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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Housing, traffic top issues

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer


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In a district where thousands of homeless people live on beaches a few miles away from the Ko Olina resort community, housing is bound to be an election issue.

Traffic, education and development issues also continue to concern the Leeward Coast community that stretches from Honokai Hale to Nanakuli.

After representing state House District 44 for 12 years, Rep. Michael Kahikina, a Democrat, faces a tough primary challenge from longtime community activist Cynthia Rezentes, leaving community members wondering if loyalty to the likable Kahikina will be enough to carry him through to the general election.

Whoever makes it out of the primary will likely face another heated challenge from the Republican primary winner, either Karen Awana or Tercia Ku. In the 2004 general election, Kahi-kina beat Awana by a scant 46 votes.

Resident Maralyn Kurshals said traffic problems, homelessness and affordable housing, and education are among the issues the winning representative will have to deal with.

Then there are drugs.

"The ice epidemic is prevalent out here, and it's destroying the fabric of our community, our children and our families," she said.

Kahikina, who is chairman of the House Housing Committee, said he would like to continue his work in addressing homelessness and affordable-housing issues.

"I held the position of compassion when the governor came in and asked for her appropriation to address the homeless and housing situation," he said. "I basically doubled the appropriation."

Kahikina said he also helped lead the way in some policy decisions that he hopes will lead to more affordable units being built faster. "That in itself needs some direction and follow-up."

He is in favor of having out-of-state real-estate investors help finance more affordable homes since they're helping drive local residents out of the housing market. "Let's increase the conveyance tax to really hit the guys who are speculating. That's our families that should be buying," he said.

Rezentes said the Legislature made a good start toward addressing housing last session, but more needs to be done to stop people, such as seniors on a fixed incomes, from being pushed out of the housing market.

Some of the seniors living on the beach could afford to pay $600 or $700 for rent, but $1,300 to $1,600 is out of reach for them, Rezentes said.

"How do we deal with someone who has for years been able to live in housing, but because of the pressure of development (in) the growing economy, she's now priced out of the market?" she said.

Rather than look at housing on its own, however, Rezentes, a longtime neighborhood board member and three-session staffer for Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), takes a more global view.

"I think I have been a major advocate in trying to look at the community as a whole, the district as a whole," she said. "I've been a strong opponent of landfills within the area. I've been a proponent of environmental conservation issues."

Kahikina, however, criticizes Rezentes' role on the panel appointed to help select a new landfill site, since the committee did not knock Nanakuli off the list of potential locations.

Rezentes argues that while the committee ultimately came up with a range of possible landfill sites, she herself submitted detailed documentation opposing any landfills in or near the district. "The fact that our community has severely changed over the past few years makes it ridiculous to think we can support any landfills on the Leeward Coast beyond Black Rock," she said.

When it comes to traffic woes, Kahikina said that it is important to find a mass-transit system that will work, instead of knocking down every proposal. "The public is only looking at the problem," he said. "We need to talk about it and how to address it."

Rezentes said she wants to look at traffic issues across the state, but in conjunction with environmental issues, such as protecting and preserving natural resources, and sustaining the development that already exists.

In her view, part of the reason West O'ahu has such grave traffic issues is that houses were built without giving consideration to how their new owners would get to work. "We've lost the balance because development on the 'Ewa Plain has expanded so much, and we haven't taken care of how to get everyone to their jobs," she said.

Unlike Kahikina's push for mass transit, Rezentes calls for moving the jobs westward and opening the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu campus to end the problem of all college traffic heading into Manoa.

"That's where I see things, trying to balance that all out so we can still live here with the same quality of life, or close to the quality of life most people have coming out here," she said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.