Making Honolulu a better place
By Mufi Hannemann, Mayor of Honolulu
Each week Editorial and Opinion Editor Jeanne Mariani-Belding hosts The Hot Seat, our opinion-page blog that brings in elected leaders and people in the news and lets you ask the questions during a live online chat.
To mark the one-year anniversary of The Hot Seat last week, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann — who was the very first guest on The Hot Seat — made a return appearance to answer questions from our readers. Below is an excerpt from that Hot Seat session. To see the full conversation, go to The Hot Seat blog at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/opinion and click on the posting titled "On the Hot Seat: Mayor Mufi Hannemann." (Names of questioners are screen names given during our online chat.)
Stephanie: I have heard all about the cost of transit and how people say it won't take cars off the road, etc., but what are the benefits of having a fixed guideway transit? Is it really reliable?
Mayor Mufi Hannemann: Fixed guideway will take cars off the road. It is the most cost-effective way to relieve congestion. Other options were studied and analyzed by the experts and were shown to be inferior to a fixed guideway. We are recommending a fixed guideway because it provides a reliable schedule. It is also the most environmentally friendly of all the alternatives.
John: What was your biggest challenge since you became mayor, and what do you see as your biggest challenge in the future?
Hannemann: Three things: 1) Fiscal accountability and watching taxpayers' money better; 2) focus on basic infrastructure and public safety; and 3) improve our quality of life, which is why we're dealing with the amount of time (spent) in cars and that's why I say I want to leave Honolulu Hale better than I found it.
J kim: When will you be expanding curbside recycling into another area, like Manoa, for instance?
Hannemann: The pilot curbside programs are going well. I want to thank the communities of Mililani and Hawai'i Kai for participating so willingly.
The plan is to expand after we evaluate the experiences of these communities, probably next fall.
Gimli: Aloha Mr. Mayor and welcome back to the "Hot Seat." Regarding the transit issue, I do believe that a rail system is the best alternative at this point. However, to have the most impact on traffic the route should stop at the airport and the UH-Manoa. Will you stand up to Romy Cachola's political posturing and insist on the original route?
Hannemann: In my recommendation to the City Council, I had strongly encouraged them to choose the airport route. The key point to remember is that in our EIS, we will be studying the entire route, including the airport, the UH-Manoa and Waikiki so that should the council revisit the vote in the future or the funding becomes available, we can quickly move.
Unfortunately, we could only count four council votes to go to the airport last year. Although Councilman Cachola is being blamed for the transit going to Salt Lake, one should question why council members (Ann) Kobayashi, (Charles) Djou and (Donovan) Dela Cruz did not support the airport route at that time. Our main goal is to break ground in 2009. And once that first segment is in, I'm confident, as we have seen in other U.S. cities, the early success of the project will lead to expansion sooner rather than later.
John B.: The Alternatives Analysis says 80 percent of commuters use cars today and 80 percent of commuters will use cars in 30 years if we build rail. The Alternatives Analysis also tells us that traffic congestion on H-1 will get worse especially at rush hour.
So, Mr. Mayor, what do you say to the 80 percent of West and Central O'ahu commuters whose daily commute will get no benefit from rail?
Hannemann: The Alternatives Analysis says that without rail, congestion will be worse because population will increase by 30 percent.
No one is suggesting that people will automatically not use their cars anymore. But with a rail, you'll have a choice to not be in congestion. It's all about having an integrated multimodal transportation system where one can drive, take the bus, take the boat, ride a bike, take the train, or walk. That's providing a better quality of life for people in West and Central O'ahu and for all the people of O'ahu.
Kimo: I live in Enchanted Lake in Kailua. For years now, the smell from this lake has been horrendous and is only getting worse. I am aware that the lake is private, but runoff from city streets flows into the lake adding to the silt and odor problems. What can be done to clean this lake up once and for all as opening the berm at Kailua Beach is not a long-term solution? I was told that federal dollars were available but your administration wouldn't match because of liability issues. Something really needs to be done, and I would like to see action and not passing this issue off to the Enchanted Lake Community Association. What do you say, Mr. Mayor?
Hannemann: This is an issue that impacts not just the city, but the state and private interests. Just as we resolved the long-standing dispute with Kawai Nui marsh, we can take that same cooperative approach to resolve this thorny issue. The complicating issue here is the private ownership involved. We will look to see how best to proceed on the Enchanted Lake issue.
