The following is a transcript of the 2013 State of the City Address by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell as prepared:
Friends, family and distinguished guests - welcome and thank you for joining us on this beautiful day for my first State of the City Address. I appreciate your coming out so early this morning. I also want to say good morning and welcome to the folks who are either watching at home or starting their workday. After all, the State of the City is a report to all of you who live on Oahu and are impacted every day by what we are doing at the City.
That is why this job is so important to me. I know that when you get up in the morning, it’s the city that makes sure that your toilets are flushing and your water is running. When you go to work, it’s the city that is responsible for the roads, the traffic lights and the bus rides. The city picks up the trash and responds to emergencies. When you want to take your family to the beach park, visit the Zoo or catch a show at the Blaisdell, that’s the city too.
The people of Honolulu count on us to make things work. When I was building my cabinet, I knew that I did not want a team who would be satisfied with just keeping the lights on. I wanted a team that would keep the lights on and move the needle.
I’m here to shake ‘um up! When I ruffle feathers or rock the boat, it’s only because I’m determined to make things better for all of us.
We are approaching the first 100 days of this new administration. I’m proud to say that we’ve built an extraordinary cabinet. We are a team that includes the first woman to serve as the Managing Director of the City & County of Honolulu, Ember Shinn. For the first time, we have a City department that has two women at the helm as Director and Deputy Director, and that is Toni Robinson and Jeanne Ishikawa respectively, at the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Strong women play a key role throughout this administration. In fact, women make up over one-third of the directors and deputies running our city. The men and women who serve in my cabinet are already demonstrating their experience and competence.
This is a cabinet full of integrity, loyalty, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. As we were building this cabinet, someone in our transition team called them “poi pounders”, meaning they are steadfast, they continue to pound the poi and get the job done.
I want to give you an example of a “poi pounder”.
On January 2nd, our first day on the job, there were enormous long lines at the DMV. Our Director of Customer Services, Sheri Kajiwara, literally hit the ground running and worked with her staff to make changes and set up a hotline immediately. Within a matter of days, I was at the Satellite City Hall on Dillingham apologizing for the delays and announcing those changes. That’s the stuff our cabinet is made of.
In the next four years, this is the team that is going to accomplish great things for Honolulu and I want them to stand and be recognized.
Every day at the City, there are literally hundreds of issues and situations to manage. It would be easy to spend our entire time putting out fires and attending to the problems at hand. We must do all of that, of course, but at the end of this term, I want to show you concrete examples of how we made things better, and how we laid a strong foundation for the City’s future.
That’s why I have elevated five priorities. I announced them on my first day on the job, and they have been the focal point of my first 100 days as your Mayor. We also have what I call “the rule of hand”. We focus on five priorities at a time, and when one is managed and ready to come off, we add another. Here are the first five:
By now, most people are aware of the serious impact of the cuts to bus routes last year. We need to balance the budget, but I would not have cut the bus routes. So many people rely on bus service, and the key word is “RELY”.
People rely on the bus to get to and from work and school. They rely on the bus to take care of their daily needs, to get to their doctor’s appointments and buy their food. They rely on the bus service to come when it is supposed to come.
I also think that when riders buy a ticket, they should expect to find a seat in a safe and clean vehicle and not have to sit in the dark worried that the bus will pass them by if it is full. That’s why restoring this service is a priority, and it is one of the first things that we started to address.
Director of Transportation Services, Mike Formby, and his team looked at where it was most critical to restore service and presented me with a phased plan. The first round started in March. We plan to restore service to five more routes in May, and complete the restoration in August.
I’ve dedicated 3.5 million dollars in my budget to cover this priority, and we are going to better integrate TheBus into the overall City plan for transportation services.
Mike Formby is another poi pounder.
Remember all the complaints about not having public restrooms open at the Alapai Transit Center? Given how many people go through the transit center every day, I think it’s critical that we provide public bathroom facilities. They said it would take half a year, but Mike teamed up with Ross Sasamura, Director of Facility Maintenance, and they got those restrooms open within two months.
