Office of the Mayor

Read Mayor Blangiardi’s full State of the City address

HONOLULU – Mayor Rick Blangiardi delivered his 2024 State of the City address from the Mission Memorial Auditorium in Honolulu at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, 2023. The full transcript of his remarks are below.

Aloha, and good evening.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the all-time love of my life — my wife Karen.

Not only has she been an incredible partner for me in this challenge of a lifetime, but she has been a tremendous resource in helping me work through some of the most difficult aspects of this job.

For that, and really, much more, I truly love you, for being there for me all the time.

Tonight, I deliver my fourth State of the City Address since being sworn into office.

I stand before you humbled and privileged by this great honor — to serve as the 15th Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu.

I also stand before you inspired and confident in the abilities and unwavering commitment of our leadership team to tackle the tough problems and produce unprecedented results.

Each and every day when I come to work, I am equally inspired by the nearly 10,000 men and women who make up our City and County workforce — my coworkers — who dedicate their working lives to the many challenges and needs of a most-deserving public.

This is truly an extraordinary time to be responsible for leading our great City, when “meeting expectations” is simply not good enough.

Consequently, we are committed to breaking through the public’s perception of what is possible from local city government by creating impact like never before.

We are engaged in driving and adapting to change because we are determined to earn back trust in local city government through our collective achievements.

Our team has set high and ambitious expectations on ourselves to deliver on much needed improvement in virtually all aspects of providing core services for all of our people, throughout our island home, and we fully embrace the accountability that comes with that commitment.

Last year, I stood on this stage and shared with all of you about our City’s Wicked Problems.

More than a few of you thought that term was simply an ode to where I grew up in Boston — that “Wicked Problems” were the sort that could only be solved by being “Wicked Smart.”

But our association with the Bloomberg Harvard Cities Leadership Initiative taught us otherwise; that issues like affordable housing, homelessness, public safety and our Department of Planning and Permitting are wickedly complex, intractable and require a fundamental understanding of the problem before applying a solution.

Last year, we did our best to explain our approach to understanding these tough problems.

This year, I want to share how we are driving execution on what we have learned.

It’s about what we are already doing — and about the significant plans we have on a going-forward basis — to problem solve and deliver results in this place we call home.

In that spirit, we know there is no more meaningful contribution our team can make than to ensure our island residents who love O’ahu and call it home don’t have to leave because they cannot afford to stay.

For more than a decade the City has talked about building transit-oriented affordable housing.

And for more than a decade, the City has been keenly aware that focusing future development along the Skyline route, connecting our two major urban centers, would be our single-greatest opportunity for transformative impact.

To our surprise and dismay, when we started executing on those plans and turning our vision into reality, we discovered that there were a number of regulatory barriers.

Not barriers, necessarily, to simply creating housing. But barriers to building activated, equitable, mixed-use affordable housing communities that people will be proud to call home.

Since 2021, our administration has been singularly focused on acquiring land and properties for affordable housing, and most especially, land and properties within walking and biking distance of Skyline.

But under the current state law, if the City broke ground on an affordable TOD community today, we could not build that community with a supermarket, so residents could buy groceries on their way home from work.

We could not build one with a drug store, or with a childcare center, or with a post office, because the current law prohibits mixed-use development using City municipal bonds for affordable housing.

That … is wrong.

Our commitment in the creation of affordable places for people to live is not to build projects, or tenement housing, void of direct access to those necessary services.

We must build communities where all residents, regardless of income, have the same opportunities to live, work and play as everyone else.

To realize that vision, our administration is currently working with the State to change the law, and with the help of our state Legislators and Governor Green, I am convinced — in the interest of the people and in the interest of equity and fairness — we will succeed.

We are starting in Iwilei.

Earlier this year, we finalized the $51 million acquisition of what is now the single-largest property adjacent to a current or future rail station that has been designated for affordable housing.

At nearly four acres, we envision Iwilei Center as the future centerpiece of an iconic mixed-use TOD complex, home to as many as 1,500 affordable housing units.

As a result of our acquisition, we are working with HART to completely redesign the Iwilei Station, allowing for better pedestrian and bicycle access and increased connectivity to other forms of public transportation.

When it comes to TOD in Iwilei, the City should be first in line to acquire property for redevelopment, because we can champion the infrastructure improvements that are needed to drive down the cost of development.

