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Honolulu Council: Government Official Up Against Small Business Owner - Honolulu Civil Beat

Honolulu Council: Government Official Up Against Small Business Owner - Honolulu Civil Beat


Honolulu Council: Government Official Up Against Small Business Owner - Honolulu Civil Beat

Posted: 13 Oct 2020 03:01 AM PDT

In the race for Honolulu City Council District 3, seasoned government official Esther Kiaaina is facing off against Greg Thielen, a small business owner with an established family name.  

The candidates are running for the nonpartisan seat once held by former Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, who recently resigned ahead of the end of his final term. 

The seat is now being occupied by Alan Texeira, the third-place primary finisher who council members chose to serve the remainder of Anderson's term.   

Greg Thielen owns a construction business. Esther Kiaaina has decades of government experience.

The district includes Ahuimanu, Haiku, Maunawili, Kailua and Waimanalo. 

The top candidate in the primary was Kiaaina with 10,398 votes to Thielen's 9,048. Over 19,500 voters chose one of the other four candidates – Texeira, Kalani Kalima, Paul Mossman and Warland Kealoha – or left their ballot blank in the race. 

Kiaaina, 57, said her decades of government and policy experience is what sets her apart from her opponent. 

She currently serves as the executive director of the Pacific Basin Development Council, a nonprofit that promotes economic and social development in the Pacific Islands. 

Previously, she served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior in the Obama administration. She was in charge of coordinating federal policy for Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

She has also worked as a first deputy in Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources; chief advocate at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; a land asset manager at Kamehameha Schools; chief of staff for Congressmen Ed Case and Robert Underwood; a legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka; and an intern for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. She also has a law degree from George Washington University. 

Kiaaina, a Democrat, has made unsuccessful runs for the OHA Board of Trustees and the U.S. House.

In the council race, she is backed by prominent community members like U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi; advocacy organizations including the Sierra Club of Hawaii, Planned Parenthood, and the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association; and labor unions representing police officers, government employees, construction workers and others. 

Greg Thielen's resume looks very different. For nearly 20 years, Thielen, 52, has operated Complete Construction Services, a Kailua-based company that does both commercial and residential projects. If he wins, he will close his business to avoid conflicts of interest. 

In 1996, he was appointed by Gov. Ben Cayetano to serve on the Small Business Regulatory Relief Board. Thielen said he has also advocated for housing and small business issues and has volunteered in his community, including coaching youth sports. 

Thielen, who is not a member of a political party, said he provides an outside perspective. 

Hawaii Rep. Cynthia Thielen (left) is supporting her son Greg's council campaign. His sister, state Sen. Laura Thielen, is backing Esther Kiaaina. 

"Do we need somebody with experience in government, or do we need somebody who has experience with government?" he said. "I believe the people with experience in government are the people who have given us the situation we have now."  

Notably, the person who recruited Kiaaina to run for the District 3 seat was Hawaii Sen. Laura Thielen – Greg Thielen's sister. Laura Thielen publicly endorsed Kiaaina the week before her brother announced he would be running too. Contacted in August, the senator did not want to discuss it. 

Greg Thielen said his sister had long urged Kiaaina to run in the district and felt "honor bound" to stand by her. His late entry into the race on Memorial Day didn't change that. 

It's a "difficult predicament" that has caused some family strife, he said. Meanwhile, Greg's mother, longtime Hawaii Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen, is backing his campaign. 

Thielen is also supported by several construction industry leaders including Pacific Architects President Dwight Mitsunaga, Hardware Hawaii executive David Lundquist, Graham Builders Vice President Evan Fujimoto and Brenton Liu, vice president of the remodeling company DTC Hawaii, campaign finance records show. 

In addition, he received contributions from Matson, the Island Insurance political action committee, the Castle & Cooke Inc. Legislative Committee and a PAC associated with the Bank of Hawaii.  

