County gets tough after iconic Hilo Farmers Market fails to fix code violations

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Merchants use pop-up tents Monday at the Hilo Farmers Market.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Tenting is taken down Monday at the Hilo Farmers Market.

  • Keith De La Cruz

The tarps and tents covering the Hilo Farmers Market were removed during the weekend by county order because of zoning and fire code violations, and vendors were told Saturday they had to purchase their own pop-up tents that need to be assembled and removed every business day.

The county is assessing a $4,000 fine for each day the iconic open-air market continues to be in violation of county codes, said Keith De La Cruz, the owner and manager, on Monday.

ADVERTISING


He said the county issued notices of violations and gave him only five days to rectify the situation, which involves violations of the 10-foot setback required from the sidewalks on Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, as well as from the wall of Reuben’s Mexican Restaurant.

Other violations included the tarps and tents themselves, an unpermitted extension cord and a string of overhead lights, De La Cruz said.

“We took care of many of the electrical ones; we took all that down,” De La Cruz said. “So we’ve been working on the permit part for the tarps, as well as a permit for a permanent structure for the farmers market, a scaled-down version. It’s been a long, complex process, but we were making headway. And I guess they decided, the county didn’t want to continue on that time frame, so they sped it up and issued the … order to take down the tarps several days ago.”

De La Cruz said he and an architect attempted until Friday to convince the county to reconsider the fines, adding he’s worked “in good faith” with the county. He described the fines as “unreasonable.”

“Thirty-plus years we’ve been there, and they give us five days to take it down and impose this incredible fee,” he said. “The sad thing about it is the amount of people that are affected by it — our vendors, especially. They’re hardworking people that are dedicated to coming to the market each week. For us to get side-struck like this is very disheartening.”

De La Cruz sent a message to the market’s vendors Saturday to inform them their tarps, tents, poles, produce boxes and other items were to be removed by day’s end.

County Managing Director Wil Okabe, Mayor Harry Kim’s top administrator, pointed to a number of plans De La Cruz submitted throughout the years to erect a permanent roof over the market.

“This has been going on for 16 years, from Harry Kim’s first term and from the past administration’s, Billy Kenoi’s term,” Okabe said. “… We’ve been trying to work with him all those years, and it had to come down to this, the $4,000 a day. This is the third plan. Originally, what he was going to do was make some kind of structure. The plans were very elaborate, with two stories and a covered walkway.

“We’ve been trying … to get him up to code, and three plans later, this is where we’re at. And this is a situation where this particular farmers market is nationally known as one of the best throughout the country.”

Accolades garnered by Hilo Farmers Market include recognition in 2012 by the Mother Nature Network as “one of the top U.S. farmers markets every food lover should visit” and a listing this month in USA TODAY as “one of the five best things to do in Hilo.”

According to De La Cruz, his original project, estimated at about $5 million, was scrapped despite a special management area permit issued by the Planning Commission because of the economic downturn during the Great Recession. His second plan, in 2015, was to build a 20-foot tall prefab structure costing about $1 million.

He said he’s now “scaling down the scaled-down version.”

“I’m financing this personally,” he said. “Since the recession, banks have become really, really strict on their commercial guidelines. (Property) values haven’t risen substantially in Hilo, and my income hasn’t risen substantially, either. The reason is, it’s based solely on our rents. And I can’t increase rents as fast as other places can or as high as other places can.”

Okabe said De La Cruz missed a recent permit deadline on one of four land parcels the farmers market occupies, and incomplete applications were submitted for the other three.

“Because it was incomplete, the Planning Department and the (Department of Public Works) have to go and review that,” Okabe said.

De La Cruz called the situation “a little frustrating.”

“We’re trying to work through it in good faith with these three departments here,” he said. “On one hand, one’s giving me the order to pay up fines; the other one’s requesting more information on my application that they got back in June.”

One vendor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called the short notice given to vendors to provide their own tents “unfair,” but said most see no recourse but to go along with it.

“There’s a tight-knit community of Filipino vendors, and they’re not going to say anything,” the vendor said. “… They’re so scared that they would get kicked out or wouldn’t get another spot to rent, so they don’t complain about anything. They grumble to each other about it, but they would never say anything publicly.”

Kim also addressed the short notice given vendors. “They’re the ones that are being hurt by this, more than the landlord,” he said.