And with acquisition plans for more properties in the area, including our recent purchase of the old First Hawaiian Bank building on King Street, we trust we are sending a clear message that when it comes to TOD, we are not “developing a property,” we are building a community.

I am convinced, as we enter planning and design later this year, that our families see the benefit of building activated affordable housing communities with a focus on people, lower housing costs and increased quality of life.

We can get this done, and it all starts with the necessary change to current state law.

I am on record as saying that the City must take on the inescapable role of being a driving force in the stimulus and creation of affordable housing.

If becoming that driving force requires changes to legislation, that is a commitment our administration has clearly made.

It is also a commitment that requires leadership, vision and bold decision-making, and over the course of the past year, we are grateful to have found those qualities in the leaders of our Office of Housing: Denise Iseri-Matsubara and Kevin Auger.

Last year, I spoke of our need to evaluate whether the City’s current organizational structure as it relates to housing best supported our housing goals.

Tonight, on the strong recommendation of our Housing Task Force, I am announcing my intent to merge the Office of Housing with our highly-talented real estate team, in the Department of Land Management, to form an entirely new department: the Department of Housing and Land Management.

The synergy in merging these two operations into one will right-size the City’s important role in affordable housing — a role that has been strongly supported by the City Council. For their vision and leadership, I am appreciative and most grateful.

Our new department will:

  • Comprehensively set affordable housing policy;
  • Work to finance housing projects, including through our private activity bond program;
  • Coordinate planning, design and development of future housing units;
  • and relentlessly push regulatory and process improvements.

The Department of Housing and Land Management will continue to lead our Affordable Housing Working Group, the cross-sector arena where all City departments that have a role in housing come together to coordinate, problem solve and produce smart, disciplined results.

The department will also be chiefly responsible for carrying out the mission and vision laid out in our administration’s first housing plan, which set the ambitious production goal of 18,000 housing units by the end of the 2029 fiscal year.

Our progress to date is encouraging, and our hard-working team has already committed nearly $393 million to a total of 18 housing initiatives across the island, including land and building acquisitions, rehabilitation of affordable housing units, with longer affordability commitments, and conversions of existing buildings into housing. 

And going forward, our commitment is to make sure every City Council district on our island receives their fair share of the City’s investment in affordable housing.

Now, to ensure that happens, we realize we need to increase the number of people on our team who have the skills required to execute on our housing strategy — and we will get that done.

We also need to find ways to overcome the many significant regulatory barriers that stand in the way of building the affordable housing our community needs.

Just last week, UHERO reported that the median sales price of a new two-bedroom condo in Hawaii is $670,000, double what it costs in most states on the mainland.

Of that, the study determined a full $387,000 — nearly 60 percent of the cost — comes from regulatory burden.

We know the building industry in Hawaii can do little to control the cost of material and equipment or the price of shipping, but we refuse to stand idly by while regulatory restrictions add to development costs so dramatically that projects capable of adding hundreds of housing units die before ever breaking ground.

I’ve said from day one that we want to be more of a facilitator than a regulator, and local government has the most direct impact over housing production through land use regulations and housing policies. Our new Department of Housing and Land Management will review regulations, rules, ordinances and statutes to evaluate what works, as well as what needs to change, to achieve our housing goals.

And we will continue to work closely with our colleagues at the City Council and the state to do it effectively.

Now, clearly an outsized element of our regulatory burden involves the Department of Planning and Permitting.

We are keenly aware that our ability, and your ability, to build anything is totally linked to the performance of our Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP).

Let me start off by saying that we fully understand the urgency for timely building permit approvals, from construction of large commercial projects to small home improvements — and everything in between.

These projects benefit our communities, our economy, and our entire way of life.

So acknowledging decades of frustration, and in the face of problems that are decades in the making, let’s not waste any time tonight with rhetoric about how we’re “turning the tide” or “doing our best.”

One year from tonight, the average amount of time it takes for a residential permit to be reviewed by DPP will be two to four weeks.

And in the year following that milestone, commercial permit applications will be reviewed by DPP in six months or less.

Here’s how that is going to happen:

Last month, following several years of research, planning and procurement, DPP began the 18-month implementation of a brand-new permitting software to replace POSSE, which is the system DPP has used to manage permit applications for more than two decades.

Think about that.

