HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi took to the podium at Mission Memorial Auditorium at noon on Monday, March 15 to deliver his first ‘State of the City’ address.
“It was just one year ago that we entered a period unlike any we had experienced
before,” the new mayor began, as he reflected on the coronavirus pandemic that shook Oahu’s tourism-based economy.
Since taking the oath of office, Blangiardi has advanced the City into tier 3 of the Honolulu Recovery Framework and allowed bars and outdoor sports to resume operations.
However, he says it’s not enough.
“It is true. More businesses are able to operate, but not to their full potential. We want and need more,” Blangiardi said.
The mayor went on to discuss a number of problems facing the island and how he plans to address them during the course of his term.
The City’s budget
Blangiardi’s administration presented their $2.9 billion budget to the City Council on March 2.
In early March, the mayor made it clear that one of his main objectives with the operating budget was the protection of City employees. He said he wanted to make sure that all 8,656 City and County of Honolulu workers would not be impacted by the results of the pandemic.
“Our team has not been focused on what we don’t have, we’re focused on getting
things done with what we do have,” the mayor said in his address.
Blangiardi also highlighted key parts of the budget that would go toward providing City services without raising property taxes or enacting furloughs.
Among those services is, what he called, the “never ending battle of fixing our countless potholes.”
The Honolulu Rail Project
One of the main issues that continues to plague the City is the ongoing rail project.
“Our top priority is to close the funding gap,” Mayor Blangiardi said about the project, which now faces a $3 billion budget shortfall.
The mayor shared how his administration has been meeting weekly with the newest leadership team tasked with addressing the rail’s financial battle.
“We are instituting fiscal responsibility in every phase of the operation and taking the necessary steps to reduce costs,” he said.
Blangiardi says his team has already identified a number of inefficiencies, canceled
contracts they deemed redundant and eliminated positions.
“We must find the critical path forward for the rail project, and we will, with
transparency in mind,” he added.
Affordable Housing and Homelessness
A key part of Mayor Blangiardi’s speech on Monday was focused on the announcement of the planned expansion of the City’s Office of Housing.
“Our plan is to expand the City Office of Housing into the Office of Housing and Homelessness,” he said.
While he didn’t go into detail about what the expansion would entail, the mayor said it would allow the City to dedicate more resources to tackle Oahu’s growing homelessness issue.
The mayor went on to discuss addressing homelessness before it begins.
“We must get our families, our children, our people off the streets and prevent
people from going into homelessness in the first place,” he said.
“The same old tired solutions to our affordable housing crisis is clearly not the
answer, it hasn’t worked for 30 years,” Blangiardi continued.
One of his proposals was to incentivize private landowners to build affordable housing units on Oahu.
“This keeps the affordable rental inventory growing through partnerships with our
landowners,” Blangiardi explained. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Another focus of the Blangiardi campaign is the revitalization of Chinatown.
“We have made plans to make a ‘new’ Chinatown that we can all be proud of,” the mayor began.
“We already have projects planned that will improve lighting, repave roadways and fix areas that are prone to flooding,” he continued.
The mayor said he had more to say about his ideas for the downtown area, but that he would “leave it at that.”
Modernizing of City services
Another top priority for the new mayor is modernizing City services.
“We are in the second year of the third decade of the 21st century and our technology has been lacking,” he said.
Blangiardi went on to share plans for bringing the building permit process into the
21st Century by going paperless.
“I am very pleased to tell you our Department of Information Technology (IT) is already making state of the art improvements to better serve you. IT has created a new payment facility called ‘HNL Pay.’ For the first time you can pay for your City permits, licenses and applications electronically,” he shared.
“The pandemic also inspired and exposed the need to make changes to our phone and online services,” he added, as he discussed other City services that could expand to offer remote or electronic services for residents unable to make their appointments in-person.
Climate change efforts
One of the mayor’s biggest focuses in his speech was sharing his vision for a cleaner Oahu.
“We must protect the island from the devastating impacts of climate change, which is already happening,” he said.
The mayor noted the flooding that devastated a number of towns across the state as just one example of the need to set up better systems against climate change.
Blangiardi’s climate change proposals included:
- Eliminating carbon pollution through decarbonization.
- Preparing communities for a changing environment to climate change.
- Investing in drainage and flood management improvements at various locations islandwide to protect communities and city facilities.
- Designing a new tree farm for the Department of Parks and Recreation Division of Urban Forestry
- Convening an interdepartmental “One Water” panel to address climate adaptation.
- Engineering assessments to design hurricane retrofits for City-owned facilities to serve as emergency shelters.
- Updating flood hazard analysis to better assess flood risk.
- Establishing long-term disaster recovery planning to update City policy and programs.
- Updating shoreline management rules to protect beaches and public safety islandwide.
- Remaining a clear energy leader in the state.
The full ‘State of the City’ speech can be found below: