Street-show compromise upsets council
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
The City Council yesterday reversed its plan to restrict street performers in Waikiki in a skirmish with Mayor Mufi Hannemann that left some members complaining that he came late to the issue and used "strong-arm tactics" to scuttle it.
City Council member Charles Djou, an attorney who represents Waikiki, had worked for years to craft a bill that would address complaints that the street performers were creating a safety hazard on the crowded sidewalks, but not ban the performers entirely.
Djou had done so, urged on by Waikiki businesses and merchants who testified for the measure repeatedly. And the plan had won the support of Honolulu police, the city prosecutor's office and the city's civil attorneys who work in the Corporation Counsel's office.
Last month, the council, 7-2, passed a bill to ban street performers for three hours nightly along a four-block stretch of Kalakaua Avenue. Lois Perrin, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i legal director, threatened to sue — this week — if the law were enacted.
Hannemann said he planned to veto the measure, but it appeared that the council had enough votes to override the veto.
Yesterday, some of the staunchest supporters of the restrictions told the council that they would now support Hannemann's rejection of the original proposal and favor a compromise pitched by Hannemann. That plan stops short of a ban but would limit performers to six areas in those four blocks and would require performers to pay a licensing fee of about $20.
Djou said he understands the mayor's right to veto the bill and lobby for his position, but he said Hannemann brought up budget items and policy matters that don't directly affect the street performer issue.
"If you let a bully intimidate you, he's going to do it again," Djou said. "You've got to stand up to these strong-arm tactics."
But Hannemann, who was out of town, praised the council for postponing any action, which effectively backed his veto. "I'm pleased a majority of the council acted in the best interest of city taxpayers by deciding not to enact a bill that almost certainly would have led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses," he said in a written statement.
And Hannemann spokesman Bill Brennan fired back at Djou: "Every time he seems to wind up on the losing side of an issue, he resorts to personal attacks on the mayor."
Brennan said Djou "can't seem to admit that the mayor came up with a better bill and brought people together to support it — it's the classic case of a sore loser."
Djou deplored the behind-the-scenes lobbying. "I think that's one of the things that people hate about the government: insider deal-making."
Councilwoman Barbara Marshall — who had voted against Djou's street performer bill — ended up protesting Hannemann's tactics, saying he "crossed the line" by pressuring people to change their mind. "It's everything that's wrong about government," she said.
Marshall asked Outrigger Hotels' Max Sword: "Why have you completely reversed your path?"
Sword replied that he was interested in some kind of improvement with the crowded sidewalks and therefore supported the compromise. "Let's get something done and move forward," he said.
Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz stepped from his podium to a members' chair so he could quiz Rick Egged of the Waikiki Improvement Association about which bill he preferred, Djou's or Hannemann's. Egged would not state a preference.
The situation also rankled Council Budget Committee Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, a former council colleague of Hannemann's who supported him in the mayor's race. She questioned the timing of the compromise, coming after the bill was passed.
"It's contrary to any spirit of cooperation," Kobayashi said.
But street performer Margaret Dupre, who reads palms and tarot cards, said she supported Hannemann's compromise after talking with him in Waikiki. "I'm so glad someone is speaking up for the common people."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com.