Right now we are replacing a permitting system that is older than the iPhone you all have in your pockets.

This new software is called CLARITI, a powerful, user-friendly system that, when combined with E-Plans, will provide the automation, transparency and effectiveness that our customers have been waiting for — and they will begin to feel its impact in short order.

By this summer, the E-Plans platform that currently feeds all permit applications into POSSE will be integrated with the new system, showing users the status of their applications.

No longer will you need to call DPP for an answer to the single most-asked question in all of City government:

“Where is my permit!?”

With the new system, you also won’t need to upload complex plans one page at a time, and if changes need to be made, you won’t need to email DPP anymore.

Now, it goes without saying that the installation of a new permitting system isn’t easy. The entire team at DPP, led by director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, have been working not just on the implementation, but on making sure every step of DPP’s existing processes are fully integrated into the new system as well. 

A year ago I stood here and explained how DPP was using AI to pre-screen applications, and that the average pre-screen wait time had gone from an average of five months to an average of five weeks.

Today, it takes three days — and the backlog has been completely eliminated.

This success has allowed us to shift our focus to improving the core plan review phase.

Our new systems provide tools that will help applicants more accurately design projects that are up to code, dramatically elevating the quality of plan submissions and further accelerating the permitting process.

To make sure we don’t take our eye off the ball when it comes to core services while these improvements are implemented, DPP is creating relief in two ways.

First, as an interim measure, we are retaining certified code reviewers who can help with our commercial code review backlog — and we thank executive director Randy Perreira of HGEA for working with us to reduce the backlog while we address salary and vacancy issues in DPP.

And second, by allowing design professionals to self-certify.

Just last week, a local architect moved forward with eight residential building projects using DPP’s automatic approval process.

This program is for licensed design professionals who are confident in their code-compliant plans and are willing to stand behind their work, and the team at DPP is committed to working with those design professionals.

Last year, I asked DPP to look at whether the department had simply grown too large and too diverse to function effectively.

After many months of analysis and study the recommendation was not to split DPP, but rather to focus on people, processes and technology — and that remains our driving focus.

As part of our determination to better understand the people, values, operations and culture of our City departments, including DPP, Managing Director Mike Formby and I conducted a series of what we call “Skip-Level Meetings.”

These meetings are 90-minute sessions, with ten to twelve employees, without the department’s senior management. We meet on their turf, at their work locations, and the meetings are completely voluntary and confidential.

It is our strong belief that the real progress we want to create in improving overall City performance happens at this level of our workforce. These meetings are with smart, dedicated public servants whose shoes we have never walked in.

Our discussions focus on the employee’s insight and recommendations on improving their working conditions and departmental operations, while at the same time allowing Mike and me the opportunity to share with them our perspective on what we are trying to accomplish as an administration.

These meetings have been more than inspiring, to see first-hand the pride and caring these men and women have in the work they do, while at the same time learning how we can help them perform better — because in the same way that we are working to earn back trust from the public, we have to earn the trust of our employees, too.

To date, we have already done close to 30 of these meetings across the City, with 25 more on the calendar this year — and I am committed to continuing them for as long as I have the privilege of being mayor.

In DPP, these skip level meetings have been particularly valuable in helping us understand the long-standing perspectives of DPP employees — their concerns, their willingness to embrace change, and their desire to be part of the solution.

A core problem plaguing DPP has been our inability to attract and retain experienced personnel, especially when it comes to employee pay flex time and alternative work hours.

We are negotiating a supplemental agreement with HGEA to raise the pay of our City engineers. In anticipation, we added $4 million to our FY25 budget, which we submitted to the City Council on March 1 — and we are already working on raising the pay for our building plans examiners, which will be another major step forward.

People, processes and technology.

Our steadfast commitment to DPP’s expert workforce; our work on standard operating procedures, and on technology that is designed to assist our employees, not replace them; our overhaul of the department’s antiquated technologies from top to bottom… The important work we are doing in DPP across all three of these sectors is yielding encouraging results.

And while we are fixing DPP, there are other issues we are addressing, like illegal short term vacation rentals, which are not good business — and not good for our residential neighborhoods.

Neither are monster homes.

Consequently, DPP staff should be able to significantly improve our enforcement efforts in the weeks and months ahead with new software that will empower our inspectors.

We have already seen what the DPP team is capable of, working with a solar task force of industry experts in a business sector that represents more than 60 percent of our permit applications.