The Government Veteran

Kiaaina said she was recruited by Sen. Thielen and other Kailua community members in December 2019. 

"There was great concern that while there were a lot of candidates, there were not enough candidates that had extensive government experience who would be able to go in from day one and be able to effectively fight," Kiaaina said.

Senator Mazie Hirono and Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther Kia'aina moderates during 2015 Senior Plenary Session of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas, South Interior Auditorium. Washington DC. 24 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Esther Kiaaina, pictured with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, was an assistant secretary for insular affairs during the Obama administration.

Her top three priorities are addressing the pandemic, the island's economic recovery and housing and homelessness. 

Government leaders need to make sure that everyone has enough personal protective equipment and that there is enough contact tracing and testing to keep the virus in check, she said. 

"Where I believe I could be helpful is just holding accountable the manner of how the county is using federal CARES funding, not only with regard to addressing health issues, but, of course, relief measures for individuals and small businesses," she said. 

Even as a private citizen, Kiaaina says she was aggressive in demanding that the Department of Health track and release racial and ethnic information in its infections data. When DOH did disclose the information, it showed Pacific Islanders and members of the Filipino community were disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  

As vice-chair for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement's board, Kiaaina said she has also been working behind the scenes to ensure CARES funding is directed to underserved communities. 

Kiaaina said she is an advocate for affordable housing but opposed the recent controversial Kawainui proposal in Kailua. In testimony submitted to the City Council, she concurred with community members who expressed concerns about parking and traffic impacts. 

Thielen did not submit council testimony on that issue, which Kiaaina said is something voters should consider. 

"So transparency is: Let your voice be heard formally because that's what we're going to do when we're council members," she said. "You don't sit on the sidelines and then respond to people when they say, 'What is your position?'" 

Thielen said he did address his stance against Kawainui during a Kokua Council forum, but said if he had been on council at that time he would "work to reconcile the two sides." 

"I was hoping Ikaika (Anderson) would have picked up that torch and I felt my opposition was counterproductive to that end," he said. "That is why I did not engage in public opposition." 

In general, the city and state need to be more proactive about identifying government lands, and private areas too, for affordable housing development, Kiaaina said. 

Officials should seek input from neighborhood boards, planners and other stakeholders to select those locations and push projects forward. It all needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy, she said. 

"We cannot wait for the free market process to determine when affordable housing moves forward," she said.

On homelessness, Kiaaina said she is already working on solutions – and sweeps and sit-lie bans are not among them. Those are "not effective remedies," Kiaaina said, and she would vote against any sit-lie ban expansion.  

Kiaaina is running to represent the district that includes Kailua and Waimanalo.

Courtesy of Esther Kiaaina

Kiaaina is currently advocating for a group in Waimanalo that moved away from the beachfront to avoid a sweep in the beginning of the pandemic.

"Auntie Blanche" McMillan has worked to build a community for homeless people — called kauhale villages because they have shared facilities — but was later told by the state that the structures were not permitted, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported

Kiaaina said she and others are working with DLNR, where she used to work, to address the problem. 

"What it brought to my attention, again, is the failure of county and state housing people to take a snapshot of all that's happening across Oahu and determine how to help," she said. "So right now, we are left holding the bag on an exit strategy to move them temporarily to another site. But why should the onus be on us?" 

Just like for affordable housing, the island's leaders need to proactively identify parcels for the kauhale villages and support their development, according to Kiaaina. The sites need to offer wraparound services, she said, including job training. 

She cited Puuhonua o Waianae, the homeless community that privately fundraised enough to plan a move to a new location mauka of its longtime spot at the Waianae boat harbor. 

"I applaud them. But similar to what we're facing in Waimanalo, the onus should not be on the community," she said. "Where are our leaders?" 

Kiaaina said better coordination between county, state and federal officials is needed, both on homelessness and affordable housing. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands should also play a significant role, she said. 

