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State of the City Address
Mayor Peter B. Carlisle
February 24, 2011
Good morning and aloha. I am grateful to many of Hawai`i’s most distinguished leaders for being here this morning, including Senator Daniel Inouye, president pro tempore of the United States Senate, Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, distinguished members of our state legislature, City Council chair Nestor Garcia and the City Council, and Mau‘i Mayor Alan Arakawa. I am also grateful for the attendance of fellow employees of the city and
Since the election for mayor concluded in September of last year a vast number of people have spoken to me. Some formally and some informally. Some who were friends and some who were strangers. Some spoke to me at Honolulu Hale and some out on the streets. From the results of the election and from what people were telling me a number of conclusions were apparent. Many were not satisfied with – and did not trust – the leadership of government in general - and in Honolulu Hale specifically. They were tired of the gridlock caused by endless antics of partisan politics. They were tired of politicians who were more concerned with getting re-elected – or moving to higher office – rather than doing the job they had been elected to do. They were tired of being given empty promises prior to the election, and after the election having elected officials laying the blame elsewhere and making excuses.
But most of all, people wanted to be told the truth and the whole truth even if it was hard to hear. It was their feeling that government should change, and their fervent hope that government could change, and would change. The word change can simply mean, “something becomes different.” Like a car tire that runs over a large pothole, and becomes flat. But change can also mean “something is transformed.” Transformation is an evolutionary process. Like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. “Transformation” is a concept that will be discussed several times today as we review the challenges facing our city.
There are many challenges facing city government - and a relatively short 2-year window in which to overcome them. As I settle into this job, and come to understand the issues and expectations of the city and county – several jump right out and demand attention. First, there has been a dramatic increase in borrowing by the city and
In discussing the state of the city and how to approach the future, there are four strategic areas where we will focus our efforts:
More Professional Management, Less Politics
The style of leadership at Honolulu Hale today has shifted from one that was shaped by political expediency to one that emphasizes professional management. We believe that less politics and more professional management includes utilizing and not tossing out the knowledgeable and experienced human resources who share our vision, openness and transparency in government, and cooperating with, and not competing against, other branches of government to improve the lives of our citizens
This administration did not come into Honolulu Hale and sweep out the talented and experienced directors running the city departments. There was pressure to do so and we have been criticized for not doing so. The term “cleaning house” might be acceptable politically or even expected, but it is not necessarily the best way to run a government or a business in the private sector. We wanted experienced and professional city leadership, so we prevailed upon those talented and knowledgeable individuals who shared our philosophy of change to remain on the city team. Among them – and I’m not going to name everyone – were Information Technology Director Gordon Bruce, Human Resources Director Noel Ono, Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger, Planning and Permitting Director David Tanoue, and Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka. In addition, several new directors have joined us from outside city government, including Sam Moku, director of Community Services, Westley Chun, director of Facility Maintenance, and Clarke Bright, director of the Royal Hawaiian Band.
We also promoted several experienced public servants to become department directors or deputies, including Budget and Fiscal Services Director Mike Hansen with 20 years of experience in his department, Parks and Recreation Director Gary Cabato with 20 years in his department, Design and Construction Director Collins Lam, 15 years experience, 2 of those in his department, Design and Construction Deputy Lori Kahikina-Moniz with 17 years of experience, 6 of those with the city, and Emergency Services Deputy Mark Rigg with 27 years in his department. Retaining good people and promoting the best from within the ranks ensures continuity of operations within the city, increases employee morale, improves city services, and in my view, is the right thing to do.
We also want to promote transparency and public trust in this administration. Openness in government operations and decision-making goes hand in hand with more professionalism and less politics. For the first time the financial disclosures of all city cabinet members that are required by the ethics commission will be placed online. We have also redesigned the city website to be more user-friendly and to provide you with more information. We welcome all suggestions to improve the site even more.
Just as when we were at the prosecutor’s office, we have an open-door policy with the media and we are streamlining and expediting requests for city documents and records. We subscribe to the principle that that information should be shared as much as possible and we intend to share it. If we are asking you to help shoulder the recovery of city government, then you should understand and appreciate what the city is facing, why it is in the shape it is in, and how we intend to fix it.