The relentless attention and commitment we have put into systemic changes at DPP has never been about producing average results… Because “meeting expectations” is simply not good enough!

These changes in DPP are clearly long overdue, and we are clearly not there yet, but the initiatives we have shared tonight are driving DPP to the level of efficient and effective service our communities deserve.

I want to shift gears and talk about homelessness, a problem that knows no border between federal, state and county government. 

For those with no or limited income, many of whom are grappling with severe mental health or addiction issues, the reality is, regrettably, a life on the street.

Though we believe strongly that our numbers on Oʻahu present a scalable opportunity for meaningful progress, there is no denying the fact that on a per capita basis, Hawaii is among the top-5 states in the country experiencing chronic homelessness.

Coming into office, we knew from the outset that we needed to develop a new and different strategy to create the kind of powerful impact we believed was possible — but we also knew we could not do it alone.

The harsh reality was we simply lacked the resources, especially skilled healthcare workers who are absolutely critical to adequately addressing this humanitarian crisis.

To that end, we are encouraged by Governor Green’s $30 million tuition loan repayment program for healthcare professionals that was funded by the state Legislature.

This two-year program goes right at the heart of easing our critical shortage of physicians and other health care workers by providing tuition loan repayments of up to $50,000 per year, allowing this critical sector of our workforce to remain here at home.

The election of Governor Green made possible a much-needed and unprecedented level of communication, collaboration and compassion in terms of combining resources between the City and the state.

His leadership at this crucial moment in time, and hands-on approach in leading our important efforts statewide, is already making a difference.

I cannot thank you enough, Governor — but we both know that we are only just beginning this fight together.

Would you please stand and be recognized.

We are also blessed to have some truly extraordinary leaders in the field of providing services to the homeless with us tonight.

These are people who make a difference each and every day leading their respective organizations and helping so many people in need.

I am humbled by their inspired and tireless work, their passion, and their commitment to addressing such incredibly difficult challenges in service of others.

I would like to recognize:

  • Laura E. Thielen, Executive Director of Partners in Care;
  • Rob Van Tassell, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Hawaii;
  • Kūhiō Lewis, CEO, of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement;
  • Dr. Greg Payton, the CEO of Mental Health Kokua;
  • And, even though she is traveling and unable to be here tonight, most certainly, Connie Mitchell the executive director of the Institute for Human Services…

…all of whom are truly exceptional people and key strategic partners for all of our efforts going forward.

It’s going to take an unprecedented effort, and a collaborative effort, to identify and adapt facilities where we can house and shelter people to keep them off the streets.

For us, that requires a combination of strategic acquisitions as well as the rehabilitation of properties already owned by the City that can be adapted for permanent supportive housing.

We know that the redevelopment of Iwilei Center into the iconic transit-oriented community I talked about earlier will take years of planning and design. In the interim, we have begun repurposing that facility into a triage center with at least 100 beds.

With medical and homeless service providers incorporated into that building, we will have the capacity to effectively treat and place hundreds of people into housing on a yearly basis.

Just across the street from that facility, we entered into a partnership with the state last week to operate a behavioral crisis hub — the first ever in Hawaii — at the Iwilei Resource Center, to treat those afflicted with serious mental illness.

Since its inception in 2019, under Mayor Caldwell, City programs like HONU have provided assistance to more than 3,600 unsheltered individuals, with nearly 2,000 of them being navigated to more permanent living arrangements.

And from Waikiki to Wahiawa, from Hauʻula to Iwilei, we are opening new homeless service shelters that will provide life-changing assistance.

Our CORE program, with a staff of 35 people, soon expanding to 50, along with five ambulances and six SUVs, is helping those on our streets who are most in need find their way to those shelters.

In January, we successfully defended our public welfare laws against legal challenges brought by the ACLU.

The general public has a right to expect their government will keep public places, including sidewalks, clean, safe and accessible.

I have said repeatedly that homelessness is not a crime, and these laws do not criminalize homelessness. Our City will continue to fight any challenges to our ability to enforce them.

In acknowledging what we have accomplished thus far to address our homeless crisis, we cannot ignore an incredible achievement that has been somewhat overlooked.

To date, the City’s Rental and Utility Relief Program has helped more than 21,000 local families who were at risk of eviction.

