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Aging infrastructure, taxes and homeless among top priorities

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Voters of City Council District 6 can choose from among 10 candidates hoping to succeed Councilman Rod Tam as the area’s representative at City Hall.

The hopefuls come from a variety of backgrounds. Two are former state lawmakers and several have neighborhood board experience.

Tam is one of four council members leaving office this year after reaching their two-term limit. The district covers the section of urban Honolulu from the western end of Makiki to parts of Kalihi.

As one of the oldest settled regions on Oahu, District 6 is running up against aging water and sewer lines and other infrastructure problems. And as one of the most urbanized districts on the island, District 6 also faces traffic and homelessness concerns.

Shawn Hamamoto, 38, a City Council aide to Tam and an adult-school teacher, said roads and pipes in the area were neglected during the 1990s and have become a major concern for the district.

Hamamoto, a Punchbowl resident, called "making sure our infrastructure repairs stay on track" a major issue. "There was a lot that was done in recent years, but there is still more that needs to be done," he said.

He has been a community liaison in Tam’s office since 2003 and also teaches night classes at McKinley Community School for Adults.

Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, 29, also said infrastructure improvements are a priority for the district.

Tamayo, a downtown resident who is a former House member and a National Guard soldier, said some in the district have told her that they’ve waited 20 to 30 years to see their roads fixed or their sidewalks repaired.

"There’s a need to go back to these basic services that seem to have been neglected for far too long," she said.

Tamayo is on nondeployable status after being deployed twice between 2004 and 2009. She served one term in the House, from 2002 to 2004, before joining the National Guard.

Dennis Nakasato, a 63-year-old former state senator and House member, said he will work with the neighborhood boards on a number of issues "from crime to under-maintained neighborhoods and a lack of street parking."

Nakasato, a Kalihi Valley resident and a retired flight attendant, said the city needs to hold the line on property taxes and instead raise fees so that costs can be passed on to those using specific services.

Too many elderly residents on fixed incomes cannot afford the tax increases, he said.

Nakasato worked for 35 years as a United Airlines flight attendant. He served three terms in the state House and two terms in the Senate before losing a bid for Congress in 1994.

Kamehameha Heights resident Sesnita Moepono, a lawyer, said she also wants to curb taxes "and make sure we analyze the city budget with a fine-tooth comb."

For instance, some of the high-paying, transit-related consultant jobs that have been created by the city are a waste of taxpayers’ money, said Moepono, 59, a member of the Liliha/Alewa Heights Neighborhood Board.

She has also served for 11 years on the Honolulu Planning Commission and since 2007 has been a staff attorney for the state Senate committees on water and land, judiciary, and labor.

Bob Vieira, 76, of Pauoa Valley also said the biggest problem facing the district is curbing the cost of running the city.

"If elected, I would initiate legislation to analyze city departments for possible consolidation, cost reduction and streamlining while trying to maintain all basic city services at current levels," said Vieira, a licensed real estate broker for Prudential Locations.

Vieira is also a former longtime Hawaiian Electric Industries executive and has served on the Downtown and Kailua neighborhood boards. During the ’90s, he served as a city parks commissioner.

Small-business owner Frank Lavoie, 37, chairman of the Downtown Neighborhood Board, said he’s most worried about the city’s $5.6 billion rail project.

While he supports the concept of mass transit, "rail is potentially going to bust our budget," Lavoie said. "It will destroy our bus system and won’t solve any of our problems."

Lavoie owns Kafe Europa, a downtown lunch spot, and has served as a state Senate legislative analyst. He is also a former Peace Corps volunteer.

Small-business man Christopher Wong, 27, said he believes the transit project should be postponed until other city priorities are met. "Rail should happen one day, but we’re in a crisis," Wong said.

Wong, a member of the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board, said he will fight to reduce property taxes and streamline existing services.

Wong owns ‘Onipa’a Solutions, a business consulting and project management firm. He is also a district executive with the Boys Scouts of America Aloha Council and a docent with the USS Missouri Association.

Kalihi resident Tim Garry, 54, a retired retail grocer, said poor road conditions, traffic conditions and sewer lines are top of mind for him.

He also wants to take on traffic by, among other things, better synchronizing traffic signals and staggering the schedules of city workers and others.

"There are too many cars, and everybody seems to be moving at the same time," Garry said.

Also high on the list of priorities for District 6 candidates are ways of dealing with homelessness.

There was universal opposition among the candidates to the Hannemann administration’s plan to put a homeless facility on River Street just mauka of Kukui Street.

Larry Fenton, 47, of Makiki said the city should consider using abandoned warehouse buildings downtown.

"I would look into using those as homeless shelters," Fenton said. "I’d like to see the city working with the owners to see if we can come up with an agreement."

Fenton is an ironworker with Evergreen Erectors and has served as vice chairman of the Labor Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

Downtown resident Carlton Middleton, 53, said he wants to see an appointed housing czar who will focus on helping the homeless.

Middleton, a small-business owner and member of the Downtown Neighborhood Board, said the city "must do more and end this homelessness before it destroys sections of the city forever."

He has volunteered at the Institute for Human Services, River of Life Mission and the Kau Kau Wagon, which feeds homeless people.

Asked about their thoughts on a proposed countywide ban on fireworks, six of the candidates — including Fenton, Garry and Nakasato — said they support it or would consider it. Hamamoto, Lavoie and Tamayo said they would want an exception for cultural and religious ceremonies.

On the other side, Middleton and Wong said they oppose a ban. Vieira said the county should first try severe criminal penalties, and Moepono said she would poll district residents to see what they want.

The top two candidates advance to a runoff in the Nov. 2 election, unless one of the candidates receives a majority of votes on Sept. 18. County elections are nonpartisan contests.


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