Honolulu Council overrides mayor’s veto, expands sit-lie ban

Jun 3, 2015, 8:18 PM
In this photo made on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, a homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Chinatown in Hono...
In this photo made on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, a homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Chinatown in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Honolulu City Council is considering several bills that would expand the ban on sitting and lying down on sidewalks in commercial districts. The prohibition began in Waikiki and has been extended to a growing list of neighborhoods on Oahu. (AP Photo/ Cathy Bussewitz)
(AP Photo/ Cathy Bussewitz)

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu is expanding its ban on sitting and lying down in public places to additional parts of the city, despite Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto.

The City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to override the veto and enact its recent bill that expands the ban to additional locations.

The island first banned reclining on sidewalks in commercial parts of Waikiki, after the tourism industry complained that the city’s problem with homelessness was deterring some visitors from returning to its iconic beaches.

Caldwell vetoed the sit-lie expansion bill last month because it took the ban from commercial zones to areas off sidewalks, such as the bank of a canal where a small tent city emerged. That could make the city vulnerable to legal challenges, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize current city laws that ban sitting and lying down in Waikiki and other parts of Oahu, he said.

“If they make an argument that this legislation is based on targeting homeless, and not about commerce and business, then the whole bill is jeopardized,” Caldwell told reporters Wednesday after the vote. Even so, he vowed to enforce the new law and defend it if challenged. The bill goes into effect immediately.

The majority of the council said expanding the ban brings parity to neighborhoods that have seen an influx of homeless people since the ban went into effect in Waikiki.

“I ended up with a tent city on the banks of the Kapalama Canal,” said Councilman Joey Manahan, adding that his constituents feel that his neighborhood has become a “dumping ground” for homeless people.

“The public doesn’t understand why it isn’t already illegal to pitch a tent in downtown Honolulu,” Manahan added.

Councilman Ron Menor voted against the proposal, saying the proponents hadn’t offered an adequate rebuttal to the fears of legal challenges.

“If a legal challenge is initiated, and the city loses, then the taxpayers of this island are going to be saddled with a burden,” Menor said.

Menor introduced a new proposal Wednesday that he said reflected the mayor’s alternate proposal. He said the bill is more likely to survive legal challenges because it expands the ban to new areas but removes the sections that are outside commercial zones. But Council Chairman Ernie Martin said the mayor’s proposal didn’t go far enough.

“What he had sent down was so diluted,” Martin said in an interview.

“There’s always been legal concerns,” Martin continued. “These are risks we felt the members were willing to take, only because we are at a point where we have reached crisis proportions.”

Councilman Trevor Ozawa said the issue of whether the bill is legally defensible should be left to the courts.

The council introduced additional bills Wednesday that would outlaw camping or erecting structures on the banks of city-owned streams and add more slivers of neighborhoods to the existing sit-lie bans.

Members of the public who opposed the bill said the city should be more focused on providing housing and services than criminalizing homelessness.

“This is such a crisis,” said David Cannell, 62, who was previously homeless for eight years. “It’s a city of squalor. This isn’t a third world country. … Everyone has to go somewhere to get some sleep, at least. So where do they go?”

Councilman Brandon Elefante and Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine voted against the override because they disagree with the principle of the sit-lie bans.

“It has just gotten out of control. … When are we going to stop?” Pine said.


Follow Cathy Bussewitz on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbussewitz

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Honolulu Council overrides mayor’s veto, expands sit-lie ban