Editor’s Note: The Honolulu City Council passed Bill 54, which prohibits people from leaving personal possessions on a sidewalk or in a park for more than 24 hours. Backers argue it’s necessary to clear the public spaces of items people abandon but critics say it’s simply a thinly disguised way to clear the public spaces of the homeless and political protestors like Occupy Honolulu. The commentary is a letter to council member Romy Cachola.

To: Romy M. Cachola, Council Floor Leader

I am requesting through you a breakdown of the extraordinary costs incurred by the City & County of Honolulu for the enforcement of “Bill 54,” also known as ordinance 11-029 ROH (Revised Ordinances of Honolulu as Amended). More than anything though, I am requesting the calculation of the main cost of Bill 54, the per person cost to the residents of Honolulu for the creation of each additional homeless citizen of the City.

Although I am a resident of Tulsi Gabbard’s district, I am submitting the request through you because you have repeatedly requested the information from Mayor Carlisle (Your memoranda of November 21, 2011, and January 4, 2012). Your interest in saving taxpayer monies and keeping accurate record of costs can only be in the best interest of the community regardless of political party or affiliation.

Now almost three months into Bill 54’s implementation, it might be a good time to get a grip on the actual costs of enforcing the ordinance. The costs would have to include not only City personnel on their regular duties but for overtime costs incurred during raids on weekends and during the dead of night, as in the March 14, 3 am raid.

So, to itemize the costs, In addition to the eight itemized categories of costs you identified in CC313, the breakdown should include the following:

(1) Extraordinary personnel costs including overtime pay for Facilities Maintenance, Parks, and Police personnel on the weekend and 3 am raids.

(2) Extraordinary fuel and maintenance costs of the trucks, cranes, backhoe (which has to be trailored in), and other heavy equipment. I do not believe the City factored in the current increase in fuel costs for the heavy equipment used in the Bill 54 raids.

(3) Extraordinary storage costs. Theoretically, the seized property can be recovered by the owner at the Halawa storage area. But recovery of tents has been thwarted by the destruction of tents on seizure, and the requirement that only credit card receipts (no receipts for cash) are acceptable, and that the claimant must have been inside the tent during the seizure. (These requirements are from Wes Chun, Director of Facilities Maintenance Department). This leaves a large pool of destroyed and unclaimed possessions that must be stored or put up for public auction. Or perhaps, just destroyed. This procedure ensures very few tents or other belongings are actually reclaimed and subjects the City to legal challenges; but see (5) below.

(4) Criminalization costs. One of the greatest costs may be hard to calculate, but an attempt would be prudent and perhaps even a necessary due process consideration for elected officials. At the Makiki Neighborhood Board meeting of March 15, 2012, the representative from the Honolulu Police Department was asked if he had noticed a decrease in the homeless population of the area. His answer was that, “I haven’t actually noticed an increase or decrease. It’s pretty steady as far as the people we encounter.” He further added his observation that, “Homeless are transient so they’ll be in one area a couple of months. Police in that area will ask them to leave, and the police in that area they go to will ask them to leave, and they’ll come back to where they started.” Bill 54 seizes all the earthly belongings from homeless people and sets them out on the street in a state of material desperation. Does the ordinance force them into criminal acts? What is the material and human cost of forcing criminality on the homeless?

(5) Cost of inevitable litigation. During the hearings on the bill, the ACLU testified that the ordinance was subject to potentially expensive legal challenge. Although the ordinance was signed off by law professor Jon Van Dyke, he has since passed away. At the Makiki Neighborhood Board meeting on March 15, 2012, Board member Philip Hauret told members of Occupy Honolulu to “quit complaining and just sue the City.” Legal action seems an inevitable consequence to what seems to be illegal seizures (seizure of items not stored for 24 hours on public property) and violations of the Kanawai Mamalahoe, the Law of the Splintered Paddle which guarantees those lying by the roadside be undisturbed. Videos made by Occupy Honolulu and others show clear violations of First and Fourth Amendment guarantees. I find it regrettable that although Occupy Honolulu will be able to mount legal challenges, most homeless people cannot because they lack the digital media and internet distribution network of Occupy Honolulu, or an awareness of and access to the legal system. The treatment of the homeless must be even more brutal but it can only be a matter of time before they acquire the recording and distribution technology to mount a legal challenge against the City.

(6) Cost of creating homeless people. This last item is not so much a cost category than a simple analysis using the figures from the answers above:

Number of people who have tents seized — Number of people who recover tents — Number of people placed in shelters = Number of people without any kind of shelter

Of the hundreds of people who have had tents seized, only a few have been placed in shelters. The rest are just homeless people without tents or personal possessions who have been set out on the streets.

Further, if you divide the total costs by the above number of people rendered truly homeless by Bill 54, you will arrive at the amount of money spent by the City to create each new homeless person under Bill 54.

Even if the purpose of Bill 54 were to create homelessness there would be a more economical way of doing that. As it is, Bill 54 is an egregiously wasteful cash sinkhole for taxpayer dollars. Regardless of your political outlook, using taxpayer dollars and City personnel to create homeless people, break the law, and violate Constitutional rights is foolhardy and just plain wrong.

I join you in your requests for the cost breakdowns and look forward to seeing them.

Me ke ha‘aha‘a,

Hiroshi D. Matsuoka

About the author: H. Doug Matsuoka is a 59-year-old Hawaii-born resident of Makiki. He is a supporter of Occupy Honolulu and has documented many of the Bill 54 raids.