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Monday, April 22, 2024 74° Today's Paper


2022 Election: Tommy Waters

Thomas Waters
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Name on ballot:

Tommy Waters

Running for:

Honolulu city council – District 4

Political party:

No answer submitted

Campaign website:


Current occupation:




Previous job history:

Circuit Court Law Clerk
Deputy Public Defender
Attorney Private Practice
Representative, State House

Previous elected office, if any:

State House 2002-2008

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Oahu.

I have had the pleasure of serving District IV since 2019, and have served as the current Chair of the Honolulu City Council since January 2021. Prior to my current role on the Council, Iserved three terms in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Judiciary, Higher Education, and joint House-Senate Committee on Ice and Drug Abatement. I also served as Majority Whip as well as a member of the Finance, Environmental, Protection, Education, Water Land, Hawaiian Affairs committees. In addition to my legislative
work, I am a practicing litigation attorney with experience conducting over 75 jury trials.
During my tenure as a Councilmember, I have worked with my team to proactively tackle the
issues impacting our local families. These include:
● Public safety: I have sought to both empower the Police Commission in its oversight
powers over the Honolulu Police Department, and also worked with my colleagues to
ensure that we continue to fully fund public safety to keep our neighborhoods safe.
● Affordable Housing: Since I became Chair of the Honolulu City Council, we have
appropriated over $250M to purchase, build, rehabilitate, and incentivize affordable
housing so that we can achieve this goal.
● Homelessness: I’ve worked with my colleagues to appropriate $16.7 million to support
vulnerable populations, including individuals struggling to maintain economic
sustainability and domestic violence survivors.
● Sustainability: During my tenure on the Council, we have worked with community
stakeholders to preserve portions of Aina Haina and Kuliouou from sprawl development.
More recently, and in light of the Red Hill crisis, I introduced legislation that empowered
the Board of Water Supply to regulate large underground fuel storage facilities. In the
budget cycle, I also fought to include $29 million to ensure clean water for the residents
of Oʻahu, and I will continue to fight for our local families to ensure that the Navy pays its
fair share to address the damage done to our aquifer. We must protect our wai at all
cost, as it is our greatest resource.
As Chair, I have also sought to modernize our Council website making it easier for people to
navigate and participate in the hearings and even the basics like constituents being able to find their council member. We also initiated Hale Ho’okele, which is the Council’s program to
educate citizens on how to participate.
As a lifelong resident of the State of Hawaiʻi, and having lived in District IV for 30 years, I am
acutely aware of the challenges facing our local families because I hear it every day. I continue to knock on doors and talk to community members to hear district concerns. I am the most qualified candidate because I bring the proven experience to lead and navigate the Council processes, have the support of my colleagues on the Council as evidenced by their willingness to appoint me as Chair and am looking forward to continuing to work with Mayor Blangiardi, and proactively address community issues.

What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what will you do to address that need?

There are so many issues that we work on everyday at the Honolulu City Council, ranging from affordable housing to supporting small businesses. We cannot make progress on most of these issues however, without access to clean, safe drinking water! At a recent Council meeting, Manager Ernie Lau presented the harsh facts about the continued threat posed by storing fuel about our aquifer.

Ola i ka wai, water is life. It is a basic truth of Hawaiian culture and for all people of the world. Without clean water, life cannot be sustained.

The Council took two decisive actions in December of last year, following the Red Hill leak: We unanimously passed Resolution 21-276, which called for the immediate defueling, permanent removal, and relocation of the U.S. Navy Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility Underground Storage Tanks. In doing so, we were the first legislative body in the State to take action on this issue. We also heard Bill 48, which was subsequently passed on March 9 of this year. The purpose of Bill 48
was to empower the Board of Water Supply by requiring any large underground fuel tank to seek BWS approval by a permit.

During our budget cycle, which just took effect on July 1, 2022, I also fought to add $29 million to ensure clean water for the residents of Oʻahu. As the Chair of the Council, I want to assure all our local families that we will continue to keep you updated and informed as we seek now to address the challenges of cleaning up the Navy’s mess. I will also continue to work with Manager Lau and other stakeholders to ensure that access to clean water is a priority.

