An O‘ahu Resiliency Strategy designed as a road map for how the city will deal with climate change, sea-level rise and other 21st century issues is at the center of Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s seventh State of the City address tonight.
The 160-page document, a year-plus-long effort headed by city Chief Resiliency Officer Josh Stanbro, Managing Director Roy Amemiya and a 22-person steering committee made up of Oahu leaders from various fields, offers 44 actions that address not just the impacts of climate change, but also the housing affordability issue that poses challenges for a good portion of Oahu residents.
“We’re talking not about climate change but climate crisis,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser during a preview Wednesday. “It is the crisis of our time. There’s no more important issue for this generation and future generations.”
Caldwell’s address takes place at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Ho‘okupu Center next to Kewalo Basin Harbor beginning at 6:30 p.m. It also will be televised live on KFVE (Spectrum Cable Channel 22) and Olelo Channel 54, as well as online at hawaii newsnow.com/live and olelo.org/olelo54.
Some of the 44 action plan items are common sense, including the promoting new agricultural models for economic and food security and establishing a stormwater enterprise fund to help finance stormwater management improvements.
Among the more eye-raising proposed actions — and likely to generate controversy — is a proposal to increase the inventory of residential units on the island through a proposed annual “vacancy” fee on the assessed value of residential properties left empty for more than six months of any tax year.
The proposal, which will be sent to the City Council as a bill, is patterned after a policy in Vancouver, Canada.
Caldwell said the goal is to open up more units to Oahu residents. In Vancouver, vacant units dropped by 15 percent after the law was implemented in 2016. Fees collected would be used to help the city with new affordable housing units.
The plan “we assume will be controversial and we’re going to have to adjust and work on it,” Caldwell said. “But again, in this time of change, you gotta embrace things that are going to be difficult. They’re not going to be easy.”
Also being proposed is a prohibition on the building of sea walls along coastlines. “To save our beaches, we’re going to have to stop the hardening of our coasts with sea walls,” the mayor said. “To save our beaches, we’re going to have to retreat,” he said, adding that he intends to work with the Council on a bill placing a moratorium on sea walls across the island.
“It’s going to be difficult because homes are going to be endangered,” Caldwell said.
Related to that, he will be asking with the city Climate Change Commission for new shoreline setback requirements based on the geography of different areas, he said.
Also being proposed — although it may be a while before a bill is sent to the Council — is a mandate that new land use development in the urban core be elevated.
“In the dense urban core, where we have billions upon billions of infrastructure already invested … those places we can’t retreat from, we’re going to have to raise the elevation of the city.” He included among those areas Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Honolulu Harbor, Waikiki, Kakaako and the industrial area that includes Iwilei, lower Kalihi and Sand Island.
“Other cities are doing that, we’re doing that,” Caldwell said, emphasizing that such changes will come about gradually as proposals for new development come to the city. “When new buildings are being built, their new buildings are going to have to be raised to a certain level … (how high) will depend on where you are.”
Some buildings are already incorporating such designs, he said, including the Howard Hughes Corp.’s Anaha and A‘eo condominium towers in Kakaako, he said.
The same type of policy changes are happening in other major cities along the ocean, Stanbro said. “We’ve got decades to work on this but we have to start now,” he said. The city has mandated that all of its new facilities must address sea level rise.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation rail project is raising the podiums of its Honolulu rail stations by six feet to adjust for sea level rise, he said.
“Next, we want to come back with guidelines for all city designs,” Stanbro said. “Where all of our projects reflect the reality of what’s going to be happening — we design differently.”
Also part of the plan is a proposal for the city to raise its minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour from the state’s current $10.10. It affects about 1,000 workers, roughly 10 percent of the city’s workforce, and will cost about $2.4 million that’s already included in the city’s annual $2.8 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“One job should be enough,” Caldwell said, echoing a familiar phrase for advocates of raising wages. Some of the workers are part-timers such as ushers at Neal Blaisdell Center.
Caldwell was among those who lobbied unsuccessfully before the state Legislature this past year for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
To help the homeless, Caldwell is proposing clustered housing units which will allow for structures to be built with shared kitchens and bathrooms.
“Instead of building kitchens and bathrooms in every unit, you have the unit and then you come to a shared facility for cooking and things,” he said. He likened the concept to the old-style plantation housing accommodations provided to single workers.
Other actions being proposed:
>> Increasing affordable housing stock by reducing parking requirements.
>> Changing the electric and building codes to incorporate cleaner technology such as requiring solar water heaters and accommodations for electric vehicles.
>> Developing a network of community resilience hubs where people can gather to charge phones, computers and tablets during emergencies, a sort of 21st century emergency shelter.
The full resilient strategy report, as well as a 24-page summary report, is slated to be available by the time Caldwell begins his speech at resilientoahu.org.
>> What: State of the City address
>> Where: Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Ho‘okupu Center
>> When: 6:30 p.m. today
>> On TV, streaming: The speech will be televised live on KFVE, Olelo Channel 54, hawaiinewsnow.com/live and olelo.org/olelo54