Name on ballot:
Honolulu city council – District 6
No answer submitted
Carbon sequestration developer
Previous job history:
– Organizer, UNITE HERE Local 5
– Small business owner
– Legislative staffer
Previous elected office, if any:
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Oahu.
The City Council is the legislative body of the City & County of Honolulu, and so has two main responsibilities: 1) to design and pass a responsible budget which meets the current and future needs of the island; 2) to create policies which steer us in the right direction.
I have extensive experience working on large public and private budgets. 22 years ago I was a budget analyst at the State House Committee on Finance, responsible for the budget of the state’s extensive education system. In my private life as a carbon sequestration entrepreneur, I am working on project budgets in the $2-4B range. And over the past twenty years I have served as a fiduciary on a plethora of nonprofit boards, with total assets under management of roughly $100M. And I believe strongly that right now our City needs a strong sense of fiduciary management and fiscal responsibility.
I’m also a policy geek, with a fascination and love for great cities and smart communities. I marvel at the work that our kupuna did, hundreds of years ago, to make Oahu and each of our islands into productive, humane societies. And I believe that there’s a lot for us to learn from great cities around the world – Tokyo, for how they financed rail; Vienna, for how they structure their housing programs; Copenhagen, for safe streets. But the limiting factor for these types of smart policies here is the corrupting role that money is playing in our democratic politics. There’s a world of great ideas that we can implement, but first we need to clean our own house.
What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what will you do to address that need?
We need to root out corporate corruption. It’s preventing us from having the city and government that we need and deserve.
Every day we read in the paper about another official who has forsaken their public duty, and has taken to private self-dealing. Most voters have lost their faith in government. We need elected officials who see government as a sacred trust, not merely a way to enhance their lobbyist career or sweeten their rail contracts.
I am running a different type of public campaign for City Council. I am the only Council District 6 candidate who has signed the Our Hawaii pledge, swearing-off any corporate contributions. My campaign is funded by the small-dollar contributions from ordinary citizens.
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 county could function as a monopsony buyer, buying key goods in bulk, and selling them to local residents at cost. (Rice, fuel, etc)
– Allocate underutilized park lands to expand the community gardens program for local, small scale food production.
– Offer low-cost childcare at city parks (essentially expanding summer fun year-round)
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness and to make housing more affordable to residents?
1/ Build the 20,000 units that have already been permitted
Since 1980, the LUC has approved 89,497 units on Oahu. 25% of these units have not been built and are “stuck” in the development process for reasons completely unrelated to the LUC. The Council should play a role in getting these projects completed, which would solve about half of Oahu’s housing shortage.
2/ The city needs to build more housing
60 years ago the City & County played a key role in redeveloping parts of Chinatown and Downtown to build Kukui Gardens and Kukui Plaza. Since then, we’ve abandoned our leadership role in creating affordable units, and we’ve seen the result, with demand far outstripping supply. The city needs to aggressively build housing on its own lands, and also acquire and assemble under-developed parcels to create new units. The city should expand the powers of the Office of Housing or create a separate Housing Trust with a mission to create permanently affordable housing, in partnership with for-profit and nonprofit developers, and leveraging all existing financing tools.
3/ Amend eligibility requirements for public housing to increase income diversity
In Vienna, 20% of the population lives in what we would call public housing, and another 20% lives in cost-controlled housing constructed by private developers in partnership with the city. I’ve read that they have a philosophy of “public luxury” – that the ‘good life’ should be available to all. And though they have an income test for subsidized housing, it is based on a housing cost of 25% of income (as opposed to 30% here), and is only evaluated when the resident is moving in. There’s no penalty or risks for a Viennese resident to move into subsidized housing while working an entry-level job, and then advance in that job; they can keep their rent-controlled unit, earn more money, save or invest the difference, and build wealth, and eventually buy housing outside of public housing. These policy changes allow for public housing developments in Vienna to have a higher-degree of income diversity, resulting in better social integration.
4/ Curtail foreign speculation
Foreign investors are crowding-out local buyers, and are using Hawaii real estate purely as a speculative capital store. I’d like to examine policies which will limit or prohibit these transactions to the extent permitted by law.
5/ Partner with DHHL
DHHL is the clearest path to providing housing for locals. DHHL is land-rich, limited only by finance and infrastructure. The City and County already needs to invest in the island’s aging infrastructure. We should proactively target infrastructure projects which also facilitate DHHL housing projects. In addition, a reasonable percentage of units in city-led housing projects (see point #2 above) should be developed in partnership with DHHL and turned over to the DHHL Trust on a fee-simple basis so that they can be subject to their housing policy.
