Honolulu City Council members on Wednesday will consider overriding Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of a bill expanding the controversial law that bans sitting or lying down on public sidewalks.
They will, however, also take up five new bills that would apply the sit-lie ordinance, or address homelessness in another way, to a host of other areas — including sections that are part of Bill 6, the measure that Caldwell vetoed.
Council members and their staffs on Friday were busy sorting out the flurry of new bills — four were introduced Friday — and what each would do.
Councilman Joey Manahan, whose district includes several areas that have seen an increasing amount of homeless encampments in recent months, said he expects a far-ranging discussion of the homeless issue but that he can’t predict what will happen with the override vote or the five new bills.
“It’s going to be absolutely crazy,” he said.
Caldwell vetoed Bill 6 on May 21 after Corporation Counsel Donna Leong’s staff raised questions about some of the new areas being proposed. The bill expands the sit-lie prohibition to include areas across the street from the borders of current zones, as well as several new neighborhoods including Kapalama Canal, Aala and McCully.
City attorneys have said repeatedly that sit-lie bills are best able to fend off constitutional challenges when access to businesses is being hindered by people sitting or lying on sidewalks. Caldwell, in his first veto message since becoming mayor in January 2014, said Bill 6 jeopardized the constitutionality of existing sit-lie areas.
Caldwell initiated the first sit-lie ban last year, which imposed a 24-hour restriction in the Waikiki Special District. Subsequently, Council members pushed through a second bill that added more than a dozen other business zones to the sit-lie ban, a measure that the administration initially voiced concerns about but later endorsed after Leong’s office was allowed to tinker with it. A third sit-lie bill, which added five city pedestrian malls in downtown-Chinatown to the ordinance, was also endorsed by the administration only after city attorneys made some changes to it.
Opponents of sit-lie bans, some of whom have threatened the city with lawsuits, say such laws criminalize homelessness while not lowering the ranks of those living outside traditional dwellings.
In vetoing Bill 6, Caldwell suggested that Council members instead embrace a new sit-lie expansion bill proposed by Leong’s office that includes many, but not all, of the same areas in the vetoed bill.
The administration’s plan is one of the five new bills getting their first airing Wednesday:
>> Bill 43, introduced by Councilman Ron Menor, would incorporate the language proposed by the administration. It includes some of the sections in the original Bill 6, but would exclude a number of areas that Council members have wanted to impose sit-lie bans, including the nonsidewalk, streamside portions of Kapalama Canal. Menor has voiced the same legal concerns as the administration about making the sit-lie prohibition too broad.
>> Bill 44, introduced by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, would include College Walk Mall and Kila Kalikimaka Mall (between College Walk Mall and Aala Street) in the sit-lie ban. Last year, Fukunaga authored Bill 62 (2014) that extended the sitlie ordinance to five downtown-Chinatown malls: College Walk, Sun Yat Sen, Kekaulike, Fort Street and Union. That bill eventually became law in an amended form that excluded College Walk.
>> Bill 46, introduced by Council Chairman Ernie Martin and Manahan, would make it illegal to camp, erect a tent or conduct other activity along city-owned streams and stream banks “that may create a public health and safety hazard” for themselves or others. “Persons lingering or remaining on stream bank areas may be swept away by sudden floodwaters, may accidentally fall into the stream, or may urinate, defecate, bathe or otherwise contaminate the stream waters, resulting in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions,” the bill states. Ostensibly, this would include the streamside areas of Kapalama Canal that are left out in Bill 43.
>> Bill 47, introduced by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, would add to the sit-lie ordinance “sidewalks on both sides” of streets or sectioned areas where the sit-lie ban applies, a stipulation in Bill 6 that’s removed from Bill 43, the CaldwellMenor bill. Additionally, Bill 47 adds back portions of McCully Street and Makahiki Way, both in McCully-Moiliili, which were in Bill 6 but not in Bill 43.
>> Bill 48, introduced by Martin and Fukunaga, would include “sidewalks on both sides” of streets or sectioned areas where the sit-lie ban applies, as well sections of downtown, McCully-Moiliili, Aala and Kapalama that were part of Bill 6 but not in the CaldwellMenor bill.
Manahan said he does not believe the proposal offered by Caldwell addresses the areas he’s most concerned about, including the grassy areas beyond the sidewalks along Kapalama Canal. The areas of concern of his colleagues appear to be included in bills 44, 47 and 48, he said.
“Every time we have to go through this process, it basically delays any action and I think that’s what people are frustrated about,” Manahan said.
Fear of legal challenges to sit-lie laws shouldn’t be reason to reject such legislation, he said. “Sometimes, you need to test the law in order to be able to come up with the best policy to be able to address an issue. At this point, people are just so frustrated, they want some kind of action.”
Martin declined to be interviewed about the sit-lie issue on Friday, but, in an emailed statement, echoed Manahan’s comments on the Caldwell-Menor expansion bill.
“It is my opinion that it removed the more critical locations that were the primary focus of Bill 6,” Martin said.
Among the nine Council members, Brandon Elefante and Kymberly Pine have consistently opposed sit-lie legislation. They are expected to reject the override of Caldwell’s Bill 6 veto and vote against the five new bills.
Martin also noted that the Council will be moving out on final reading the city’s $2.3 billion operating budget and multimillion-dollar capital improvements budget. Those budgets include more than $50 million in appropriations to provide social services and affordable housing options aimed at alleviating homelessness and a housing shortage, he said.
The administration is also expected to make one last attempt to restore $616,000 for a seven-person Office of Strategic Development to deal with housing and homeless projects. Council members have cut the funding from the operating budget, while including in its own legislative budget $150,000 for two positions to deal with housing and homeless issues.