Piecemakers Cited For Code Violations

Christian group says county is harrassing hard-working citizens

The Orange County Register, February 18, 1999
By Stephen Wall

The Piecemakers are at war with the government again.

The Christian group that believes God's laws supercede man's laws has clashed with city officials before over building-code violations and holding special events without proper permits.

But this time, it's not the city of Costa Mesa the Piecemakers are battling. It's the county health department.

In a Feb. 9 inspection of the Piecemakers Country Store, four alleged violations of the California health code were uncovered.

The Piecemakers call the infractions petty and unwarranted. The 40-member group says it is being unreasonably targeted by government officials who are harrassing hard-working citizens.

County officials say they are just doing their job. All food businesses are required to comply with government health and safety codes, and the Piecemakers are no exception, said Bill Ford, assistant director of the county Department of Environmental Health.

The Piecemakers are permitted to sell pre-packaged foods such as coffee and confections at their Adams Avenue store, which specializes in handmade quilts and blankets.

But the store also has kitchens and dining areas where sandwiches and other food items are prepared and consumed. The Piecemakers' health permit doesn't allow such uses, Ford says.

When health inspectors visited the store last week, they uncovered the following: candies sold at the front counter without proper labelling; a coffee pot and open container of nondairy creamer in the downstairs dining room; dishes and kitchen utensils for customer use; and canned drinks and boxes of food service utensils stored in the janitorial room.

Ford said the infractions were "relatively minor," but he said more serious violations would be found if inspectors were allowed to enter the store unannounced.

"If I were to walk in right now, I would find them operating a kitchen. They have been made aware that they may not operate a kitchen," he said.

The county wants to conduct a follow-up inspection, but officials must have a warrant or receive permission to enter the property.

The three officials who conducted the Feb. 9 inspection had made an appointment. When they arrived at the store, they were surrounded by a group of about 30 people who yelled obscenities and created "a very hostile atmosphere," Ford said.

He said the inspection report will be forwarded to the county district attorney's office. Further violations could result in fines or the revocation of the group's health permit.

The Piecemakers say they are victims of an overzealous government.

"They don't care about people's health," said group member Anne Sorensen. "All they care about is enforcing their codes."

To protest the health department's action, the group last week draped a cloth over its store sign on Adams Avenue with the words "Death Of A Nation" and placed an upside down U.S. flag in the grass next to the sign. Outside the front door they hung a red banner with the words "Let Freedom Ring."

Group leader Marie Kolasinski says they will take the signs down "when God tells us to."

"God's going to be the one who's going to bring down the health department," she said.

Kolasinski also taped an index card to the door telling government officials to make an appointment before they show up again.

"We pay their salaries. We'll go after them personally and get their jobs," Kolasinski said.

The Piecemakers have butted heads with government officials before.

In January 1998, they were ordered by a judge to correct various misdemeanor city building and permit violations at their Logan Avenue warehouse, which they have since vacated.

They also pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges that they hosted special events such as a crafts fair and the musical "Big River" at their country store without city permits.

They were put on probation for two years and ordered to perform community service and reimburse the city $2,000.

The Piecemakers staged a march prior to a court appearance in October 1997 singing "When The Saints Come Marching In."

Kolasinski says a similar protest is in store if the county doesn't stop harassing them.

"The government is our biggest foe. They're the same old imbeciles as always. We're hoping that they realize that they're cutting off the hand that feeds them," she said.

Longtime store customer Tom Domenici said he doesn't care for the Piecemakers' political views.

"My wife and I come here for the crafts. I love their (merchandise) creativity. But I wouldn't seek my political direction from these people," Domenici said.

Costa Mesa officials said that are far as they're concerned, the Piecemakers remain in good standing with the city.

The county hasn't notified the city of any violations of the group's probation, said deputy city attorney Jack Haynes.

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