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Council committee hobbles sidewalk-clearing bills

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Mayor Caldwell held a news conference on the matter on a sidewalk at Aala Park, Monday, October 1, 2018, where homeless encampments nearly make pedestrian traffic impassable.

Honolulu City Council members are doubling down on their insistence that Mayor Kirk Caldwell submit more detailed reports on how he’s tackling homelessness before they’ll allow him to implement two new sidewalk-clearance laws.

Caldwell, in response, again accused Council leaders of being unreasonable in their demands and purposely stalling implementation of bills that bar obstructing public sidewalks and public lodging.

The Council Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee on Monday advanced Resolution 18-246, stopping the administration from moving forward with the new laws “pending timely submittal of specific timetables for services and housing solutions.”

The measures being held up are Bill 51, which makes it illegal between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to “create, cause or maintain” an obstruction on a public sidewalk if it blocks pedestrians from passing freely, and Bill 52, making it a petty misdemeanor “to lodge” on a sidewalk or other public places. It defines “to lodge” as “to occupy a place temporarily; to sleep; to come to rest and refuse to vacate” a public place. A police officer issuing a citation must first verify there is shelter space available within a reasonable distance and then offer to take the person being cited to the shelter. City officials said that doesn’t mean a shelter space needs to be in the same Council district.

Public Works Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga said a 95-page action plan submitted by the administration is not good enough and that most Council members want to see more concrete and specific plans on how Caldwell will address homelessness in each of the nine Council districts.

All have their own unique characteristics and issues, she said. In her own district, which covers the area from Makiki to Kalihi, “we do not have detox beds, we don’t have sufficient crisis beds,” Fukunaga told reporters after the meeting. “We’ve been told that we need double what is currently available. And so to press forward for enforcement without more signifies to us that we are not necessarily going to be successful. And we certainly don’t want to be subject to any more court challenges.”

Fukunaga said she and colleagues are taking seriously warnings by the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii chapter that the two bills might not hold up to constitutional challenges based on a recent case in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a law in Boise, Idaho.

Caldwell, at a press briefing after the meeting, voiced frustration that has not been able to implement the laws 26 days after signing them. “We have homeless on our sidewalks. … We have problems that people are demanding we do something about, and we can do nothing but answer questions, hold hearings and wait.”

Bill 51 does not target the homeless and applies to all who obstruct sidewalks, including mobile kiosks such as those proliferating in Waikiki, Caldwell said.

He said besides the plan submitted last month, his administration issued similar updates on housing initiatives in 2015 and 2013.

Community Services Director Pam Witty-Oakland said after an initial report last month, her agency put together lengthy responses to address issues raised by Council members.

Caldwell said among the demands by Council members is to identify the site of hygiene centers in each of the nine Council districts and specific timelines for opening them. “That is setting up a situation that is never going to be addressed” since each district’s Council member and the community will need to approve them, he said.

Councilman Ikaika Anderson was one of two Council members who submitted resolutions asking that the Council allow the laws to be implemented in their districts. Anderson’s resolution was not before the Public Works Committee on Monday, and his efforts to expedite it were unsuccessful.

Fukunaga told reporters, “We’re saying that if we want to make a dent with the homeless issue, we have to provide a stronger program within each Council district because then you’ll get more buy-in from the community.”

Correction: Pam Witty-Oakland is the city’s community services director. An earlier version of this story misidentified her title.
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