These are our neighbors who were not forced into homelessness, because the program helped them afford their rent and utility payments.

These are our neighbors who never needed homeless services, because this program allowed them to stay in their homes.

This program will ultimately expend more than $300 million dollars in federal funds, making it the largest City relief program in our history — and one of the best and most effective in the country.

For their work in distributing these funds, we owe our Office of Economic Revitalization, as well as Catholic Charities Hawaii and Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, a profound and serious debt of gratitude for their tireless efforts and excellent execution.

I have said repeatedly that beyond making systemic improvements in all areas of the City’s operations, public safety is the overarching and dominant priority of the people and our administration.

Before we talk about our public safety efforts, I want to acknowledge:

  • Dr. Jim Ireland, head of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department, with both Ocean Safety and EMS;
  • Fire Chief Kalani Hao, head of our illustrious fire department;
  • Police Chief Joe Logan, of the Honolulu Police Department;
  • And our Prosecuting Attorney, Steve Alm…

…for their tireless and unwavering commitment in their respective leadership roles to best serve the people of Oʻahu.

They each face extraordinary leadership challenges in dealing with the unexpected crises in people’s lives, and in making sure the men and women in their command can provide the highest level of quality service to the public.

Regrettably, today we live in a time and world marked by real fear and uncertainty, and not just here in Hawaii, but nationally and globally.

Media platforms report non-stop on war, violence and death to what is already a weary and cynical public, while geo-political tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the Middle East, and especially China contribute to us feeling less safe in the world.

Tonight, we are greatly honored to have a number of truly distinguished military guests in our audience, representing four of our armed forces:

  • The Navy;
  • Army;
  • Air Force;
  • and the Marine Corps.

On behalf of the people of Oʻahu, as well as a grateful nation, please accept our most sincere mahalo and heartfelt appreciation for your extraordinary leadership, and all that you and your respective commands do to keep all of us safe.

And on a personal level, I want to thank our military leaders for their commitment to working with us on land initiatives in Kalaeloa, on our search for our City’s new landfill site, and on meeting the many challenges of cleaning up Red Hill.

Here on Oʻahu, recent high-profile and heartbreaking incidents involving gun violence and stabbings, homicides, assaults, drugs and more have contributed to a very real feeling that this island is not as safe as we need it to be.

I am standing here tonight to acknowledge that these are tough issues and legitimate concerns, but also, to reiterate in the strongest possible terms, my commitment to you — and our administration’s commitment to our police department.

Chief Logan and his senior leadership team have long identified HPD’s shortage of sworn officers as the department’s single most-pressing issue.

So tonight, I am announcing my commitment to funding HPD’s most aggressive recruiting initiative since we’ve been in office.

Starting next month, with the 213th Recruit Class, the Honolulu Police Department will offer $25,000 in recruitment bonuses to the courageous men and women who join the department, stay on the force for three years, and help keep the people of our island safe. 

We cannot keep our communities safe if we cannot keep police officers on patrol in those communities. To that end, I have another important announcement.

Earlier this week, HPD successfully completed the long-awaited installation of a fingerprinting machine at the Waianae Police Station. They have already begun processing suspects there, and officers from Waianae will no longer be forced to drive all the way to Kapolei after making an arrest.

Providing public safety for our local residents and visitors has never been more important, but in many ways, the responsibility of ensuring that sense of safety has never been more difficult or more dangerous.

We saw both dynamics at play on January 1, when the day-long pursuit of a suspect who chased and then shot his girlfriend on the freeway ended in Mānoa.

Officer Kekoa Flores and Officer Kalani Fitisemanu both risked their lives in the pursuit of justice that day, suffering gunshot wounds as the suspect recklessly opened fire.

Officer Flores and Officer Fitisemanu are both with us tonight. Will you please stand and be recognized?

Gentlemen, and to your families — on behalf of a grateful public, allow me to say we will never forget your bravery that day, and we wish you both a strong and healthy recovery.

The bravery, selflessness and dedication of our first responders — their willingness to put their lives on the line — humbles me every day.

It seems like there is a new headline about a record-setting wildfire somewhere in our country on a regular basis, which means our firefighting capabilities now more than ever before have to be at their very best.

I have great confidence in the men and women of our Honolulu Fire Department, as well as in Chief Hao and the department’s leadership.

