Civil Beat’s Candidate Q&A: Honolulu City Council District 5 — Calvin Say
Below is a copy of Civil Beat’s “Candidate Q&A: Honolulu City Council District 5 — Calvin Say.”
CALVIN K.Y. SAY
OCCUPATION: State representative and president, Kotake Shokai, Ltd.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS/PRIOR OFFICES HELD: Palolo Community Council; United Chinese Society; Pacific Rim Foundation; Legislator, Hawaii House of Representatives for 44 years.
1. Oahu’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
No we should not continue to rely largely on tourism for economic vitality. But to help bring tourism back, we must work with the visitor industry to:
• Improve the efficiency of the best quality services to the visitors;
• Establish cooperative bilateral agreements with states and countries for the pre-testing of all trans-Pacific passengers entering the City and County of Honolulu;
• Re-brand the City and County of Honolulu and the State of Hawaii via the promotion of ecological, agricultural, cultural and food-based events; and
• Accelerate the use of technology within the visitor industry, including thermal sensors, tracing data management, etc.
To diversify our economy for Honolulu’s future, we must focus on energy, food sustainability, ocean sciences, medical research and artificial intelligence. Within these areas, I believe, lay opportunities for future job creation, investment, and growth. Our future will depend on how successful we are in moving in these directions.
2. As the economy struggles, the city may have to cut expense and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
In order to objectively and rationally determine how to pare down the budget, it will be vital that the council understands what services are “essential,” or those that are required by the Hawaii State Constitution, state law or the City Charter, and those that are “non-essential,” or all other services that were established by city ordinance. To my knowledge, such an analysis has not been performed for the state nor the county levels in over a decade. Failure to provide for certain “essential” services could have drastic impacts on the city’s ability to receive federal or state funds, as well as hurt the city’s bond rating. Arguably, all other services that are “non-essential” could be cut.
An area that holds potential for revenue growth is the enforcement of existing “laws.” There are various laws on the books in which the city may collect fees, fines, and forfeitures but the city does not enforce. If enforcement has been lacking because of worker shortages, then we need to help the administration fill vacant positions so that our departments and agencies can improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
Honestly, I don’t have an answer since I would follow the recommendations of the experts in the medical field of infectious disease, which is what I believe our elected leaders on the federal, state and county governments are doing. As a member of the Legislature, I can state for a fact that the steps taken so far have all followed the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control, the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and the state Department of Health.
I can say though that we can all do a better job at researching the problem and communicating with domestic and foreign jurisdictions to develop medical and logistical protocols on patient contact, testing and tracing. The development of standards is the most important step in ensuring that our communities will remain safe especially when visitors are welcomed back to our islands.
4. Oahu residents, government officials and developers have often been split over efforts to build new projects like renewable energy facilities, recreational complexes, or even affordable housing. What would you do to make sure important projects are successful while respecting community input and concerns?
At the outset, it should be stated that Hawaii has some of the most extensive land use permitting, zoning and environmental laws in the nation. These laws were enacted to ensure that the public has the opportunity to voice their concerns before a project is approved.
While the letter of the law may be followed by scheduling public hearings or allowing community testimony to be submitted, more often than not, the public does not learn of certain projects until it is too late. As a public official, one of my responsibilities is to inform my constituents of these kinds of projects so that they can participate in the process before it is too late.
If elected, I would urge my colleagues and the administration to do more than file notice of public hearings in the newspaper (which no one ever reads), and engage the community to build consensus for the project. Ask community organizations to comment. Seek the views of our citizens. When these steps are not taken, the process on the books break down and lead to problems that we see today.
5. How should the city pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once built? Do project plans or financing plans need to be changed as the economy struggles in the wake of the pandemic?
Let me respond to both questions together — the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented in scope and scale. In March, the Council on Revenues (COR) expected the state to experience a general fund surplus of nearly $300 million for this fiscal year. Within a month after COVID hit, the surplus of $300 million was downgraded to a deficit of nearly $500 million. The most recent COR report anticipates a shortfall of over $2 billion in state general funds over the next two years.
For the City and County of Honolulu, I would expect the situation would be even worse since property values will likely decline during this period, especially with the virtual stoppage of our economic base. Our state and the counties are in triage mode right now and will be in it for at least two years (or so say the economists).
With limited revenues, federal, state and county governments will need to do all that they can to survive by ensuring that the most vital services for the health and welfare of our citizenry are provided. And when the economy does turn, hopefully, we will be in a better position to address the question of the rail project.
6. Homelessness remains a problem on Oahu. What would you do differently from what the current leadership is doing? Do you support the enforcement of laws targeted at unsheltered homeless people such as the sit-lie ban? Why or why not?
