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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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About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is 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.

Comments

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2017/12/26/amid-sales-drop-har...

"Harley-Davidson is placing a renewed emphasis on teaching people to ride as part of its efforts to attract more customers.

The Milwaukee-based company's decision to expand the number of dealerships with a Harley "Riding Academy" comes as the industry grapples with years of declining sales and an aging customer base.

The program launched in 2000 with about 50 locations and now 245 dealerships in the U.S. offer the three- or four-day course. The company says about a quarter of those launched since 2014.

Harley sold 124,777 new motorcycles through nine months in 2017, down from 135,581 during the same period the previous year, according to the company's most recent earnings report.

The Motorcycle Industry Council says the median age of motorcycle owners increased from 32 to 47 since 1990."

It's time to face facts and data rather than pointing fingers and making false accusations among the city council; interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles is declining and the age of enthusiasts is advancing. 

The Hollister Motorcycle Rally is dead after 20 years of on-again, off-again mismanagement and inconsistent branding. 

 

Submitted by John Noble on

I think it goes beyond local missteps, but we sure have had our share.

"Events" are like anything else, some people like to go to them, others do not. Hollister's rally was but one event in a big annual pie of them across the region (and country).  If any one of those Events doesn't deliver what the customer base wants- their slice of the pie will diminish.  Do that a few times and a downward spiral could begin that takes significant change(s) and buckets of marketing money to get word out of those changes.

The rally fell asleep at the switch- did nothing to reinvent itself.  Want a black t-shirt?  We got that- side streets full of that.  Nor did the rally take particular care of local business.  Oh sure, some hotels, bars and restaurants got a lift for a couple days, but the vast bulk of revenue left town Sunday afternoon with the transient vendors all drove home in the sunset counting their money.  How can we be surprised at the progression with no dog in the fight?

No migration of offerings to keep it fresh and interesting (much like our town- but that's another story).  As some guy named Darwin said, "evolve or die" long ago.  

Looking forward, let's go up 10,000 feet and wrap mind(s) better around whatever may take its place.  Understand the ever changing customers' needs and wants- that they are willing to pay for.  Something unique would garner interest, but needs also to evolve as others will copy it.  We need to be looking ahead and not chasing the tail as we have.  I doubt it can be a part time thing, some one or agency needs to mind the store and be involved in the industry to stay current and think ahead, identify the assets we have

Submitted by Ken Dunn (kenneth) on

Seems there's just too much common sense here for some of us to digest. If a ralley can't at least pay its own bills then there's no sense in having it. Especially in a city that cannot afford to repair its own streets. All we need now is for a biker to be injured and disabled on a downtown street that is in extremely poor condition. One accident like that could cost Hollister millions. Also, as any biker knows, traffic density means danger to bikers and Hollister traffic is denser than ever and getting worse daily, with at least half of drivers being unqualified to handle a car properly, it is unsafe to ride a bike anywhere near Hollister. After too many close calls I've retired my motorcycle of 40 years. Anyone with a dent in the side of their car knows that you don't even have to be moving for some bad driver to run into you these days. It happens every day. I'm told that max. capacity of Hollister is 105 thousand, which is 3x what we have now, try to imagine what riding a bike will be like then. Better get yourself a full-size Humvee with good air conditioning cause you'll be going very slow and sitting in a lot of traffic. Welcome to the over-populated, dangerous, expensive future.

We obviously don't make the cut in the promoters' and sponsors' opportunity cost equations.  They may make a profit, but perhaps they can make more profit somewhere else.  "A rational person chooses the option that maximizes the utility of their assets."  Since a promoter or sponsor does not have the personal connection to the rally, they look at it purely as an investment.

As for liability, the purpose of insurance is to spread the risk thus making that risk affordable; that's why we are members of insurance pools.  If we can't afford the insurance or to self-insure it means we can't afford the risk.  You can't bet the farm with the public's money. 

