Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Thursday vetoed a bill lawmakers passed earlier this month that would have expanded the ban on sitting and lying down on sidewalks, saying the local government would face legal challenges if he signed the expanded ban into law.
Caldwell, who is mayor of the city and county of Honolulu, has been a champion of the sit-lie ban, which began in Waikiki after complaints from the tourism industry and local residents. The ban expanded to include other neighborhoods and commercial areas.
Critics see sit-lie bans as targeting the homeless, which is an acute problem in Honolulu and throughout Hawaii. According to the 2014 “State of Homelessness in America” report, Hawaii ranked highest among the 50 states for homeless people per capita. The cost of living is among the highest, and Honolulu is one of the 10 least affordable housing markets in the United States.
The ordinance the City Council passed earlier this month expanded the sit-lie ban to include areas abutting public sidewalks, such as landscaped spaces or unpaved public property, and in a canal area where there is a tent encampment settled by homeless people.
The original law was based on keeping sidewalks open for public use, Caldwell said in a letter to the council. The expansion was unlawful, Caldwell said because it "clearly goes beyond the intent and purpose of the Sit-Lie Laws," and might not withstand a legal challenge.
"We want to make sure that any bill that we pass, particularly when it deals with people's civil rights, that we do things that are defendable," Caldwell said.
"If it looks like the government is trying to target homeless just because they're homeless, that's where you open up this direct attack saying these bills are not about commerce, it's not about using our sidewalks to go after business, it's about going after homeless folks," Caldwell said.
"It could jeopardize other sit-lie bills that are working very well outside this community," Caldwell added.
He asked the members to sign his alternative bill that only includes sidewalks and excludes areas zoned for residential or preservation use.
"I continue to wholeheartedly support the intent and purpose of Honolulu's recently adopted Sit-Lie Laws," Caldwell said in the letter.
Caldwell's proposal would cover only public sidewalks and exclude areas that are zoned for residential or preservation use, his office said.
The mayor also called for efforts to provide more affordable housing for more Honolulu residents.
"I am also acutely aware of the many challenges faced by the people of the city who either are forced or choose to live on the sidewalks, in unsanitary and unsafe conditions," Caldwell said.
"Their living conditions are undesirable from not only their perspective, but also that of the people of the city who walk, drive, own a business, live in a house or attend a school next to them," he said.
When the city approved its first sit-lie ban in September, officials planned to set up a temporary open-air shelter in an industrial location that was used during World War II as an internment camp for Japanese Americans.
The Sand Island location meant that homeless people would be moved away from tourist areas but the proposed site is near a wastewater treatment plant and former dump, and under criticism, the plan never materialized.
Officials are now considering setting up a shelter and service center in what was once a large Hawaii-themed clothing store but they have been cautioned that housing 800 people in one location may be ill advised.