Mayor Kirk Caldwell has vetoed the latest bill in a series of ordinances passed by the Honolulu City Council that ban people from sitting or lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls.

The Honolulu mayor has been the main proponent of the so-called sit-lie ban, which took effect in September with enthusiastic support from the city’s tourism industry. The prohibition initially only applied to Waikiki, but its coverage area has since expanded to include the city’s central business districts, including Chinatown, and other areas like Kaneohe and Wahiawa.

But Caldwell said Thursday that the ban’s latest expansion under Bill 6 goes too far. The bill, he says, contains some “legally flawed language” that, if signed into law, would have made the city’s entire sit-lie ban vulnerable to court challenges.

In its place, the mayor presented an alternative — “the legally defensible bill” endorsed by Corporation Counsel Donna Leong — and urged the City Council to pass it instead.

“I continue to wholeheartedly support the intent and purpose of Honolulu’s recently adopted sit-lie Laws,” Caldwell wrote in his letter to the City Council.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell during presser. 21 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Mayor Kirk Caldwell explains his decision to veto the sit-lie ban expansion during a Thursday press conference.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Caldwell’s alternative proposal amends Bill 6 to make the ban applicable only to sidewalks and would exclude areas zoned for residential or noncommercial uses.

But it largely keeps intact the ban’s expansion to the Kapalama Canal, where the number of homeless people have increased dramatically since the sit-lie ban took effect. More than 50 tents now stretch about 500 yards along the canal between King Street and Dillingham Boulevard.

Caldwell’s veto is part of a careful balancing act to stem legal challenges. As Civil Beat reported on Wednesday, homeless advocates across the country have been bringing challenges to a number of “anti-homeless” laws in recent years — including statutes similar to Honolulu’s — using an array of constitutional arguments.

“If it looks like the government is trying to target the homeless just because they’re homeless, that’s where you open up this direct attack saying these bills are not about commerce … it’s about going after homeless folks,” Caldwell said at a press conference.

The City Council has 30 business days to override the veto.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the City Council has 10 days to override the veto.

Ann Kobayashi, who sponsored Bill 6, says she hasn’t talked with other City Council members to decide on their next move. She was in San Francisco Thursday and said Council Chair Ernie Martin was out of town, too.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

Sand Island homeless site

The idea to put a temporary homeless encampment on Sand Island has been put on hold.

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

When the sit-lie ban was first introduced last year, Caldwell floated an idea to create an encampment on Sand Island to temporarily house homeless people while they wait for permanent housing. The plan allayed the concern of some City Council members that the sit-lie ban would leave homeless people with nowhere to go and helped convince them to pass it.

But Caldwell put the Sand Island idea on hold late last year because of possible soil contamination and has yet to revive it, even though tests came back in March showing that the proposed site is safe for human habitation.

Meanwhile, the Caldwell administration is looking into setting up a homeless transition shelter at the site of the Hilo Hattie store on Nimitz Highway in Iwilei. The Hawaii-themed clothing retailer filed for bankruptcy in February, and the site is now up for sale.

Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya told reporters Thursday that the city is working on a letter of intent to send to the bankruptcy court to explore the possibilities.

Caldwell said the city will continue to try to ease the homeless issue on Oahu.

“We have never promised we are going to solve homelessness, and I don’t think anyone who does is being honest,” Caldwell said. “But I think we can make a dent.”

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