The Honolulu City Council overrode Mayor Kirk Caldwell's veto of a controversial expansion of the ban on lying and sitting on sidewalks to new areas outside of Waikiki and Chinatown Wednesday.
Wednesday's 6-to-3 vote in favor of overriding the veto means homeless camps in Kalihi and near Aala Park may be torn down. But Caldwell is worried the new law is unconstitutional and could cost the city pricey legal fees.
Besides Kapalama Canal in Kalihi, the prohibition against sitting and lying on sidewalks will expand to the area at and near Aala Park and in parts of McCully, near Waikiki. Enforcement can begin immediately.
Kalihi councilman Joey Manahan said he understands there are concerns the new law might get thrown out of court, but during a floor speech at Honolulu Hale, he said the public is clamoring for action.
"I don't think my community, our communities care at this point if we legislate 'Sit-lie,' if we override 'sit-lie' or if a court makes a decision on 'sit-lie.' They want to see some kind of definitive action and an end to the sit-lie debate," Manahan said.
Manahan was one of six council members voted to override the mayor's veto of the bill. Just three sided with Caldwell, who said the new law extends the sit-lie protection beyond commercial areas that could lose business because of people camping and living outside their stores and offices.
"I do not believe that the measure that we have before us is legally defensible and is in fact, unconstitutional," said Councilman Ron Menor, the author of the original sit-lie ban in Waikiki and Chinatown who offered a compromise bill that had been tweaked by city lawyers. But Menor's compromise never got a hearing in committee.
At an afternoon news conference, Caldwell said, "Sitting and lying is prohibited in areas where you want to do commerce. You need a sidewalk, obviously, but you also need businesses there, and there's parts of the bill that they've overridden that are in residential areas, where there is no commerce and it could jeopardize the entire bill."
Caldwell worried that city taxpayers could be saddled with a huge financial burden if the law is overturned in the courts, forcing the city to pay attorneys' fees and costs.
Advocates for the homeless say banning them from more areas is a bad Band-aid solution.
"Expanding the sit-lie ban isn't going to make any improvement there. It's just going to keep pushing people out of these areas and then will we back back in a few months, revisiting it?" said Jenny Lee, the public policy director for the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Even though the Caldwell opposed the expanded law, he said his administration will enforce it.
"I will enforce this ordinance like I would do any other ordinance. I'm not going to pick and choose. We'll go out, we'll enforce and we'll see what occurs. I'm hoping there won't be a challenge and if there is a challenge, we will defend that challenge vigorously," Caldwell added.
Caldwell is concerned a lawyer will get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the expanded ban, which could shut down any enforcement of the entire sit-lie ban for months or years while the case is fought over in the courts.
City officials could not immediately say when enforcement of the expanded ban will begin. The Honolulu Police Department handles enforcing the law, which depends on the number and type of complaints that police receive about people sitting or lying on the sidewalks.
When the previous sit-lie ban began enforcement in Waikiki last October and in Chinatown in December, police gave homeless people about two weeks' notice. During an “education period,” they spoke to homeless people and issued them pamphlets giving them time to move out before city crews removed items and people were cited under the new law.
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