Town Hall Q&A Updates

You asked for it, and your proud representatives have delivered! Below, you will find responses to the questions you, the Wahiawa community, posed to them at last month’s Town Hall Meeting. We certainly appreciate all the work that Senator Dela Cruz, Representative Amy Perruso, and Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi put into their responses–we are truly blessed to have representatives that go far beyond the call of duty!

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz:
Q: Uncle Tom Lenchenko made several significant claims about the proposed Whitmore ADC project area being within the traditional boundaries of Kukaniloko. How does the ADC intend to minimize or mitigate the impact of a huge development project has on this traditional cultural property?
A: The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) was an integral part of the initial purchase of the land, primarily for their interest in protecting Kukaniloko. Kukaniloko, and the 500 acres surrounding it, were all turned over to OHA upon completion of that purchase. ADC is committed to working with OHA to maintain and protect these lands during the entirety of the project.
Q: Any dollars to fix Kamehameha Highway in front of McDonald’s and along that stretch of highway?
A: The Department of Transportation has confirmed plans to repave Kamehameha Highway in and around Wahiawa. Construction is projected to start in December 2020 and the Department of Transportation anticipates construction to take approximately 18 months.
Q: What is your end game? How do you know you have accomplished what you needed for your Community?
A: I don’t think the work is ever really done. Improvement is a never ending goal, but there are a few things that I would like to see through in the time that I have left. A big one for me is obviously the revitalization of agriculture here in Whitmore and Wahiawa. Not only do I think this fills a critical need for the state, but I truly believe that it is the most logical industry to bring jobs back into our community as well as keep the heart and feel of this community intact. Secondly, I’d like to ensure a safer community for our families to live, learn and play. We approached this specific idea from numerous angles. Through our work on projects like the Freshwater Park at Lake Wilson, safer walking paths to our schools, as well as developing workforce pathways for computer science and ag-technology in our Leilehua Complex. I want to see more of our children have the ability to choose to stay here in Hawaii.
Q: Wahiawa has the “Best” 3 in Hawaii Politics: Rep. Perruso in the State House CM. Heidi in the City Council & yourself Sen. Dela Cruz in the State Senate. As in Politics, the more controversial a politician is, the more positive & negative the media coverage. Senator Dela Cruz, you make Wahiawa proud with all that you do bringing millions to our community & even the other communities with your community service keiki day newspaper sales just today & our part in $300,000 grant to Puuhonua o Waianae while your explanation of gut & replace is sound and legal.
1) Why is there such negative publicity?
2) Is it true that while “legal,” doesn’t Gut & Replace avoid public comment?
A: There are a few ways to make substantive changes to a bill quickly; through a ‘Gut and Replace’ or by posting a ‘Proposed Draft.’ While inserting changes in a Gut and Replace can happen during the hearing without notice, the process for posting a Proposed Draft notifies the public ahead of time that a bill is being substantially amended during the hearing. Depending on the timing of the hearing during the legislative calendar the bill may still be subject to additional hearings by other committees, and allow for more public input.
Q: Can you speak with more details about the Whitmore Project’s Collaboration with Leeward CC?
A: In the current economic landscape, farmers that embrace “value added” agricultural products often see more sustainable revenue and higher profits. ADC and LCC are developing a value added curriculum that will include both a focus on entrepreneurial skills as well as the culinary skills necessary to develop, produce, and market value added products using agricultural produce grown right here in Central Oahu.
Q: What was the Legislature’s top 3 priorities as a body? Was it in line with the Administration’s priorities?
A: The House and the Senate each share their own priorities for the upcoming session on opening day. The Senate’s top 3 priorities were raising the minimum wage, strengthening our Kupuna Care programs, and further addressing homelessness.
Q: In moving forward with the massive ADC Agricultural project in Whitmore, what are your plans for keeping the community engaged, and hearing community concerns especially since several members of the community have voiced apprehensions about the plan, and fee kept out of the larger conversation.
