Thursday, September 18, 2008

Honolulu Economic Development Plan: An Integrated Vision of Infrastructure, Tourism, Energy, and Sustainability

Our four point plan to secure a bright economic future for Honolulu may be summarized as follows:

1. Bring our infrastructure to world-class standards.
A city in the current state of disrepair like ours simply cannot have a serious discussion about economic growth until our sewage is properly contained and treated, out water is clean and stays in the pipes, our roads provide a reasonably speedy service and are free of bumps and potholes, our trash is recycled, re-used and controlled; and our taxes are reduced so that business stay in business and low income folks are not forced into homelessness.

2. Develop sustainable energy supplies
to secure a low-cost expansion that is largely free of fossil fuels. Hawaii is blessed with abundant solar, wind, geothermal, and wave energy that can free us from the shackles of imported oil and coal. We had a tradition of sugarcane agriculture; sugarcane is the preferred source for making ethanol. Where is the wisdom in importing ethanol from Iowa?

3. Reposition our tourism to serve established and emerging niche markets.
For example, specialize in hosting professional and specialty conferences that bring in millions of high-value visitors from around the world. Many conferences can showcase Honolulu as the city of the future, a city that is ethnically integrated like no other, a city that is clean and in good repair, a city that is cooled and powered with green energy. We can lead the world in true eco-tourism by demonstrating what real sustainability looks like.

4. Reverse the brain drain
through the knowledge gained by giving this city the infrastructure and energy alternatives it deserves. Our university graduates will study, work in, and export sustainable technology to cities around the world, cities that will come to Honolulu to model what we have created in:

Renewable energy, trash and recycling factories, point to point fuel cell buses on high occupancy reversible expressways, intelligent transportation systems, green buildings, telecommuting and the integration of culture and the arts into technology and infrastructure.

Indeed trash factories and reversible lanes can be designed with beauty and cultural sensitivity in mind. See for example what the Figg Bridge company has done in Indian reservations and national parks.

We have solutions which combine form, function, efficiency, results, and state of the art technology. It’s worth staying home and making this beautiful place truly great.

Homelessness on Oahu

Earlier today, I testified before the Hawaii Housing Authority on the issue of homelessness in our city. The following is an expanded version of what I stated at that meeting.

As an 18+ year resident on Oahu and a candidate for mayor, I am alarmed by the homelessness issue and its impact on our people, our tourists, our parks and our beaches.

The Kapiolani "tent park" is only the beginning. A shrinking economy, reduced tourism and large anticipated cuts in both public and private budgets have the potential to make this an explosive issue which will stress service providers at all levels.

There are many causes to homelessness, including cost of living, low pay, unemployment, housing affordability, mental health, drugs, and, for a few, a life style choice of permanent camping.

There are several services and solutions, including priority housing for single parents, cubicles, camps or areas with facilities for sleeping in a car, other temporary accommodations, physical and mental health treatment, affordable housing and other public housing.

There are many agencies involved and service providers such as:
  • Hawaii Housing Authority
  • Partners in Care
  • HUD such as Community Development Block Grant
  • other Federal assistance
  • City Council and Mayor
  • State Department of Health
  • Police Department
  • Aloha United Way and Foodbank Hawaii
  • Churches and several other advocates
Therefore, a County Unit on Homelessness is necessary to coordinate and consolidate all these activities and offerings.

Homelessness is a multi-issue, multi-solution and multi-fragmented challenge. Some of the issues and positive directions include the following:
  • City cooperation with state is lacking; and city is going out of the affordable housing service at the worse possible time.
  • The city has not cooperated by providing warning of evictions thus putting responding agencies and volunteers in sudden crises.
  • Last year a bill proposed a 20 million allocation for a downtown homeless center but city administration never showed up to support it.
  • Public private partnerships for affordable housing development and management work. We should do more of them and apply proper controls.
  • The state should take a serious look on sustainable lease. It will likely work well for low income families. (A sustainable lease is a leasehold arrangement that maintains property in an affordable price range.)
  • There are complaints that several people residing in public housing own new vehicles that are worth well over $40,000 dollars. Why are their owners in subsidized public housing ?
  • There are concerns that the development of public housing and free sleeping quarters sometimes act as incentives for local and in-migrating homelessness. So you are balancing on a tight rope.
A major crisis is looming with the downturn in economy, the closure of homeless centers such as the recent one in Waihiawa, and the Next Step 151-cubicle unit provided by the state will close this year. Although it may sound counterintuitive at first, it is essential to increase the budget and coordinate the response to the homeless issue so that it remains at a manageable level.

To this end, for the interim, the city, in cooperation with the state should:
  • identify vacant lots and specific areas in some public parks and
  • develop a homeless camping permit much like the regular camping permit.
The advantages of a homeless permit are that:
  • It designates specific places and periods.
  • Assisting agencies will know where each individual is located.
  • If the police are called, the homeless campers can show their permit.
  • Maintenance on parks will be easier due to a manageable number of people at each site.
  • The permit will have an expiration date which can be renewed.
This permit process would be a proactive approach to homelessness making it measurable, tractable and manageable.