The language in a bill aimed at keeping the homeless from living on Honolulu’s sidewalks is too vague, a Honolulu police major told a City Council committee Tuesday.
While John McEntire told the Committee on Public Infrastructure that the police department supports the intent of Bill 39, which would keep sidewalks clear for pedestrians, it is concerned about whether it will be able to enforce the proposed law.
“The Honolulu police department supports the intent of the bill to make the sidewalks safe and accessible to our pedestrians,” said McEntire, who’s assigned to District 6 in Waikiki. “We do have some concerns, though, with the enforceability of the bill.”
The proposal is the latest attempt by the city to move the homeless out of parks and public spaces. This spring it banned tents and shopping carts in city parks. The bill will be heard by the full Council on Oct. 13.
The bill never mentions the word homeless. Nor did the council members on the committee use it Tuesday. Instead, it speaks of a “pedestrian use zone” for all sidewalks in the city.
It would create an 8-foot buffer – the pedestrian use zone – that would allow police to ticket those that “deposit, install, place, fix or leave any object or item” on the sidewalk. Meaning tents, shopping carts or sleeping bags will no longer be welcome on pedestrian paths. The law would not be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The fine would be $50 for each infraction. But McEntire said that broad definitions in the bill will make it difficult to collect any money. He said, specifically, that the terms “pedestrian use zones,” “personal baggage and luggage” and “within arms reach” are too open for interpretation.
For example, in Section 29 of the bill, it says: “Unless authorized or allowed by ordinance or permit, no person may deposit, install, place, fix or leave any object or item in, on or above a Pedestrian Use Zone except personal baggage or luggage that is within arm’s reach of the pedestrian possessor.”
McEntire pointed out that a person could simply lean forward “and that would increase the arms reach.”
The police weren’t the only members of the community to criticize sections of the bill.
Darlene Hein, director of community services for the Waikiki Health Center, also had problems with it.
“There are a couple of things I have concerns about,” Hein said. “One is, I understand that the bill’s intent is really about stuff and stuff on sidewalks… but I’m worried about the pedestrian piece of this and what the definition of pedestrian is. And if that means that people who are sitting or laying down in the sidewalk are in violation of this rule.”
Hein provided an example. “I just drove from Kahala here, I was dropping my son off at school and there were some teenagers hanging out, sitting by Zippy’s on the sidewalk there. So they’re in violation of the rule, right?”
Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, the committee’s chair, replied: “They probably would be.” However, Kobayashi said there would be a 60-day education and warning period for the public.
But Hein wasn’t convinced that an education period would be enough to limit the breadth of the bill. “I don’t know. That seems a little broad,” she said.
Rick Egged, the president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, was more supportive.
“We are strongly in support of this bill,” Egged said. “We believe this will be very helpful in terms of maintaining access to all the different locations in Waikiki.” Egged said that the most important thing to remember was that “sidewalks are for pedestrian use and are for pedestrian access to different locations in the city and therefore, they need to be maintained as such.”
Others testifying brought up issues such as the size of tables allowed to be set up on sidewalks, 12-square-feet with a permit, for political events. Jeoffrey Cudiamat, director of the Department of Facility Maintenance, said it’s too big.
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