By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
A new open market on a Hawaiian Home Lands parcel in Puna has been ordered to shut down by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Sam Kaleleiki, who has been caretaking a property on Highway 130 at Ka Ohuwalu Drive, about a half-mile toward Pahoa from the Makuu Farmers Market, started renting out covered stalls to people to sell their wares to the public on Aug. 1. Kaleleiki said he’s trying to provide an avenue for local people to put a few extra bucks in their pockets.
“I’m just trying to help my people,” said Kaleleiki, a Hawaiian sovereignty activist.
Since opening, Kaleleiki has had several people occupying stalls, selling old bottles, hot dogs and shave ice. Kaleleiki doesn’t charge for the stalls but accepts donations. However, after calls to the DHHL office in Hilo on Aug. 23, East Hawaii DHHL Superintendent Louis Hao notified Kaleleiki that he needed to have plans approved by DHHL before operating his business.
“I advised him to stop,” Hao said.
Kaleleiki planned to be open Monday through Saturday so he wouldn’t conflict with the nearby Makuu Farmers Market, a popular market open weekly on Sundays. Makuu Farmers Association President Paula Kekahuna said she doesn’t see any harm in Kaleleiki’s venture, but said Kaleleliki didn’t contact her about it before opening.
The Makuu Farmers Association has ambitious plans to raise $9.3 million to build a cultural center on nine of the 38 acres it leases from the DHHL, but fundraising has stalled, Kekahuna said. Profits from the market were supposed to help build the cultural center, she said, but increasingly higher operating costs are eating into the set-aside funds. Makuu officials have met with state Rep. Fay Hanohano in an effort to jumpstart its fundraising efforts, she said.
Complicating things for Kaleleiki is that he doesn’t own the lease to the 5-acre property he’s lived on for 25 years. The Hawaiian Homes lease-holder needs to submit the plans, Hao said. Kaleleiki doesn’t think that will be a problem, however, and will seek permission from the children of a Hawaiian-Japanese family that inherited the lease and allows him to live on the property.
“They’re nice people; it’s the government that’s no good,” he said.
Kekahuna, however, doubted that Kaleleiki would ever get the plan approved.
“They aren’t going to pass ’em,” she said. Kekahuna said the Hawaiian Homes Commission will require the lease holder to apply for a zone change and obtain a mercantile license, and that it took years for the Makuu Farmers Association to get the necessary approvals. She said the commission granted the Makuu Farmers Association “Community Village” zoning to operate the market, which draws up to 125 vendors and 15,000 visitors on Sundays.
“We’re all legal,” Kekahuna said, and the Makuu Farmers Association board could have let Kaleleiki use Makuu on weekdays, she said, but “he never really came to us.”
Kaleleiki, a former sergeant major in the Marine Corps who retired after 30 years, chafes at being told to ask permission from a state agency.
“We gotta go through this channel, through that channel. Why do I have to ask permission to use Hawaiian land?” he asked. “Nobody, NOBODY, cares about the Hawaiian people,” he said. “Nobody gives us a chance to even breathe.”
Kaleleiki invested nearly $3,000 so far for the tarps, the framework and some ground preparation in advance of his tentative opening. Several booths were occupied on Monday despite Hao’s admonition to stop. Kaleleiki said Monday he would defy DHHL until he gets permission to operate legally.
“(Kaleleiki) has not made a proposal to us,” said Hao, who wants to know what plans have been made for vehicle access to the market, public parking and restrooms. “Safety comes first.”
Kaleleiki also allows a trailer on the property which operates as Uncle Sam’s Up in Smoke Shop, selling varieties of loose tobacco, cigarette rolling machines, rolling papers and smoking pipes. Kaleleiki said he doesn’t own the business, but also doesn’t charge rent to the tobacco vendor and accepts donations for use of the property.
Hao said the tobacco vendor’s trailer was inspected recently and found to have all of its required permits, so it was allowed to remain. Hao said he would have to look into whether the trailer’s owner could set up on Hawaiian Home Lands under another person’s lease, and whether there was a traffic and safety plan for the cigarette sales.
Kaleleiki said he operates the way he does to help Hawaiian people overcome drug and alcohol abuse and become more productive “so they can take care of their families.”
“I never turn my back on a Hawaiian,” Kaleleiki said. “I’m going to push this to the end. It’s money well-spent.”
Email Hunter Bishop at email@example.com.