Don Bremner in Kailua: Vacation rentals take housing options away from local folks, escalate housing prices and make resident neighborhoods into resorts. Could you tell us why, despite these negative impacts, your administration proposes to allow B&Bs all over O'ahu?
Hannemann: First of all, I'm not sure the premise is true. Our policy position is to regulate and enforce the rules on B&Bs. The City Council will be holding hearings on this issue and there'll be time for members of communities throughout O'ahu, not just Kailua, to weigh in on the issue so that a fair and equitable solution can be reached.
Lehua Wilson: You swept Ma'ili Beach of the homeless, but they migrated toward Nanakuli and the situation is worse than ever. Your office has repeatedly stated that you are working on it, yet I see no relief. I think there is not just a health issue, with human waste in the ocean, etc., but it has become a public safety issue. I would like to know what makes our city of Wai'anae exempt from police enforcement of homeless that would normally be dealt with in other towns? What plan do you have and what is the time frame? Will we ever see a clutter-free, non-polluted coastline, free from homeless and mounds of debris?
Hannemann: The fact of the matter is that had the city not moved in on Ala Moana Park and Ma'ili Beach Park, homeless solutions would still be sitting on the shelves in state offices. We've always maintained that it's going to take the state government stepping up, big time, to provide housing alternatives for the homeless. Social services, public health, affordable housing are all state responsibilities. The city will continue to assist in every way possible. Fellow mayors echo my opinion, that it's beyond the counties' purview and resources. Frankly, we're making headway. But to move more quickly, the state will have to provide more housing shelters.
Airportdude: Your public safety (HPD) and public health (EMS) professionals are leaving in search of better pay. You cannot mass produce these individuals. They are a very valuable asset due to their low numbers and high level of training, and this fact is not lost to those who actively recruit these people. EMS personnel's pay scale is not comparable to their counterparts on the Mainland, federal government or even on Maui. We are also losing these people to better paying occupations or to sister agencies. You have a lot of employees who wish to remain loyal to the City and County of Honolulu and to the people they serve, but need to move on due to financial reasons. How do you plan to retain these individuals? (I feel that you are doing a great job overall!)
Hannemann: I place great value in having a competent and motivated workforce. We are doing more to entice people to come into the government workforce, not only the public-safety sectors. Obviously, salary is one factor and I'm proud to say our public-safety personnel have received some of their highest salary increases ever. We're also doing more by providing training and technology opportunities. We've recently launched the Po'okela Fellows program, designed to recruit university students with high-level internships in our city departments with a mentoring and educational program.
Calvin Nakamura: You have undone many projects that Mayor (Jeremy) Harris did or had planned for. For instance, you undid the Punchbowl Street project. What baffles me is that you and Harris have the same staff (except for appointed positions). Why did the county employees flip-flop on the feasibility of the Punchbowl and Waikiki projects?
Hannemann: When we came into office, we revisited projects that compromised public safety and would be an enormous drain on ongoing maintenance. That's why revisions were made to Punchbowl and Waikiki. Too many trees were planted that restricted public safety vehicles and buses from traveling safely and without obstruction. This was done with staff approval, and in the case of Waikiki, we even sought the concurrence of the Outdoor Circle. I do not regard taxpayer dollars as a personal piggy bank. That's why you won't see us doing any more $350,000 projects for a sign that says "Welcome to your neighborhood," as was done by the prior administration.
Curtis Nahone: Every day living expenses continue to rise sharply eroding the quality of life for the average resident. Many of these increased expenses are in control of the city, such as vehicle registration fees, general excise taxes, and, most importantly, property taxes. Here on the North Shore, speculation and investment in illegal vacation rental and B&B property has caused huge artificial property value increases and turned my neighborhood into a transient nightmare with absentee owners who don't even care about the community. Unfortunately the less-affluent, longtime property owners have had to unfairly pay increased (large) property taxes. In general, islandwide, property values and sales activity have decreased greatly in most areas on O'ahu.
My question: As mayor, what and how quickly are you prepared to reflect these decreased property values in our property tax bills? You need to look at giving relief on the high taxes that our middle-class residents are paying as we scrape to survive here. I do not want to be forced to move to the Mainland and raise my family after being born and raised here.
Hannemann: I couldn't agree with you more, which is why I have suggested to the City Council for the past two years that we create a separate homeowners tax classification, as our Neighbor Island counties have done. I believe this will insure that those who own and live in their own homes will have a lower tax rate than others. I'll be having another opportunity to submit the proposal in March for the next budget. Please express your support to your council members and encourage your neighbors to do the same.