When duty calls, as it did in the mountains above Mililani for more than 40 days late last year, we counted on HFD not just to keep us safe, but to take on the coordination of much-appreciated and much-needed state and federal resources that were deployed for that challenge.

This year, we look forward to the arrival of the department’s first twin-engine rescue and firefighting helicopter, and the positive contribution that will have on our operational readiness.

We’ve worked hard to improve our capabilities with Emergency Medical Services as well.

Today, staffing at EMS — our paramedics and EMTs — is the best it has been in 20 years, with another 48 recruits slated for the EMT Academy Class in July.

Earlier this year, we officially opened our 4th EMS Supervisory District, which covers Aiea to Kahuku, to better manage the volume of 911 calls from that area.

Just this month, a new ambulance station, based in Kalihi, was put into service to assist with peak-hour calls — and a second, which will ultimately service our growing Kaka’ako community, is set to open this summer.

Our Ocean Safety operation has made similar strides, expanding coverage to more of Oahu’s shorelines for longer periods of time each day.

The implementation of our lifeguards’ Dawn to Dusk working hours is now complete island-wide, and last August we put a new lifeguard tower into service on the Waianae Coast, at Kahe Point Beach Park — the first new beach location to be serviced by Ocean Safety in more than a decade.

This summer, we are going to do it all over again, with a new lifeguard tower set to open at Kalama Beach in Kailua in July — and future towers planned in places like Shark’s Cove in 2025.

We are proud that Oʻahu’s Ocean Safety is home to the best watermen and women in the world, but earlier tonight I made it very clear that if organizational structure was standing in the way of us fully realizing our capabilities, in any area, that we would take action.

At last year’s State of the City, I called on Dr. Jim Ireland to convene a task force to determine if, for our lifeguards, that was the case. Just last week, the task force reported back unanimously that they believed Ocean Safety and EMS would better serve the public as separate departments.

We are prepared to act on that recommendation, and today I am announcing my commitment to a standalone Honolulu Ocean Safety Department.

It is clear that we need Ocean Safety to be independent from EMS so that it can be managed and operated with the singular focus of providing a watchful eye over beachgoers along Oʻahu’s 227 miles of shoreline.

I know there is currently a resolution before the City Council, and my office will work with Ocean Safety and the members of the Council to get this done. My commitment on this issue is unwavering.

So many of our challenges and so much of our focus involves solving problems from the inside out. We cannot provide better, more efficient and more cost-effective services to the public without addressing issues under our own roof.

Among the many challenges we discovered when we came into office was the excessive number of vacancies throughout nearly every department across the City.

In the 2023 fiscal year the relentless efforts of our departments of Human Resources and Budget and Fiscal Services resulted in the City’s first net positive increase in the size of our workforce in years — snd with three months to go in FY24, DHR reports that we are actually on track to exceed our hiring rate from a year ago.

We’re not just hiring more — we’re hiring faster.

What we reported in 2022 was a hiring process that took 180 days is down to less than 90, and we are committed to slashing that time even further, to 60 days or less.

And by simplifying the application process, becoming more user friendly in our approach, and experimenting with initiatives like same-day hiring, we are convinced we will continue to improve.

Any enterprise of 10,000 people needs to have an aggressive recruiting strategy, extensive development and training opportunities, and solid succession planning in order to sustain itself.

Consequently, we are creating stronger relationships with our local universities, colleges, and even high schools, as well as the military, to source talent for vacant positions within the City.

We are committed to making sure that employees in every department have clear promotion and career development opportunities facilitated by training programs, which include leadership development.

For our senior-level managers, DHR is implementing a compensation program that allows for salary adjustments, making it easier to retain these highly-valued men and women we count on in leadership roles.

Lastly, we are ensuring that leadership across all departments integrate succession planning as part of their day-to-day operations to prepare for the departures of the growing number of long-time City employees who are retirement eligible, and I want to acknowledge Nola Miyasaki, our DHR Director, and Deputy Director Bugs Baguio, for their innovative work in making this a reality.

Additionally, we are proud that all of our hiring efforts have been framed with a commitment to creating a workforce where diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are integral to our culture in each and every department, agency and unit across the City.

In the past year we have also focused on diversity, equity and inclusion for our public.

