2015 State of the City Address
Transcript of Mayor Caldwell's third state of the city address.
HONOLULU – Mayor Kirk Caldwell delivered his third annual State of the City Address on Tuesday morning, February 24, 2015 at the Foster Botanical Garden. The location was chosen to highlight the Caldwell Administration’s commitment to park improvements.
The full video of the speech is available here: http://youtu.be/8JYgWR7HfcI
Mayor Caldwell delivered this year’s speech using only notes, without the use of the teleprompter. The following is a transcript of the speech as delivered.
Opening by Misty Kela‘i, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts:
Aloha kakahiaka kākou, ALOHA! E komo mai. Welcome to the 2015 State of the City Address. Mahalo for joining all of us here. This beautiful Hawaiian morning. I’m Misty Kela‘i, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts.
Ancient times, these grounds were well traveled paths from Windward O‘ahu to Downtown Honolulu. This area was nourished by the waters of the Nu‘uanu Stream. Wai, waters, from Waipuhia, the upside down waterfall deep in valley of Nuʻuanu. These grounds that we’re on, very waiwai. Very valuable to the kanaka, to the people. There were many scared heiau, lo‘i, kalo fields, all made possible by the wai of Nuʻuanu.
And now, please join me in welcoming the 14th Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, beginning his third year in office. The Honorable Kirk Caldwell. [Applause]
Speech by Mayor Kirk Caldwell:
Thank you, Misty. Good morning and aloha!
How do you guys feel? I feel pretty good standing in this very sacred place, Foster Botanical Gardens. It’s our oldest botanical gardens in the City & County of Honolulu. And as Misty mentioned, it is a very special place. These lands at one time belonged to Queen Kalama. The wife of Kamehameha III. A king who I believe is one of the most forward looking leaders Hawai‘i has ever had. Brought Hawai‘i forward into the modern times. And did so much for his people.
Queen Kalama loved this place, so very much. Later, she deeded it over to Dr. Hillebrand. Dr. Hillebrand was the Chief Medical Officer at Queen’s Hospital, just founded by Queen Emma and her husband.
Queen Emma, to me, is one of the most forward-looking women leaders in the history of Hawai‘i. She cared for her people. She fought to be the queen in a constitutional monarchy. She never gave up caring and loving for everyone.
If you look at the grounds of Queen’s Hospital, and these grounds, what do you see in similarity? The trees. Incredible trees that were planted by Dr. Hillebrand over 150 years ago. Dr. Hillebrand went back to Germany in the 1880’s and he transferred title of this property over to Malia Foster and Tom Foster. Malia Foster’s sister was Victoria Ward, where our Blaisdell sits today. A hapa-Hawaiian lady who cared much for this place also. Malia and Victoria played here, and they played down at the old plantation with the huge awai and fish ponds of that place. So we sit in a triangle between Foster Botanical Gardens, Queen’s Hospital and its beautiful grounds, and Blaisdell, connected together with incredible, incredible trees.
If you look just over here, this baobab tree from Africa, only 75 years old, but it looks to be hundreds of years old. And then right here, this tree, is our city’s tree. The golden shower, our cherry blossom. When they’re blooming down King Street, it’s as glorious as you see anywhere in the world. You look over here at this massive tree up here, this is the quipo tree, 75 to 80 years old, that girth looks like it’s been here forever.
Perhaps the oldest tree that we can see within this outdoor room is the tree behind us between those two tents. It’s a skinny tree. It’s a delicate tree. It was planted by Dr. Hillebrand over 150 years ago and it’s called the chaulmoogra tree. It has special meaning. Particularly for Native Hawaiians. Dr. Hillebrand brought that tree here and planted it because it helped to cure leprosy. You know the story of Kalaupapa. You know the sadness of that place and then the great hope by those who stepped up to help those who needed help needed help most. This tree was used as a partial cure. Sits here as a reminder, sits and breathes here to this very day and tells the story of this place.
When Malia Foster passed away in the 1930’s, she dedicated this property to be a botanical garden forever, to the City & County of Honolulu. More recently, in the 1960s, when I was growing up, we remember Joni Mitchell, and she wrote a song called the Big Yellow Taxi. It was a protest song, and it was a song of some sadness because she talked about paving parking lots in our paradise, here in Hawai‘i, place that she loved, and putting all the trees in a tree museum. That museum is here. She was singing about Foster Botanical Gardens.
