$100K in fines and counting
HILO — County Councilman Aaron Chung has drafted a bill that would allow a farmers market to be set up temporarily at Mooheau Park in downtown Hilo across from Hilo Farmers Market.
Chung, who represents the downtown Hilo district, told the Tribune-Herald he hopes to fast-track the measure through the council.
Keith De La Cruz, owner-manager of the popular open-air market, is being fined $4,000 a day by the Department of Public Works Building Division for alleged noncompliance with county building, zoning and fire codes.
“I want to make it clear, we’re not looking to replace the farmers market,” Chung said. “The county shouldn’t be in the business of running a farmers market and we’re not trying to get into the farmers market business. We just want Mr. De La Cruz to hurry up and comply with the code. We just want to provide a vital feature to our downtown Hilo community while he’s doing what he needs to do.”
Barett Otani, Public Works spokesman, said the county started assessing the fines March 19 upon the return receipt of certified mail notification to De La Cruz — $1,000 per day of continued noncompliance for each of four tax-map-key land parcels the market occupies. As of Thursday, fine assessments reached $100,000.
The market closed down for a day on March 25 to take down a tarp and some wiring the county said didn’t meet fire codes. The previous day, De La Cruz informed vendors they would have to buy their own 10-foot-by-10-foot pop-up tents to erect and remove daily for their businesses.
Despite inclement weather for much of the day, the market was a hub of activity last Wednesday. Merchants’ tents continued to abut the sidewalk along Mamo Street, in violation of a code requiring 10-foot setbacks, and brushed against the wall of Reuben’s Mexican Food, another code violation.
“We’re monitoring compliance on a daily basis,” said Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim. “An inspector is there every day, taking pictures. But we, together with Councilman Aaron Chung, we’re trying to figure out the feasibility of setting up temporarily — while Keith is getting his permits together — at the Mooheau Park.
Chung said he was invited to a meeting scheduled for this week on the topic, but hadn’t decided if he would attend. He added enforcement of county codes is up to the administration and he “cannot, in good conscience, try to suggest to the administration that they don’t follow the law.”
Takemoto emphasized the county administration has been “trying to work with (De La Cruz) for one year.”
“Closing the market was absolutely the last resort. Because we couldn’t get his attention, we had to take this action,” he said. Takemoto said De La Cruz’s application for a 180-day temporary permit “was submitted but rejected.”
“It didn’t meet the requirements,” he said. “I think he’s working with his architect to get that re-submittal prepared.”
De La Cruz said Thursday he and his architect are “processing our permits as best as we can right now.”
Customers weave through the aisles of the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesday in downtown Hilo.