THE DEVASTATION OF INDISCRIMINATE SWEEPS. Honolulu’s enforcement of its “stored property” and “sidewalk nuisance” ordinances has been problematic, at best. Intended to prod homeless people into shelters, the enforcement “sweeps” instead often feature homeless individuals watching as city workers gather up whatever belongings they can’t move first and throwing them — lock, stock and barrel — into garbage trucks.

Then the homeless often simply go back to the very same locations and set up camp once again. Mayor Kirk Caldwell admitted as much when he temporarily stopped the sweeps in Kakaako earlier this year. They’re back now in a more focused, targeted fashion where greater care is being taken to arrange shelter for those being displaced, but some of the underlying problems remain.

The city is fond of providing statistical detail to affirm the sweeps’ efficacy – tons of garbage removed, number of truckloads hauled away, etc. And there’s no doubt that removing rubbish from city streets improves both the beauty of our surroundings and reduces potential health threats.

City and County workers pick up trash along Ohe Street as part of the city's homeless cleanup in Kakaako. 8 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A maintenance crew picks up trash and personal belongings from homeless campers earlier this month along Ohe Street as part of the first phase of the city’s sweeps in Kakaako.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But how about indiscriminately seizing belongings that homeless people require for mere existence and care of their children — tents, sleeping bags, food and ID documents, for instance? How does that help anyone?

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that the sweeps cause “incredible hardships,” leave homeless kids “devastated” and violate homeless individuals’ constitutional guarantees of equal protection and rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The ACLU filed a class-action suit recently to prevent further sweeps, to the applause of homeless advocates across Honolulu.

A similar case in Los Angeles ended with that city being required to hold seized belongings for at least 90 days, to give those from whom they were taken time to recover valuables. Honolulu’s version of that process requires impoverished homeless folks to cough up a $200 retrieval fee and then somehow schlep out to Halawa, where their belongings may or may not actually be.

It’s “an impossible burden for families to meet,” said ACLU Hawaii Legal Director Daniel Gluck.

A federal judge last week denied the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order halting the sweeps, citing a lack of information to determine whether the sweeps cause “irreparable harm.” A hearing on the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction is now set for Dec. 14.

Public policy director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, Jenny Lee, perhaps best summed up the stakes in this case.

“The property ordinances have had a really devastating and traumatic effect on a large number of homeless people, so we are glad that ACLU is there defending the people’s rights,” Lee said.

A street scene like this is hard to come by in Honolulu, as sidewalk cafes are only permitted in Waikiki.

A street scene like this is hard to come by in Honolulu, as sidewalk cafes are only permitted in Waikiki and Kakaako.

Wikimedia Commons

AHH, THE SIDEWALK CAFE. Have you ever longed to sit down at an outdoor table, the likes of which you might find at any Parisian bistro, and tuck into some kalua pig or sip a bit of Maui’s Ocean Vodka beneath beautiful Hawaii skies as the tradewinds blow away any cares you might have?

It’s an enticing idea, but unless you plan to enjoy yourself in Waikiki (and to a lesser extent, Kakaako), it’s only a fantasy on this island. Honolulu ordinances largely ban sidewalks cafes throughout the city, narrowly defining sidewalks as places for walking, not dining.

But help seems to be finally on the way. An ordinance to be taken up at the end of the month by the Honolulu Planning Commission would not only widely allow sidewalk cafes, but require new development of walkways and bicycle parking.

The proposal seems to enjoy early support from academics, planning experts and others; the city official in charge of development around stations for the Honolulu rail project described the proposed ordinance as an attempt to reclaim the streets for the people.

It’s an idea that we can support with enthusiasm.

VARIANCE DENIED. The decision by the City of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting to allow a proposed 26-story hotel/residential tower to encroach nearly 75 feet into a 100-foot shoreline height setback turned quite a few heads when it was handed down in 2010. And not in a good way.

Critics called the decision for Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts a “dangerous precedent” (and a great many other things that we don’t allow to be posted on our website). The Surfrider Foundation subsequently led a coalition of four environmental organizations in challenging the ruling. Last week, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling that fully supported the organizations’ claims, saying the variance never should have been granted.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that a variance to allow a 26-story hotel to be built dangerously close to the water's edge never should have been granted.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that a variance to allow a 26-story hotel to be built dangerously close to the water’s edge never should have been granted.

Courtesy of WireLizard via Flickr

The Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Islands manager summed up the matter neatly, pointing to the time and care that goes into crafting land-use ordinances for our precious, fragile shorelines and wondering “what effect does the law really have” if we just jettison those rules when they don’t suit this developer or that?

Kyo-ya and an allied labor organization argued the company had met the conditions to support a variance and wouldn’t be able to enjoy reasonable use of its property without it. Maybe.

But these ordinances are in place for more than just the convenience and profitability of developer projects; real safety issues are concerned when a 308-foot structure is allowed to be built dangerously close to the water’s edge.

One wonders how many other developers might have been tempted to site their projects closer and closer to ocean waves, using the same arguments that Kyo-ya made in temporarily receiving its variance.

In Waikiki, Kakaako and other parts of Hawaii where developers bring enormous assets to the table to ensure indulgence of their wishes and deference to their luxury projects, good rules too often get bent and authorities too often make exceptions, for no good reason.

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