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City Council considers expanding ‘sit-lie’ ban areas

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A row of shopping carts on River Street near North King Street in Chinatown in May.

A new bill before the Honolulu City Council would expand the city’s law banning people from sitting and lying down on certain public sidewalks to parts of Kalihi and Iwilei.

Bill 13, introduced by Councilman Joey Manahan, proposes a new enforcement zone in Kalihi, which would be bordered by Dillingham Boulevard and Kohou, North King, Winant, Kaiwiula and McNeill streets. The bill also would include other segments along Dillingham Boulevard, and Kaumualii and North King streets.

In Iwilei the ban would include Iwilei Road and Pine, Sumner and Kuwili streets.

Another bill, introduced by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, would extend the ban in the Ala Moana area to Victoria Street from Piikoi Street. Bill 20 also would add all of Makahiki Way in the McCully-Moiliili area to the ordinance.

Both bills are scheduled for first reading at today’s Council meeting, which begins at 10 a.m. at Honolulu Hale.

Manahan and Kobayashi said their proposals seek to help small businesses that have reported losing money and customers due to the area’s homeless encampments. Kobayashi said some businesses have told her they hired security guards and that residents have had their laundry stolen. Manahan said businesses he’s been working with have documented numerous cases of theft and public defecation.

“The encampments have grown to a point where they’re no longer manageable. It’s really a last resort at this point for us to be able to try and manage the area,” Manahan said. “We try to get services out to these (homeless) folks as much as possible. For those folks who may not take advantage of those services, they do certainly end up on the street or elsewhere. That’s really unfortunate.”

The city’s existing sit-lie law includes 15 neighborhoods from Waimanalo to Wahiawa. Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced the first sit-lie ban in 2014 in the Waikiki Special District. After that, Council members introduced legislation adding more areas. The Council overrode a bill Caldwell vetoed in 2015 that added new neighborhoods such as the Kapalama Canal, Aala and McCully to the ordinance. Caldwell had cited legal concerns with expanding the ban beyond business areas.

City spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said Caldwell supports Manahan’s bill because it would allow enforcement in commercial and industrial areas where businesses are “severely impacted” by homeless people camping on the sidewalks. He said Kobayashi’s bill is currently under legal review.

Since the sit-lie law went into effect in Waikiki in September 2014 through last week, Honolulu police have issued nearly 2,800 warnings and about 590 citations and made 12 arrests, Broder Van Dyke said. In Chinatown, police have issued about 19,800 warnings and 300 citations and made 17 arrests since the ordinance went into effect in December 2014 through last week, he said.

Proponents of the sit-lie ban have maintained that the law has helped to clear out certain areas and that businesses and residents need some relief. But opponents have contended that the law criminalizes homeless individuals and shuffles them around the island.

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who has voted against sit-lie legislation and serves as chairwoman of the Zoning and Housing Committee, said she is open to hearing the proposals but added that there needs to be more of a focus on finding housing for homeless individuals. Pine, who represents the Leeward Coast, said since the sit-lie law has been enforced in the urban core, she has seen an influx of homeless people moving to her district.

“I continue to be against sit-lie legislation because it only pushes the problem from one street to the other,” Pine said. “(But) every Council member has every right to introduce legislation that they feel is right for their community. I know they’re doing this for emergency purposes. I understand why they’re doing it.”

Jon Shimokawa, owner of Fitness Unlimited in Kalihi, estimated there were about 30 people living in 14 campsites near his Kaumualii Street business Tuesday afternoon. He said he has lost several customers and expressed safety concerns. Shimokawa said expanding the sit-lie law would be a temporary fix.

“It’s a Band-Aid, technically,” Shimokawa said. “(Police) can come down and tell them to move, but we don’t know where they will move. We’re suffering big time.”

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