Rising inflation has significantly worsened Hawaii’s already high cost of living. What can be done at the county level to help Oahu residents cope with high consumer prices?

The City’s main source of revenue is property taxes, which is used to keep city departments running. From our firefighter and police department to our ambulances and lifeguards, our departments need this revenue to make sure that these services can be provided to our local families.

While Honolulu’s residential property tax rate remains amongst the lowest in the county, our property values continue to rise. That is why I’ve introduced legislation to either provide more transparency into taxation valuations and to lower the burden on those families in need:

● Bill 3 (2022) – The purpose of this bill is to provide more transparency over the City’s property tax valuation process. In providing more transparency, the hope is that residents can more effectively appeal their property valuations should it seem like they are subject to unexpected increases in real property valuations.
● Bill 31 (2022) – This bill increases the real property tax credit for certain homeowners. Previously, the combined income of titleholders could not exceed $60,000. This bill would adjust it to be pegged to 80 percent of the area median income established for the applicable household size by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development; which translates to $83,600 for a two person household.
● Bill 35 (2022) – This bill is meant to support homes that are being rented out long-term for a period of 12 consecutive months or more to local families. It would grant an exemption to these properties in the amount of $120,000.

What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness and to make housing more affordable to residents?

AFFORDABLE HOUSING and HOMELESSNESS: A 2019 DBEDT study identified that
Honolulu needs more than 22,000 new homes at all price points. However, there is a dire need for homes for people earning 80% AMI and below. Since I became Chair of the Council, we have appropriated over $250M to purchase, build, rehabilitate, and incentivize affordable
housing so that we can achieve this goal. This is one of the, if not the largest allocation and
commitment toward affordable housing in the Council’s history.

What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?

I continue to advocate for the Ethics Commission as they need more investigators and attorneys. I will also advocate to increase ethics training for city employees, and have personally worked to ensure that we have additional background check processes for hiring employees at the Council.

In 2019, I introduced and the voters subsequently passed in 2020, a charter amendment that sought to make the Honolulu Ethics Commission’s budget more independent from the influence of the City Administration. Additionally, as Chair, the Council launched a new website making it easier to search legal documents, council communications, bills, and resolutions. We launched the Hale Ho’okele program teaching people how to participate in city government. We changed our internal rules to allow for remote testimony. We upgraded our video capabilities from monologue to a digital system.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what should city government do to help protect residents’ health?

The City should continue to make Covid-19 testing free and convenient, and also promote practices that help to support an economic recovery among businesses and pandemic-conscious practices. I recently introduced, and the Council subsequently passed, Bill 27, which created a two-year pilot program to continue to promote outdoor restaurant dining on Oahu.

What should city government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?

The city has done rental and mortgage relief programs, provided help with utility bills as well as provided funding for child care. It is now critically important that the City promotes a long-term, viable economic recovery.

I advocated for utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies to help ensure that we provide a pathway to recovery. In the recently passed City Budget for Fiscal Year 2023, it includes the following funding:
● $2,500,000 to provide grants for non-profit organizations to provide job training and retraining for workers in the hospitality, restaurant, and hotel industries that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
● $2,500,000 to establish a Green Job Corps for the purpose of reducing unemployment and diversifying the economy by training youth in the next generation of jobs related to conservation, sustainability, and environmental protection as well as developing workforce pathways and connections to existing industries.
● $1,000,000 in funding to support food security projects with the intent of increasing local capacity.
● $10,000,000 in funding to serve the needs of vulnerable communities and those struggling individuals and organizations maintain economic stability via the Department of Community Services social services and non-profit provider network, community navigators, and other programs.
● $10,000,000 to acquire land, plan, design, construct, rehabilitate, and provide funds for miscellaneous costs for the development of low income affordable housing, including development of Accessory Dwelling Units, and any necessary related infrastructure improvements to respond to individuals and communities impacted by and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic including, but not limited to, populations below 30 percent and 50 percent AMI; survivors of domestic violence; and those at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness.
● $12,502,000 to provide funds to address the impacts of the pandemic on disproportionately impacted households or communities through 1) rehabilitation, renovation, maintenance, or costs to secure vacant or abandoned properties to reduce their negative impact; 2) costs associated with acquiring and securing legal title of vacant or abandoned properties and other costs to position the property for current or future productive use; 3) removal and remediation of environmental contaminants or hazards from vacant or abandoned properties; 4) demolition or deconstruction of abandoned buildings (including residential, commercial, or industrial buildings) paired with greening or other lot improvement as a part of strategy for neighborhood revitalization; 5) conversion of vacant or abandoned properties to affordable housing, greening or cleanup of vacant lots, as well as other efforts to make vacant lots safer for surrounding community; or 6) inspection fees and other administrative costs incurred to ensure compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations for demolition, greening, or other remediation activities.