But I don’t see this is a museum. Yes, it has incredible trees all around us, but it also has a presence to it, not just a past. You hear many voices. I just found out this morning that this Japanese lantern here was made by Ross Sasamura’s wife’s grandfather. Ross Sasamura is Director of Facility Maintenance. There’s a voice speaking here, right behind me, that’s part of our city team. But listen. Listen. [silence] How quiet.
What voices are speaking now? Queen Kalama’s voice? Kamehameha III’s voice? Queen Emma’s voice? Malia Foster and her sister Victoria Ward’s voice? Listen. You can hear Shama Thrushes. You can hear other birds. Do you hear your voice? This place is all of your voices.
As I look at each and every one of you, the most diverse population that exists anywhere in the world, your voices sing here today. Your stories, like the stories I’ve mentioned, are present. It’s a powerful, powerful voice. Your voices thrive here because of how we take care of this land. And how we take care of the land makes sure that we as a people thrive.
This land thrives through good infrastructure. That’s why this administration is all about infrastructure, more infrastructure, and more infrastructure. From the very beginning, when I took office, we committed to enhance and restore bus service. Committed to rebidding our sewer system. We committed to repaving more roads than ever before. We committed to take better care of our parks and that’s why we’re here this morning. And yes, we committed to build rail better. Then when we came into office, we also added homelessness to this list. This is about taking care of our infrastructure so all of us on this very small place, 640 square miles, a million souls strong almost, live better.
I do want to talk first and foremost about rail. It is the big elephant in this very big outdoor room. We need to talk about it. As a politician, I’m not going to run from it. I’m not going to blame anyone. I’m not going to look backwards and say, why didn’t you do this or that? I accept it’s happening under my watch. And we all need to work together to figure out how we’re going to address these cost increases.
But it helps me, I love history, to look back. I went back and looked back at what happened in 2005 when the legislature, through great courage, gave the City and County of Honolulu the authority to raise an excise tax surcharge by half a percent.
In the final debates, on the second day before the end of that session in 2005, debate went like this: We don’t know how much Hawai‘i’s rail system is going to cost. We don’t even know where the route is going to go. We don’t have a system, a type of technology we’re going to use. We haven’t designed anything. We don’t have a draft EIS or a final EIS.
But one of our voices, our senior senator Dan Inouye, told us, after 40 years of designing systems and then voting on how to pay for it, and then running away from having to raise the tax, is crazy. That’s the definition of insanity. He said, raise the money first, and then design the system.
The legislature said, we’re going to to listen to Senator Inouye and give the city and county the authority without knowing how much it’s going to cost. For a system that’s going to be called the locally preferred alternative. 26-miles. Once we started designing the system, once we got the federal commitment of $1.55 billion, we found out we did not have enough money to do the 26-miles. So we did what’s called the minimum operating segment. That’s 20-miles, and that’s the one we’re building.
Things looked really good when we started. But because of delays in accepting the final EIS, because of delays caused by lawsuits which were going to come, we were now pushed into the hottest construction market in the United States. Our climb in construction costs is faster than New York City or L.A., the two other very hot markets.
So what do we do about this? We have three choices, in my mind. The first choice is to extend the excise tax for some number of years. We’re paying it now and we continue to pay it to 2022. And we could extend it from then on, paying the same amount we pay today.
Why do I like that choice? Because our visitors pay one-third of that tax. $14 billion in revenue is collected every year in this state from our visitor industry. It is by far the largest segment, largest industry in our state. They love coming here, and they don’t complain about paying the surcharge.
I believe it’s the fairest way, because what happens if we don’t do the excise tax extension? People say, mayor, why don’t you propose raising real property taxes? Something I absolutely do not want to do. All of us sitting here today pay 100 percent of that [property taxes] to build rail? Why would I as Mayor want to give the visitors a break and make all of us pay everything? Let’s make the visitors pay the one-third.
