For Marilyn Hoobler, secretary and administrative assistant of the Apricot Fiesta for almost 30 years, putting the city’s annual celebration together is a year-round job.
By this time of the year, everything has been planned out, food and craft booth vendors have committed to the event, expenses have been allocated, and Hoobler basically just has to dot the i’s and cross the t’s before the annual event that attracts up to 40,000 people to the streets of downtown comes to the city during the last weekend of May.
This is not the time to be making drastic changes to the city’s largest and most organized event. However, according to Hoobler and the other Fiesta board members, that is exactly what the city of Patterson is trying to impose on the not-for-profit organization.
“Speaking from my job as taking direction from the board, it’s extremely difficult when an entity like the city puts us in a situation where we have to make some pretty extreme changes with 57 days left until the event,” Hoobler said by phone Friday.
City staff handed a packet with said changes to members of the Fiesta board on Tuesday, March 31, changes that would require the area where the beer trailers are usually set up, between the downtown parks along West Las Palmas Avenue, to be fenced in with added private security guards on hand to check ID cards, allowing only those 21 and over to enter.
“In my idea, and I’m not a police officer, but if you fence everyone in, you’re looking for more trouble than if you didn’t,” Hoobler said. “I’m not a trained police officer, but I’ve dealt with that whole crowd for many years.”
According to Apricot Fiesta Board President Jeff Essex, the fire chief also has put a cap on the maximum amount of patrons that can be in the enclosed portion of the beer area. Part of that area is shared by the arm wrestling events, however, which can make things really difficult.
In addition to the fencing and barricades, the fire chief is asking that there be a 20-foot buffer in between food vendors that may be set up next to a non food vendor for the Fiesta.
“We may have to eliminate some food vendors because the fire department wants extra space between them,” Hoobler said.
City of Patterson & West Stanislaus Fire Agencies Fire Chief Steven Hall, said this requirement is not new and must be put in place due to the fact that food vendors are required to have fire resistant canopies, and craft vendors are not. So there will not be any extra required space in between multiple food vendors that are adjacent to each other such as in South Park.
In the past, the popular food vendor area in South Park has attracted 26 to 33 food vendors that have traveled from as far away as Arizona, Colorado and Oregon to return to the Fiesta year after year. For some of those vendors, the three-day event brings in more revenue for them then they could make in an entire month.
“It would definitely take a number of them away, and at this point contracts are signed, so it wouldn’t be a good thing to call them up and say, ‘Hey, you can’t come,’ ” Hoobler said.
The changes would have major financial ramifications, and making these changes this late in the process may be enough to derail the Apricot Fiesta’s 44-year run entirely.
“The event is in jeopardy,” Hoobler reiterated. “We basically break even each year, and if they take away from the Fiesta, I don’t know if we can make it.”
“I know that these changes are done in a sense that they are trying to create consistency through the city and the city’s operations,” Hoobler explained, “but I still feel that we should have been given the courtesy to be notified well in advance, like, ‘Heads up, Fiesta, lets make these changes by 2016 and work together.’ But to me, it’s not broken, so don’t fix it.”
According to Board President Essex, members of the Fiesta board had met with then police chief Tyrone Spencer and Sheriff Adam Christiansen years back and had come up with several ideas that were pitched to the sheriff’s department that they said were good.
“We came up with things, and to my recollection, it has been better each year since then,” Essex said.
“We had been told that Chief Hughes has signed off on this, and I talked to her several months ago and she said that the Fiesta doesn’t really create problems for her officers,” Essex said.
“I’m still trying to grasp what’s happening,” Essex said. “If this is what the city wants to give us, then there is no way to comply.”
According to Essex, the cost of extra fencing and barricades being requested by the city could be upwards of $22,000, not to mention the expense of hiring extra security guards for the three days.
“It will slow down beer sales, which I’m fine with if it adds to the public safety, but if we sell any less beer, we’re going to lose money,” Essex said.
The Fiesta isn’t the only area entity poised to lose money. The trickle down effect if the Fiesta is cancelled could mean the loss of tens of thousands of dollars from stores, hotels, restaurants, and bars in the downtown area that capitalize on the high amount of foot traffic heading to the Fiesta, not to mention the other local charities that count on the Fiesta each year for fundraising.
Local Boy Scouts who make and sell apricot ice cream would lose out on their biggest fundraiser of the year, as would the Rotary Club, which holds a cocktail mixer prior to the Fiesta on Friday, and the Lions Club, which puts on the chicken barbecue each year. And the list goes on.
Members of the Fiesta board have already submitted a letter to the city of Patterson in the hopes that they will respond before Tuesday’s meeting of the city council, but they plan to read the letter from the dais during the public comment period regardless.
