Government / Politics

Hollister City Council Cancels Motorcycle Rally

Hollister City Council cites rally promoter is $50,000 short on covering city expenses and concerns over liability. Council canceled 2018 rally.
Councilman Ray Friend, a long-time supporter of the rally, had the resolution put on the agenda, and then voted against it. Photo by John Chadwell
Always colorful and passionate when he speaks to the council, Zavan Quezada asked why the most popular event in town was being cancelled. Photo by John Chadwell
Marty Richman has brought up the issue of risk and workers' comp the last two years. Photo by John Chadwell
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said if the rally were cancelled it would never come back. Photo by John Chadwell
Bill Avera said other cities are reluctant to send their police officers to Hollister. Photo by John Chadwell

The Hollister City Council voted 3-2 Monday night, March 5, to cancel the 2018 motorcycle rally, mainly because the promoter, Randy Burke, claimed he had lost several big sponsors and the council felt it was unlikely he would be able to secure new ones in time for the July event.

During public comments, only two members of the public spoke about the rally: Zavan Quezada and Marty Richman. Quezada, a homeless street artist who always introduces himself as a “full-blown artist from San Benito County” had signed speakers’ cards for every agenda item—just because he wanted to be heard—and then spoke passionately about keeping the rally because he believed it was a money-maker. He has been known to ramble when he speaks before the council, but there was some clarity to his comments on the rally.

“The biggest thing we have for the whole year and we’re canceling it,” he said to the audience, all but ignoring the council. “Why are we canceling it? There are so many brilliant people here, I didn’t think that would even happen or come to the agenda. As a community we should be looking at more innovate ways to make it even more exciting.”

The mayor cautioned Quezada to speak to the council and told him if he had a question, to ask it. Quezada shot back testily, “The question is, why we are canceling it? Why is The Vault [a building the mayor owns] used as an information booth instead of having festivals in it?”

Richman said he reluctantly supported the resolution to cancel the rally, as he also did last year. His reasoning remained the same now as it was then: “We didn’t have adequate insurance. Yes, we didn’t have a problem last year. We’re shooting craps with the public’s money and if it comes up seven we’re going to lose a fortune. Not in the operation of the rally, but in the possible liability.”

He said when insurance companies walk away from covering an event and the city doesn’t have its own money put aside, the risk of putting on the rally is just too great. He said the primary risk is in covering law enforcement and fire personnel and other cities are not willing to cover them when working in Hollister.

“We’re always one gunfight from being put out of business,” he said. “I would like to do something that the public enjoys and I hope we can find something else to do that will be a family affair.”

Despite him being an advocate for the rally, Councilman Ray Friend asked that the resolution to cancel it be added to the agenda. He said he wanted the public to know why he had it added to the agenda.

“I’ve supported the rally from day one, but one of the stipulations was it would not cost the city any money,” Friend said. “As Marty pointed out, there is a lot of liability, and it costs the city $180,000. If I heard from the majority of the city residents that they were willing to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to have the rally, then we’d do it ourselves. But I’m not hearing that.”

He said it was also his understanding that the city did not have a promoter any longer. City Manager Bill Avera said the city did not have a signed contract from Reno-based Roadshows Inc.

“I received a text message from Mr. Randy Burke this afternoon and he said he’s at about $130,000 in sponsorship money,” Avera said. “I don’t know what that’s telling us other than he’s short of the $180,000 that it would take. It makes it difficult for us to sign and execute contracts with outside agencies that are becoming more concerned about letting their officers come to the event.”

“That’s got to be number one, the safety of everybody here,” Friend said. “We dodged a bullet a couple of times. I’m not in favor of the resolution because I love the rally, but I can’t put the city in jeopardy just because I like to ride around on my motorcycle.”

The mayor took a moment to address Quezada’s comments about The Vault.

“The rally is so important that I keep voting on it, and because I vote on it I have to keep The Vault closed,” Velazquez said. “If I gross up to $20,000 I’m in violation. I chose to keep The Vault closed and let the promoter use it for free so we could have a rally. Unfortunately, the promoter is not able to pull it off this year. Nobody else is stepping up. I’m absolutely for the rally. It’s an important part of our community and our history. If we cancel it this year, it’s done for good. There’s no bringing it back.”

He found the community, in general, came up short in that no one stepped up to take over the rally, but then he paid Quezada an off-handed compliment by telling him at least he was willing to come up to the podium to speak in favor of the rally.

“It’s a shame,” Velazquez said. “This is history for our community. I was hoping we could find a non-profit group to take ownership, but nobody does.”