Along with professionalism and transparency, we are striving for cooperation with all other branches of government. Working together is the need of the hour. In the past few months, Honolulu Hale has been transformed by new faces, not just in the executive branch, but by five newly elected council members. Joining with the experience and strong institutional knowledge of council chair Nestor Garcia and council members Ikaika Anderson, Romy Cachola and Ann Kobayashi, it has been a pleasure to welcome council members Tom Berg, Stanley Chang, Breene Harimoto, Ernie Martin and Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo to the legislative team. What has been most encouraging so far is the professional approach and tone to managing the city – the feeling of “let’s work together to get things done.” The Mayor’s Office and the City Council seats are all non-partisan positions. And while the council members have been elected to advocate for their district constituents, in the end both the council and the mayor answer to all citizens of the City and
The need for cooperation holds true as well for the relationship between the city and the state governments. The taxpayers on the island of O`ahu are the same people, and the city and state need to work with each other and not against each other to collectively make their lives better. I believe we are off to a great start in this direction. All of us learned that important lesson this past Tuesday when hundreds of leaders, both private and public, former administrations and current, stood together in East Kapolei to break ground on the Honolulu rapid transit rail project. Getting big tasks done clearly requires a united effort.
The city will do its part to balance the interests of the City and
A great example happening right now where agencies are putting aside political agendas to cooperate on a common problem comes in the area of addressing homelessness and affordable housing. This is a big problem that has faced O`ahu for a very long time. Prior administrations have struggled to come up with viable solutions to this complex, difficult, and long-standing problem. I acknowledge Governor Abercrombie for his leadership in this area and for his appointment of Father Marc Alexander to specifically address the serious problem of homelessness in the state. In addition, the hard work of the legislators across the street to come up with public-private housing solutions has not gone unnoticed by us. There will be 2.5 million dollars in our executive budget from the city’s affordable housing fund to create an affordable housing partnership with the state. A new office of housing in the city, scheduled to start in July, will work closely with the state and the private sector to streamline and coordinate help to those in need. In anticipation of the new office of housing, the city will also be launching an informational website on homelessness. This one-stop-site will provide information on city programs, answers to frequently asked questions regarding homelessness on O`ahu, and contact information for service providers and available shelters.
Whether the issue is affordable housing, maintaining infrastructure, providing jobs, or preparing for major events such as hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference later this year, it has been made perfectly clear that the last thing most people want to see is “politics as usual.” In short, the framework of this administration’s message is professionalism. Many are sick and tired of politics. They want to see the professional management of their government, by talented and experienced experts in their fields, a transparent process, and their government leaders moving away from finger-pointing, and moving towards collaboration over hard and difficult solutions.
Tackling the City’s Financial Health
Within that framework of professionalism, the second strategic area of focus for this administration is tackling the city’s financial health, the greatest problem facing the city today. The financial problems include the dramatic increase in borrowing by the city and resultant decrease in resources to run the city, the increase in demand on our sorely neglected and poorly maintained infrastructure, such as our roads, sidewalks, and sewer and water systems; and the city’s need to stimulate and revitalize the economy, including job creation.
To understand how we will restore the city’s financial health, you first need to be told the truth about where the city is right now. It is not pretty. What you need to know is that the most serious financial crisis of our generation is not simply happening at the federal and state levels of government. It has enormous impact on the city and
In addition, as you heard in the news, pension fund and health benefit fund payments across the nation are projected to skyrocket over the next several years. This is true for
One of the most remarkable aspects of the current shortfall is how quickly it has grown. As recently as 2000, the pension system covering government workers for the state and
Separate and apart from the employee’s retirement fund is the city’s health benefits trust fund. The latest projections show the city’s contribution to the health benefits trust fund increasing from $103 million this year to $162 million in 2016. Equally concerning is the amount currently in the city’s fiscal stability or “rainy day” fund: $29 million. That is only enough to keep the city operating for five days.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the State of the City. How, you ask, do we get out of this mess? There are no easy ways out. The easy choices have already been made – and now the hard decisions remain. Debt service will not go down overnight. Pension and health fund payments will not go away. We all know that the state government is struggling financially as well. Decisions made both across the street at the state capitol and here at city hall will impact people’s lives. This news can’t be easy for anyone to hear, and particularly difficult if you have been in the private sector without a job for any period of time, but the time has come for all of us to have a mature and honest conversation about these painful truths. Ultimately, the solution will call upon everyone to share in the sacrifice. There can be no sacred cows.
Next week on March 2, this administration will present its first executive budget. We will have the opportunity to share more details at that time, but for now, here are some fiscal priorities we all need to face. First and foremost, the City must sharply reduce its long-term borrowing for long-term projects. If we borrow, we have long-term debt. Long term debt payments subtract from the total dollars available to the City Council and the Mayor to keep the city running. By reducing the city’s borrowing we can bend the debt curve over time and stop it from increasing. Second, the executive budget will propose increases to certain user fees, many of which have not been raised in over a decade or more. This was something wisely suggested by Council chair Nestor Garcia during his opening day speech at the start of the year, and it makes tons of sense. In particular – except for The Bus – we are looking closely at whether taxpayers should continue to subsidize a number of city services, where the current fee structure has remained the same but does not actually pay for the service. This is not a sensible way to manage these services during these times. It must change.
