Our Island, Our Home
My Environmental Plan For O‘ahu’s Future
By Kirk Caldwell
We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Too often we forget about our natural environment as we sit for hours in traffic gridlock or get bogged down on surviving day to day. We cannot take our ’aina for granted – our island environment is what makes us who we are. It brings visitors to O‘ahu and provides us with food, shelter, jobs, recreation, and wahi pana – beautiful, sacred places. Global climate change and sea level rise pose the some of the biggest threats to our island. The time to prepare for its impacts and to take action is right now, with sound planning and preventative measures to slow down the effects on our island – our home.
I grew up on a sugar plantation. At heart, I’m a country boy and, as such, I am determined to “keep the country country” by preserving agricultural lands and preserving areas of natural beauty, including coastal areas.
In the legislature, I strongly advocated for successful passage of the Important Agricultural Lands bill. In my first term as Mayor, the City acquired land on the Ka Iwi coast and Kawela Bay area, and preserved agricultural lands mauka of Turtle Bay. During the next term, I intend to acquire more land that preserves our natural beauty.
I oppose the development of “gentlemen farms” on agricultural land and will closely scrutinize attempts to develop mega-million dollar estates, such as that being proposed for Dillingham Ranch. My administration is requiring an environmental impact study on the effects development of Dillingham Ranch might have on the community.
I look at our plans for our island’s environmental future with a focus on three areas: Smart Growth, Infrastructure and Services, and Energy Policies and Practices.
Smart Growth: Planning, Growth and Development
For the last half century, we accommodated growth by building sprawling suburbs over some of our most precious agricultural lands and by connecting those suburbs to downtown Honolulu with one of the most congested freeways in the nation. That development model must change. From now on we have to accommodate growth by building more densely in the places where we have already built. That’s how we will preserve the beauty of the areas still untouched and how we will preserve our ability to expand food farming to make our island more resilient.
Every ten years or so, the City and County of Honolulu prepares long range plans based on input from Neighborhood Boards and local business people, from community groups and area residents who attend meetings and workshops or send in testimony. Over the last four years, my administration has invested a huge amount of work on three types of plans: The General Plan, Sustainable Communities Plans, and Transit Oriented Development Plans. When complete, these plans will serve as the foundation to guide future development: how our communities will grow, in what areas growth will be encouraged or discouraged, and where we will focus our City resources.
- We should focus growth within the urban growth boundaries and prioritize infrastructure development to stimulate growth only where it is appropriate. We have already begun massive sewer and waste water treatment projects to increase capacity to promote growth in existing urban areas.
- We need to promote affordable housing developments to significantly increase the inventory of housing options for those working families who earn less than 100% of average median income. We are currently working on inclusionary zoning regulations that would require new developments to set aside a certain percentage of housing to lower-income workers or pay a fee so the city can build the low-income housing. Changes in City policy and zoning regulations to promote the use of accessory dwelling units and micro units have already begun to increase rental housing stock.
- In addition, for those affordable housing developments that have understandably been stalled as a result of community opposition to development on agricultural land, such as Malaekahana, I will direct my administration to work with council members and stakeholders to find common ground so that critically needed workforce housing can move forward, while preserving agricultural land. Our legacy communities like Haleiwa, Kahuku and Laie should be revitalized to preserve its history while still accommodating the need for affordable housing to meet organic growth of area families.
- We must promote development of communities around the rail stations, especially, affordable housing. The City will use incentives, such as zoning, density, reduced parking requirements, as well as infrastructure, for catalytic developments, especially within the urban core. We have already begun working on building infrastructure around the Kapalama, Iwilei, and Pearl Ridge stations, with plans for Chinatown, Ala Moana, and Waipahu. Our transit oriented development (TOD) plans are nearly complete and will guide our growth for the next few decades. If we can create the needed housing along the rail route we will be able to relieve the pressure for suburban sprawl in the countryside.
- It’s critical that we examine the impact of climate change and sea level rise and include guidelines in our plans to deal with these environmental challenges. Charter Amendment #7 will establish an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency to promote stewardship of natural resources for present and future generations. The City was selected by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the 100 Resilient Cities of the world. [org.] This grant provides the City with a Chief Resiliency Officer and technical assistance to help us understand and address the impact of environmental challenges, such as sea level rise, storm water discharge, weather changes, and urban infrastructure. With the support of this Rockefeller grant and the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, I commit to ensuring that the City will plan for future generations.
