Honolulu Charter Amendments — vote guide

Members have been asking for guidance on the 20 proposed Charter Amendments.

(Learn more about the Charter Commission on their website: www.honoluluchartercommission.org/)

Here is our advice on those that fall within our kuleana:

Question 6 would require city departments to prepare long range plans -to be reviewed every 5 years- for how we deal with garbage, wastewater, and parks & recreation. The amendment requires an energy efficiency plan for city-owned facilities like buildings, our vehicle fleet, streetlights etc.  It mandates an energy conservation and emissions reduction plan for the Bus, Handi-Van and train.  Finally it requires the city to promote smart and sustainable communities.

We believe this proposal will help us as citizens, and our elected officials, to set priorities when we decide how to spend our capital funds to upgrade aging systems and where to invest in new infrastructure and resources to accommodate new growth.

These are all goals that the Sierra Club consistently fights for.  Those opposed to the proposal say that the city is already way behind schedule reviewing existing community and general plans and that these reviews cost a lot of money.  We  think those are poor reasons not to be doing this vital planning.  We need to accelerate planning and conservation, not back away in frustration.

Our recommendation: Vote Yes on Question 6.

Question 7 would create a new Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency under the city’s managing director.  The Sierra Club lobbied vigorously to get this proposal onto the ballot.

No one in Honolulu Hale is currently tasked with devising policies to preserve our natural resources for future generations. No one is working on plans to accommodate rising sea levels -which will be a foot higher than today in roughly 30 years and may be more than six feet higher than today by the turn of the century, according to the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UH.  The climate change that is causing this sea level rise is already baked-in: it’s likely to happen even if humanity were to immediately stop burning all fossil-fuels.

This is not some empty feel-good measure.  It comes with a detailed list of tasks the office would be required to perform.  It would force us as citizens, and our elected officials, to starts answering these questions:  How should we protect vital infrastructure like refineries and wastewater plants?  How will we protect our vulnerable fresh water aquifers?  Which roads have to be rebuilt inland?   Where and how should we retreat from the sea?  No one in government is currently tasked with this vital planning.  Amendment 7 would change that.

Our strong recommendation: Vote Yes on Question 7.

Question 8 would create a new Department of Land Management to consolidate how the city manages property it owns.  The new office would have a director appointed by the mayor.  Those management functions -what to buy, what to sell, negotiating leases etc- are currently performed by many different agencies.

On the positive side, this agency could speed the development of desperately needed affordable rental housing and accelerate the move away from suburban sprawl by encouraging Transit Oriented Development around the train stations.  But on the downside some fear that the new structure would make it too easy for the city to privatize public lands – even though park lands are specifically excluded from the process.

The group created by the Charter Commission to look at this issue noted that “if the elected officials and public are not ready for this step,” then a study should be conducted and the community at large “engage in a broad and thoughtful discussion of how the city should meet its vision for the future.” We think that’s a sensible way to proceed and we will be advocating for such a study at Honolulu Hale.

Our recommendation: Vote No on Question 8.

Question 11 would require all applicants who propose to spend money from the Clean Water Natural Lands Fund to submit proposals to the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services (BFS) for review. BFS would send qualified proposals to a seven-member Clean Water Natural Lands Fund Advisory Commission created by this amendment.

The current set-up is not perfect, but according to environmental allies who work on or with the current commission it seems to be working well enough.  We fear this amendment could disrupt it with no guarantee of a better outcome.

Our recommendation: Vote No on Question 11.

The leaders of Sierra Club of Hawai‘i’s O‘ahu Group