Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Traci Toguchi, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 6, which includes portions of Makiki, Downtown Honolulu, Punchbowl, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu, Alewa Heights, Papakolea, Fort Shafter, Moanalua, Halawa, Aiea, Kalihi Valley and portions of Liliha and Kalihi. The other candidates are Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Ikaika Hussey, Nalani Jenkins, Chance Na’auao-Ota, Dennis Nakasato and Chad Wolke.
Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Oahu, and what would you do about it?
I consider crime the biggest issue facing Oahu. There were 9,532 property crimes, and 838 violent crimes from Jan. 1, 2022, to April 30, 2022, according to the Honolulu Police Department. Addressing vacancies will help HPD increase police visibility, which includes patrol officer presence at locations known for criminal activity.
I support HPD with their determination of the most effective ways to address this issue, which include establishing yearly training academies, and a pilot program to increase staffing by 10% per shift. In a March 2022 City Council Budget Committee briefing, 329 uniformed vacant positions were reported. HPD was No. 1 in the Honolulu Department of Human Resources’ May 2022 Budget Committee presentation of department counts for vacancies (951 of 3,271), and retirement-eligible (351 of 2,320). Perhaps the Reserve Officer Program can be even more expanded.
Additionally, I would continue to support Weed and Seed programs, and do what I have been doing as a City Council District VI staff member, which is working closely with HPD and Prosecuting Attorney Alm’s office to address constituents’ criminal concerns.
2. The Honolulu rail project: What should be done?
I support every effort and action of transparency and accountability to ensure the safest, best quality, most cost-efficient (which includes completion timeliness), effective utility (including maximizing ridership), and effective means to provide transportation equity (particularly for residents who continue to spend hours away from their families and other quality time commuting to and from the urban core —especially for work and school), while providing an effective, efficient and sustainable transportation and mobility alternative for all types of riders for daily commutes.
As a Honolulu resident who was initially against the project, besides being a former Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation employee (Information Specialist II in the Public Involvement Department) and member of the American Public Transportation Association, I was also a resident of New York City — where after one year of not riding the subway at all, rode it daily and many times throughout the day (oftentimes integrated with the bus accordingly). Since this project is inevitable, I support looking to benefit the city’s residents and visitors by helping to make it the best it can be.
3. In recent years, serious problems have surfaced within the Honolulu Police Department. At the same time, there has been a significant push to beef up oversight of police and reform some practices. What would you do specifically to improve accountability of local law enforcement? Are you satisfied with the Honolulu Police Department? How about the Honolulu Police Commission?
The city’s revised Charter provides for HPD to consist of a chief of police, Police Commission and necessary staff. As a City Council member, I would appreciate ongoing dialogue with these in HPD’s organization so members of the public can also be included in such discussions.
I am well satisfied with and extremely grateful for HPD. As a City Council District VI office staff member, I work closely with different divisions in HPD, and especially with HPD patrol Districts 5 and 1. Additionally, as a District VI resident, I have firsthand knowledge as a member of the public as to the professionalism in, quality of and care in their work. They are daily faced with and placed in precarious and dangerous circumstances and situations, especially as a result of ongoing Covid-19-related effects, as well as those that have arisen as a result of vacancies in its department.
In my response to the question as to what I believe is the biggest problem facing Oahu to which I responded with crime, I provided more information about seeking to address this issue, including by addressing HPD’s issue of vacancies.
I’m also satisfied with the Honolulu Police Commission, from what I have observed thus far, including with its recently appointed commissioners.
4. Honolulu has some of the lowest property taxes in the country. Is it time to raise those rates to help meet city obligations? Tax vacant homes at a higher rate?
I don’t believe it is time to raise property tax rates to help meet city obligations since the pandemic continues to present uncertainty with constantly changing conditions. On an ongoing basis, especially following the effects of the pandemic, I have been addressing District VI constituents’ expressed challenges of being able to pay such taxes, including by providing updates from the Oahu Real Property Tax Advisory Commission (ORPTAC) meetings.
I believe increasing tax rates needs to first be carefully analyzed by subject matter experts, including the ORPTAC and the city Department of Budget and Fiscal Services.
It seems apparent there are different factors that contribute to homes being vacant, thus, taxing vacant homes at a higher rate across the board would not seem prudent.
If the issue is concern about homes that are not owner-occupied, I support ways to encourage and incentivize homeownership and occupancy by local residents, which coincides with taxing nonowner-occupied homes at higher rates accordingly.
5. Is Honolulu a safe place to live? What can be done to improve the quality of life on the island?
I believe it depends where in Honolulu, as well as when — not only with respect to what is occurring at that time (including business activity during weekdays, or weekend events), but also the time of the day. (Please refer to my answer to No. 1.) From what I have generally observed, when HPD is present, not only do I personally feel safer with a heightened awareness of my actions and surroundings at that time, but I observe others who appear to feel the same.