I don’t know if the city council will vote for a large increase in real property taxes on top of having to actually vote to extend the surcharge. That’s two major hits they need to take. I don’t know if they’re willing to do that. I will put in the bills, but I think the choice needs to be excise tax.
The third choice, the one I just don’t want to accept, but it is an alternative. Stop. Don’t build any more. Tear down what you build.
That’s crazy to me. We sit in gridlock every day. We made a promise to the folks on the west side. We made a promise to those folks moving to the ‘Ewa plain under a general growth plan in the 1970’s. We said, 70 percent of all the growth on this island will occur in the ‘Ewa plain. Then we doomed them with one freeway, with no other choice.
Rail is about giving people a choice to get out of their cars and travel quickly and efficiently to and from Kapolei, the ‘Ewa plain, into town and back. It is about building an integrated multimodal transportation system that our capital city deserves and needs. For the future. We are becoming not only the capital of this area, but a true capital of the Pacific Basin. We need a multimodal integrated transportation system, and that’s why the choice of stopping and going back 40 years with no other solution is unacceptable to me.
So those are the choices we have. I hope at the end of the day, after much debate and dialogue, that the legislature will give the authority to the City and County of Honolulu to extend the excise tax, sufficient to cover the cost increase and complete the locally preferred alternative of 26-miles.
Bus service. It’s about bus and rail together, folks. It’s an integrated system. That’s why I’m against taking any of the federal bus money to help build our rail system. $210 million. The Council and I stand aligned on this issue. Can you imagine what it would do to our bus system?
Our bus system is incredible. It’s one of the five most heavily used in the United States of America. And it’s the only system that that’s not tied to a rail system yet. 100,000 residents and visitors ride our bus every day. 225,000 rides taken every day. We are a mass transit riding community. It is a great system. It is about social justice and transportation equity for all of us.
And because of this, we have worked hard to enhance and restore nine bus routes since we’ve come into office. The most recent one was a couple of months ago, the Mākaha CountryExpress! Route E. People were complaining from Mākaha that they had to get up so early in the morning to come into town to Waikīkī to sit and wait for bus transfers in the dark, at four in the morning. To sit and wait for bus transfers going home, after working night shift cleaning rooms in Waikīkī. That is not fair. So now we have an express bus direct into town, into Waikīkī, to take care of our hard working folks who take care of us. [applause]
We’re doing even more. We are going to, next couple of weeks, unveil our first hybrid-electric bus in the City and County of Honolulu and the State of Hawai‘i. It’s going to be quiet, so the folks in dense Kalihi on King Street don’t have to hear a lot of noise when they’re walking down the sidewalk. And our visitors on Kūhiō (Street) will not have to hear a lot of noise when the buses go by. It’s going to be quiet but also going to use a lot less fuel, and the emissions are so low, we’re doing more for our environment and not contributing to global warming. I’m so excited we’re beginning this course of bringing more hybrid-electric buses to the City and County of Honolulu. [applause]
Then, we gave one of our (old) buses to Mark Rigg of EMS, because they wanted to have a bus when there’s a mass casualty event and they need to transport people from wherever the event occurs to the hospital. How do they care for them? We gave them a bus, retrofitted with 24 beds. If there’s a really bad situation, they can go and get folks, put them in these beds and treat them as they rush them to the hospital. This is a good thing for all of us.
Sewer. Without it, we are in big trouble. Some would say “big kukai.”
Here are really, some really cool things. One, since I took office, under the hard working people at Environmental Services, we have rehabilitated 100-miles of sewer pipe infrastructure in two years. And we’re not stopping.
Here is one really cool thing. Just a couple of weeks ago, we dedicated building a gigantic gravity flow sewer tunnel between Kane‘ohe and Kailua. It is 13-feet in diameter. When we put the piping, it’s going to be ten feet. Instead of pumping sewage under pressure using electricity, sewage is going to flow by gravity from Kane‘ohe to Kailua to the sewage treatment facility. It has huge capacity, so in wet weather events, it can handle any water intrusion. So it doesn’t empty out into bays, rivers and other places like that.
I love this project. It’s over $200 million. We have a puka in Kailua that goes 80 feet in diameter and 63 feet deep.
