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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sunshine won't stop drug deals

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Last Thursday, the city took down the wooden tops of three pergolas on each side of Nu'uanu Stream near Chinatown. There was a press conference where the mayor talked about making the area less conducive to drug dealers by taking away their shade.

A few days later, all sorts of folks that might politely be called "sketchy" lounged about in the sun on the cement seats between the bare posts that used to hold up the wood slats. Problem solved?


Near the Chinese Cultural Plaza along the diamondhead side of the stream, there is a tall stone statue that has rows of spikes set into recessed areas to keep the birds from making nests. Of course, pigeons have found places on the statue to call home and the white messy evidence of their presence is all over the monument.

It is this way with the drug dealers, too. They're very good at working around passive deterrents. What is needed is something much more proactive, something that actively shoos them away from the pockets, alleys and doorways from which they conduct their business.

On Sunday afternoon, a police cruiser rolled down first one side of the river walk and then the other. On the east side, the police officer addressed the group of elderly men gathered around the cement tables over his car's loudspeaker.

"Break it up, you guys. Go to Vegas. It's legal there."

He really said that. It was kind of awesome. And the old dudes shuffled off, their gaming interrupted, while the officer drove to the other side of the river to provide some law and order in that area.

The idea to remove the pergolas (alternately called "arbors" or "trellises," but a pergola is by definition "an arbor of horizontal trelliswork supported by posts," which is what these were) came from area residents and business owners. The neighborhood board passed a resolution calling for the removal, noting the wooden beams had termite damage.

While the removal may have eliminated the termite problem, it clearly didn't do much for the druggie-homeless-gambler problem. Like the pigeons, these folks have already adapted. Apparently they didn't get the memo about sunshine scaring away bad guys.

Having the trellis beams removed may make it easier for a police officer to spot who he's yelling at from his police vehicle. But will it really keep the drug dealers away from the area by the Sun Yat Sen statue on one side of the stream and the Jose Rizal statue on the other?

If only the solution were that easy.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.