“I find that unacceptable, as far as I’m concerned, because we’ve been dealing with this guy for almost a year or more, and before that, more … with private meetings and trying to assist in any way we can,” the mayor said.

Okabe said County Councilman Aaron Chung, who represents the district, asked if county property could be used for a market.

“We are looking at another site … to provide another avenue to give these vendors an opportunity … in downtown Hilo,” Okabe said. “… But the only property we have in this area is the (Mooheau Park) bandstand or the county parking lot across the street.”

Okabe called the situation “unfortunate.”

“We understand that for the vendors, this is part of their income. But we are trying our hardest to try to make it fair for everyone to follow the code,” he said. “We expect the homeless to follow the code, that they cannot just put up a tent and leave it there on the beach or any property. We have to follow the same thing for vendors, as well.”

The vendor questioned the timing, a week prior to the Merrie Monarch Festival, Hilo’s busiest week of the year.

ADVERTISING


“The vendors, as well as Keith, want to keep Hilo Farmers Market as a popular destination for tourism as well as a great place to shop for locals, not just for produce, but for the other things that are sold there,” the vendor said. “And we’re just worried about the ramifications of what this county order are. None of us understand why the county has required this to be removed. And we all just want the same thing, for people to be happy — both the vendors and the public. For the vendors, this is our livelihood.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. Keoni Yamada March 27, 2018 4:51 am

    HGEA govmnt job-for-life petty tyrants don’t give a $hit about
    anything other than their own incompetent egos.
    Our politicians don’t either.
    So one of the very few things in Hilo that actually works well, solely
    because it’s free-market capitalism at a grass roots level, gets squished like a bug by petty & jealous govmnt punks.
    Typical.
    We suck.
    They ain’t here to help anyone but themselves.
    This how the Arab Spring started, and set the Middle East on fire.
    26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was getting ready to sell fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. He was the sole breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings, but he didn’t have a permit to sell the goods. When the police asked Bouazizi to hand over his wooden cart, he refused and a policewoman slapped him.
    Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire.


    1. John Kalau March 31, 2018 8:20 am

      yep


  2. windplr March 27, 2018 6:26 am

    The only real crime is not submitting to the government overlord demands. In which case they will do everything they can, paid for by your taxes, to ruin the so-called scofflaw. Any collateral damage does not matter, and will be blamed solely on their target. This is irrespective of any benefits, in this case the Hilo Farmer’s market, to the community, and irrespective of those who earn a living there. Your government simply does not care. I would say vote the current crop of pols out of office, but sadly it would do no good as they would only be replaced by the same types.


  3. Scooby March 27, 2018 6:55 am

    Selective enforcement by Harry Kim. If it was a homeless shelter he set up he would violate all types of codes and say it was necessary. But Harry Kim is above the law apparently, declare a state of emergency and do whatever he wants.


  4. Sara Steiner-jackson March 27, 2018 7:13 am

    Another assault on the poor and those who dare try and support them. How is having a hundred popups gonna be safer? They still burn just like other tarps. The only one who benefits from this power excercise is Walmart.


  5. Linzy March 27, 2018 8:13 am

    Unfortunately Hawaii is a Socialist State! We allowed this to occur because we keep voting in these left leaning politicians with Marxist/Socialist agendas! As other commenters have noted: these elected people do not like Capitalism or the Free Market and believe it should be regulated until forced out of our conscience. Once this is accomplished the government comes in and runs everything….just like “Mother Russia” tried for decades, as did China and all other Communist countries. North Korea and Cuba still practice strict Marxism and Venezuela is trying to impose it on its poor citizens. History has shown us over and over that to enforce Marxism in any form results in the death of 100’s of millions human souls! Today’s left leaning intellectuals apologize that Marxist/socialistic philosophy shouldn’t be blamed for these deaths but that it was man’s mistaken interpretation of Marxism or man’s inhumanity to man. But that’s an excuse and Bull…t”. It’s the ideology and morality that’s the cause, nothing more and nothing less! When will, not only Hawaii, but the whole country wake up and reevaluate and question the philosophy and morality of Marxist Socialism.


    1. John Kalau March 27, 2018 10:07 am

      Yep, we get a big problem here. Have a Hilo friend who has been waiting a month for building inspection. Too many ego, union contracts, and no accountability or concern for welfare of who pays the bills…us. jk


    2. environmental_lady March 27, 2018 10:31 am

      And you think the Republicans would be any better when they favor big corporations and frown on farmers’ markets and cooperative economies? Rather I’ll vote for a candidate who promises to fix problems like this instead of punishing the citizenry for the benefit of large corporations.