A: Much of the apprehensions surrounding the project resulted from the lack of the available and accessible information. Historically, while a lot of money had been allocated to purchase agricultural land, very little was ever appropriated for ADC operations and staff. This past session, ADC was appropriated additional operating funds to ensure a concerted effort in community engagement moving forward.
Q: Why did you, as chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, defer a vote in your committee on Sen. Kahele’s Water Committee bill, thereby denying the Senate the opportunity to vote on it?
A: The Vice Chair of the Committee on Ways and Means had concerns with the amendments, therefore, the bill was deferred.
Q: Why did you, as chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, defer a vote in your committee on Sen. Kahele’s Water Committee bill, thereby denying the Senate the opportunity to vote on it?
A: The Vice Chair of the Committee on Ways and Means had concerns with the amendments, therefore, the bill was deferred.
Q: Why did you, as chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, defer a vote in your committee on Sen. Kahele’s Water Committee bill, thereby denying the Senate the opportunity to vote on it?
A: The Vice Chair of the Committee on Ways and Means had concerns with the amendments, therefore, the bill was deferred.
Q: Currently the poorest 20% of our State pays 14% of their income in taxes and the richest 20% pay 7%. As a Democrat when will you fix this along with the rest of the Democrats in the Legislature? With only 4 Republicans?
A: Every five years an independent State Tax Review Commission (TRC) conducts a systematic review of Hawaii’s tax structure, using standards such as equity and efficiency. The TRC submitted their most recent report ahead of the 2018 legislative session. It is then the responsibility of the Legislature to use the report and its recommendations to shape policies addressing issues such as disparity. As a result of the 2018 TRC report, these measures were introduced/enacted.
Q: Why are we having lots of rehabs in our community and crimes?
A: Shelters and rehabilitation clinics are a significant part of reducing homelessness in our community and statewide. Providing an alternative place to stay and additional services will support long term, sustainable rehabilitation for these individuals.
Q: Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the US. Why can’t the Democratic Party of Hawaii Legislators pass a $15 minimum wage – without deducting health insurance from the $15?
A: The high cost of living in Hawaii is a deep rooted, systemic problem that will take a long term, multi-functional approach. Minimum wage increase is one solution that the Legislature continues to consider. The ongoing conversations remain thoughtful and comprehensive, including exploring the possibility of different increases for employees who receive employer-sponsored health benefits from those that do not receive these benefits. In making these decisions, the Legislature also need to consider issues raised by small, local businesses that may be adversely impacted by such laws. Our goal is to work towards a solution that all parties can support.
Q: How is that the Legislators voted a raise for themselves but utterly and shamelessly failed to pass the minimum wage bill ($15/hr.) this is still inadequate and does not address the root cause of many of our social problems today (homelessness etc.)?
A: The Legislature does not vote to increase its own salaries. Instead, there is a constitutionally created Commission on Salaries that deliberates over the salaries of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, members of the Legislature, justices and judges of all state courts, the Administrative Director of the State, department heads or executive officers, as well as their Deputies and/or assistants. Every six years, the Commission submits a report to the Legislature with salary recommendations for all officials listed above. If not rejected, the recommendations are included in the Governor’s budget the following year.
Representative Amy Perruso:
Q: Currently the poorest 20% of our citizens pay 14% of their income while the richest 20% pay 7 percent of their income in income taxes. What will we do to address this?
A: According to the Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, Hawaiʻi ranks second nationally in how heavily we tax our low-income households. In fact, we are in the minority of states that actually pushes low-income people deeper into poverty with taxes. As a result, nearly half of our state’s residents live paycheck-to-paycheck. Our lowest-income households pay over 15 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while those at the top pay less than 9 percent. The main reason for this is the General Excise Tax, which hits low-income and working-class families almost ten times harder than those at the top. To restore balance to our state’s tax code, I sponsored legislation, this year, to dramatically increase Hawai’i’s renters’ credit and food credit, each of which should be tied to the Department of Labor’s cost of living index to prevent their values from failing to keep up with inflation in future years. Additionally, I believe that the earned income tax credit should become a refundable tax credit for working families. If tax credits are refundable, filers can get tax refunds when their credits total more than the amount of income tax that they owe.
