HONOLULU — The city of Honolulu is again tackling a nagging problem of people illegally camped out on the city’s sidewalks, but the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii says two approaches being considered are unconstitutional.
The City Council next week is scheduled to take up two bills. One would ban tents from public sidewalks and malls without a permit and could lead to arrest and the seizure of tents and other items. The other would prohibit not just tents, but also other objects “deemed to be public nuisances, hazardous to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the city.” It would allow the removal of belongings without the need to give 24 hours’ notice as required under the current “stored property” law, according to Friday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, Council Chairman Ernie Martin and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the bills are designed to make public sidewalks accessible and unimpeded for everyone.
“It’s not about going after the homeless,” Anderson said. “The City Council is bent on ensuring equal access to public spaces by all members of the public.”
Daniel Gluck, a senior staff attorney with ACLU Hawaii, said when city officials asked the group to review the bill last October, ACLU Hawaii determined it was unconstitutional.
“We intend to oppose it vigorously,” Gluck said in a statement. “If it is implemented, the ACLU will be forced to bring a lawsuit in federal court.”
While city officials would not have to give advance notice of the removal of an item from a city sidewalk, the bill calls for a written notice of the removal to be posted for three consecutive days after the removal.
If the notice cannot be posted where the item was removed, “it shall be posted on the Internet website for three consecutive days following removal of the sidewalk-nuisance,” the bill states.
An object defined and seized as a “sidewalk-nuisance” would be stored by the city for 30 days, during which time its owner can make a claim for it. If successful, the owner would have to pay a $200 fee “for the city’s cost of removal, storage and handling.”
The bill allows for the owner of the seized property to contest its removal and, if successful, to reclaim the property without paying the $200 handling fee.
Alaska’s largest city in recent years has faced a similar problem of numerous homeless camps tucked away in Anchorage’s parks and out-of-the way places. Mayor Dan Sullivan moved to rid the city of the camps, saying they attracted crime and prevented citizens from having full use of the parks.
The Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance several years ago that the ACLU of Alaska contested in state court as unconstitutional and won. A Superior Court judge in 2011 found that the ordinance was illegal because it provided too little notice of a raid, especially if property was to be seized.
The revised ordinance required that more notice be given and belongings that were seized had to be stored at least for 15 days. The city since then has moved to dismantle the illegal camps.