6/ Teacher housing
Bill 7 (2019) already allows the State DOE to build affordable teacher housing on its property. This is an excellent idea which should be pursued.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
City employees work very hard to deliver services to the public. But because city operations are opaque, most residents don’t know if their request for a sidewalk, for example, is actually being worked on. I would urge the city’s information technology team to provide a public interface or API for the internal work order and ticketing systems that the city uses, so that we can all see the status of our requests.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what should city government do to help protect residents’ health?
The city should create a basic public health program. A mobile health clinic could go from park to park, providing basic checkups and screenings on a regular basis. (Costa Rica has a similar program).
What should city government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
Provide high-quality, affordable housing. See above.
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.
I support the current plan. I’m glad that the Mayor and HART director Kahikina are amending the current project to end in Kakaako. I was worried that the project would simply run out of money one day and would end unceremoniously at an undefined spot between Middle Street and Ala Moana. It’s good that we have a plan.
I share the frustration that many of my constituents have with rail. The council and the HART board need to hold rail contractors accountable, interrupting the cycles of waste and overspending that have plagued the project. Under current law, the HART board is expected to serve as the principal oversight organization for rail. But HART members are unpaid volunteers, with minimal staff resources to fulfill the role of managing a $10B project. I support fully-resourcing the HART board so that it can play its role adequately. And as a backstop, I pledge to use my office to pursue independent oversight of rail.
I’m not accepting contributions from any rail contractors, so I can remain focused on the interests of the general public. And as a fiduciary on several nonprofit corporate boards, I have experience managing significant sums of money on behalf of the beneficiaries of these non-profit organizations. I will bring the concept of “fiduciary duty” to the City Council.
Transit policy should be considered as a subset of smart land-use policy. The original stated goal of rail was to reduce congestion on H1, by taking student traffic off the road. But I think that we need to refocus our goals towards developing a more walkable city. Many Honolulu residents enjoy visiting cities like Tokyo, which is incredibly walkable, as is the strip in Las Vegas. We also enjoy walking through private spaces like Kahala Mall or Ka Makana Alii, which are also designed for walking, not driving. We need walkable public spaces, too. The long-term benefit of rail is that eventually, we will have a more walkable, less car-dependent city. But we shouldn’t have to wait for rail’s completion: we should amend our land use ordinance and our development plans now to make existing neighborhoods more walkable. What does this mean in practice? It means mixed-use zoning, with essential services like grocery stores, schools, and retail establishments within a short walk. I’ve spoken with many senior citizens in neighborhoods like Pauoa or Nuuanu who would love to be able to walk on sidewalks (which don’t exist now) to convenient grocery stores (which used to exist before, but have been pushed out by car-centric zoning rules). The council can set better land-use patterns into motion now, and rail and buses will help to stitch these walkable neighborhoods together.
Finally, I’d like to overhaul rail finance so that the major beneficiaries along the route – property owners like Howard Hughes and Ala Moana – pay for much of the system. This method of rail finance is called “value capture,” and is used throughout the world. In Tokyo, for example, the major landowners along the route paid for its construction because they knew that transit would increase the value of their existing properties. This idea should be examined for any future expansions of rail past Kakaako.
Do you support or oppose using new city funds to cover any shortfall in HART’s construction or operating costs? Please explain.
I would refrain from utilizing any city funds on rail, at least until the major landowners along the route pay their fair share for the benefit of the rail project. This can be done through a value capture tax levied on those commercial properties along the rail route.
Do you support or oppose the plan to dismantle the Stairway to Heaven? Please explain.
A solution for “Stairway to Heaven” needs to be evaluated in the broader context of the tension between public access and private property. The same public policy principles we develop for Haʻikū will also apply to Ice Ponds in Kalihi, Kolowalu Trail in Manoa, and many other examples. I support the development of a comprehensive, programmatic system of managed public access. I’m particularly interested in how our neighbors on Kaua‘i are dealing with public access issues. We can certainly learn from their experience.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I’m the only Council VI candidate who has signed the Our Hawaii pledge forswearing corporate contributions.
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 support the current efforts to combat illegal vacation rentals.
Do you think more needs to be done at the city level to manage tourism? If so, what would you propose?
Yes. Kauai’s program to manage access to public trails and beaches is instructive and useful for Oahu. I support curtailing short-term rentals.
What can city government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise on Oahu?
We need to move housing and key infrastructure out of the sea level rise exposure area (SLRXA). This is a major challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to redesign mauka areas to be less car-dependent, with affordable units in walking distance to the key services and amenities that our people need – grocery stores, office space, schools, parks, etc.
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