The Latest Political Performance

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 11, 2006
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It looks like Mayor Mufi Hannemann is ready to take on the Honolulu City Council over a bill it passed banning street performers from inhabiting Waikiki with their zany antics.

The mayor has vowed to veto the bill, which would ban street performers in a four-block stretch of Waikiki for three hours nightly. It makes you wonder why this legislation warrants so much attention and confrontation.

How many times have we gone down the constitutionality road trying to restrict unwanted behavior? With all of our other problems, worrying about the constitutional rights of streets performers seems a little lame. We’ve been there, and know how the courts will rule on the matter, so why revisit the obvious?

The mayor says it was clear to him that the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii would sue the city if the bill becomes law, and that’s why he’s fashioned a compromise measure similar to those found in other cities around the world.

That’s what scares me, because we have a tendency to be so willing to change Hawaii to suit the tourists so that more of them will visit here and spend more money. If we keep this up Hawaii, Waikiki in particular, will lose its appeal as a unique resort destination. After all, we already have more than 7 million tourists coming every year. How many do we need? A bigger question is how much do we have to change our uniqueness to bring in more tourist money? Will street performers really help tourist promotion? I really don’t think so.

It’s interesting to point out that the merchants and community groups have supported the limits proposed by Mayor Hannemann. A mix of musicians, residents and visitors has opposed the idea saying the performers add color and character to Kalakaua Avenue. Some of the councilmembers believe the mayor is giving in to intimidation by the ACLU. It sounds like Councilmember Charles Djou, who represents the area and said the mayor’s threat to veto the bill was disappointing, had decided to reject the veto.

It’s also interesting to note that Lois Perrin, the legal director of the ACLU, is on record saying the organization appreciated the opportunity to work with the mayor on a compromise. The compromise here is between the freedom of speech rights of the street performers and the perceived need for public safety.

So the obvious solution in 2006 is to charge them a user fee of $20 for designated space on Kalakaua Avenue. I think the user fee mentality is an interesting way to restrict free speech. There is a possibility that if the idea of renting space on Kalakaua Avenue catches on, Waikiki could take on the appearance of a swap meet or flea market.

I believe that behind all the rhetoric over this controversial issue is a political need for the City Council members to challenge the mayor’s office every now and then so that they appear to be defending the public’s best interest. I guess that’s OK, as long as this political exercise doesn’t cost the county taxpayers too much money.

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