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COVID-19 Recovery, Rail, Budget Crisis Face Incoming Honolulu City Council

Casey Harlow / HPR
Honolulu Hale will see a new City Council and a new mayor with this year's elections.

Voters will fill three of the nine Honolulu City Council seats in the November 3rd general election. Two candidates have already won in the primary. All of the new councilmembers will not only help guide the city's recovery from COVID-19, but tackle problems O?ahu faced even before the pandemic.

Balancing the city's finances and its economic recovery efforts are tough enough, she said. But the recent turmoil between the city and rail authority, and increasing project costs, adds to the difficult issues facing the council.

Former state House Speaker Calvin Say won outright in his council primary, and succeeds Kobayashi in representing the Ala Moana, Kaimuki and M?noa district. He says he wants to hit the "pause button" on the now estimated $10 billion rail project.

"I would like to see if there is a continuation of the FBI investigation, in regards to any illegal dealings that occurred, and then to address the financial side," Say said.

"How much money did we generate -- the state of Hawai?i and the county of O?ahu -- on the TAT (transient accomodations tax) and also the GET (general excise tax)? Those are used to finance the rail project."

Say said pausing the project will not only help clear the air between the city and HART, but also see what is feasible with the last 4.1-mile stretch of the rail line known as the City Center project.

Another former state legislator, Andria Tupola, takes over Kymberly Pine's Leeward O?ahu seat, having also won in the primary. Pine terms out out on Jan. 1.

Like Say, Tupola said she wants to study the issues with rail. She unsure whether recent decisions and actions can be changed, and what might shift by the time she enters office. But she says she hopes to get some of her rail questions answered.

"One, were the decisions made at the ending of the current administration period benefiical for the completion of this project, or were they detrimental?" Tupola asked. "How then do we proceed with some of those decisions? How does this affect any pending federal funding?"

Tupola hopes to work with the next mayor and HART board of directors to understand the aspects of the project that are broken, and ensure its completion.

Issues that plagued O?ahu before the pandemic either largely remain unresolved or have been exacerbated, such as homelessness, poor infrastructure and lack of affordable housing.

Tupola said one of her priorities is tackling the high cost of living.

"The cost of living could be a plethora of issues -- from the unemployment office being non-responsive to getting resources to businesses regarding the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans," Tupola said.

"There's a lot of stress in the community that has to do with the cost of living."

Say said it is time to again discuss the city's sit-lie laws affecting the homeless, and give residents and the council the opportunity to air their concerns and further address those without shelter on Oahu.

He also wants to see infrastructure improvements.

"Infrastructure plays a major part in the sustainability of our overall economy," Say said. "I've got to ask . . . are we keeping up the pace in regards to the replacement of water lines and sewer lines that are breaking left and right?"

Remaining City Council seats

The three remaining council seats up for grabs span the island.

Windward O?ahu residents will choose between Esther Kia?aina and Greg Thielen to take over former Council Chair Ikaika Anderson's District 3 seat.

In Council member Ron Menor's District 9, former state Sen. Will Espero faces local comedian Augie Tulba to represent ?Ewa Beach, Mililani and Waikele.

Radiant Cordero and Jacob Aki compete for Joey Manahan's District 7 seat, which covers Aliamanu, Kalihi and Mapunapuna.

Council Chair Kobayashi believes the new council will have a good mix of new blood and experience. But whoever is chosen in these districts will have to take on numerous difficult issues if they hope to find solutions next year.

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