      1. KonaRich March 27, 2018 3:17 pm

        Ive been around a long time here on the big island, seen a lot of elections come and go and what I’ve seen is everyone treat everyone else nice with the Aloha sprite and when you talk to a candidate he or she will feel you out and tell you what you want to hear. It boils down to a D and name recognition, nobody stick to promises to fix things made campaigning. It”s same old.
        Is there a large corporation on the Island that is punishing the citizenry that I have not heard of? Only Your Local Government!!


      2. John Kalau March 31, 2018 8:22 am

        too many rules, regardless of origins, only hamper enterprise and freedom. Might want to review history. Aloha jk


    3. HFM Vendor March 27, 2018 11:51 am

      Didn’t Harry Kim run as a Republican for his first term as Mayor? The last I saw, he described himself as a little bit Republican, a little bit Democrat, a little bit Independent, and who knows what else. Trollish comments injecting rhetoric of a Marxist/Socialist state agenda and, elsewhere, wildly describing Hawaii as a liberal “war camp” and “prison” do nothing to contribute to finding a reasonable resolution to the issue directly affecting small business and customers in our local community. Enough with the extremist toxic rhetoric.


      1. John Kalau March 31, 2018 8:23 am

        everybody in our Aina is a “Democrat.”…even if they’re not. Again, mindless following. too bad


        1. Linzy April 1, 2018 3:02 am

          John, agree with u. Socialism creates followers who usual dont think for themselves but go with the group or tribe. Go on social media, find your friends posts who say let’s go to a protest. It’s like saying “let’s go the da kine” and we all end up there. Crazy world!


    4. kalopaboy March 27, 2018 11:14 pm

      Hey Linzy….could you be Joe McCarthy reincarnated? Let’s not become hysterical.


      1. Linzy March 28, 2018 3:42 am

        Sorry Kalopaboy i’m not Joe McCarthy reincarnated! I just would like to get people to start thinking that there are other possibilities and views to solving problems instead of the samo samo we live with day after day after day!


    5. John Kalau March 31, 2018 8:21 am

      Bingo…but mindless socialism….they know not what they do…..they don’t have a clue, just follow the “union.”…figuratively


  6. LordPillsbury March 27, 2018 8:40 am

    If there was a fire danger, then only food vendors actually cooking should have been separated and ask to bring their own pop-ups. Tents do not just suddenly combust for no reason. People selling fruits and veggies and other products are not dealing with combustibles and posed no threat. I am assuming t is a no smoking market?


  7. metalman808 March 27, 2018 10:19 am

    Harry Dollar Sign Kim at it again. he must be foaming at the mouth and licking his chops when someone says fines mean more MONEY.


  8. greenstone March 27, 2018 10:34 am

    Indeed, such a hard hit… “the timing, a week prior to the Merrie Monarch Festival, Hilo’s busiest week of the year.”


  9. Grumpier March 27, 2018 12:42 pm

    We’ve been working with the county for several decades to get things fixed. Harry Kim, you have 5 days to get the county fixed or we start fining you $10,000.00 a day.

    Harry Kim, “a little Republican, a little Democrat” and a whole lot of asshole.


  10. KonaRich March 27, 2018 2:30 pm

    Seem every one is missing the facts here, De La Cruz is the heavy here the government has been trying to work with him for YEARs and this could have be taken care of years ago. Not until a $4000.00 dollar PER DAY fine was enacted did he act with such short notice. It be your landlords fault.
    Believe me when I say I am NOT a fan of the Hawaiian government.


    1. windplr March 29, 2018 10:02 am

      Government does not “work with” anyone. They tell you what to do, and you either comply, ignore, or actively fight back. Fighting is expensive, and they know it and use it to their advantage. Ignoring can work for a while, but the bear eventually wakes up hungry and pissed, looking to punish. Bureaucrats are nothing if not stupid and petty, but they know the power they can yield and don’t hesitate to use it.


  11. punatic8 March 27, 2018 3:31 pm

    Because that huge tarp was such a beautiful structure? Come on folks, it only served to make the bus station more attractive.