Overall, Kiaaina says her hands-on experience working on these issues means she has the expertise to get things done, either administratively or with legislation. 

"I have a reputation as being a facilitator and bringing parties together," she said. 

Regarding the rail project, Kiaaina said she is a "rail supporter" but is concerned that Mayor Kirk Caldwell doesn't seem to have the power to make decisions. 

"What's going on is a fiasco with regard to the city pulling out and then the HART board seemingly still having the authority to move forward with a semblance of a P3 contract," she said. "How can that happen?"

If the mayor does not have enough authority, she said "we need to reevaluate that."

"This standoff between the mayor and the HART board cannot continue," she said. "Failure to have a unified strategy among the mayor, the HART board and the City Council does not bode well with regard to long term public trust or confidence in the rail system." 

Kiaaina is endorsed by SHOPO, the police union.

When it comes to the Honolulu Police Department, Kiaaina said she is not well-versed in police reform issues. However, the candidate, who was endorsed by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, said the department does need to work to increase its clearance rates, which reflect cases solved as a percentage of crimes reported. 

Regarding HPD's record-breaking pandemic ticketing spree, Kiaaina said "there has to be a better way." She is also concerned about the amount of CARES money HPD received. The department got over $30 million, including for overtime and ATVs, while funding delivered to struggling households lagged. 

She would like to explore the possibility of other county employees doing pandemic-related enforcement so police can focus on their normal jobs. 

Overall, Kiaaina said she is the best prepared candidate for the job of council member. 

"With 30 years of experience, you learn the tricks of the trade of how to fight within governmental systems," she said. "And I bring that to the table. But I don't just bring the fighting spirit. I bring a record of achievement, of actually achieving objectives. And that's a big difference." 

The Small Business Owner

Despite his family pedigree, Thielen said he had never considered running for office. But watching the pandemic unfold in Spring 2020, he said he felt the need to help.  

"I believe that my skill set, the skill set of a small business owner – the hard work, the determination, the grit, the ability to do more with less, the knowledge of what it takes to create jobs and train people to sell them – is a skill set that's really needed, especially at the city level of government," he said. 

Greg Thielen is the owner of Complete Construction Services.

Monica Lau, courtesy of Thielen campaign

Earlier this year, Oahu was shut down for longer than was necessary, Thielen said. And the ever-changing rules meant that families could go to Costco together, but not the beach. A small business had to be closed while Home Depot could be open. 

Thielen considered the rules a broad overreach that caused "economic calamity."

"When we were given a stay at home order back in March, it was with the understanding that we were staying at home to flatten the curve, to give government time, to prepare and be ready with the steps that were needed for us to get back to work," he said. 

"It did seem to change between March and May, where instead of staying home to flatten the curve, we were being told to stay home even though the curve was flat."

If elected, Thielen said his biggest priority will be getting people back to work through job creation and training for workers who are changing careers. 

"Tourism is not coming back to pre-COVID levels anytime soon," he said.  

As a council member, Thielen said he would leverage the power of the capital improvements budget to "put that money to work, and put people to work." That could include construction, tree planting, park and trail maintenance and improvement and investments in housing infrastructure. 

To help diversify the economy, Thielen would also like the city to invest in entrepreneurial ventures in areas like agriculture, technology and home-based consulting businesses. 

"I believe we can empower people to create a diversification wave," he said. "But we've got to look from the ground up because the mistake that we've made in the past is the government tries to pick a winner."

If elected, Thielen said his main focus would be interacting with the city administration on behalf of the constituents in District 3. Voters are concerned about "very localized" quality of life issues including traffic, drainage culverts and dilapidated recreation centers and parks. 

"These aren't, you know, big, sexy, high level issues like the rail," he said. "But I think that's the most important thing that I want to do." 

Thielen said he would also prioritize reforms at the Department of Planning and Permitting, which has a "terrible track record" of addressing illegal short-term vacation rentals. He would also like to expand last year's legislative crackdown on STRs. Instead of restricting rentals to a minimum of 30 days, he says 90 days is more appropriate. 

