Letters — From A Disgruntled Senior In Pahoa

(Editor’s note: Following is a letter Puna resident Toby Hazel recently wrote to Puna Councilman Daniel Paleka, regarding issues involving the Pahoa Senior Center and the planned park project.)

Open letter to Daniel Paleka, council person for District 5:

Following up on our phone conversation concerning the Pahoa Park Project phase one and two, for a total of $54 million.  You have suggested that I list some of the needs of the senior members of our community.  For seven years since I have been asking for a senior center for Pahoa, one of the central requests has been for a certified kitchen and a dedicated room for computer education including high speed internet connection for the whole park, emanating from the senior center building that was previously the fire station and already had the internet connection.

Mayor Billy Kenoi gave us the building after the fire department moved into their new building, and “PROMISED” to give us the high speed internet, but eventually all we go was a free dinky dial up and no computer room.  The Park and Rec planner, James Komata, has had fears that someone would do “porn in the parking lot.” I have been assured by expert computer specialists that these sites can be blocked.  We could have a dedicated computer room in the senior center or the community center if P & R would remove all the summer fun materials they have stored in the meeting rooms.  Part of the $54 million needs to be spent building some storage space so existing meeting rooms are open to public use.

I believe about $3,000 worth of donations were either thrown away or stolen by P & R personnel during the renovation of the senior center building.  Geothermal funds, $184,000, were used to renovate the center. There are five decades of seniors running from mid 50s up to 100 years old and most of these people will never play baseball.  Most of us are not interested in Bingo either.  For many years Pahoa had only one activity, yoga.  At last count we had six or seven classes.  The director of P & R “PROMISED” to replace the stolen entertainment center donated by Pahoa REalty and the barbecue and umbrella donated by Home Depot.  Theis never took place since Dorothy Baxter who feels that she speaks for all seniors denied the replacement as well as the request to have an overhead projector to each classes.  Dorothy plans to represent lower PUna on the Mayor’s Committee on Aging for the rest of her life.  Nothing is possible unless these few individuals are asked to step aside in these final decisions.  We, the people, demand to be included in the planning and decision making of our park and any other projects affecting our immediate lives.  The kitchen could not only produce nutritious organic food for all seniors, but classes in canning. And wholesale cooking would support us in emergencies and support low income seniors.  We have in the past requested HCC Culinary students to help in this project giving them a must-needed experience while aiding the community.  Nutrition for seniors is under P & R and is currently serving the cheapest frozen and packaged foods, and possibly GMO fresh food from Richard Ha.

Kamana Senior Center in Hilo has 170 activities and a dedicated sewing room.  Kea’au has about 70 activities, refusing the offer to set up a complete ceramic studio and we in Pahoa deserve planning an equal amount of recreation and support for our seniors without commuting to other towns.  We want to know what the budget for our center is and plan appropriate activities for all ages and types of seniors including access at night for movies, popcorn, and discussions.  We wish to form our own clubs similar to the Photography Club that meets once a month in Hilo.  We need Margaret Yafuso, the P & R person, to come to us and not have to send everyone chasing after her for permission to do the slightest thing.  Applications to teach classes should be available at the center or online, with timely inclusion into the schedule.  We would prefer continual classes instead of the semester sessions created by P & R, if the class and teacher agree to the format.  The Pahoa Community Center issues keys to people for evening events.  We insist that we NOT have to pay the County of Hawaii extra for the use of the building.  Even part of the $54 million could fund many activities and pay people here in Pahoa to lead classes. Grants should be written to augment programs rather than dumbing down the seniors with Bingo.  We have also asked repeatedly for dedicated walking and biking trails THRU the park.

I will take these concerns to the Ethics committee, and now request discretionary funds to begin to bring us up to standard in District 5, but first P & R must turn a green light on for thousands of seniors living in lower Puna and agree to modify the park plan for full community use.

Since the Pahoa Park Committee was forcibly disbanded by the so-called leaders of the Pahoa Village Master Plan, we have lost the platform from which to speak toP & R about these issues.  But we were never allowed to attend many meetings where we might have expressed the details of our needs that have been repeatedly expressed in the Puna Community Development Plan over the many years that we have participated in this process.