I believe feeling physically safe in the place we live significantly contributes to our quality of life. When I lived in New York City in the late 1990s, I recall more police presence positively contributed to the need to feel physically safe. I believe more HPD presence will also improve quality of life on Oahu.
In addition to addressing crime-related concerns, I also believe quality of life in the city can be improved by addressing housing-related matters including homelessness/houselessness, large scale single-family dwellings (“monster houses”), affordable housing, as well as transportation-related issues (such as traffic safety, including pedestrian), and road conditions.
6. Hawaii has seen a growing division when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. Protests are getting angrier. What would you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences?
Regardless of politics and other differences, I seek to bridge gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences by being open to listen to where they are coming from. I seek to hear differing perspectives and look to find common ground and agreement especially with respect to the law, and focus on looking at the issues in a practical manner to effectively address and resolve them.
I believe that my work experience in the public (city, state, federal), private (in a wide array of industries, business structures and sizes), nonprofit, and small business sectors (including as a small business owner, and from two generations of a family food business), as a college student, and professional entertainer and former “starving artist” in Honolulu, New York City and Los Angeles help me better understand different perspectives and have compassion to literally empathize with others because I have likely been in their (or very similar) shoes.
7. Like the state, the City and County has had its share of corruption cases – from the police department and prosecutor’s office to the mayor’s office and the planning department. What would you do to restore public confidence in our public officials? What if anything needs to change about how the City Council operates?
As employees of the city, we are required to complete ethics training. Perhaps more frequent training that includes further explanations of the sources and laws relating to such cases would be beneficial. Educational outreach of such would also inform members of the public who help to hold public employees/officials accountable.
Additionally, continue to make efforts to inform and update the public and encourage public participation — through innovative means — to hear proposed solutions and comments.
While I do not readily see changes necessary at this time, I am looking at current legislation. Resolution 22-99 is continuing to be considered by the City Council. A proposed draft amendment would, among other things, amend the City Charter to expressly authorize the City Council Office of Council Services (OCS) to advise the council with respect to proposed claims settlements against the city, and specify that the council may appoint OCS attorneys to represent the council accordingly.
Having worked in the City Council since January 2018 beginning with OCS, and given that I work closely with OCS and the city’s attorneys as a City Council District VI legislative analyst and paralegal, I could support these operational changes.
8. Homelessness has been an issue for decades yet we don’t seem to be making much progress. What new ideas would you suggest to control this ongoing problem?
I suggest controlling homelessness by seeking to keep as many imperative stakeholders in such ongoing discussions and efforts, including individuals who are unhoused and/or experienced houselessness on Oahu, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
In addition to prioritizing and expanding affordable housing, and supporting subject matter professionals (including from social service and health care organizations, and government emergency medical services), as well as continuing to support current programs, including those related to mental health, and mobile bed and hygiene facilities, I suggest providing services accordingly including ongoing counseling, and education and/or job readiness and skill development, and job assistance with storage/places to keep important paperwork and clothes so they may — with dignity — attend work and/or school, including in locations to prepare to do so. Perhaps offer comparable Weed and Seed and National Guard Youth Challenge community-based programs that currently invest in our youth, including with community resource centers (with office equipment).
I would also suggest addressing current and future housing-related issues for Honolulu’s young local residents by bringing to the discussions respective stakeholders such as Housing Hawaii’s Future (led by young local residents working to create opportunities for their peers and future young residents by providing workforce housing).
9. No one wants the island’s landfill in its backyard. Should it stay on the West Side and Waimanalo Gulch be expanded? Or are there other solutions?
While I continue to learn about this issue, I defer this to subject matter experts, which include the Landfill Advisory Committee and City Department of Environmental Services, as there are complex factors and considerations to this issue. I also defer to the respective area legislators who hear from and represent their area constituents.
10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Oahu. Be innovative, but be specific.
I would reinvent Hawaii to build on what we have learned and create a better state, including a better way of doing things, by first starting and keeping at top of mind our most precious resource — our people — and what we envision for Hawaii. Second, leverage technology.
In 2009, I was honored to produce the first TEDxHonolulu (TED: Technology, Entertainment, Design, with the x denoting independently organized events). When asked, I proposed the theme “SHIFT: To move from one place, position, direction to another,” which thankfully, the founders agreed.
By leveraging technology, we can move people from one place, position and direction to another — to improve upon the past, and share and shift ideas to work toward what we envision for Hawaii through fostering public involvement and collaboration to develop historical electronic repositories of stories.
This would start with the use of video conferencing software, cloud-based services, and fiber-optic internet, with, of course, the upgrade and maintenance of information technology systems (including hardware, software, network and database).
Therefore, third, by creating an electronic time capsule, we can create historical stories with lessons learned to share with future generations who will hopefully also benefit in years beyond our lifetime.
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