We passed an anti-bullying bill, celebrated a new plaque for the Kapaemahu Stones in Waikiki, marched in the Pride Parade, raised the Pride Flag at City Hall, and conducted LGBTQ sensitivity training across multiple departments.

These efforts wouldn’t be possible without the guidance and support of our local LGBTQ organizations, whose leaders are joining us tonight.

Last spring, we embarked on what I called a journey of learning, visiting 11 neighborhoods across the island in our series of town hall meetings.

Starting next week in Kapolei, our entire cabinet team will pick up where we left off, with 11 more town halls between now and early summer.

On that journey of learning, of all the many topics and issues that were brought to our attention, the frequency and consistency in which our City parks came up was eye-opening. 

Our residents deserve safe, well-maintained places where they can take their families to play — and we take great pride in listening to the wants and needs of our communities and taking action.

As a direct result of feedback from our town hall meeting in Laʻie, we released $1.5 million in funding to begin designing the long-promised swimming pool and recreation center at Kahuku District Park.

For too long, our championship-caliber aquatic programs at Kahuku and world-class swimmers and surfers on our North Shore and along the Windward Coast have succeeded in spite of the fact that there is no public swimming pool between Kaneohe and Waialua.

We are already working with the community in Kahuku to build the facility they want, and to build it the way they want it.

Given that commitment to equity, we also want to recognize that historically, our City parks on the Waianae Coast and in Ewa Beach have not received the same level of maintenance as parks in other communities.

To that end, we are creating new roving park maintenance crews to better service the Waianae Coast and Ewa Beach communities.

With 18 maintenance crew, work trucks and refuse containers, these teams will work when the parks are the busiest, including weekends and holidays, and will start later in the day and work later into the evening.

Lastly, I am proud to announce that our parks department has also reopened public swimming pools in Waipahu and Pearl City that had both been closed for more than five years, and we also repurposed underutilized tennis courts at Keehi Lagoon to create 12 dedicated pickleball courts.

I want to thank our parks leadership — director Laura Thielen and deputy director Kehau Puʻu — for their focus on equity and innovation.

Whether it is at parks, playgrounds or any of our other facilities, we are passionate about providing the best possible experience to residents and visitors who turn to the City for recreation.

Our incredible Honolulu Zoo is a shining example.

Just yesterday, after a month-long race against the very best of the best across the U.S., USA Today named our Honolulu Zoo as the fourth-best zoo in the entire country. Bravo!

I am also excited to share with you that late last year, we made Waikiki Vista — to the best of our knowledge — the first permanent home with a dedicated rehearsal hall for the pride and joy of this City, your Royal Hawaiian Band.

For his efforts in making that dream come true, I would like to recognize the person with, quite possibly, the highest approval rating of anyone in the City — our esteemed bandmaster Mr. Clarke Bright!

The band means so much to our City and our people, and we are proud that you finally have the space you so well deserve.

As we close tonight, I sincerely want to thank all of our distinguished guests for being here, especially my fellow mayors, Rick Bissen and Mitch Roth.

The two of you, and Mayor Derek Kawakami, have my utmost respect for all you do for your people, each and every day.

I speak for our entire team: in everything that we have talked about in this last hour, our hearts and minds are aligned, our priorities are in order, and our commitment is to you, our residents.

Helen Keller was famously quoted as having said: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Toward that end our vision is clear.

We have challenged ourselves to tackle and solve the Wicked Problems that have long plagued the City and County of Honolulu.

We have built a budget reflective of our priorities, and we will only spend your money consistent with our priorities in what we intend will directly improve the quality of life for our local residents.

I have been involved in team sports and leadership positions for all my life.

Consequently, I have a profound appreciation for what good people can do when they come together with a shared vision and a common purpose, especially when it is for the greater good.

All that has been said here tonight, for most of this past hour, has been precisely the result of good people working together to solve tough problems for the good of the community.

Our success to date simply would not have happened without the dedication, hard work and commitment of our entire cabinet leadership team.

To them, I am incredibly grateful and appreciative for their willingness to commit themselves to the daunting task of public service to the people of Oʻahu.

Would all of our directors and deputy directors please rise for a well-deserved round of applause?

Lastly, I want to close with a brief passage from the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw that I have always loved. Written in 1903, but just as relevant and poignant today, more than 120 years later:

“This is the true joy in life being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die for the harder I work  the more I live.

“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Thank you good night and God bless you all.

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