Getting Waikiki’s Act Together
Wednesday - November 16, 2005
Should street performers be banned from Waikiki? This is the question, again, before the Honolulu City Council. Didn’t we go through this? Yep. About five years ago. The effort was struck down then, but this time around may be more of a challenge.
If you have visited Waikiki, especially down Kalakaua Avenue, you are familiar with street performers doing what they do on the sidewalks. Some of you are more familiar with the street walkers doing what they do on the sidewalks, but that is a whole different performance. Regardless, there are those who believe street performers pose a dangerous situation to pedestrians and vehicles alike. I agree. But there other compelling reasons to disallow street performing in its present form.
It seems the size of the crowds watching the entertainers are forcing pedestrians into the street. Walkers must avoid vehicles, the vehicles must avoid the walkers, which means locals will more than likely continue to avoid Waikiki. Well, this may not be the real reason, but there continues to be a challenge to get kamaaina to play in our tourist playground.
The last time the City Council tried to ban street performers, essentially for the same reason, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) successfully argued the proposal to be unconstitutional. Relegating performers to certain sections of Waikiki was too narrow a designation. Now, the ban is determined primarily by time. The proposal calls for street entertainers to be off the street from 7 to 10 p.m. between Lewers and Uluniu streets each evening. Although this is “prime time” for the people out and about on Kalakaua, performers are not completely banned. Since this version of a ban is more broad than before, many believe it will withstand a legal challenge.
I am inclined to leave the legalese to the legal eagles. But what about the premise of street performers in Waikiki? In testimony before the council, many stated they simply want to perform. Right. I will believe that only if performers don’t solicit “donations” or put out a tip jar. I believe the issue here is being able to make a nontraditional income at the expense of others. Sure, there may be some who are doing it for the satisfaction, but most are there to make some cake.
I’m not opposed to earning extra cash, but to wrap yourself in the banner of free speech is disingenuous. The cash earned by a street performer does not pay for rent, utilities or other overhead costs. If someone is assisting with their act, I am certain there are no payroll taxes, workers comp or unemployment insurance tax being paid. How about Social Security tax or a 401k savings plan? I would wager performers don’t even have a registered business or a performance permit from the city and county. It would seem to be fair that if you are plying your trade, you should be responsible for business expenses like everybody else. Especially in the public domain.
The city and state may want to go this route instead of instituting a ban that can be assailed in the courts. Enforcing compliance to existing business statutes may prove to be a more palatable solution.
If a compromise is truly the objective, perhaps the city could emulate San Francisco’s approach to street entertainers. Instead of chasing them off, the city provided a venue at Pier 39 where performers could sign up and do their act before a large crowd in a professionally staged venue. It benefits all. The tourists get a good show, the entertainers can share their craft, safety is enhanced and the government has increased its marketability. It makes such good sense which means it will ... never happen.
Oh well, at the least the lawyers will be busy.
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