    Pop-up tents, serpentine walkways, large potted plants for sale as landscaping… Easy, peasy…. If it rains, the smart vendors would allow room for potential customers. The venue could provide a few empty pop-ups with chairs as well for sheltering. Don’t make a huge deal out of this. Maybe the vendor would help finance pop-up tents for more needy vendors.

    Pop up are legal as temporary structures; The existing mess would be legal if broken down every night, but that’s ridiculous. The key word here is “temporary structure” the county only has a problem with “temporary” structures being in place permanently.

    Then there’s the million dollar “permanent” structure alternative. Is there really much of a choice?


  12. Dave C March 27, 2018 4:58 pm

    I don’t think the island can source enough popup tents in 5 days. How about giving them 14 days to get it done?


    1. kalopaboy March 27, 2018 11:16 pm

      or how about just leaving these people alone?


  13. Simple life March 27, 2018 11:39 pm

    Too bad, the tents and the market as is, gives the Hilo farmer’s market that real country feel. Hate to see that change. Would like to see some young entrepreneur offer to set up and break down tents for a negotiable price. A permanent structure would just seem too commercialized.


  14. MDK 88 March 28, 2018 3:04 am

    This is most likely the work of one individual who probably had to take down his tent(s) after being turned in to the planning department by some facist neighbor or troublemaker. And now this affected individual finds the need for vindication by driving around town and turning in everyone else who has a tent standing for an extended period. This is hard call. In reality, all it takes is someone getting hurt and in turn, sues the Farmers’ Market. Then in normal fashion, the Farmers’ Market will sue the County.


    1. John Kalau March 31, 2018 8:19 am

      and on the positive side…when the HFM files suit, the County Legal Brilliance will settle for $5MM. LOL


  15. Sara Steiner-jackson March 28, 2018 7:34 am

    Maybe the Hawaii Tourism Authority can get off its ass and help out.


  16. Happi March 28, 2018 8:16 pm

    It seems to me the council has no real regards for the vendors, because otherwise they would have given them more notice and preparation, and would have waited AFTER Merrie Monarch, the busiest year in Hilo. I can only guess that Keith did not want to burden the vendors with the whole details regarding violations and permits, because some vendors would have freaked out, especially those with mortgages to pay.

    Is Harry Kim and the council strategically planning to dump the homeless near the airport, gentrificate Mooheau Park, charge parking at the county car park. Then reject any proposals Keith puts out, or fine him with any violation they can muster up, so at he end of it you destroy him, his family, his employees etc Destroy the market and then give the HFM vendors the opportunity to be part of the ‘new’ HFM market (operated by the county). Do you really expect the vendors of HFM to display any trust, loyalty or aloha for you, the county if this is the plan. Is this about the community of vendors or the county, lining their pockets to fix their budgets. The county has hit the HFM vendors during MerrieMonarch. I dont see how any vendor will respect them for that…. whilst Keith is trying to keep the vendors same same so they don’t get upset.


  17. Happi March 28, 2018 9:07 pm

    THIS IS MY SECOND POST 4 THE SAME MESSAGE, SOMEBODY IS TRYING TO DELETE THIS MESSAGE AS SPAM WHICH IT IS NOT. WHY?

    It seems to me the council has no real regards for the vendors, because otherwise they would have given them more notice and preparation, and would have waited AFTER Merrie Monarch, the busiest year in Hilo. I can only guess that Keith did not want to burden the vendors with the whole details regarding violations and permits, because some vendors would have freaked out, especially those with mortgages to pay.

    Is Harry Kim and the council strategically planning to dump the homeless near the airport, gentrificate Mooheau Park, charge parking at the county car park. Then reject any proposals Keith puts out, or fine him with any violation they can muster up, so at the end of it you destroy him, his family, his employees etc Destroy the market and then give the HFM vendors the opportunity to be part of the ‘new’ HFM market (operated by the county). Do you really expect the vendors of HFM to display any trust, loyalty or aloha for you, the county, if this is the plan. Is this about the community of vendors or the county, lining their pockets to fix their budgets. The county has hit the HFM vendors during MerrieMonarch. I dont see how any vendor will respect them for that…. whilst Keith is trying to keep the vendors same same so they don’t get upset. The vendors have worries of their own, like paying their bills!

    And yes, I am a HFM vendor. And I hope the county can work with Keith to maintain what he and the vendors have built here. One of the best outdoor farmers market in the USA. The county will be remembered for its vindictive actions, regardless of rights or wrongs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.