DPP's failure to enforce the law against monster homes and its glacial pace of approving building permits also needs to be addressed, according to Thielen. The department currently demands "perfect" building plans and then outsources inspections to third parties, Thielen said. He believes that should be reversed. 

"If we continue to allow projects to sit on the shelf at DPP for six months, 12 months, 18 months, then that's work that's not happening. That's jobs that are not happening," said Thielen, who has encountered those kinds of delays as a builder himself. 

"As people build, it increases the value of their property and it increases tax revenue for the city."

Oahu should consider establishing an Office of Emergency Permitting, as Kauai did in the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki, Thielen said. 

"You could literally walk in and walk out with a building permit the same day," he said. 

Regarding affordable housing, Thielen believes the government should use city property and resources to build units for people in the lowest-income brackets. 

"Those projects can't be built without the help of government," he said. 

The government should build infrastructure to cater to development on government land, not private land as was the case in Kakaako, he said. The city can also repurpose buildings, like office buildings that are now vacant because of COVID-19, for housing, Thielen said. 

Thielen opposed the ill-fated Kawainui affordable housing development, "with a heavy heart," because he felt there was a lack of community input in the waiving of zoning and parking rules that the developer wanted. 

"I also think it's unfair for people to buy homes in a residential community to be told that someone is going to build a four story, 73-unit apartment building across the street from you on that block that is zoned residential," he said. 

On homelessness, Thielen said Honolulu has done a good job setting up an isolation center for homeless people during the pandemic and the police department's temporary tent city, the POST program.

Tents at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park during COVID-19 pandemic. September 17, 2020

Thielen is supportive of POST, the city's temporary tent shelter program for homeless people.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

However, Honolulu should offer more Housing First and Rapid Rehousing vouchers, which aim to house homeless people, and expand the city's Landlord Engagement Program, which works to address landlord concerns about renting to formerly homeless people. 

Thielen's wife, Laura Thielen, is the director of Partners In Care, a nonprofit homeless services coordinator that holds the Landlord Engagement Program contract. 

One problem with homeless services is that nonprofit providers experience a lot of turnover because of low pay, Thielen said. He wonders if that sector should have a prevailing wage law, like in construction, so that homeless outreach workers can stay in their jobs and be more effective. 

When it comes to homeless sweeps and sit-lie ban enforcement, Thielen said they don't do anything to solve the problem of homelessness and he wouldn't vote to expand sit-lie bans. 

"That being said, and this is an area where my wife and I have a number of arguments on, public property belongs to the public," he said. "And I don't believe that a set group of people have the right to occupy it."

Therefore, he said he supports the continued use of sweeps as a tool for public health and safety.

On rail, Thielen said he is not someone who wants rail at any cost. He wants the bidding process to be made public prior to an award and would support a forensic audit that was previously supported by the City Council but then shot down

"I say this as someone who has built many things over the years. I have never seen a project built where you work the budget to the project," he said. "You work the project to the budget." 

At the Honolulu Police Department, Thielen said Chief Susan Ballard is doing a good job, but there is clearly room for improvement. The department's low crime-solving rate combined with its aggressive ticketing this year is an example of "misguided priorities," he said. He believes the Police Commission should have more oversight power of the department. 

Thielen said HPD should have the resources it needs to do its job. However, if its social services-focused projects, like the POST program, were moved to another department, the funding for that program should be shifted as well. 

For Thielen, his community ties are what makes him the better candidate for District 3 than Kiaaina. 

"I know these problems we're experiencing on a much more personal level," he said. "That long term residency and connection to the community and knowledge of the community is something that's an important asset that I bring that she does not have." 

