The Hollister City Council held its first discussion on Dec. 19 concerning re-establishing the July motorcycle rally after residents voted overwhelmingly last month to continue holding the rally, while also voting against changing the date of the rally. Measures T and U were non-binding, meaning the City Council could do as it pleases in these matters.
What voters didn’t know, according to Hollister Police Chief Carlos Reynoso, was that with Measure U failing to pass it all but sealed the fate of Measure T, meaning that there is very little chance of a rally being held in downtown Hollister next July because of a police shortage and residents voting against a change of date.
His comments Dec. 19 repeated his warning in April that a lack of security would prevent the rally from occurring. Reynoso said the shortage results from officers leaving police departments nationwide for retirement, or because of calls to defund the police over the last two years, which has discouraged people from joining the police.
Reynoso told the council nothing had changed since April. After putting out the word statewide again on Dec. 3 to all police chiefs, only three responded and none offered any officers for the event. He said two responses offered drones and pilots only. The third asked Reynoso to call back at a time closer to the event date. He told the council they could google “shortages of police” and see that all police departments, including Hollister’s, were experiencing shortages.
“I don’t see anything changing in regard to getting assistance required for the rally in July,” he said, adding that he also asked the police chiefs if Hollister would pay workers’ comp for their officers, would that make a difference. It didn’t, he said.
Councilman Rolan Resendiz said people are upset at the possibility of no rally. He wanted to know what could be done to show that the voters’ voices were being heard. He conceded, however, that putting the rally up for a vote was silly and costly.
City Manager Brett Miller said the need for sworn and trained police officers could not be met. He said Hollister would need people who are used to dealing with large crowds who would react appropriately to an incident. Reynoso said the “footprint” of the rally has not changed and security cannot be guaranteed with an open venue if the public could enter and leave downtown from any direction without being checked. He said other cities that hold large events do so in contained areas for security.
“The way the rally has been done here over the years is the problem,” he said. “Every time we’ve had one, it’s been a risk the city has taken. If nothing happened, it’s because those elements [people] who came in decided to do nothing. When we had the DOJ [Department of Justice] teams, they actually intervened in a lot of situations that could have been violent, and we were criticized for over-policing it because nothing happened. Well, nothing happened because the police were there. Since then, we’ve had dramatically fewer officers over the years.”
Reynoso said he cannot get the same number of police officers that he could in 2017, which was already down from previous years. He said it’s the council’s decision whether there will be a rally.
“The fact that only three chiefs have responded is very telling,” he said. “San Francisco is reporting this year it’s going to be short 300 officers. They’re already down 800 officers.”
He pointed out that it would have been more feasible to hold the rally if the event could have been moved to another date, but the public voted it down.
“In reality, they were just asked one question without giving additional information to make a wise decision,” he said.
Councilman Tim Burns said he did not feel obligated to move forward with the rally if the city could not provide security. He wondered, though, “How do we get to ‘yes’?” He said because of the lack of resources it does not make sense to hold the rally in the same manner as before. He hoped for other options, such as fencing off the K-Mart parking lot for the event.
Mayor Mia Casey said it is clear the public wants the event, but they did not know the ramifications of the lack of security. She said an ad hoc committee needs to explore alternatives.
Councilman Rick Perez, who is on the ad hoc committee, said, “It will always come down to ‘do we have enough police.’” He said about the resistance to changing the date of the rally, “Is it not worth having it if we can’t have it on a different weekend? Are we going to be that stubborn?”
When the suggestion was made to hold the rally at another location, Reynoso pointed out that thousands of bikers would still come downtown, and he does not have enough police to cover one location, much less two.
During public comments, former city manager Bill Avera wondered if voters had been asked if the rally would cost over $200,000 to police it, would they have voted for it. He said the results would have been different.
“You’re never going to move the rally from downtown. That’s the whole purpose of the rally,” he said. “People want to cruise downtown. We had a rally where they couldn’t cruise, and it was a big failure.”
He continued: “We’ve never had enough police officers. We’ve just been extremely lucky.”
The council agreed that the ad hoc committee would report back on its findings and recommendations regularly. The next ad hoc committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The public is invited to attend.
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