DSC_0036This pohaku right here, this came from that puka. [Mayor holds up pokahu (rock)] It reminds me of the hard working men and women who are down there digging this tunnel, three miles (long), 400 feet below Oneawa Hills, so that we can live better on the windward side. I like touching it. It connects me to this place and to those people.
Ala Moana Force Main. We are pumping sewage under pressure and it ain’t pretty if it breaks.
But we are doing a good job of rebuilding that system so the folks in Waikīkī and Kaka‘ako can continue to live well and we can build more hotel units, more housing for our people. What is so darn cool, we have now built a pipe that goes down on one side of Honolulu Harbor, underneath the harbor entrance, and up to the other side to Sand Island. That is pretty darn cool.
I have to say, we’re doing incredible stuff regarding sewage.
Finally, something I’m really excited about and here’s new news, come April or May of this year, we are going to be burning our sludge at H-Power, generating electricity.
Some of you may wonder, what is sludge? Sludge is what’s left over after you treat the sewage. It’s a very viscous, almost like mud. It’s not that good smelling. Right now it goes into the landfill at Waimanalo Gulch. We don’t want to do that anymore. We don’t want to put more stuff in our landfill. We want less stuff.
Right now, about 92 to 93 percent of all the opala we generate on this island is either burned or recycled. We lead the nation in terms of large municipalities treating our garbage in a better way. But now we’re going to treat our sludge in a better way by putting it into our H-Power, burning it, and generating electricity. Not having to import more oil and ship dollars off. I can’t wait to shovel that first shovel of sludge into H-Power facilities.
Fourth priority, road repaving. We continue to go gangbusters. When you think about it, in just two years, we paved, repaved, over 700 lane miles of our roads around this island. 700! I don’t think any administration, federal, state, county, ever has repaved that many roads in just two years. We have 800 more (lane miles) to go in three years and I hope we finish before then, but we’re not stopping. It is a fantastic thing that we’re doing.
Here is what we’re doing right now. As you know, we’re repaving Atkinson (Drive) on one end of Waikīkī and Kapahulu (Avenue) on the other. And when it’s pau, it’s going to make riding on the streets smoother and easier for everyone. We started on Beretania, another major thoroughfare, one of the oldest streets built in 1900, started to repave it. Did the bus pads. When we started to pull off the asphalt, within just half an inch, we found utility lines, we found gas lines, we even found one of (Honolulu Environmental Services Director) Lori Kahikina’s sewage systems from the 1900’s, less than a couple inches from the surface.
To do it (repave Beretania) right (“full depth reconstruction”), we would have to delay and dig up the roads and spend months, if not years, driving the public crazy. We’re doing so many roads and so many other construction projects. So we stopped, evaluated, and now we’ve announced today that we’re going to start repaving but we’re going to just repave the top 3 inches which is called “mill and fill.” We’re going to do that first and work on relocating the utilities deep enough in the coming years. Seven or eight years from now, we’ll come back. When all the other roads are finished, when rail is finished, all of this major construction is finished. Because we care about the public and we’re not afraid to change what we’re going to do when we see a better way to go.
Finally, what are we doing right now in road repaving? We’re in Kalihi. We’re in Kamehameha Heights. We’re in Kane‘ohe. We’re in Pālolo. We’re on the North Shore. We’re in Hawai‘i Kai. We’re everywhere around the island.
This coming year, in the budget we’re going to be submitting next week, we are going to be putting $110 million into our road repaving program for the coming year. That’s down from $150 million in our first year. And down from $130 million in the second year. Why is that? We want to use the money we absolutely need to use, and we don’t need as much to continue to meet our goals of repaving more roads.
In the coming year, we’re going to be in Wai‘anae. We’re going to be in Nānākuli and we’re going to be in Maile because we’re not turning our backs on the west side either. When I ran, I said I wanted to be the mayor for every side including the west side.
Our fifth priority, our parks. We sit in one of them today. Getting more beautiful as the sun goes higher in the sky.
We have over 5,000 acres of parks. 300 parks around this island. We need to show them greater love and greater care. They are our front doors. They are our backyards. We need to treat them like our yards and not a place to be trashed, not loved and not taken care of. That’s why, today, I’m announcing E Pāka Kākou for our parks. What does E Pāka Kākou mean? It means “our parks together.”