Here is a statistic that will not surprise you: 43% of City & County roads are in poor condition. Simply put, we need to fix this. And we need to commit to a maintenance program that will keep the roads in good driving condition. I propose to spend 150 million dollars a year, re-paving 300 lane miles per year, over the next five years.
On this schedule, we will fix the majority of Honolulu city roads that are in bad condition, and I will start a re-pavement preservation program of the roads that are in “good” condition starting in July. In the last seven years, the city paved about 1000 lane miles. Those roads will last five to 10 more years with proper maintenance, which I am committed to do.
I want to thank Director Ross Sasamura of the Department of Facility Maintenance and Director Chris Takashige from the Department of Design and Construction for their dedication and focus on improving our city roads.
Every day in the newspaper and on TV, there are stories about the poor road conditions across Oahu. I welcome the coverage because it shines a bright light on a problem that was neglected too long, and that’s why we must take extraordinary effort to get our roads back in good shape, starting now.
My road repaving plan is an ambitious goal, but the taxpayers of Honolulu have spoken loud and clear – they want our roads fixed now. While bond rates remain low, now is the time to borrow money, put it into our infrastructure, and create work for our construction industry.
That’s why I proposed to increase the fuel tax a nickel/gallon which would have generated 15 million dollars to pay for bus service restoration and debt service for the road repaving projects. The city has not raised its portion of the fuel tax in 24 years, and it would have cost the average driver about 20 dollars more a year.
I am disappointed that the fuel tax did not even get a hearing this year, but I remain committed to finding the resources to fix our roads, and I’ll work with the City Council to do so. We are going forward and getting work out to the businesses and creating jobs.
Sewer capacity is a critical part of our City’s infrastructure. If we don’t have enough sewer capacity, the city cannot approve new development projects, large or small, across the island, which will have a negative impact on our growing construction industry.
For the near-term, we are actively addressing recent capacity issues through upgrades at the Waipahu Wastewater Pumping Station, including an additional force main pipeline.
Mahalo to the City Council for approving, in January, the Second Digester at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. This will insure that we have sufficient capacity and redundancy until we upgrade the plant to secondary treatment as part of Honolulu’s Consent Decree under the E.P.A.
Here’s an update on the Consent Decree:
The City agreed to complete 477 projects to comply with the consent decree, which we entered in December 2010. So far, we have completed 297 or 57% of those projects, and we have met every single project due date. Recently, we completed construction on the important Beachwalk Force Main project which upgrades the aging infrastructure in the Waikiki and Ala Wai areas that is critical to that community and to the tourism industry. That pipeline should start to flow this month. Not the most glamorous project, but I’m sure glad this is going to happen.
We have 180 projects remaining, including the Kaneohe/Kailua Gravity Tunnel and the Secondary Treatment Facilities at Honouliuli and Sand Island.
I want to thank Lori Kahikina, the Director of Environmental Services and her team for keeping this important commitment on track. Lori is the first woman to head the Department of Environmental Services, and I know she is a role model for other young women who want to go into fields like engineering and construction that have traditionally been dominated by men.
Honolulu has become one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. As our city becomes more urban, it’s even more important that we maintain our parks as clean and safe recreation areas for our children and our families, and to provide beautiful, green, open space for our residents and visitors to enjoy.
Recently, some of our parks have become places where residents don’t want to go – they are unsafe and unclean. That’s sad and not acceptable to me. Our parks staff works very hard, but they need more support.
I have proposed 11.8 million dollars to repair and improve public facilities at our parks, with special attention to restrooms, aging playground and lighting equipment, and run-down recreational facilities. I also want to dedicate 1.3 million dollars for maintenance equipment to help our staff on a daily basis. They are the ones who get the job done every day.
Whenever I travel to another city, I notice their public parks. I’m sure you do, too. To me, all of the great cities of the world have great parks – Central Park in New York City, Hyde Park in London, Stanley Park in Vancouver, Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, Ueno Park in Tokyo to name just a few. I want Honolulu to have that distinction, too.
