The word “homeless” is not mentioned in Honolulu City Council Bill 39.

The measure is intended to keep city sidewalks safe, accessible and efficient for lawful use, especially for people with disabilities.

But should Bill 39 become law, it will certainly affect homeless people who have begun to set up camp — or just sleep — on sidewalks as the city pushes them out of parks and other city facilities. And it clearly targets them, just the way the council bills that banned shopping carts and tents from the parks did.

On Sept. 22 the Honolulu City Council unanimously passed on second reading Bill 39, and a final vote could come next month.

“It is important that the public be able to use sidewalks as places of permitted commerce and to socialize, gather and speak,” reads the bill, which was introduced by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.

Specifically, Bill 39 calls for the establishment of 8-foot wide “pedestrian use zones” that would extend from the sidewalks’ frontage line to the street.

The zone is designed to provide a “fixed, stable and predictable sidewalk topography” to help aid people using canes, guide dogs, wheelchair, crutches or a walker. Bill 39 cites a U.S. Department of Transportation statistic that 20 percent of Americans have a disability, and the number is growing.

So are the numbers of homeless people, and a lot of them have been taking up residence on the grassy strips between sidewalks and streets.

Bill 39 would prohibit leaving personal baggage or luggage in the pedestrian use zone (the city’s Department of Facility Maintenance would be responsible for marking zone boundaries and providing explanatory signage). Those in violation of this “public nuisance” could be find up to $50.

Six state lawmakers including Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, support Bill 39.

“Dozens of homeless persons still remain on the public sidewalks,” they wrote to the Council. “In particular, they have congregated near the McCully-Moiliili Library and have placed tents, barricades and other personal belongings on the sidewalks. They no longer make any attempt to move from the sidewalk area, and as a result, the personal belongings on the public sidewalk area
have grown and become unwieldy.”

In his testimony, Hawaii State Librarian Richard Burns wrote, “Our patrons have difficulty accessing our library, feel threatened and scared having to walk past them, and complain about the stench left by urine and feces. Our staff is constantly picking up trash, litter, containers, clothes, alcohol bottles, and even drug paraphernalia left in our open parking lot.”

Daniel Gluck of the ACLU of Hawaii, however, opposes Bill 39, calling it “vague and overbroad, as it improperly interferes with protected First Amendment activities.”

This issue slipped under the radar because of the council’s approval of a partial fireworks ban and property tax relief from some residents of Kalihi.

About the Author