Yes, we in the city government need to step up and do more for our parks. But we need our community to step up with us together to take care of these parks. So we’re initiating a two-pronged approach with this new E Pāka Kākou initiative.
The first prong is more money. We’re dedicating $2 million more above our CIP (Capital Improvement Project) funding, dedicated to do this: 24 restrooms in parks around this island are going to be refurbished over the next year. Two a month. And what does that mean? It means going into the restroom, fixing spalling, replacing concrete, putting in new tiles, putting in new fixtures, power-washing everything so the tiles sparkle again, and then micro-guarding it. Putting a coat on it, so it cleans easier and doesn’t smell. Keep those bathrooms looking great.
Second part of it is choosing 16 parks where there’s playground apparatus that are falling apart or damaged through vandalism. We’re going to restore them and make them new again.
These are the new parks. 24 bathrooms, 16 playground apparatus. What we’re going to do is we’re going to tell you which parks we’re going to do it in. We’re going to show you before and after pictures. We’re going to post it on our website and you can measure our success and see what it looks like.
The first two bathrooms we’re going to be doing is Asing Community Park in ‘Ewa Beach, (Councilmember) Kym Pine would be happy if she was here, and Kawānanakoa Neighborhood Park in Pauoa. I don’t know if (Councilmember) Carol Fukunaga is here but she’ll be happy about that too. The first playground we’re going to do is Kamiloiki Community Park in Hawai‘i Kai. That’s just the first prong.
The second prong is the kākou thing, about getting people to step up to help. Because improvement will not last unless the community steps up and says: That is our bathroom. This our playground. We don’t like what you’re doing to this place. This is like doing something to our own playground, in our yard, or our own bathroom. Stop! Or we’re calling the police. We’re going to make sure that we malama this place.
This is the 30th anniversary of the Adopt a Park program. We want to really strengthen it and build it up so as we choose these bathrooms and playgrounds, we’re going to reach out to the folks in the community, whether it be the Hawaiian civic clubs, the canoe clubs, neighborhood board, school teams, sports teams. We’ll say please come and help, and then please watch and stop. If we can do this, we can make a huge difference.
It can work because we saw it happen recently at Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park. The community out there was screaming for better care for this park. The surf center out there built by Baywatch (the TV series), years ago, and it was falling down. Homelessness was rampant. People were not treating this park well.
The community stepped forward. They repainted the surf center. They trimmed the naupaka bushes and the hao bushes. They have beach clean-ups and picnics. They go back and say, look at what we’ve done. It looks so great. Because they care so much, the community started to care too. The park begins to look better.
We want to see the Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park implemented in all the places we go to, to fix up bathrooms and playground equipment. At the end of the day, it’s about: we step up, you step up. We all win. I’m asking all of us to step up.
The sixth priority deals with homelessness. Highly controversial, criticized for things we do, either in the enforcement side or not doing enough on the compassion side.
As mayor, I don’t run from the problem. I don’t say it’s someone else’s problem. I recognize it’s happening under my watch and we all need to work together.
We were told by providers when I became mayor that if we allow homeless people to stay on our sidewalks and in our malls and in our parks, and not approved camping areas, we are enabling that kind of activity, and folks will not move into shelters where they can get cared for and help.
(Police) Chief (Louis) Kealoha knows this: It’s not safe on our streets and roads at night because since I’ve been mayor, seven homeless have killed seven homeless on our streets. No one has been killed in any shelter. We want our homeless to go into shelter.
Through this compassionate disruption, providers have told us there’s been a great uptick in people moving into (and seeking services at) shelters. Sit/lie, in Waikīkī first, and sit/lie in Downtown and Chinatown and other commercial districts around our island, and now sit/lie in our malls in Downtown and in Chinatown, we’re making a difference. People say Waikīkī looks better.
We’re using Stored Property Ordinance and Sidewalk Nuisance (Ordinance) to also do it in other places around the community. Department of Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura and his team, since we took office, have collected now 323-tons of stuff from our sidewalks and malls. 323 TONS! Can you imagine what our community would look like if we weren’t picking up all of that opala? I’ve been told that if we brought those 323-tons to this great outdoor room, and filled this area, it would be 30 feet high. The entire park. Think about that. We need to continue to do this.