I believe Ala Moana Beach Park has that potential, with its beautiful stretch of beachfront between two great boat harbors – Kewalo Basin and the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, and mauka, we have one of the most successful shopping centers in the world, Ala Moana Center. I am proposing 3 million dollars to improve Ala Moana Park and develop a revitalization plan.
In the heart of Honolulu lies Thomas Square. Many people don’t realize the historical significance of Thomas Square, which, by the way, will celebrate its 170th anniversary this July. Admiral Thomas restored Hawaii to her sovereignty under King Kamehameha III, in the park square.
In a service that followed at Kawaihao Church, the King praised the restoration by saying the words, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono”, the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. These words became our state motto.
In honor of this event, we are in the process of beautifying this park and I have proposed 1 million dollars towards its restoration.
In addition, my vision for Thomas Square is that it will sparkle as the crown jewel in the center of a new Culture and Arts District in Honolulu, bordered by other arts and entertainment venues such as the Blaisdell Concert Hall, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and Linekona School. We are talking to the neighbors of Thomas Square and want to explore the possibilities.
Of the five priorities, Build Rail Better is perhaps the hardest to define. So much of the rail project is driven within the boundaries of engineering requirements, budgetary realities, city contracts, and federal and state regulations. But in short, it is based on three principles: 1)Reducing Visual Impacts, 2)Community Input, and 3)Fiscal Transparency.
Build Rail Better speaks to the way I want my administration and city government to operate. Just in the past several months, the rail project has passed some significant milestones, all very positive.
HART, signed an agreement with the Federal Transit Administration for 1.55 billion dollars to build rail in Honolulu, thanks in large part to our late Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
HART completed its Archaeological Inventory Survey two months ahead of schedule, and is ready to start construction in West Oahu later this year.
If we want to maintain public confidence in this project, we need to make improvements based on community concerns, and demonstrate fiscal responsibility, and transparency, at every phase.
I meet weekly with HART CEO and Executive Director Dan Grabauskas and a team comprised of city and HART leaders to ensure that we are working collaboratively, as well as with agencies at the state and federal levels.
I want to thank our congressional delegation, Governor Abercrombie and UH President MRC Greenwood for their leadership roles related to rail. I am also assembling a pair of Build Rail Better work groups, one to focus on visual impacts and the other to focus on community input.
Rail is the largest public works project in the history of Honolulu. I remain confident that rail is needed to improve traffic along our urban corridor from Kapolei to Ala Moana. From there, we will look at creating feeder systems to the University of Hawaii at Manoa and other locations.
Together, rail and bus will serve as critical components of our transportation system for generations to come. It’s not rail vs. bus. It’s rail and bus.
The Next Priority – Homelessness
I am committed to these five priorities, but there is one issue that also needs our immediate attention, and it is Homelessness. For years, the private sector, not-for-profits, and City, State and Federal governments have operated in silos. O‘ahu’s homeless population today has grown to about 4,500 people.
While many are already in shelters, more are visible in Waikiki and throughout urban Honolulu, in places like Chinatown. For the near-term, we need to find a temporary solution to get people off of the streets, out of the parks, and to places where they will receive safe shelter and social services.
We need to expand our Housing First initiative and find other innovative alternatives that can serve our needs until we are able to provide more low-income and work force housing for our people.
We don’t need another study. We need to take action as soon as we can.
I announce today that the City will be undertaking a new demonstration project focused on helping the chronic homeless in urban Honolulu. Our approach will be based on doing what is pono, what is right for 1) our homeless citizens struggling with addictions and disabilities, 2)our residents and merchants who are sometimes affected by homelessness, and 3)the ‘aina, as we have all seen the impact on our land from the homeless camps.
Our approach will be based on the Housing First model – this focuses on housing the chronically homeless as quickly as possible as a first step toward their recovery.
