Mayor outlines his post-pandemic vision for Oahu in first State of the City

Updated: Mar. 15, 2021 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi delivered his first State of the City address Monday, outlining a post-pandemic vision for Oahu that would tackle the housing crisis and homelessness, get people back to work, and help prepare the island for climate change.

“I commit to you that I will work with the City Council, the state and federal delegations, and the military, to maximize efforts and work together for One Oahu,” Blangiardi said.

“In team sports there is a saying, ‘great things happen when no one cares who gets the credit.’ Our team brings that mentality to the city because we will make our island better, together.”

Among the highlights of his speech:

  • The city will expand its City of Housing to also focus on homelessness.
  • The mayor plans to set aside $114 million in federal funds for a rent and utility relief program. Details of the program would be released shortly, Blangiardi said.
  • There was also a pledge to bring new ideas to the housing crisis and revitalize Chinatown. “The same old tired solutions to our affordable housing crisis is clearly not the answer,” he said.
  • Blangiardi also said the city would overhaul the problem-plagued permitting process, moving to a paper-less system. Other city services would also be streamlined, he said.

In his speech, the mayor put a strong focus on “climate resilience,” saying the city will seek to create new green jobs as part of a push to “decarbonize” the economy.

He also pledged to help prepare the island for the impacts of global warming.

“From sea level rise, rain bombs, and increasing temperatures, we’re taking steps toward a climate ready Oahu,” he said.

“It is a pivot in a new direction. We are shifting from talking about policy to doing something about it.”

Blangiardi said he hadn’t originally planned to talk about climate change in his State of the City until last week, when torrential rains triggered severe flooding that damaged homes and businesses.

He said Oahu is “not prepared” for a future with more intense heavy rain events.

“This will be a years-long project,” he said.

Blangiardi gave the address from the closed Mission Memorial Auditorium before a small audience ― a recognition that the pandemic is far from over.

But the mayor sought to strike a hopeful note in his speech, underscoring the steady pace of vaccinations on Oahu. Roughly 20% of Oahu’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

In recent weeks, the mayor has taken big steps to fully reopen businesses, lifting a host of COVID restrictions as infections declined.

After the address, he said he believes Oahu could soon move to Tier 4 of the city’s reopening strategy, with the least number of restrictions in place.

“There’s every reason right now to remain confident,” he said. “Part of that is the behavior of the people. I agree not everyone wears a mask, but for the most part, we’ve had incredible participation.”

Blangiardi also focused on one of the communities hardest hit by the pandemic: Chinatown.

He called the district “a hidden gem” that’s been neglected through the years.

“We already have projects planned that will improve lighting, repave roadways and fix areas that are prone to flooding,” the mayor said.

Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, of the Chinatown Business & Community Association, said it’s about time.

“I think it’s long overdue. Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinatown in the United States, is getting the attention it deserves,” she said.

Shubert-Kwock said the previous city administration didn’t do enough for the district. She said crime and homelessness soared while businesses struggled during the pandemic.

Blangiardi said his vision for a new Chinatown includes more affordable housing, such as the stalled Halewaiolu senior rental project.

That vision also includes leveraging the district’s rich cultural and artistic history.

“We can create a Chinatown that is centralized with culture, with arts -- an artistic district,” said Alex Kozlov, director of the city Department of Design and Construction.

“I think people will come to it and the worst parts of Chinatown will evaporate,”

This story will be updated.

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