Toby S. Hazel

13 replies
  1. Hazen Komraus
    Hazen Komraus says:

    Fantastic Toby!

    I couldn’t agree more. Sadly i agree with you about the need to address ALL citizens needs with this park. An actual park, not just an athletics facility would be a start. So many younger children and older folks who need facilities. I’d encourage you to make a coalition with the Mainstreet Association. It seems that if the town is united in wanting something different that perhaps something could be done. I’ve certainly posted saying as much, the amount of money involved is considerable, it would take very little to benefit everyone. Otherwise we’ll just end up with an empty, locked facility rusting and left to vandalism and vagrants. We might be a little behind the mainland in some things but i hope and pray we’re not that Third World in our infrastructure investments.

    I love the idea about canning and classes. I just canned a bushel of peppers last night because i didn’t want to let them go to waste. It’s ridiculous that every public food has to come out of a factory and a freezer when we have so much food being wasted here. I can happily imagine seniors teaching kids how to make guava jelly in the certified kitchen and selling it to fund further projects!

  2. Rene Siracusa
    Rene Siracusa says:

    Re Summer Fun materials stored in meeting rooms: There is a perfectly good empty Matson container sitting in the parking lot. You could suggest to P&R that they use it for storage and restore the meeting rooms to their proper designated use.

  3. Cheryl King
    Cheryl King says:

    Although I am not from your community, I appreciated the thoughtful, comprehensive letter you wrote on this subject. And….I loved your comment “Dumbing down the seniors with Bingo”.

  4. punated
    punated says:

    Why is this guy writing to Mr. Paleka of District 5 about the senior center in District 4? Shouldn’t he be talking to the District 4 council rep, Mr. Illagan? Is Mr. Illagan so busy that he can’t be bothered to hear from citizens of District 4? Or is this age discrimination where this senior believes Mr. Illagan is too young to understand the issue?

  5. Rene Siracusa
    Rene Siracusa says:

    Re Summer Fun materials stored in meeting rooms: There is a large EMPTY Matson container in the parking lot that could be used to store the Summer Fun materials. You could suggest that to P&R so that the meeting rooms could be freed up. That’s a very do-able fix.

  6. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    The facility proposed for Pahoa is the same as was proposed for HPP which was the same as was built in Panaewa. The County told HPP what would be built, without asking, even though some folks there had done a survey and found swimming and trails were what was wanted.

    Somebody’s got a real deal goin’ on these facilities.

  7. punated
    punated says:

    Didn’t notice District 4 is on the east side of Pahoa village road and District 5 is on the west side. That whole tract of land is on the county records as the Pahoa Playground area, 72 acres. There seem to be all kinds of irregularities going on with this property. How was the senior center building “given” away by the mayor? Is it still a county building? If so, it should have a budget assigned to it. Looking at old times, it looks like Fred Blas, District 4, was the driver for the center and it only happened with a lot of volunteer work and donations. Why is that not being suggested for these improvements and how did that suddenly become a county responsibility?
    Pretty funny looking at these older references, the new park is often a part of the article. In 2011, the new park was supposed to be 5.5 million. It is now $55 million, after it went into the planning committee. 10X the original estimate? LOL, and people wonder why things get so confused around here.

  8. Marcia Brinkley
    Marcia Brinkley says:

    At this moment in time, the senior center in Pahoa is still closed even thought the Fire Department moved out some time ago. I don’t see a schedule for senior activities for the summer, either, except for the yoga classes being held in the community center. Even the produce deliveries from the Food Bank are on hold until there is some announcement about when the Pahoa senior center will reopen. Like the OP, I would love to see a full schedule of activities at the senior center once it opens but we, the 55+ crowd in lower Puna, are obviously not a priority. Unfortunately, some of the classes in the past have not been well attended so the perception is that we are not interested. I would suggest that anyone who wants to see a particular class held in Pahoa be proactive about letting P&R know, as Ms. Hazel has done. I love the idea of cooking or canning classes, and would also love tai chi, watercolors, acrylics and knitting classes, as well as a book club. The first step, though, is reopening the senior center.

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