Saturday, May 20, 2017

Does "Clean and Safe" Really Make Wailuku Cleaner and Safer?

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On February 20, 2017, The Maui News ran a front-page story about the new "Clean and Safe" program that recently started in Wailuku. For $200,000 per year Ho'maika'i Services (HS) provides the county with 11 workers who sweep the streets and sidewalks on Market Street from Mill Street to Wells Street. Meanwhile the ex-cops of HS's  "safety team" walk around town looking for people who might need help and those who, in their opinion, might be headed for trouble. 

The paper lauded the program, quoting officials who said that homeless and vagrancy issues had reached a breaking point, and merchants were afraid to walk to their cars after hours. Now things are much better because the menacing vagrants have jobs and the streets are nice and clean.  

I live in the neighborhood and walk Market Street two or three times a day. I have an alternative view of the situation. Yes, a very few homeless alcoholics and drug addicts sometimes hang around Market Street, but they are a nuisance, not a menace. Most are too physically and mentally incapacitated to attempt anything more aggressive than meekly asking for a little money. Merchants who fear these people probably fear their own shadows. Crime Watch notices from The Maui News itself do not support the claim that the area was in the midst of a crime wave. 

I suppose it's a good thing that 11 people who were unemployed are now employed. But anyone can see that the people sweeping the streets were never the menacing type. Drifting, confused, vulnerable, yes; but not dangerous criminals. So what happened to the hoards of criminals who were supposedly conducting a reign of terror on Market Street before the program started? Are we to believe that merely sweeping up the leaves, sandwich wrappers and cigarette butts made the bad guys magically disappear? Of course, Maui has no independent media with the will to do real investigative journalism on something like this. 

About all that sweeping: It's great exercise, but surely the mind goes a little wacky after doing this for a few days. Imagine the dreams these workers must have! But let's look at why so much sweeping is deemed necessary. The trash consists of leaves, blossoms, cigarette butts and miscellaneous human trash. The great bulk of it is leaves and blossoms from the twenty or so Pink Tecoma trees planted along Market Street a few years ago. 

Though better choices were available, the trees do provide shade, shelter and beauty. They soften the landscape of a busy, noisy area. I don't understand the obsession some people have with the neat look of a sidewalk uncluttered by a few leaves and blossoms. 

Did the landscape planners for the Market street revitalization project consider the cost of keeping the sidewalks and streets free of tree debris? What do we do when the contract with HS expires? If it's renewed will we have a permanent crew from society's fringe perpetually sweeping the area so the more fortunate can enjoy a neater-looking environment? 

But there is something more disturbing about this situation. The HS Safety Team is mostly ex-cops. They wear ordinary clothes and tell the media they are not cops, but they often act very much like cops. I have been told that these guys harass and abuse "undesirables" without mercy. They say things like (real quotes) "Stay out of this area or I'll slap your head"; "You're going down"; "I'll kick your ass"; and "You better hang out somewhere else."

When accosting an undesirable, they don't introduce themselves or show any kind of identification or credentials, much less a court order. They just start bullying and bossing the person around, harassing him or her, violating basic rights. No question about it, they do behave like Maui cops. Some of the things they do are criminal and right out of the fascist playbook: unauthorized use of intimidation and force; harassment; terroristic threatening, and more.

Their targets may include the occasional demonstrator carrying a sign and offering literature promoting this or that cause. The Safety Team guys consider such people undesirables and may harass them too. 

We're on a slippery slope with the Clean and Safe program. But since we're stuck with it for a while, let me suggest the following more useful activities for the workers. Of course, they would first have to be deputized.
  • Give expensive citations to litterbugs, especially those who casually toss their cigarette butts onto the sidewalks and into the street. 
  • Give expensive citations to smokers who violate the 20-foot rule. This would make almost all of downtown Market Street a no-smoking area, except well out into the street. 
  • Give expensive citations to drivers of those little mopeds that sound like giant chainsaws. 
  • Give expensive citations to Harley riders (and their ilk) who rev their bikes to deafening levels just to show off. Or ban them from the area entirely.
  • Give expensive citations to drivers of cars without proper mufflers or with stereos blasting at annoying levels.
  • Give expensive citations to bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk in brazen violation of the law and common sense.  

Does "Clean and Safe" Really Make Wailuku Cleaner and Safer?

For links to all my blogs and other works, go to . On February 20, 2017, The Maui News  ran a front-page...