At the same time, we need to show compassion. How we treat our homeless says much about who we are as a people. I think we do have compassion. Great compassion. Here’s what we’re doing on the compassion side. We are embracing the Housing First model. Federal government is pushing around this country. That means we find chronic homeless individuals, we put them into a house, an apartment, first. Then we say get better. Deal with why you are drugs, drug addictions, alcohol addictions, and mental illness. We’ll provide that support. Help you to get better. And then can you get back on your feet again. It works. We made a commitment to house 400 folks in the next couple of years. Made a commitment to house 115 by the end of this year. We’re at 31 homeless individuals and families as of today. [Applause]
I’m also very proud of this fact on the compassion side. Folks in Chinatown have been screaming for a true public restroom for years. Now, we’ve opened one up at Pauahi Hale. We call it the hygiene center. Very first one in the entire state of Hawai‘i. What’s so cool about it, if you’re a homeless person, want to get cleaned up, you can go to Pauahi Hale. Check in. They’ll give you a towel. They’ll give you shampoo. They’ll give you soap. They’ll give you a razor and shaving cream, toothbrush and toothpaste, and say go take a shower. Get cleaned up. Come back tomorrow if you want another shower.
This is about compassion and helping those who need help the most. We are doing that right smack dab in Chinatown just a few blocks from here.
The other thing we’re doing is we have our first 24-7 restroom open in Waikīkī. It was a pilot. It’s working. We found that, yes, homeless folks use it. But visitors use it too when they come out of nightclubs late at night and have to go shi-shi. We’re also finding local folks use it, dawn patrol surf groups, guys who want to walk on the beach with their honeys under the full moon, got to use the bathroom. They have a place to use the restroom. We’re working with the Waikīkī Business Improvement District Association to continue this for another year. So we have put in our Fiscal Year 2016 budget, money to partner up with the WBID, keep this restroom open for another year. [Applause]
In addition, as you know, we have the Strategic Development office now open. It’s under the Department of Community Services, but it reports to the Mayor’s Office. They’re tasked with making sure they manage all of our physical assets but also Housing First and our affordable housing initiative.
Finally, when I went to Washington last month, I took the pledge as a Mayor of one of 25 of the largest cities in the country to end chronic veteran’s homelessness by the end of this year. [Applause] Our veterans went abroad, served multiple tours of duty, put their lives on the line for all of us, came back, and have had a hard time integrating back into our community. They’ve fallen by the wayside. We’re going to reach out and bring them back in and say “thank you” by housing them in a Housing First model. We are putting money in our budget, Fiscal Year 2016 budget, to create three new positions that are going to focus exclusively on homelessness to make sure that we hit all of the goals and targets we set for ourselves on the homelessness issue.
Those are our six priorities. I want to talk just about a few other things. Last year, remember, we announced that we’re going to replace all of our 51,000 street lights with L.E.D. lights. We had Misty Kela’i stand under a light and turn it on, and she shined and sparkled. She even did an aria, I think. She’s doing it again. [laughter] It’s the right thing to do. Saves energy. More than a third. It creates a brighter light. It makes it safer for our pedestrians.
As you know, we ranked first in the nation for killing seniors in crosswalks. Shame, shame. We need to do more. So we’ve been working hard because it’s a big effort. We’ve put out RFP (request for proposals). We’re going to be opening the RFP next month in March. And then we’re going to begin replacing those old-fashioned lights with bright, directed L.E.D. lights. It’s going to save a lot of energy and help us become more green and sustainable.
I wanted to talk about some new appointments. More about looking forward. We couldn’t do the job that I described under six priorities unless the 8,500 hard working civil servants, part of our city team, didn’t get up every morning and go to work to deliver. And they do. What they do helps us get to the goals that we have set.
In addition, we have an incredible team in the Mayor’s Cabinet and Managing Director’s office, all of who are here today. I call them our poi pounders. There’s no tantaran here. No showing off. They come in, do the work, get the job done. Pound the poi. They feed our people. I want to thank all of them for their hard work and dedication. [Applause]
At every Cabinet meeting I end with, Chief of Fire and Police, I say thank you for working hard the past week. Go out and work hard this coming week and move the needle. Make a difference.
