- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

D.C. Council member Jim Graham says he will investigate the city’s issuing of $48,000 in fines at the Celebrate Mount Pleasant Festival last weekend that community leaders say could cripple the annual community event.

“These fines have a huge impact,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “I think the festival is acknowledging some responsibility, but obviously they cannot afford to pay all of these fines.”

Inspectors with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued the fines Sunday to vendors at the festival on Mount Pleasant Street NW.

Agency spokesman Chris Bender said festival organizers had obtained special-event permits but had not sought construction permits for temporary pop-up tents, despite the inspectors’ advice to do so.

Mr. Graham plans to discuss with consumer and regulatory affairs officials whether the inspectors could have issued smaller fines.

“We’re in between a rock and a hard place right now, because the festival people simply don’t have the money to pay,” he said.

The festival, in this largely Hispanic community, is organized by volunteers from the Mount Pleasant Business Association and other community groups. The alcohol-free event features artists, street performers, craft vendors and food courts.

Robert Frazier, an organizer for the festival, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

D.C. law states that special-event organizers must buy construction permits for $33 if they plan to use tents, canopies and kiosk staging.

Terry J. Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, criticized the fines as “government regulation run amok.”

“Here’s a neighborhood festival put together on a shoestring budget, and these inspectors come in and want to level these ridiculous fines,” he said. “It highlights the failure of the department to exercise judgement and to utilize their health and safety mandate effectively. We have a tremendous number of delinquent properties, and they go doing this.”

Mr. Bender defended the fines.

“They knew what was required of them,” he said. “It wasn’t a mystery. We don’t like issuing fines. But it’s the tool that is at our disposal to make sure that these events are safe. That’s why it’s important just to get the permit. It saves everybody a lot of time, hassle and difficulty. And most of all [it reduces] the potential for a safety hazard.”

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