- We must encourage multi-modal transportation options, reducing reliance on single operated vehicles as a means of commuting from one place to another. Bus and rail are necessary, primary options. The King Street bike lane is a pilot project from which we have learned an enormous amount about how the City should proceed in creating a network of bike lanes to protect pedestrians and make cycling safer. The City was instrumental in establishing and funding the Bike Share program, a not for profit organization that will put 200 bike stations with 1,000 bikes connecting Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu. We are also updating the pedestrian safety guidelines. My administration is implementing the City’s Complete Streets policy to integrate these concepts into existing and future projects such as road repaving, sidewalk improvements, access to transit projects, infrastructure, as well as stand-alone projects. Together these will make the city safer, healthier and more attractive and, in so doing, will encourage people to get out of their cars and embrace the city as their preferred place to live.
Environmental Infrastructure and Services
During my administration, the City worked diligently to improve and protect our environment.
- Projects we committed to, as part of a $5 billion agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, are leading to improvements in our sewer infrastructure that will prevent spills into our storm drain system and ensure that waste water discharge does not pollute our ocean.
- My administration has invested over $42 million into projects to ensure compliance with National Pollution Discharge Elimination System standards. Sewer discharges into the ocean have been reduced to a few dozen annually from over 200 per year ten years ago.
- Sewer sludge, a by-product of the waste water treatment process, is now either being recycled into fertilizer or burned at HPower, thereby drastically reducing the amount of sludge being dumped into the landfill.
- We have resolved to make O‘ahu a zero-landfill community. We upgraded the “waste to energy” H-Power plant with a third boiler and mass burn technology which virtually eliminates deposits at the landfill. The goal is to keep the landfill open only for emergency disaster recovery purposes.
- Green waste collected by the City is being converted into mulch used for agriculture.
The City owns hundreds of acres of park and preservation lands — our most valuable natural treasure. Neglected for years and savaged by budget cuts by past administrations they were in a very sorry state when my administration began. I worked hard to reverse that deterioration, by investing in repair and maintenance programs. I initiated the Kakou for Our Parks program, now in its second year, that dedicates over $1 million in operating funds annually to fix comfort stations, replace or repair playground equipment and play surfaces. I focused on two urban parks, Thomas Square and Ala Moana Beach Park for major restoration and we have a program of capital improvements in parks throughout the island, building new comfort stations, new recreational facilities such as the Skateboard park at Sunset Beach, and installing better lighting at sports facilities.
Energy Policies and Practices
I support Hawaii’s goal to end reliance on fossil fuels and, unlike my opponent, I have publicly pledged to oppose the construction of any new fossil-fuel power plant on O‘ahu. I vow to find new ways to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and to encourage homeowners and businesses to do so too. Indeed, the City has already initiated projects to reduce energy costs and switch to renewable sources of energy. For example:
- Photovoltaic systems installed at Honolulu district yards in Halawa, Kapolei, and the OTS Pearl City bus maintenance facility.
- Energy-saving project at the refuse facility.
- Energy-savings improvements at the Kailua waste water treatment facility.
- Energy-conservation improvements at various corporation yards.
- LED street lighting conversion.
- Expansion of HPower to create more renewable energy from trash. Recently, the U.S. Conference of Mayors selected Honolulu for its Large Cities Livability Award, citing our HPower system as “a creative solution to Honolulu’s solid waste disposal problem…reducing Honolulu’s dependence on imported oil through annually displacing 700,000 barrels of oil and decreasing the demand on the island’s only municipal landfill. Through this innovation, Honolulu has become the country’s leader in waste-to-energy (WTE) conversion.”
A so-called multi-modal transportation system is a critical component of any energy program to reduce reliance on oil – it provides commuters with options to switch from single occupancy vehicles to alternative ways of getting around. In addition to the benefit of moving away from the car-centric suburban development model, this is another reason why I am committed to building the rail system: it will move 120,000 riders a day, help ease traffic congestion and reduce carbon emissions. Similarly, our bus network (many of which are hybrid buses) serves 200,000 riders daily and we have added new routes and expanded others to increase ridership and meet the needs of those who travel from the rural areas into town. We will work to shift our city fleet to alternative-fuel vehicles. Finally, biking and walking are significant means of travel and I am committed to expanding the bike lanes in the urban core and creating pedestrian- friendly walkways.
A Vision For The Future
Your Mayor must have a vision for O‘ahu and an understanding that what we do in the City government affects how we live on the land. This election is about making commitments for the future: it is a crucial inflection point that will determine how our city government is led, what vision underpins the decisions about how we grow and where we grow and how we respect our small island heritage.
We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that our population is naturally growing. And our constitution will not allow us to close our borders. So we must embrace the challenge and the opportunity of growth in the 21st century. We must invest today in infrastructure, in transportation systems and in renewable energy systems that will allow us to protect our ’aina and preserve all that we most cherish for our future generations while creating the affordable housing and good-paying jobs for our citizens today. This vision guided my administration during the last four years and will continue to do so if you do me the honor of electing me to a second term.
As the Hawaiian proverb teaches us:
E malama pono i ka‘aina; nana mai ke ola.
Take good care of the land; it grants you life.