Q: What is the status of the state’s response to the issues surrounding Round-up on DOE land? (custodial perspective)
A: After the DOE representative presented false testimony to the House Committee on Lower and Higher Education, claiming that no additional protections for children and staff were necessary because the DOE already completely prohibits the use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round-Up, the central concern of recent Supreme Court cases), our office asked for additional community conversations. The fact that the DOE has a fundamentally inadequate policy concerning the use of this toxic pesticide ingredient is a matter of grave concern. We will be having a community BOE meeting at Leilehua High School on June 24th to address this issue.
Q: how would you address the growing problem of illegal vacation rentals?
A: To address the growing problem with illegal vacation rentals in our community, we need greater enforcement authority over their owners and the hosting platforms on which they advertise, like Airbnb. These platforms already know what properties are using their services. They can and should be compelled to make that information available to the state and counties, so that the appropriate agencies can ensure that those properties are abiding by all applicable laws and paying appropriate taxes and fees, and take action if they’re not.
While I fully support ensuring that vacation rental operators pay their fair share to uplift our economy, I also believe that we shouldn’t build our state’s bank account on illegal activity. Over 25,000 illegal rentals operate on our shores, depleting the housing supply for residents of our island home. Nonresidents often purchase properties for the purpose of renting them to tourists, from which they earn over three times as much, on average, as those who rent long-term to members of our community. In turn, this activity increases our housing costs, making Hawai’i less affordable for ourselves and our children.
State lawmakers, like myself, should partner with the counties to establish and enforce strong regulations that protect our housing supply and ensure people can’t use our state as an investment scheme at the expense of local families. I pledge to continue making that principle a cornerstone of my approach to this important issue.
Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi:
Submitted by Gail Ishikawa
Q: 1. Isn’t the historic homes preservation tax credit welfare for the rich? 2. How many Wahiawa homes can get this credit? 3. Where are the majority of historic homes that can take advantage of this credit located?
A: There has been discussions in the past regarding the historic home preservation tax credit and the concerns that the exemption is too generous and should be reconsider as to whether or not it is justified at its current level and if changes need to be made to this exemption. I would be in favor of reevaluating this tax credit for these reasons and making adjustments to this exemption. The City and County of Honolulu is in the process of establishing a Real Property Tax Advisory Commission and this item will be one of my recommendations for review.
I am not the number of homes that could qualify for this exemption in Wahiawa but it would be any home that could meet the following requirements:
A. Home must be on the State Register of Historic Places
B. Public must have reasonable visual access to home.
C. If home is not visible from a public area, the homeowner must allow the public to come onto the property for “visual visitation” at least 12 days yearly.
D. Homeowner must certify that paying pre-exemption property taxes is a material factor threatening the continued existence of the historical property.
E. Dedicated use of property can’t change during exemption period.
The majority of historic homes that can take advantage of this credit of located in areas where home such as described above are more prevalent such as Manoa.
Submitted by Elaine Ringor
Q: Why are we having lots of rehabs in our community and crimes?
A: The issue of rehabs in Wahiawa has come to my attention and have been looking into the issue. The rehabilitation center in operation on California Avenue operated as Hope, INC went through extensive review and have been adhering to strict guidelines for operation. However, I have heard of issues of a halfway house which our office has been looking into and will provide information as it is made available.
Submitted by Stuart Feinberg
Q: Now that the FTA will not release the balance of $750 million for the rail (HART) unless the C&C pays $20+million annually beginning this year and for the next 6 years – what is your position on this requirement or is it time to end rail at Middle Street?