“I’m hoping to keep my composure,” Essex said. “I just look at our current Fiesta board, and if you add up all the board members’years of service, it adds up to over 150 years of combined community service. That’s a lot, not counting co-chairs, and other volunteers.”
“We’ve got first generations working with second-generation volunteers,” Essex explained. “There’s nothing in it for them, except to give back. I can’t see any good reason for (the city) to do this. We are not for profit. We are trying to promote the city of Patterson.”
“If it has to go away, it would be pretty sad,” Essex said of the fate of the Fiesta.
Tuesday night’s council meeting is scheduled to take place at City Hall at 7 p.m.
“As I’ve told board members that have approached me, I’m sorry. I just don’t get it,” Hoobler said. “We should have more support and more respect.”
As of Monday morning, the Irrigator received notification from Apricot Fiesta Board President Jeff Essex that the city of Patterson will not be requiring the Apricot Fiesta to impose the proposed changes to the beer area along West Las Palmas Avenue for the 2015 Apricot Fiesta. Instead, the said changes will be asked of the Fiesta for the year 2016, which still has Essex scratching his head in disbelief that the Fiesta may not continue past the 2015 celebration due to the resulting expenses added from the changes that will be asked for in 2016.
"I told Marilyn (Hoobler), if they give us a pass this year and we work hard for next year, we still won't be able to comply," Essex said by phone Monday.
Essex recalled how fenced in "beer garden's" were imposed on other area functions, including the Stanislaus County Fair and the Riverbank Wine and Cheese Festival. In both instances, according to Essex, the fenced in areas were not worthwhile or popular, and in following installations of each festival, the fence around the beer drinking area was removed.
"The city wants to impose what they call a 'beer garden,' " Essex said. "Lets just face it. It's a cage around a bunch of drunks."
Essex went on to explain that the Fiesta was negative by approximately $200 last year and that kind of deficit could be covered; however, if the $25,000 of added fees is to be absorbed by the Fiesta, Essex feels that the Fiesta would not be able to come up with it, thus forcing the cancellation of the 2016 Apricot Fiesta.
"To do anything that would cause us to lose tens of thousands of dollars, we can't do it," Essex explained. "The bill even showed paying for the city's trucks and administrative fees."
Essex concurred that the fate of the Fiesta beyond this year's 45th installment is still in jeopardy and plans to speak during Tuesday night's meeting of the City Council.
"For me, this is not over," Essex said. "I need more answers."
Update: A call received from City Manager Ken Irwin Monday evening revealed that the city does not want the long running Apricot Fiesta to come to an end.
"We don't want that, not at all," Irwin said by phone. "We'll come together right after this (2015) Fiesta."
Irwin said that he and city staff will be looking at how this year's installment of the Fiesta bodes, considering Irwin has not been to a recent Fiesta, but plans to attend this year.
"Maybe not a full-blown fenced-in area," Irwin said, speaking on the possibility of the chain-link enclosure of the beer area. "But this event has definitely gotten bigger, and the sheriff is concerned about underage drinking."
"They want things to be contained," Irwin reiterated. "This is the sheriff's recommendation."
Stanislaus County Sheriff's Patterson Police Services Chief Tori Hughes concurred her concerns on the rise of underage drinking at the Apricot Fiesta.
"Last year was very, very noticeable," Hughes said. "Juveniles were posting on social media about being downtown and being intoxicated."
"Friday nights we're getting a much larger crowd hanging around the area," Hughes added.
Hughes went on to explain the challenges poised in dealing with crowds of juveniles and adults.
"It becomes much more difficult to monitor when you blend them. There's a reason that bars have a 21-and-over requirement," Hughes said.
The idea of a fenced-in "beer garden" is simple, according to Hughes.
"Most special events require beer gardens to monitor alcohol. To control the alcohol consumption, to ensure that the persons over 21 are the ones drinking," Hughes said.
Both Hughes and Irwin agreed that the changes have come about as a result of the city updating the special events packet to standardize the process and make things fair across the board for those applying to hold special events.
"The sheriff, they wanted to require this last year, and we need to be fair to everybody," Irwin said. "This is our attempt for that."
In the past, Irwin said that the forms for special event applications were not very thorough and lacked a lot of information. While Irwin says that the forms don't really change anything, to "request" a beer garden of the Fiesta with such short notice would not work; however, it may be a requirement for the 2016 installment of the Apricot Fiesta.
"It's something they would have needed to know earlier," Irwin said. "But it's going to be something on the table for 2016."
Elias Funez can be reached at 892-6187 ext. 306 or firstname.lastname@example.org.