Local business owner concerned over Yelp's racism accusation alerts - KOLO

Posted: 13 Oct 2020 08:26 AM PDT

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A new alert on Yelp is raising concerns for a local business owner. The review company will notify consumers when businesses are accused of racist behavior. Yelp said this alert is one of the ways the company is taking a firm stance against racism.

Yelp rolled out a number of initiatives over the summer to help users find and support Black-owned businesses. It partnered with My Black Receipt on the launch of a Black-owned business attribute and joined the 15 Percent Pledge to further amplify Black-owned businesses.

The company said searches to support black-owned businesses surged on yelp during the summer, as did reviews warning users of racist behavior at businesses.

According to Yelp if a claim of a racist incident occurs it will post a general "Public Attention Alert". This alert will inform consumers if someone associated with the business was accused of, or the target of racist behavior.

Yelp will only escalate to a "Business Accused of Racist Behavior" alert when there's evidence of "egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee such as using overtly racist slurs or symbols," said Yelp.

A spokesperson said, "Our top priority is to ensure the trust and safety of our community and provide users with reliable content to inform their spending decisions, including decisions about whether they'll be welcome and safe at a particular business."

The owner of Sweet Tahoe Time, Beth Moxley said, she does not condone racism, but as a business owner she doesn't support this new alert.

Moxley worries it could be used maliciously. She hopes Yelp will thoroughly investigate and monitor the reviews before labeling a business.

"Someone for some reason or another has a personal issue with an owner of the establishment, they can use this label and accuse this business as racist behavior as a personal vendetta."

Yelp said when a business receives the "Business Accused of Racist Behavior" alert it will always link to a news article from a credible media outlet so users can learn more.

Copyright 2020 KOLO. All rights reserved.

A Los Angeles bookstore owner on reinventing her small business during the pandemic - Marketplace

Posted: 12 Oct 2020 04:03 PM PDT

"My Economy" tells the story of the new economic normal through the eyes of people trying to make it, because we know the only numbers that really matter are the ones in your economy.

Celene Navarrete first met her business partner Chiara Arroyo at a book fair for their children's school.

"Chiara is from Spain and I'm from Mexico, and our children go to a bilingual program here in Los Angeles," said Navarrete.

They both expected to find many books in Spanish at the book fair.

"But that was not the case. And it was very disappointing for us," she recalls. "So, we decided to take action."

That is when LA Librería, a Los Angeles bookstore that specializes in imported children's books from Spanish-speaking nations around the world, was born. Navarrete and Arroyo travel to Latin American countries and Spain to find authentic Spanish-language children's books. They carefully select books that resonate with kids and young adults in the United States and bring them back to stock their shelves.

"LA Librería is more than a bookstore," said Navarrete. "It is a cultural hub, where people connect with other families that are raising bilingual children."

Prior to the pandemic, they would host events at the store and bring some of their books to book fairs in different schools. But all of that has changed. Their storefront has been closed since March, and they have not been able to attend any in-person book fairs.

"We have to reinvent the way we work with our community, with our customers," said Navarrete. "People that come to this store are looking for the in-person experience, the same thing for the people that buy a book from us from the book fairs. So, this has been very, very challenging."

Let us know how your economy is doing using the form below, and your story may be featured on a future edition of "My Economy."

What's the latest on more pandemic relief aid from the federal government?

President Donald Trump first tweeted that he's cutting off negotiations on big pandemic relief funding until after the election. Then, later the same day, he called for piecemeal stimulus, including $1,200 pandemic checks for families to be signed by the president and arrive before election day. So, some whiplash here. Karen Petrou, managing partner of the Washington-based economic consulting firm Federal Financial Analytics, said "the president is always negotiating. I mean, he's just trying to make a deal. That's the only way I can explain this."

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What's going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.

From homeless to business owner and philanthropist, South Philly resident shares his story of success - South Philly Review

Posted: 13 Oct 2020 05:01 AM PDT

Kyle Brothers, contributed photo

Kyle Brothers says his life would be much different without the help of complete strangers.