A: I have had and continue to have serious concerns about the decisions being made regarding the rail project. With regard to FTA’s requirements for additionally funding in upcoming budget cycle, I voted in opposition as it is for construction and will be paid for with real property taxes which was promised never to happen. I voted in opposition of HART’s Operational and Capital Budgets as well as the HART bond resolution for funding as there are many questions that are still unanswered as to the final cost of rail to the taxpayers. I have serious concerns about the proposed P3 as a way to complete the last segment of rail as it also comes with a 30 contract for operation and maintenance which will obligate funds for decades without actually knowing the final cost or the viability of this project. At this time I believe we need to look at all fiscally responsible options and consider the long-term fiscal burden we are placing on the next generation.
Submitted by Stuart Feinberg
Q: Now that the FTA will not release the balance of $750 million for the rail (HART) unless the C&C pays $20+million annually beginning this year and for the next 6 years – what is your position on this requirement or is it time to end rail at Middle Street.
A: I have had and continue to have serious concerns about the decisions being made regarding the rail project. With regard to FTA’s requirements for additionally funding in upcoming budget cycle, I voted in opposition as it is for construction and will be paid for with real property taxes which was promised never to happen. I voted in opposition of HART’s Operational and Capital Budgets as well as the HART bond resolution for funding as there are many questions that are still unanswered as to the final cost of rail to the taxpayers. I have serious concerns about the proposed P3 as a way to complete the last segment of rail as it also comes with a 30 contract for operation and maintenance which will obligate funds for decades without actually knowing the final cost or the viability of this project. At this time I believe we need to look at all fiscally responsible options and consider the long-term fiscal burden we are placing on the next generation.
Submitted by Cathy Cachola
Q: Timeline for sidewalks from the top of California and Leilehua and Glen to Wahiawa Elementary, asphalt sidewalks.
A: Repair of the asphalt sidewalks in Wahiawa is one of my top priorities and will be making a concerted effort to have the condition of this walkways replaced in an expeditious manner for the health and safety of Wahiawa residents. I don’t have a timeline as the actually work will have to be authorized and completed by the City Administration. However, I understand how long important this is and will be working with the Administration to get the work approved.
Q: The asphalt walkways are badly in need of repair!! What is the C&C of Honolulu planning to do about this and what can the public do to get them repaired?
A: Please see previous answer.
Submitted by Betty Lokes
Q: What is your position on short-term rentals.
A: The Honolulu City Council has taken a strong stance in moving forward on enforcement of zoning laws and regulating illegal short-term rentals in our residential communities. Two bills, Bill 85 and Bill 89, have been moving forward and will be moving on for final reading and adoption on Monday, June 17, 2019. Both bills allow for enforcement via information on hosting platforms which will be key in finally moving forward on enforcement. The Department of Planning and Permitting has been working closely with the Council on these measures and believe the City will now have the tools needed to move forward and successfully enforce our zoning laws. I have consistently supported these measures as I believe we need to start enforcing our zoning laws to ensure we maintain residential communities for our residents. Although there has been a lot of push back from those who have made a living from the business of short-term rentals, the fact remains these operations have always been illegal. Allowing these activities in our residential areas is not a sustainable practice with our limited housing supply and continues to drive up the prices of homes as investors are willing to pay way over asking price in light of the revenue that can be generated from these operation. This directly contributes to our high cost of living here in the islands which has caused many residents to leave for the mainland. Delaying enforcement will further undermine efforts to ensure access to affordable housing both for purchase and rent in the future and support regulation and enforcement.
Duncan Osorio – What do you see as ideal components of a county bill to regulate and enforce those regulations on vacation rentals?
Please see previous answer.
Contact info:
Senator Donovan M. Dela Cruz
Phone: (808)586-6090
Email: sendelacruz@capitol.hawaii.gov

Representative Amy Perruso, District 46
Phone: (808) 586-6700
Email: repperruso@capitol.hawaii.gov

Councimember Heidi Tsuneyoshi, District 2
Phone: (808) 768-5002
Email: htsuneyoshi@honolulu.gov

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