It’s kind of like saying, say no can, without a can. Right, Shan? We can. I know Shan can too. We are all about can and not no can. Can’t do it without the great team we have.
I’m very proud that Roy Amemiya has agreed and has now been confirmed as new Managing Director. Roy, please stand and be recognized. [applause] We are so lucky to have Roy. He worked at two of the largest local banks in Hawai‘i. He understands finance and he understands the private sector. He was the budget director under Mayor Harris. He understands the budget. And he understands government.
But here’s what I like almost more. Before he agreed to take this job, he was the CEO of ‘Ōlelo. Now, ‘Ōlelo is that television station that brings government to the people and the people to government. It’s about openness and transparency. It’s about being an open book. This administration is about that. We now have a Managing Director who understands that, knows how to operate it, make sure that we are an open and transparent government. [Applause] He also comes from a family of public servants. The Amemiya clan runs far and wide, and they’ve done much for our community. I also like the fact that he’s from Wahiawa. One town over from Waipahu, my home town.
Second, we’ve been looking for a new Director of Community Services for a while. Finally, he we realized the best man for the job is on the job, and that’s Gary Nakata, the Deputy Director. Gary, please stand up and be recognized. He has a lot of passion and compassion. And we know he’s going to continue to work really hard.
Third, our zoo. There’s been a lot of talk about the zoo and the city not showing it enough love. I want to assure everyone, this City and County government loves our zoo. I know the people of this island love our zoo. A million strong. I think the people of the state love this zoo. When I was a kid growing up in Hilo, if we came here, we always went to the zoo. Check things out before Pana‘ewa [Rainforest Zoo & Gardens in Hilo] got started. It’s a great place.
But we need a zoo director who is committed to staying for the long haul. Who loves the place, who is not going to quit and then talk stink. Enough of that in my mind.
We have found a new zoo director in our assistant director, and that is Baird Fleming, new zoo director. Baird, please stand up and be recognized. See, the young man with the young family, he loves this place. He’s not leaving. Right, Baird? [laughter] We got you on the record. I walked with him around the zoo many times. You can see he loves the animals. What I see even more, he loves the keepers who take care of the animals. He’s going to do an excellent job and help us show more love for the zoo. Thank you so much, Baird, for stepping up.
Finally, before I conclude, I wanted to talk about fiscal prudence and austerity. We’re doing a lot of stuff, right? You guys are saying, whoa, man. You’re spending our money, building sewers, repaving roads, doing all of these things. You must be spending a lot of money.
We’ve committed to watch the money. In the first two years of my administration, our spending is flat. How do we do all of these new initiatives and still make spending flat? And this is after collective bargaining increases because of Furlough Fridays ending and because of these new programs.
We’re doing it by watching how we spend every dollar. We’re doing some new things that have never been done before. One, last year, we implemented zero based budgeting. First time that any government in Hawai‘i has done that.
So, doing it the old way, what was your budget last year? This much. How much more do you need?
We say your budget is zero and you have to justify every dollar you want. Which means we spend more efficiently, more effectively. Private sector does this. We’re doing it.
Then the second one is performance metrics. Something the private sector does too. We want you to get your money based on your performance. So to start the program, we are we’re picking customer service. Which we believe that customer service is the best way to touch the people and make sure we treat them well.
Showing more great fiscal prudence is something I hope the council agrees with too. This coming budget, Fiscal Year 2016, we’re going to submit to the council next week, we’re putting $30 million more into our “rainy day fund.” $10 million more than last year. We’re committed to putting more. And I know that money sparkles out there for everyone’s favorite projects but I hope it stays right there in the rainy day fund.
Secondly, we’ve heard a lot about our unfunded liability for retirement costs and healthcare costs. We want to fund that requirement. The state legislature passed a law last year that requires that we fund it at 40 percent in this Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Something new: we’re funding it at 77 percent because we want to get further ahead than and we have to, so when it’s once funded it becomes sustainable and we don’t have to put more money into it. This is going to be way beyond my time as Mayor. But it’s the absolute right thing to do and we’re asking that the council show the same fiscal discipline that we have shown to keep that money there and not be touched.