The “most dangerous” people, but more accurately, the “most vocal” people to deal with on the planet Earth are golfers over the age of 60! Joking aside, they pay a weekday rate of $4.50 for a round of golf. The public pays the rest. There is nothing wrong with this. If there is a cheap round of golf to be had, golfers would want to take advantage of the service. But the richest people on this island have the same opportunity to buy a round of taxpayer subsidized golf on a public golf course as the poorest people on this island. In fact, we should be taking the exact opposite approach. Fees should pay for the services that the city is providing in a fair and equitable manner. And there is a foundation for this. City Council Resolution 06-222 states, “Whenever the City charges user fees, those fees shall be phased toward covering 100 percent of the cost of service delivery…unless such amount prevents an individual from obtaining an essential service.”
To divest ourselves of functions beyond our core services, we are developing plans to offer the 12 affordable housing properties to qualified parties who would continue to operate those properties under existing terms of affordability. Doing so will enable us to retire a number of financial obligations, eliminate significant liabilities and free up resources in several departments. That effort is being spearheaded by the mayor’s project management office, and the property management branch of the Department of Facility Maintenance.
We are also looking into selling off a significant number of remnant parcels and other non-productive pieces of real estate. These properties require money and manpower to maintain, and represent potential liabilities to the city. I have asked the purchasing division of the Department of Budget and Fiscal services to compile an inventory of those properties, and to develop realistic pricing policies that will enable us to offer these properties for public sale. This will enhance the financial position of the city. We will also be looking at some pilot projects to streamline and maximize city parking spaces. The current approach to parking is primitive and inefficient. To increase efficiency and revenues, the city should begin with a “single-source responsibility center” with a highly qualified parking manager who can coordinate on-street and off-street parking.
There are several opportunities to upgrade existing parking technology to make facilities more user-friendly and to raise the existing system to state-of-the art standards. One of the options being explored is replacing the existing parking meters with a new, state-of-the art parking system that includes credit card acceptance. The benefits of this action include improved revenues, controls, management, and added user convenience. A study of seven cities that accept credit cards for on-street parking demonstrated that without a rate increase, the introduction of credit cards has increased parking revenues by anywhere from 17 percent to 93 percent with the typical increase being a 32 percent increase in parking revenues. We have already begun the process of utilizing sophisticated parking techniques at the Honolulu Zoo. It has been largely successful and we will continue to implement these changes on a coordinated, city-wide basis.
Third, one of the bright stars in our goal to diversify the economy and improve our financial health has been the film industry. Here are a few impressive statistics. At any given time on O`ahu approximately nine projects are shooting simultaneously. In fiscal year 2009 to 2010 over 500 different projects were shot on O`ahu, including major films and television shows like Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides, Lost Hawai`i Five-O and the new ABC television series of Off the Map. A standard measurement of success in the industry is to see how many production days an area has, the total number of days that each project was in production throughout the year. More than 365, one a day, is considered respectable. In fiscal year 2009 to 2010 O`ahu hosted over 3,300 production days. To give some context to this number, think of the film industry as one company. A traditional company has 260 days of work per year. Our film industry on O`ahu did the equivalent of more than 12.5 years of work in one year.
The film business is good business for our island because to actually make the film, they have to spend the money out in the community, at dry cleaners, lumber yards, grocery stores, local farmer’s markets, and of course at hotels, restaurants, rental cars – the list goes on and on. And then there are the invaluable exposure and free advertising we get from having O`ahu seen around the world. To make sure major players in the film industry know
I met with studio executives at Walt Disney Pictures, ABC, NBC, CBS and a host of others to let them know we appreciate their business and want more of it, and if there were barriers to their coming to do production in Honolulu, we wanted to know what those were so we could see if we could attack any issues and overcome them.
Fourth, vital to our city’s financial health, we must continue to urge the state legislature not to divert the city and county’s share of various revenues into its own state funds. This includes the transient accommodation tax, the public service company tax and of course, the general excise tax surcharge designated for rail. “Taking from Peter” – literally, I might add – “to pay Paul” might seem tempting as a quick fix, but to the taxpayers who are responsible to both the county and the state, it is a zero sum game that does nothing to help them.
Fifth, certainly not the least of the fixes to the city’s financial health – is having the city’s outstanding employee work force share in the sacrifice as well. This means continued lean operating budgets from each city department with a careful eye towards the bottom line: saving money. Since taking office in October, most city agencies have made extraordinary efforts to conserve and reduce spending right now rather than simply waiting until the new fiscal year to cut back. The directors and individual leaders who have done so are to be commended for their efforts. And even more will be asked of them in the days, months, and years to come.
