A bill to expand Waikiki’s new ban on sitting and lying on sidewalks to business and commercial districts around Oahu was moved forward Thursday by the Honolulu City Council Zoning and Planning Committee.
Bill 48, aimed at clearing homeless off of sidewalks, builds upon the Waikiki ban signed into law earlier this week by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
The committee expanded the areas covered under the measure, which originally included Chinatown, McCully-Moiliili, Waipahu, Kalihi and Kailua. An amendment by Councilman Ikaika Anderson expanded the ban to Waimanalo and Kaneohe, while Council Chair Ernie Martin added Haleiwa and Wahiawa. Council members are also considering parts of Kakaako.
The bill faces a final vote before the City Council next month before it can be passed on to the mayor for consideration.
However, Bill 48 could be legally problematic.
A homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Chinatown.
Nick Grube/Civil Beat
The city’s managing director, Ember Shinn, advised council members during the hearing to begin collecting documentation and testimony from business owners and residents about the prevalence of clogged sidewalks and the nuisance it creates in the event of a legal challenge.
“Although I am absolutely positive that all council members have received concerns from members of the community, unfortunately it is not in the record for this council,” she told council members during the hearing. “So I would urge you to collect information to bolster the factual finding of this committee because we are guaranteed a challenge on these bills, including Waikiki.”
Shinn said that the administration encouraged the same on the Waikiki bill. Business owners and hotel operators submitted substantial written and oral testimony related to Waikiki in past weeks, complaining that the homeless were blocking sidewalks and scaring tourists.
“I know we will be challenged in court,” said Shinn. “That is for sure, that is a given. Everyone in the world has told us that.”
But while homeless people are often seen camping out on sidewalks in Waikiki, Chinatown and downtown Honolulu, it’s not clear if this is the case in other areas covered under Bill 48.
The bill, proposed by Councilman Ron Menor, was in large part a reaction to the Waikiki bill, which council members feared would push the homeless out into their districts.
Councilman Breene Harimoto, who has consistently opposed the city’s sitting and lying prohibitions, said that it wasn’t at all clear that homeless have been occupying the sidewalks delineated in Bill 48.
“A lot of these streets and sidewalks are not what I would consider congested (by homeless),” he said. For instance, the streets designated in Haleiwa look more like country roads, he noted, not heavily trafficked business areas prone to homeless who are panhandling or sleeping in tents.
Harimoto also said that the bill’s complexity could be legally problematic. “How will anyone know if a street is legal unless they carry this list around?” he said.
Menor also expressed legal concerns about expanding the measure. He said he had worked with the city’s Corporation Counsel to narrowly tailor the measure to specific business and commercial districts that could withstand a legal challenge, modeling it on of a similar law enacted in Seattle that has withstood a legal challenge.
“If it turns out that the boundaries are overly broad and covering areas that would not be legally defensible, than I am going to try to work with the Corporation Counsel to make further amendments,” he told Civil Beat.
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