City needs to fix ban on camping in parks
The state Supreme Court has struck down a Honolulu ordinance forbidding camping in city parks without a permit.
Honolulu's ban on camping in city parks without a permit was struck down this month by the state Supreme Court as too broad, but small changes can be made to reinstate the ordinance. The City Council should take swift action to repair it to satisfy the court's requirements.
The prohibition was challenged by Marie Beltran, 44, who has lived at Mokuleia Park on the North Shore with her husband, John Keawemauhili, for more than a decade. They contested a camping citation in 1999, claiming Hawaiian sovereignty, but the high court's ruling deals with the broad scope of the ordinance following a 2002 citation. Camping at Mokuleia Park is allowed, but only with a $5 permit and not on Wednesday and Thursday nights. It is banned entirely at many city parks.
Like ordinances in numerous other cities, the Honolulu law is based on a National Park Service regulation, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984. Demonstrators who wanted to stay overnight in a park across from the White House claimed First Amendment rights. However, the federal high court did not fully address the issue of what constitutes camping, saying only that it is "difficult to conceive of what 'camping' means, if it does not include pitching a tent and building a fire."
The Honolulu ordinance defines camping as "the use of a public park for living accommodations." It says that could include sleeping, laying down bedding, storing personal belongings, making a fire, breaking ground, cooking or using a tent, shelter, or another structure or vehicle for sleeping.
The ordinance also says any of those activities constitutes camping "when it reasonably appears, in light of the circumstances," that the area is being used "as a living accommodation regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging."
Hawaii Justice Simeon Acoba wrote in the unanimous opinion that such a vague standard "vests virtually complete discretion in the hands of the police to determine whether a person has violated the regulation."
Acoba noted that, unlike a similar regulation in Hollywood that has been upheld by a California appellate court, the Honolulu ordinance does not define "living accommodation." The Hollywood ordinance defines it as "remaining for prolonged or repetitious periods of time not associated with ordinary recreational use of a park with one's personal possessions." Adding that language to Honolulu's ordinance would fix the problem.