Can you imagine how hard it must be to get better, to get some stability in your life, if you don’t have the basic need of housing first? By focusing on housing first, we can get the homeless off our streets, parks, bus stops, and doorways, and return these areas to the public.
The task of addressing homelessness now and in the future is daunting. I’m proud to have Jun Yang as my newly appointed Director of Housing –to be our agent of change. Jun has been working closely with our Director of Department of Community Services, Pam Witty-Oakland and her staff, and with Hawaii’s State Coordinator on Homelessness Colin Kippen, to develop immediate, mid-range and long-term plans for combating homelessness.
As you know, Bill 7, a bill addressing nuisances on public sidewalks, is progressing through the City Council.
If this bill passes, I will sign it.
The law we are working with today, the Stored Property Ordinance, is a first step. But, the public should know that every time the Department of Facility Maintenance removes property from the sidewalks, it costs around 15,000 dollars for two days of work – one day to tag and the next day to remove. In the last SPO round, the city picked up 3.1 tons of property from the sidewalks in areas including Kalakaua Avenue and Thomas Square.
We need to approach this serious and growing problem with compassion, and I am making it a top priority.
Another upcoming priority is caring for our elderly population. The oldest of the baby boomers are now seniors, and cities around the world are addressing this rapid rise in our senior population. I want Honolulu to be better prepared and we need to start now.
About two weeks ago, I sent a letter of commitment to the AARP HAWAII requesting membership in their Network of Age-Friendly Cities. This program is affiliated with the World Health Organization, which currently has over 500 participating communities – cities and towns around the world, which are preparing for aging populations.
As part of that commitment, the City & County of Honolulu will be required to develop a plan of action, and to implement that plan during the following three years. Honolulu is already age-friendly in many ways, but we need to devote more resources to serve our kupuna, and going forward, we need to make sure that our planning, our infrastructure, our transportation services, our roads and streets, are all age-friendly.
There are so many ways that we can make things easier for seniors. I want to improve the HandiVan service, and I want to look at the way we approve permits for home improvements to help aging-in-place.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our senior generation. Recently, I went to the event honoring the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on the 70th anniversary. As we were leaving, my wife and I noticed an elderly man who looked lost. We helped him find the way back to his car, and it took us awhile because he had gotten quite disoriented.
We had a chance to talk story and I was so touched by his service to his country when he was probably just 18 years old at the time, the age of our daughter today.
This unassuming man sacrificed to make a better life for my generation, and I want to help make life better for them now.
The point I want to make is that we are all connected, and we can and should help each other. This is how we follow their example. We give it our all and we make Hawaii a better place than it was before.
On January 2nd, after I gave my inaugural speech in this very building, I entered Honolulu Hale with my wife Donna, who is here today, and our daughter Maya. As I stepped into the Mayor’s Office, the ceremonial office, which has seen so much of the city’s history, I was a deeply struck by the responsibility that now lay upon my shoulders.
I take this job very seriously because I care so much about this city.
We are still a young administration, but we are not daunted by the job. In less than 100 days, we have demonstrated that we are not afraid to look big problems in the eye and know what we need to do to get the job done.
We are the administration that wants to pave more roads than ever before. We are the administration that has a grander vision for our parks. We are the administration that is responsible for two of the largest public works projects in the city’s history – upgrading our sewer system and building rail.
Critics have called our plans too ambitious, but I say give us a chance to show what we can do. Others have argued that we can’t afford it, but I say we can’t afford not to invest in our future. When others say “no can!”, we say “how can?”
At every cabinet meeting, our wonderful director of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts, Misty Kelai, shares a Hawaiian saying that inspires us for the week. There is one that I would like to share with you this morning:
Hele no ka ‘ala, hele no ka lima.
Remember when I told you that we have a cabinet of poi pounders? Literally, this phrase means “the rock goes, the hand goes.” It means, in order to make good poi, the free hand must work in unison with the poi pounder. Keep both hands going to do good work.
As your Mayor, we are going to “make good poi.” We are going to work hard, we are going to work smart and in unison, every day, to take care of this city.