Honolulu is going to get a new mayor this fall.
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Innovative ideas could finally revitalize Chinatown—you know, the lively downtown culture and arts scene we’ve been promised for decades, which never seems to really arrive? Once again, it’s a real estate problem, this time one the city can solve without spending any money. “We need the next mayor to get a change in the Chinatown Special District ordinance to allow loft living in Chinatown,” says Matusow. “All the upstairs spaces are empty now, because the law limits them to property owners and caretakers. So we’ve got an arts and culture district with no place for artists to live. They want to live above their galleries.”
Matusow says a number of housing options in downtown Honolulu are on hold because of such zoning issues. “Senior housing and condo projects are on hold now, because the city is trying to expand the Chinatown Special District. It’s awful the way they are holding these projects hostage. People want to live downtown, they’re tired of being a one-hour commute away. Families want to live here, too, but we need bigger, three-bedroom apartments for them.”
4. Have a plan
The next mayor of Honolulu had better not think he or she can just wing it. People want the next mayor to have a plan. Just ask Dick Poirier, chair of the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu neighborhood board. “What we need is a real urban-growth policy,” he says. “Another 20,000 housing units have been approved for this area and there’s not enough infrastructure. Roads are absolutely terrible, it takes up to an hour and a half to get to town. It doesn’t make sense.”
In fact, if there’s one thing people want the next mayor to have a plan for, it’s transportation. But good luck, future mayors—everyone wants you to plan completely different things.
“We had long supported the mayor’s Bus Rapid Transit,” says Poirier, “simply because it was the only viable thing to get us to town. But, basically, it’s been derailed with the governor’s plan for rail.”
Kalapa thinks the next mayor, working with the governor, should look more closely at demographics when planning for transportation, especially if they’re planning on dropping mad cash into mass transit. “Our population is aging, our work force will shrink. So who will be driving, commuting and using mass transit?”
Maybe the next mayor just needs to dust off the plans we already made to solve the transportation problem. “I thought we were making a second city in Kapolei,” Kalapa reminds us. “Redirecting money to mass transit to get people into town defeats that purpose.”
Some folks would like a vision to come with a plan. “The first thing for the next mayor to do is provide a vision for the city,” says Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Sierra Club Hawaii. “A broad, forward-looking perspective of how best to enable smart growth, create a mass transit system, increase the livability of our communities and balance the environmental constraints on an island. How do we protect the open spaces and agricultural lands in Central Oahu? How can we reduce Honolulu’s dependence on expensive, imported crude oil? How do we create the attractive communities that create a sense of place and increase our quality of life?”
It seems like a lot to ask of anyone, but it would help if the next mayor knew some answers to these questions.
5. Take care of businesses
Hawaii isn’t an easy place in which to run a business, and, while that is primarily due to state-level politics, some people think the next mayor of Honolulu could do some good at the city level. “The next mayor needs to be focused on the economy,” says Hannemann. “Honolulu is where 80 percent of the state’s people live, where 80 percent of the taxes are collected. It makes sense to partner with the state, do more with creating new jobs.” Hannemann thinks the city would benefit from getting closer to colleges in town, nurturing smart people who can make a difference.
For Slom, the economic success of citizens is inseparable from political success. “A mayor needs to understand the financial capabilities of our citizens,” he says. “We’ll have a stronger and more vibrant county if individuals can make more economic choices of their own.”
Plenty of people have items for the next mayor’s To Do list. Carol Pregill, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, has one big don’t. “We don’t want any of the additional taxes the city is proposing,” she says.
Her organization represents nearly 200 businesses, with a total of about 2,000 storefronts in the Islands. Most are small businesses, with 50 or fewer employees. “Government needs to get out of the way: We’re in an expansion mode in business. We see it in retail, we’re starting to see it in construction. Honolulu Community College is overflowing with students in the trades, that’s exciting, we haven’t seen that at that level.” Pregill thinks the city needs to find ways to fuel the expansion.
The city already has some successful programs to build on, she says. “It has an economic development program that works with small business, it’s very good on a grassroots level, working one-to-one with businesses looking to expand.” Our current mayor has been very good at redeveloping Waikiki, which the next mayor should continue doing. “The Neighbor Islands seem stronger with their products,” Pregill says, “but we have a lot going in Waikiki and we need to continue to make it fresh and new. Private owners in Waikiki, hotels, retailers, etc., are working hard to upgrade their properties. Working with the Waikiki Improvement Association is important.”
Pregill knows Honoluluans get tired of hearing how much attention Waikiki should get, but points out that the small district has a huge multiplier effect. “We saw it after Sept. 11. When people lost their Waikiki jobs, other industries also suffered when those people cut back, even people such as dentists and contractors. We saw the losses in advertising, public relations—when revenues aren’t being generated quickly in Waikiki, everyone suffers.”
6. Be the boss
Public safety is the city’s most important function and the Honolulu Police Department is the agency we turn to most often for that safety. However, complaints about HPD cropped up often in our interviews. They were always introduced with, “The police do a good job, but …”
But sometimes they don’t. For downtown neighborhood board chair Matusow, one problem is police working special events on the city’s overtime budget, when the event sponsors should be paying the cops to work off-duty. For C.O. “Andy” Anderson, chair of the Waipahu neighborhood board, police officers sometimes lack initiative. “If a resident sees an abandoned car and calls the police, they’ll come and cite it,” he says. “But otherwise, they’ll drive right by it and ignore it. They shouldn’t wait for people to complain about problems.”
Such complaints suggest a common desire for somone to to supervise the department better.
It couldn’t hurt. Last fall, the attorney general’s office reported that HPD is solving fewer crimes than ever. In 2002, 57,000 major crimes were reported, but police cleared only 5,000 cases—91.3 percent of the major crimes went unsolved. It’s the worst clearance rate since anyone started keeping track in 1975, and the rate has been declining steadily since 1998. Worse still, Mainland cities with populations similar to Honolulu’s have an average clearance rate of almost 16 percent, nearly twice Honolulu’s.
When citizens grumble, says the Grassroot Institute’s Rowland, police shrug and say, “We can’t be everywhere,” as he heard an officer tell one unhappy burglary victim at a neighborhood board meeting. “I don’t see why we should put up with that,” says Rowland. “The next mayor’s mandate should be: The police can never say we can’t do the job.”
There you have it. The position description for the next mayor. Any takers for the job? Applications will be accepted in September.