I have faith that the Blangiardi Administration will now utilize these monies to help support and uplift our vulnerable community members.

Do you support or oppose the current plan to stop construction of the rail project in Kakaako instead of near Ala Moana Center? Please explain.

Mayor Blangiardi has consistently said on the record that the project will be built as far as we can using existing budgeted funds. I agree with that sentiment, and also want to continue to emphasize that I oppose raising residential property taxes rates to fund the construction of rail. I believe that if HART can minimize cost overruns, cut waste job change orders, the current funding is enough to reach Ala Moana.

Do you support or oppose using new city funds to cover any shortfall in HART’s construction or operating costs? Please explain.

I oppose raising residential property taxes rates to fund the construction of rail.

Do you support or oppose the plan to dismantle the Stairway to Heaven? Please explain.

This was a tough decision. While I think itd be great to have public access or even managed access, without the buy in of DHHL and other stakeholders, managed access ultimately was unsuccessful. I had the opportunity to hear from stakeholders on both sides, including the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, who testified that there was no legal access point. Ultimately, I was persuaded by the issues pertaining to safety concerns.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

I believe that City Council members as well as all city employees are public servants. We do our job because we care about each other and this place we choose to call our home. We care about people and work hard to solve the many, many issues that arise each day. I understand that Hawaii is changing. We are doing our best to preserve what makes Hawaii special, and adapt as necessary. It saddens me that there are so many people living on the street, that crime is so prevalent, that the cost of housing is so expensive, that we are losing our beaches to sea-level rise, and that our drinking water risks contamination.

I believe that the only way that we can solve these complex issues is to work together, collectively, the Mayor, Council, private sector, non-profits, businesses and residents. All ideas and opinions should be considered, thought through, discussed and acted upon if they have merit. There is always a solution to every problem, we just need to be more open minded. The culture of “No Can” needs to change to “How Can” we get to where we need to be!

In the short time that I have served on the Honolulu City Council, we have tackled many difficult issues. Issues ranging from clean drinking water, stewarding affordable housing in transit oriented development areas, police reform, COVID-19, sea level rise and above all, trying to fight for local families to ensure that our children can still grow up and thrive in our island home.

Do you support or oppose the newly revised city law to combat vacation rentals that violate zoning regulations, and do you think it can be effectively enforced?

I supported Bill 89 in 2019 and introduced Bill 41 last year on behalf
of the Blangiardi Administration. The Council has given DPP the tools to better enforce illegal short term rentals. We changed the definition of short term and also provided geographic limitations to where short-term rentals are allowed to operate. Fundamentally, I believe that DPP must now act to aggressively crack down on short-term rentals. They ultimately disrupt residential neighborhoods and take housing stock out of the market for local families to live in.

Do you think more needs to be done at the city level to manage tourism? If so, what would you propose?  

Absolutely! The city should utilize technology requiring an appointment for City attractions including beaches and hiking trails. We currently utilize an appointment system at Hanauma Bay. The appointment requirement should only apply to visitors exempting Hawaii residents. I also believe the city should charge visitors a fee and utilize this new source of revenue to lower property taxes and provide better city services.

What can city government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise on Oahu?

The City is looking at amending the Land Use Ordinance and building code to take into account sea-level rise. I look forward to further discussion on Bill 42 as it makes its way through the Council.
In addition to amending the shoreline setback ordinances, I’ve also included the following in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget:
● $4,000,000 in funding for flood mitigation and climate adaption projects
to protect local communities from increased storm water and flood risk.
● $4,000,000 to continue to support holistic Water Management practices under the One Water Initiative.

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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