6 Takeaways from Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s First Major Speech
Plans to reduce rail costs and homelessness while modernizing government echoed his campaign themes.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi outlined plans to reduce homelessness, work with private landowners to boost affordable housing and close the $3 billion shortfall on the city’s long-overdue and over-budget rail project in a speech March 15.
The former television executive and coach, who takes pride in not being a career politician, kept his talk tight. The speech ran nine pages, about a third of it devoted to the city’s new leadership team and employees. At under 22 minutes, it’s likely the shortest edition of the speech since the tradition began. Then-Mayor Jeremy Harris delivered the first one in 1994. Similar to his campaign, Blangiardi focused more on ideas rather than specific details about major policy changes and initiatives.
The State of the City address at the Mission Memorial Auditorium was his first formal public policy speech since he was sworn in Jan. 1 as the eighth mayor of Honolulu since statehood.
Here are six takeaways from his talk:
- To help with the $3 billion rail budget deficit—on the most expensive public works project in Hawai‘i history—he plans to seek the cooperation of landowners to shift the route slightly to prevent costly relocation of utilities. He says other savings come from canceling redundant contracts and eliminating positions.
- Blangiardi calls Chinatown “a hidden gem with so much potential that has been terribly neglected.” He says projects are in the works to improve lighting, repave roadways and fix flood-prone areas.
- He says a new computer system will overhaul the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting to both speed permitting for contractors and step up enforcement of those who violate land use and building ordinances.
- He favors expanding the Mayor’s Office of Housing into the Office of Housing and Homelessness, which he says will add resources and solutions to tackle the crisis.
- Blangiardi also plans to work to create incentives for private companies to develop housing at prices that would work for more residents. “The same old tired solutions to our affordable housing crisis is clearly not the answer, it hasn’t worked for 30 years,” he says. “It takes a long time, and a lot of money to get off the ground, and candidly it has not been profitable.” (The city’s track record with its housing department in earlier decades might slow support from the City Council and community groups. Back in 1997, the ‘Ewa Villages scandal emerged from criminal misuse of funds intended to revitalize the old plantation community. Then-city housing official Michael Kahapea was found guilty in 2000 of multiple counts of theft, money-laundering and forgery after rigging the system to take $5.8 million and shift it to people he knew.)
- His team is reworking operating practices since the pandemic to improve customer service. He says employees worked overtime to reduce the backlog on vehicle registration and “just last week we implemented a new system that has already improved the call answer rate, which dropped the number of repeat callers by more than 1,000 a day.”
Read the whole speech on the city’s website.