Police officers patrol the 2013 Hollister Independence Rally. Photo by John Chadwell.
Police officers patrol the 2013 Hollister Independence Rally. Photo by John Chadwell.

The Hollister City Council on April 18 debated a resolution to place a measure on the November ballot that would put the fate of the Hollister Independence Day Rally in the hands of the voters. A key part of the discussion was the fact that it would cost between $16,000 and $26,000, plus consulting fees, to draw up the measure, just to place it on the ballot.

Hollister Police Chief Carlos Reynoso said a lack of security is a major consideration because of outlaw motorcycle gangs who attend the rally in large numbers.

Reynoso told BenitoLink how, in 2014, two rival gangs—out-of-state Boozefighters and Wino’s Crew—came to the rally and were involved in a fight at Johnny’s Bar and Grill. Police were able to break it up, but after the rally the same two groups got into a gunbattle at the Chevron station on the corner of San Felipe Road and Hwy 25. Three members of the Boozefighers were shot. Fortunately, he said, no innocent bystanders were injured.

“For years one of the main outlaw gangs has claimed this event and Hollister as their territory,” he said. “Their rivals have also increased their presence in California. There is a long history between the two groups involving fights, stabbings, shootings, and murder.” 

He went on to say, “In late 2021, the council was informed of an incident where over 40 members of the rival gang came to Hollister, went into Johnny’s Bar and posed for pictures at the bar. Although this would seem innocuous to some people, others recognized this as a challenge and disrespectful in the outlaw motorcycle gang world. The likelihood of rival gang attendance and violence at any future rally has increased because of that event.”

He said the ever-increasing likelihood of violence and the lack of resources available to police the rally is a major concern to public safety. 

“These factors should be taken into consideration with any decision regarding the hosting of the event,” Reynoso cautioned.

During the meeting, the only thing the council could agree on was that more public input was needed. To that end, they decided to hold a town hall meeting at the Veterans Memorial building on San Benito Street in Hollister, on a still to be determined Saturday in May.

Even if a majority of residents voice their approval of the event, the rally’s fate may ultimately be determined by other factors. Apart from the cost of placing a measure on the ballot, there is also the fact that the reasons for past rally cancellations still exist: potentially crippling liability and a lack of security.

The final call, if the council listens to him, will be Reynoso’s.

Liability is Reynoso’s main concern because the city is “self-insured,” through the city’s general fund, according to City Manager Brett Miller.

“We pay up to a certain amount before it goes to our risk pool,” Miller told BenitoLink. “We are in a risk pool of 10 cities. That risk pool is then in another risk pool of other pools. Each pool has its own layer of risk. Our original pool is self-insured to $1 million. Then any claims over the $1 million goes to the next pool layer. The cost each year is dependent on the number of claims in the past years. So it varies from year to year. However, general liability and worker’s comp is about $1 million each for about $2 million total.”

Miller added: “The dollar amount depends on the injury and what the medical amounts may be in the future.

Reynoso told the council at a previous meeting that he had contacted nearly every police chief in the state to see if any would be willing to allow their officers to provide security for the rally.

Reynoso told BenitoLink that only two chiefs responded, offering only six officers. In the past, he said, as many as 14 agencies provided assistance at rallies. Over the last five years, the city’s emphasis has been on cost reduction. And, because the event takes place downtown with no fences, people coming and going cannot be monitored and it is difficult to guarantee a safe event. 

He said when the city contracted with other law enforcement departments who sent their officers they were paid by their respective agencies and Hollister reimbursed the overtime rates of those agents. But that has become increasingly more difficult.

“Most law enforcement agencies in California have faced large amounts of retirements with few qualified applicants to fill those vacant spots,” he said. “This can be attributed, in part, to the anti-police sentiment, riots throughout the state and the defunding movement. Many understaffed departments cannot spare their officers over the busy holiday weekend because they have events scheduled in their own jurisdictions.” 

Also affecting the city’s ability to provide security is that it recently changed the outside officer contract so that it will no longer provide worker comp coverage to these officers, thus putting the financial burden on their own departments.

“This is a big change in our contract,” Reynoso said. “Historically, providing coverage for those assisting officers was a big factor in other cities deciding to send officers.”

Gilroy’s Garlic Festival has suffered a similar fate of being canceled because of safety considerations stemming from a 2019 mass shooting and the pandemic.  

BenitoLink reached out to seven city police departments to gauge their interest in providing officers for the rally, including Gilroy, Monterey, San Jose, Fremont, Santa Cruz and Hayward. Only Fremont’s Police Chief Sean Washington responded.

He said he did not respond to Reynoso’s request for assistance because his agency has many unfilled vacancies, and struggles to fill them. He also said Fremont’s annual July 4 parade conflicts with Hollister’s event.

“I currently would not be willing to divert resources away from the Fremont community for a planned event that is out of county and so far away from our city,” he said. “If there was an emergency request for assistance, we would certainly respond if needed.”

Related BenitoLink stories 

2019 Hollister rally promoters call unofficial event a success

Rebel rally video talks motorcycle history

Hollister rebel rally promotional videos capture San Benito County

Rebel rally is on for July

With no official biker rally in 2018 whispers begin about next year


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John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...