The South Philadelphia resident transformed his life on the streets from homelessness to becoming a successful entrepreneur and business owner. Now he wants to help others do the same.

"It was the turning point of my life because I realized I had to make a decision and go 100-percent right or wrong," recalled Brothers, now 39. "It wasn't easy, but it was better than looking over my shoulder every night and worrying about going to jail or ending up dead."

Brothers moved to the 7th Street Community in South Philly with foster parents at the age of 11 after both his biological parents passed away that same year in 1992. Once he reached adulthood, Brothers fell on tougher times, trying to make it on his own. A part-time job wasn't paying the bills and soon he found himself on the streets after he could no longer afford rent.

"They raised my rent and I had to move out," he said. "I was only making $600 a month so I was out and had nowhere to go."

A man whom Brothers called a "complete stranger" let him sleep on the floor of his apartment some nights while Brothers tried to save money for another place at age 22. Other nights, he wasn't so lucky.

"He was a complete stranger and he let me sleep on his floor and take a shower there sometimes," Brothers said of Matthew Bowman. "But some nights he didn't answer his phone, I would have to stay out in the neighborhood or on a step all night. It was a crazy time in my life."

The financial struggles transitioned into selling drugs for survival.

"A lot of nights, I would walk around the neighborhood, wondering what I was going to do next," Brothers said. "I just didn't have a clue. That's when I started selling drugs. I got to a point where I was fed up. I had no money and nothing to do. I knew selling drugs was wrong but I had to do something to get out of this situation."

But the situation got worse. Brothers said his friends started turning up dead and he feared he was next. That's when he believes another stranger saved his life.

"I was riding around one night and a car was following me," Brothers said. "I either thought I was going to get kidnapped or killed. I rode around for a while. I had a gun on me. I figured if I got down to 6th and Snyder, I was going to get out and start shooting because at that point, it's going to be me or him. But I got to 6th and McKean and found a cop at the corner with his lights on and I pulled over there. The other car drove off. That cop will never know but he saved my life that night."

It was the wakeup call Brothers needed. Still working his part-time job, he stopped selling drugs and started pursuing legal business opportunities. He talked to acquaintances who owned businesses and decided to start his own cleaning service while holding on to his part-time job. He put in extra work after his overnight job let out. In the meantime, Bowman helped Brothers find an apartment in his building.

"It started by putting fliers on people's cars and under restaurant doors at 3 in the morning in Center City," Brothers said. "I looked pretty suspicious. But I started cleaning carpets to get my foot in the door to talk to businesses to try to get contracts."

It worked. Brothers officially started a business in 2007, and the company cleaned office buildings and Sprint stores through a subcontractor. Before long, he had 16 employees working under him. Last year, he started a property management company called Regmar Property Management Services LLC, where he is the president and CEO.

Upon finding success, Brothers wanted to perhaps be the complete stranger that would someday help others. Just recently, he started The Philanthropy Group in an effort to help out people who struggled through similar circumstances.

His team has hosted homeless assistance events and worked with organizations to help mentor youths, creating a program called "Youth Talk Sessions." Brothers hopes to help people find assistance to pay bills, buy groceries or find clothes for job interviews.

He's also planning on starting a program called "Reinstating The Homeless," geared toward getting homeless individuals into permanent housing along with finding them permanent employment, counseling and other services,

"For the majority of my adult life, when I needed a helping hand myself, it wasn't always the people I considered longtime close friends or family," Brothers said. "It was mainly total strangers, people I've only known for a brief period of time at that point. This is my way of paying it forward, by being that stranger to others that may be in need, that I do not know at all."

Local brokerage owner Karlton Govan on Black business' lack of access to capital - Memphis Business Journal

Posted: 13 Oct 2020 05:21 AM PDT

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Local brokerage owner Karlton Govan on Black business' lack of access to capital  Memphis Business Journal

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