When the votes were taken, Velazquez and, surprisingly, Friend voted against it. During a short break, Councilman Jim Gillio told BenitoLink that while he supported the rally he voted for the resolution to cancel it because the promoter had not come up with the required $180,000.

“If the rally was fiscally neutral I could support it,” he said, “and if I had a recommendation from the police department on how they could come up with the staff. But what the recommendation from the police department was we were way past the deadline to get the staff from other agencies to come. Plus, everybody else is busy and they need the police officers for their cities.”

On March 6, Avera explained to BenitoLink in more detail the city’s decision. He said from 2006 to 2008 the rally cost between $360,000 and $400,000, primarily due to the cost of bringing in outside law enforcement. Then the promoter pulled out and the rally was canceled. One reason the city was able to bring it back was because it purchased surveillance cameras for downtown.

“This was a huge turning point for the rally,” he said. “They allowed us to have a command center to monitor the cameras and not have groups of five or six officers walking the streets on every block. They reduced the cost to about $180,000.”

He said over the years the community was evenly split between those who loved the rally and those who hated it. The council’s goal has always been to keep the rally fiscally neutral.

“There was a time when people thought we’d make a bunch of money and since everybody was making money, why shouldn’t the city,” he said. “Our approach was we just need to stay solid and whole. We just wanted to make sure we covered our costs.”

He said the costs that people don’t see are those associated with risks. He said when there’s an incident, especially a violent one, a lot of money goes into the investigation. He said it may not be attributed to the rally, but it is a cost to the city.

It gets really complicated, Avera said, when workers’ compensations is involved.

“When Hollister contracts with outside agencies, we assume those officers’ workers comp claims,” he said. “If an officer from Modesto breaks an arm we own that and we have to pay for that. If somebody is disabled, we own that officer’s costs forever if he can’t go back to work. That’s a tremendous amount of money. They get 100 percent of their salary tax free. We are self-insured, so it really is our money. It’s not an insurance company’s money.”

He said the yearly workers’ comp premiums are $1 million, which is based on the number of claims the city already has had.

“It’s not about the rally and three days of fun, it’s about the potential of somebody coming here who we’ve asked to be here, and they get hurt,” he said. “Communities are now becoming less willing to send their officers here. Just like we don’t want our officers to go up to Levi Stadium and work, because we’re still responsible for them. If they get hurt, we lose an officer. And if they’re involved in something that doesn’t go well, then it’s a direct reflection on that officer and Hollister.”

Avera said the formal cancellation is important because the city can start letting the world know there will not be a rally. Even without a rally, though, he said people who want to come to Hollister during the 4th of July timeframe are more than welcome. He said while there won’t be a strong showing of law enforcement, the city will be prepared for whatever number of people do come.

Mike Corbin, of Corbin Motorcycle Seats and Accessories, told BenitoLink it doesn’t matter to him if there is a rally or not because many people come to his business that weekend no matter what.  He said this year is the 50th anniversary of the company and there will be a major celebration.

Avera had an issue with the mayor’s contention that the rally will not return if canceled.

“We’ve done this three or four times now,” Avera said. “It’s been around and it stopped a number of times. That’s what’s disingenuous to me. It was disappointing last night for the mayor to say the rally is dead forever. That’s simply not the case. The past has proven that it can be resurrected in any given year. People like coming and if you give them a reason to come, they will come.”

He said he is hoping that there is a promoter somewhere who can bring the rally back in 2019.

Juli Vieira, CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, commented that the rally does benefit certain kinds of businesses: hotels, gas stations, grocery stores, and bars. But not every business benefits from the rally.

“Many of the smaller businesses always close their doors during the rally,” she said. “It brings in tax dollars and money for the community, but many small business close down.”

Neither Avera nor Vieira knew to what degree downtown businesses benefited from the rally.

Despite what he said during the meeting, that the rally was being canceled because no group stepped up to take it on after the promoter failed to raise $180,000, the mayor took a swipe on Facebook at his fellow council members, blaming them, and for extra measure, threw in an issue that has nothing to do with the rally—housing.

“The Hollister Biker Rally has been canceled by a vote of 3-2 at our city council meeting tonight. Council members Jim Gillio, Mickie Luna and Karson Klauer voted to cancel it, while council member Ray Friend and I voted to keep it going. Very sad to see history thrown down the drain! It seems like the only focus by the majority of the council is more homes,” Velasquez said, not missing a chance to put his own spin on the story.

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.