
The others seeking the Council District 9 seat are schoolteacher Sy Cullen, Dr. Iman Rahman and businessman Vai Sua.
Menor, 56, is a longtime Mililani resident. With 24 years combined in the state Senate and House, the attorney is trying to make a political comeback after losing a Senate re-election bid in the 2008 Democratic primary to Michelle Kidani by 108 votes.
In May 2008, Menor served two days in jail following a guilty plea stemming from an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. Today, Menor lists himself as a volunteer attorney for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Cullen, 26, is a lifelong Village Park resident making his first attempt at public office. He is the younger brother of state Rep. Ty Cullen.
Rahman, 60, is a Waipahu resident and medical doctor. He is making his fifth attempt at public office and second try for a Council seat.
Sua, a Waikele resident, is retired from the U.S. Army Reserves and owns a security company. He declined several requests for interviews and did not return a candidate questionnaire from the Star-Advertiser.
District 9 stretches from Mililani Town in the north through Waikele, Kunia and the northwestern section of Waipahu, and about half of Ewa Beach.
The 2011 city Reapportionment Commission, in drawing up new City Council district boundaries, split Mililani from Mililani Mauka and placed parts of Waipahu and parts of Ewa Beach in different Council districts.
The changes even confused some Council candidates, as campaign literature for District 1 candidates were sent to some District 9 households, and vice versa.
Despite the zigzag nature of District 9, the communities are united by several issues, Menor said.
"One of the major concerns is trying to get the city to provide adequate resources for badly needed services and infrastructure improvements," he said. "That's an issue that cuts across neighborhood lines."
Cullen said it might be a positive thing that residents of Mililani, Waipahu and Ewa Beach will now each have two members representing their interests on the Council.
"It's going to create collaboration between the two representatives, allowing us to … share the load," Cullen said.
Rahman said he is not intimidated by the vastness of the district, noting that he's heard the day-to-day concerns of patients from Mililani to Ewa Beach.
The city's $5.26 billion rail project and the arrival of two major housing developments are among the top concerns for the community.
Each of the three candidates interviewed said they support rail but promised to keep scrutinizing it.
Rahman said that at first he opposed the rail project. But after it won approval on the ballot, he began to look at rail differently, he said.
"I started to see more advantages than disadvantages," Rahman said, particularly as an alternate transit option and as a job creator. He would also ask those benefiting financially from transit-oriented development to contribute to community care centers that provide health, child and senior care.
However, he said, it's important that bus routes not be affected by rail or by funding for other city needs. Rahman said he spoke to Iroquois Point residents who say they have to walk a mile to get to a bus stop.
"We need to make sure that the bus system is separate," he said.
Cullen said he sees rail as a key element toward creating balanced growth in Central and West Oahu. Drawing development toward urban areas will allow for decision-makers to "keep the country country," he said.
"The biggest issue or task that we need to handle together definitely is balancing growth with the needed jobs and needed economic development," Cullen said.
"We just need to balance what's going to be occurring or forthcoming along the rail line," he said, noting that rail is primarily about helping future generations.
MENOR said that "in the absence of an effective alternative, I believe rail can help alleviate congestion on the road, reduce the hours and money lost to traffic and improve the quality of life in the long term."
It will also stimulate jobs and direct managed growth into the future, he said.
But the project needs to proceed carefully "and with greater transparency than has been provided by the city in the past," Menor said.
He empathizes with those who've raised concerns about rail, he said. "If we proceed with rail, it needs to be done as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, and within budget," he said.
The Land Use Commission in recent months approved two large development projects. Koa Ridge, between Mililani and Waipio, could add as many as 5,000 homes. Ho‘opili could bring as many as 12,000 homes to farmland between Kapolei, Ewa Beach and Waipahu.
Both projects are contentious because of their size and because they are on agricultural lands. Both will also need further approvals from the City Council.
ALL three candidates interviewed said they support a balanced approach to growth.
Prior to approving any type of development, the Council needs to look at "the impact on existing facilities and infrastructure, agriculture, affordable housing and sustainability," Menor said.
"Growth needs to occur in a thoughtful and planned manner that enhances our overall quality of life, supports our sustainability goals and protects our natural resources," he said, noting that he once was a deputy attorney general assigned to reviewing coastal zone management area projects.
Cullen said he views rail and Ho‘opili working hand in hand as tools to help future generations. While attending college in Portland, Ore., he said, he was able to experience the integration of a well-planned mass transit system with a developing community.
"Balancing growth is the major issue," Cullen said.
LUC approval for both Ho‘opili and Koa Ridge (just outside the district) came after years of analysis and review, making it difficult for Council members to stop either even if they wanted to, Rahman said.
"I want to protect agricultural lands," he said, adding that he would vote to reject future projects proposed on farmlands. "But it will be very hard to go back and change the change."