In response to the call to save money over the long term, the city has made efforts in finding ways to streamline government and make it more nimble and responsive to the public.
For example, to facilitate the work order process and recordkeeping for sidewalk and roadway repairs, the Department of Facility Maintenance worked with the Department of Information Technology and the Department of Planning and Permitting to pilot a computer-based work-order management system. The new system uses GIS mapping and our financial reporting system to track repair requests, repair work and repair costs for roads and sidewalks. The Department of Customer Services now produces the annual calendar of city events on line, in order to save printing costs. It has also put city publications on line and has closed the city bookstore, saving an impressive amount in printing costs and overhead expenses.
With respect to the never-ending problem of potholes, the city continues to look at ways to preserve our existing pavement. The departments of Facility Maintenance and Design and Construction have a small scale program in
Today’s Investment In Our Future
The third strategic area of focus for this administration is investing in major infrastructure to stimulate jobs and the economy and to improve the quality of life for
One investment is the Honolulu Rail Transit System. The construction of the rail project, will not only have benefits for our struggling construction industry and infuse our economy with the benefits of added jobs, it will also improve our city for generations to come.
Two days ago many of us here today enjoyed the long awaited groundbreaking ceremony of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project. The project represents a shining example of multi-dimensional teamwork. Transportation experts, designers, engineers, residents, businesses, labor, community groups, and neighborhoods represent some of the many involved. I am grateful to our federal state and local authorities, including our congressional delegation, Senators Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa as well as former Congressman now Governor Neil Abercrombie, for their steadfast advocacy and continuous support of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project. Rail will not only increase mobility, but it will also provide us with the opportunity for neighborhood revitalization and investment.
I was recently invited at no cost to our taxpayers to participate at the Mayor’s
Another crucial infrastructure investment in our future is implementing major upgrades to the city’s sewage and water systems. Wastewater is a fundamental public health and environmental responsibility. For far too long,
We will also continue to invest in and promote energy efficiency. Another infrastructure investment, the construction of the H-Power third boiler will be complete by the end of the year. This will allow us to convert an additional 300,000 tons of waste, for a total of 900,000 tons of waste annually into 461 million kilowatt hours of energy per year. This diverts hundreds of thousands of tons of waste from the landfill and reduces our island’s dependence on fossil fuel for electricity production. We are also developing co-generation facilities at our Honouliuli and Kailua Wastewater treatment plants. This will allow us to generate our own power and reduce the city’s electricity costs.
We are undertaking several photovoltaic and lighting projects to optimize our energy usage including systems already installed at the
We are also about to launch an on-line process to allow a resident to apply for and receive a permit for installation of a residential electric vehicle charger as electric cars become available to the public. Thanks to a grant from the federal government through the state, we are planning to install electric vehicle charging stations in our largest parking lots to make it more convenient for our residents with electric cars.
Another expenditure – but one with a tremendous opportunity on the horizon – is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit which
Maintaining Public Safety
Another very important focus of this administration is public safety. Simply because my title has transformed to mayor from prosecutor does not mean that crime and public safety is less critical than it has always been. The mayor is responsible for the safety of our citizens and visitors.
Of equal concern is meeting our communities’ responsibilities to veterans who often face special challenges. Research links substance abuse and combat related mental illness to unprecedented number of veterans appearing in our courts to face charges stemming directly from these issues. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.16 million of all adults arrested last year, or nearly 10 percent, served in the military. Today, an estimated 60 percent of the 140,000 veterans in prison have a substance abuse problem. On any given night roughly 130,000 veterans will be homeless, 70 percent of whom suffer from substance abuse and/or mental illness.
There is a bright spot on the bleak terrain for the too often abandoned and damaged military veterans who return home and fall into addiction, mental illness and crime, Veteran’s Court Judge Robert Russell, Jr., created the nation’s first veteran’s court in Buffalo, New York. As a direct result of his work, state criminal courts devoted to
Veterans courts are a recent addition to the criminal justice system. It is too early for extensive analysis of their effectiveness but the results from the first court under the guidance of presiding judge Russell, are striking. Of the more than 100 veterans who have passed through, only two had to be returned to the traditional criminal court system because they could not shake narcotics or criminal behavior. This administration will be advocating for the establishment of a veteran’s court here in the City and
On a personal note, I would like to share with you something that I had not anticipated when I became Mayor of Honolulu. I was aware that in these uncertain times prayers are being offered by many different faiths and denominations for peace in the world, enlightened effort and purpose in the
In conclusion, I would like to talk to you about