A couple other looking-forward initiatives. Just going to touch on them. Affordable housing. The Star-Advertiser had a great article in the Sunday paper about our affordable housing initiative. Three pronged.
Accessory dwelling units is prong one. Allow small second homes, 500 square feet on lots about 20,000 strong. That’s a lot more affordable rental units.
Second one is Transit-Oriented Development. Incentivize building more affordable housing around the train stations.
Finally we’re going to be putting in legislation requiring developers to build more for the market where the greatest demand is. 80 percent of demand for housing is in an area where families of four make only $76,000, and we’re going to ask them to build to that market and not to the higher market where the demand is less.
Age-friendly cities. One of my strong supporters and dear friends say you need to become a more age friendly city. I listened, marching forward, continuing with the age friendly initiative. A couple weeks ago, we had a conference at the Japanese Cultural Center. 500 folks attended. Now we’re putting together the report on the next steps to make us a more age-friendly city for our kupuna and our keiki. It’s not a report to sit on a shelf. It’s about actually doing things. So we live better in the City and County of Honolulu.
Blaisdell Center’s future
Finally, Blaisdell. She just became 50 years old. Yes, Elvis. It’s been 50 years since then. She’s showing her age. What do we do? Do we pour more money into an aging facility? Do we tear it all down? Rebuild parts of it? Do we pull it back and open up the ‘auwai again, the ancient Hawaiian fish pond? What do we do?
We’ve hired some of the best and brightest from around the country to work with all of us and then reach out to the community to say, what do you want to see our Blaisdell for the next 50 years look like? I’m excited about this, and I can’t wait to see what the proposals are.
We’ve talked a lot about change this morning. We’re dealing with it. I tell you, rail is controversial, homelessness is controversial, but something that’s more than controversial than all of that: the protected bike lane on King Street. I’ve never seen more letters to the editor for and against. Never seen more TV stations down there covering people riding and not riding. I’ve never seen the paper cover something more than this protected bike lane. [laughter]
Mike Formby and I, the Director of Transportation Services, when we started talking about this as a pilot, we asked, do you think some of the folks driving cars are going to be upset? Probably. But we didn’t know they were going to be that upset.
Here’s what we found out. In order to make a difference in our community, we need to embrace change. It happens anyway. How do we embrace change and go in a direction where we live better?
I do believe multimodal transportation means protected bike lanes too. I believe that if we stay the course, maybe 50 years from now, we’ll ride like they ride in Europe. We’ll ride like they ride in Asia. They’ll also drive, take the train, they’ll walk, and maybe other modes of transportation.
We can’t let fear hold us back. If we’re really going to thrive in a place like this, it is about taking bold initiatives, it’s about trying new things and new infrastructure, it’s about taking care of this island. In turn, taking care of all of us.
It’s been two years and I don’t have a regret, every morning when I wake up, that I’m Mayor. Even on the worst days of rail, I wake up and say, I am so darn lucky and humbled by the opportunity to serve the people of this community. I am so darn lucky. I think it is the most beautiful place in the world.
Look where we sit today. In the middle of paradise, in the middle of downtown Honolulu.
Drive up to now to Nuuanu, you’re in virgin rainforests in five minutes. Drive down to the harbor, you’ll see papio swimming around. What other place do we see that?
God gave us good bone structure, but what’s more important are the people in this room and around this island.
I look at your faces looking at me and there is no one in the majority. Each of you, just like the voices in this great botanical garden, tell many stories. Native Hawaiians allowed the rest of us to come and thrive. We tell our stories together.
You go to different things, Chinese New Year or any other special event, and we want to hear your stories. Really want to hear it. We want to share ours and you want to hear ours too. What a place.
Nowhere else on the earth has the type of diversity that we have. I get to be the Mayor of this place. I am so lucky. It’s the best public servant job you can have anywhere in the world.
I can make a difference with all of you. I’m asking you to travel with me. Continue this journey. To weigh in. Get upset when you think we’re not doing the right thing. But to stick with us. And help us become a better community.
I want to thank each and every one of you for those here and for those watching on TV, I want to let you know that we have great love for all of you. We want to do the right thing. Mahalo and aloha! Love all of you! Thank you!