The Honolulu City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to override Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of a controversial measure that works to shoo the homeless off sidewalks and away from businesses.

Bill 6 will expand the city’s “sit-lie” ban beyond the business districts of Waikiki, Chinatown, Kaneohe and Kailua to include areas around McCully, Aala and Punchbowl, as well as along the Kapalama Canal where dozens of homeless people have set up tents.

Caldwell warned the council that an expansion of the city law banning sitting and lying on sidewalks and in pedestrian malls could lead to legal challenges and even result in the entire ordinance being overturned. City attorneys refused to sign off on the bill when it was originally proposed, calling it “illegal.”

Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.  30dec2014 . photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But several council members disagreed with that assessment, saying that the courts should be allowed to decide just how far the city can go when it comes to keeping public spaces clear of homeless people.

“Mayor Caldwell seems to think that if the law gets challenged the sky is going to fall on Honolulu and all of our sit-lie ordinances. I disagree,” Councilman Joey Manahan said. “I recognize that the law may be challenged, but the sky is not going to fall.”

Manahan said a legal challenge could help clarify city ordinances to ensure that there is a “just law” on the books to help with enforcement. He also noted that more work needs to be done to find a permanent solution to help Honolulu’s growing number of homeless individuals get into permanent housing.

Not implementing a sit-lie ban in his district is unfair to his constituents in Kalihi, he added. This is especially true considering the large population of homeless people living along the Kapalama Canal and the Caldwell administration’s recently resurrected proposal to build a temporary homeless transitional center on Sand Island for up to 100 individuals.

The idea of parity wasn’t lost on Manahan’s colleagues. City Councilman Trevor Ozawa said his district, which includes Waikiki, Kapahulu, Kaimuki and Hawaii Kai is being “overrun” with people living on the streets.

“This is not just a short-term solution,” Ozawa said. “It’s a short-term policy that we need to enact now because we have a crisis.”

Council members Ron Menor, Kymberly Pine and Brandon Elefante voted against the veto override. Menor said he believes the sit-lie expansion is unconstitutional and will result in unnecessary legal fees. Pine and Elefante, on the other hand, have consistently voted against sit-lie legislation, saying it doesn’t provide a viable solution to the underlying problem.

“This is not a long-term solution,” Elefante said. “This is a band aid approach for only moving around the homeless folks.”

The council also voted on several new sit-lie bills Wednesday that, if passed into law, would expand the sit-lie ban even further, and even stop people from “lingering or remaining on streambank areas.”

All of the bills were introduced after Caldwell’s veto of Bill 6. The measures were referred to Councilman Ikaika Anderson’s Zoning and Planning Committee.

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