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City Council Members Answer LWV Questions
Four councilmembers answered "tough League of Women Voters questions", as a local TV station put it, following the December 14, Honolulu League's annual planning meeting. All the members of new the City Council were invited to meet with League over lunch and participate in a panel moderated by Jackie Parnell. On the previous Friday Parnell submitted to the invitees a list of questions that they would be asked - the number of council members attending dwindled from seven to four.
Gary Okino, the new Council Chair, Charles Djou, the Zoning Chair, Ann Kobayashi the Budget Committee chair, and Rod Tam chair of Economic Development and Parks & Recreation Committee faced our formidable group. In his opening remarks Councilmember Okino said the biggest issue for the new Council would be the City's $200 million shortfall with sewer repair and maintenance falling behind.
The first question from Jackie Parnell to Councilmember Okino was "If additional funds are needed, what sources will you tap?" He suggested four options: 1. raise taxes, 2. get money from State (traffic fines would bring in only $5 million), 3. institute efficiencies (these take up to 5 years), and 4. cut CIP. Councilmember Djou responded by expressing a strong reluctance to raise taxes. He would prefer to share State revenues, privatize, or lay off staff. Councilmember Kobayashi said that the Budget committee would not propose raising property taxes. Councilmember Tam said that he would 1. ask for a true financial audit of the city, 2. review revenue sources, 3. review expenses, and 4. work against raising taxes.
The second question went first to Councilmember Djou: "What changes and alternatives can you suggest for the BRT system?" He doesn't oppose all aspects of the BRT as proposed such as upgrading the bus system, improving routing, or conforming to the ADA. He does, however, oppose closing traffic lanes. Councilmember Djou proposes alternatives, which might include double decking, a rail system, or improving and extending contraflow lanes saying the City must work with the State. Councilmember Okino said that the problem is that all lanes will not be totally exclusive. For him rail transit is an alternative, which means a separate right-of-way and a need for Federal money. Councilmember Kobayashi said that BRT doesn't mitigate problems, especially in Central Oahu. She suggested that a monorail or rail system is the ultimate answer. Councilmember Tam asked the question, "How do you get people out of their cars?" He is against the BRT on Dillingham Blvd., saying that he knows already it is too crowded, because he drives it every day.
The third question was addressed to Councilmember Tam: "What do you think about leasehold-to-fee conversion; amend, repeal, or leave it alone?" He firmly believes the law should be repealed. Existing legal contracts should be upheld. People knew what they were signing when they signed. Councilmember Kobayashi said this is a lose-lose situation. One should look at surrender clauses or cap lease rent raises. It is wrong to force small landowners to sell their lands. This is the only county that has mandatory conversion of leasehold. Councilmember Okino said that he would appoint a task force in January through the Executive Matters system under Councilmember Cachola. The real problem is the leasehold system. Councilmember Djou agreed with Councilmember Okino. However, he doesn't want to repeal Chapter 38.
The fourth question went to Councilmember Kobayashi. "Where do you think development pressures are and where should development go?" In jest, she said that she'd like to see development go to neighbor islands. And seriously, she said the Primary Urban Center (PUC) needs relief now, water will be a major problem and schools need repairs. Councilmember Tam would like each community to say what it would like. Councilmember Djou wants to focus on the redevelopment of Waikiki with a greater mixture between tourists and residents reflecting a Hawaiian sense of place. Councilmember Okino wants to look at the "big picture" through a review of the General Plan with a focus on the growth management policy in the areas designated for growth: PUC, Ewa, the Second City, and Central Oahu.
A questioner from the floor said the City has raided the sewer fund and asked why is there a reluctance to raise taxes? Councilmember Kobayashi answered that we should have been raising taxes a little each year, but the Mayor is totally against it. Councilmember Okino stated that there might be no choice but to raise taxes.
In closing comments Council Chair Okino explained that there are very complex issues before the Council asking that the public have patience with the new Council because there are no simple answers. Councilmember Djou stressed that we must have a vibrant and growing economy. Councilmember Kobayashi said that the budget session last year was very contentious with the Mayor saying Councilmember Kobayashi asked too many questions. She feels the City government needs accountability. Councilmember Tam emphasizes accountability and open government. He pointed out that the PUC's infrastructure is the worst area as far as maintenance is concerned and he feels the money was used for parks instead.
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