Public sentiment has changed regarding liability, the new attitude is that someone has to pay and it's usually the deep-pocket.  The liability is often split with 20/20 hindsight even if the "victim" was breaking the law or was primarily at fault.

Marty Richman  

Submitted by (David marquez) on

It's ashame a small town such as San Juan Bautista has more events than Hollister. If it wasnt for the Highschool we wouldnt have anything downtown. Hollister has been shown up by a tiny town. #nothingeverchanges

Can you imagine a Hollister business going on Shark Tank and telling Kevin O’Leary that they declined the opportunity to have 100,000 people walk by their shop because it would have cost $2 per person? He would have a stroke!

--William McCarey

I’m sure Kevin O’Leary would have questioned the associated risks and may have come  to this same conclusion. I will be honest and state that this event has never been a favorite of mine but I was willing to tolerate it if it stayed fiscally neutral. I don’t mind a little spending of funds for this event because there is some benefit of this event, for some, but a bunch of lifetime workman’s comp settlements would devastate this city’s budget. I think in the overall scheme of things this was the right decision by the City Council at this time and I don’t believe we are done having rally’s. 

You missed my point, Carol. We have dozens and dozens of businesses that profit from the rally. In addition we have a "Business Group" that ponders deeply on business strategies to improve their sales in Hollister. Both  of these groups should voluntarily fund this rally, independent of the city of Hollister.  Appoint Mike or Bob to head it up. Like I said, $2 per person to get 100,000 people walking by your storefront is the cheapest customer acquisition on this planet.

--William McCarey

In my career, I learned to approach business this way: Plan, Do, Check and Improve. 

The rally was never run like a business or a municipal enterprise; no accountability, no leadership, no continuity and no consistency in products or services. Year after year, it was one promoter or another trying to leverage profits and not lose money. 

So I think you missed the point altogether, Mr. McCarey. The rally has always been a SNAFU pretty much from the beginning and its demise is ultimately that it doesn't appeal to young families with disposable incomes. The actuarial data indicates that the rally became "A Place for Grandpa trying to recapture the glory days of his youth...unless, of course, he is no longer with us." 

Other communities across America are having better fortunes because they probably have better community leaders running their respective events. 

Bill, 

I do not have actual figures to back up my impressions, so all I can do is give you those.  Before doing so, however, I will say that my experience is that IF it were a profit-making deal for any reasonably large, cohesive group, that group would have been glad to sponsor it long ago.  Mike Corbin has said he is going to run his usual little rally at his plant as always, but he is in a dedicated motorcycle-related business.

Many small regular businesses downtown close during the rally because they do not get any benefit and, in fact, they lose customers that day.  The street is packed, but no one is buying used furniture.  I believe restaurants, food stands, bars, smoke shops and the like do much better than otherwise, but they have to stay in business a whole year to get to the 4th of July and many of them can't - look at the vacancy and turnover rate.  The point is the rally is an adjunct, not a primary revenue for a prevailing business.  If we can't keep the downtown basic business district healthy (smoke shops are not the answer in the long run) the adjunct can't help.

It's a three-day blip for a large supermarket.  The vendors that specialize in the rally materials do ok, but who knows if we even get the sales tax?  Too many empty lots and empty store-fronts poach the rally by leasing/renting for three days, then they are empty again.  This keeps them empty by helping them pay their property tax for the year!!  They won't develop.

Walk-bys go to vendor tents and empty stores selling soda-pop ad candy; no benefit to walking by a bar.

Finally, we have to get insured and have not been able to afford it, that's not even in the current budget.

Marty Richman

Submitted by Tod DuBois (John Galt) on

I'm just excited that we now have a rambling homeless person to keep Council entertained. That happens in successful cities, let's see if it makes a difference in Hollister. The point is at least one person actually cares. 

Submitted by Ken Dunn (kenneth) on

It does look like a free massive advertisement for Harley Davidson. But on another note, when the rally happens every year, it loses some of it's excitement. If it was held at 5 year intervals it might feel more special, as the first one many years ago seemed to have much more attendance. And a small entrance fee might work.

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