I believe the administration and the current City Council have done all that they can to address vagrancy in communities within the confines of what is allowed by law. There are limits to what government can do to prevent a citizen from accessing a public park, street or beach. The current ordinances have been tailored to meet the requirements set forth by the courts and I believe these laws can withstand judicial scrutiny.
However, I also recognize that these types of laws are very controversial and raise fundamental moral questions on whether poverty or homelessness can or should be criminalized. The courts have consistently said that they cannot, and because the Honolulu ordinances are intended to ensure the public’s use of parks, sidewalks, and beaches, I support these laws.
To the extent that the existing laws ensure the public’s use of public resources, I support these laws. However, it should be noted that our constitution prohibits the “enforcement of laws targeted” at any group regardless of whether they are poor, or homeless. Laws must treat all groups equally. In addition, laws may not be enforced arbitrarily. As an elected official, I would be swearing to protect and uphold the constitution, as do our police officers and all law enforcement officials.
7. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. What should be done to improve policing and police accountability in Honolulu? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
Recent events on the mainland have brought to the forefront the brutal treatment of minorities by law enforcement in the United States. These instances demonstrate how rooted racism is in our institutions and the fabric of our nation.
Be that as it may, Hawaii is also one of the most (if not the most) racially diverse communities in the world, and our culture is founded on acceptance and mutual understanding. This has done much to insulate our islands from many of the abuses that have occurred on the mainland.
Is there racism in Hawaii? Of course. All you would need to do is compare the number of Native Hawaiians in prison, income levels, propensity for diabetes and other chronic diseases, and other benchmarks with African-Americans, and you be the judge for yourself.
Are there abuses? Of course. But I also believe much improvements have been made under Chief Ballard’s watch and she has tried to improve transparency compared to the previous chief.
More can be done by having the Police Department work with communities to improve communication and trust. When communities see the police as friends and not enemies, we will have gone a long way — much farther than by passing laws that create more bureaucracy and promote suspicion for the loyal men and women in blue.
The current oversight process could be enhanced by having the Police Commission actively engage community groups and the general public. Such steps would not necessarily require legislative enactment, but political will and the desire of the commission to gain the pulse of the streets.
8. Honolulu has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Some see rail as part of the solution. What else should the city do to alleviate congestion?
When was the last time you sat in traffic? Was it before or after COVID-19 hit our islands?
The COVID-19 crisis has created the “new” normal. As our economy slowly opens, employers will continue to use remote working to address the need to limit the number of workers in their offices. Schools and universities will do the same. Businesses will utilize split schedules more often as limitations in child care will create additional burdens for employees.
We need to wait and see how bad traffic gets when the economy entirely opens up.
9. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
The question refers to the governor’s suspension of two laws — Chapter 91, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS), the Hawaii Administrative Procedures Act, which requires public hearings and contested case hearings for administrative proceedings; and Chapter 92F, HRS, which requires public access to government records.
Regarding the suspension of Chapter 91, HRS, I agree that it was warranted. Various departments needed to ease certain requirements to allow for quick services in time of need. One example of this was the restriction on telephones for telehealth services in Medicaid. The federal government eased the telephone restriction in Medicaid to allow for maximum use of telehealth during the crisis. Had the state needed to follow Chapter 91, it would have taken weeks or even months for the Department of Human Services to adopt rules that would have allowed it.
Regarding the suspension of Chapter 92F, HRS, it is unclear to me how the suspension of this law had prevented the public’s access to any government document as purported in the question. If it was because of the closure of the Office of Information Practices to public inspection, that restriction was applied to most if not all government agencies during the crisis.
As far as how Chapters 91 and 92F, HRS should be applied in the “new” normal, I’m not sure I have an answer right now. How long will the CDC recommend 6 feet of space between people in an indoor venue? Will the reliance on telecommunications adequately satisfy public hearing requirements? Does mere broadcast of a hearing make it public if people cannot attend in person? What is an acceptable timeframe to process a request for a document given limitations in staffing to handle requests? These are all very important questions, but it will ultimately need to be answered by the public on what they feel is appropriate and warranted.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
In many ways, Hawaii has been at the forefront in addressing climate change. We can continue to follow the recommendations of experts on sustainability. I just wish we will have more resources to work with on this issue. (See respoonse to No. 5 above.)
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issues facing District 5 are homelessness and affordable housing.
Building on the concept of “compassionate disruption,” we need to continue efforts to provide the homeless with the necessary support services and skills to permanently obtain housing. Also, by focusing on the establishment of mobile, temporary facilities, the city will be better able to meet demands within communities across the island.
Regarding affordable housing, we need to ensure that there is sufficient water and sewage infrastructure to meet the growing demands in Kakaako and urban Honolulu. Our ability to create more affordable housing “vertically” will depend on this infrastructure.