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Rally may hang on Chief Westrick and Changing a Council member's vote

At least two dozen motorcycle rally supporters tried to pressure Police Chief David Westrick to call outside law enforcement to cover rally, as Mayor Velazquez and Councilman Friend tell supporters to convince other councilmembers to change their votes.
City Manager Bill Avera explained the city's and promoters' rolls in running a rally.
Police Chief David Westrick said he was doubtful that he could arrange for law enforcement support in time for rally.
Mike Corbin told Benitolink a Florida company was prepared to support the rally.
With his background in entertainment venues, Johnny's Bar and Grill Owner Peter Lago tried to assure everyone that supporters would be able to have the rally.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez does not believe the city would be at risk if an officer were injured.

Around 25 Hollister Independence Rally supporters showed up at Hollister City Hall April 4, for what turned out to be a lively, sometimes boisterous discussion with city officials on the fate of the signature summer event.

Police Chief David Westrick and City Manager Bill Avera led the evening meeting with attendees that included Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Ray Friend.

By the end of the meeting, it was not clear if the rally would take place. The decision to move forward rested on two things: having enough law enforcement to secure the event and getting at least one of three Hollister City Council members who voted to cancel the rally in March to flip their vote.

2017 was the 70th anniversary of the Hollister Independence Rally, the city’s signature event that celebrates the 1947 town invasion by the Boozefighters motorcycle club as told in the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One. The first official biker rally happened in 1997, 50 years after the original invasion.

Westrick would have to call other law enforcement agencies across California to see if he could secure enough officers for the event, which would involve having to call back the same people who had already been called twice before, first to contract their services and then to cancel the arrangements after the city council cancelled the rally with a 3-2 vote in March.

When asked repeatedly what he thought the chances would be to revive this year’s biker rally, Westrick said it would be difficult. The city’s top cop told attendees several times that he doubted how successful he might be with less than three months to work with.

The second hurdle would be to convince at least one of the three council members who voted against the rally—Vice Mayor Mickie Luna, Councilman Jim Gillio, and Councilman Karson Klauer—to change their vote. The three did not attend the April 4 meeting.

When asked if either Friend or Velazquez could try to convince the others up on the dias to change their votes, both said they could not legally do so and that it was up to the public to try to change their mind.

Avera also said that one of the three council members would have to ask for the rally to be placed on the next meeting agenda. Neither Friend nor Velazquez could do so, he said.

Another sticking point, according to Avera, was the $185,000 that a promoter would have to pay the city to primarily cover the cost of law enforcement. In the 3-2 vote in March, the council canceled the rally after Roadshows Inc. Promoter Randy Burke claimed he had lost several sponsors and could not raise the amount.

Burke and his Reno-based promotions company first took over the motorcycle rally in 2016, the third promoter in four years to take on the event. Burke was the sole promoter to submit a bid in 2016 after the previous promoter, Las Vegas-based ConvExx, left over a $90,000 dispute with the City of Hollister.

Avera said the rally was also cancelled because outside law enforcement would not be covered by the city’s liability insurance. If an officer were injured, a workers’ compensation claim could bankrupt the city, he said.

Velazquez disagreed. While Velazquez said it was open to interpretation and city lawyers needed to determine if the city was at risk, Avera saw it as a black and white issue.

“The General Fund will have to cover workers’ comp if an outside agency member gets hurt,” Avera said.

Avera said $185,000 was the figure the city settled on after several years of miscalculating the cost of the rally. One year, it had skyrocketed to over $300,000 and downtown Hollister looked like an armed camp with law enforcement officers from various state and federal agencies on every street corner and helicopters flying overhead.

“In 2013 we learned a lot [about budgeting],” Westrick added. “We learned we didn’t budget enough. We came back in 2014, and the next one was about $167,000. In 2015, it was almost $200,000. Now we’ve got it dialed down to about $185,000.”

Westrick said his planning meetings begin around August with ambulance companies and various city departments dealing with licensing or structures.

“It is a 10 to 11-month process of planning each year,” he said. “When we start asking [outside] public safety folks, they need to know early because they commit their resources up to six months ahead of time. Right now, we’re at the point where I can’t get those big groups anymore, at all.”

Velazquez said he understood Westrick’s point of view, but the mayor remained fixated on the money and said he felt if it could be gathered together there could still be a rally in July.

“It comes down to this: there are three council members and one of them has to say ‘I want to give it a shot,’” Velazquez said.

The cost to promote the rally is actually much higher than $185,000 because the promoter must arrange for entertainment and a host of other amenities adding up to more than $300,000, Avera said.

This did not seem to deter some of those in the room, who claimed they had already been in talks with people willing to come up with at least $150,000, as well as nonprofits to manage the rally, and insisted they could make all arrangements in time for the July 4 rally.

Mike Corbin, namesake of Corbin Motorcycle Seats and Accessories, asked Avera if after Burke told the city he was having difficulty raising the money whether he had approached any other promoters. Avera said he had spoken to a couple promoters. Corbin asked him what he thought the promoters’ position was on the rally. Avera said no one was interested in being involved at this point.

"It’s up to the community to take charge," Velazquez said. “It would be tough. All I’m asking as a citizen is to give the community a shot. If we can’t contract the money that is promised and we can’t get the groups together, of course it’s done. I feel we can do this. We can do it right and we can start raising money for our nonprofit groups.”

Corbin told Avera the city can’t give up and has to operate as a business. Avera responded that the city is not a business.

“I was directed early on, and Ignacio [Velazquez] should attest to this, he said he is very supportive of a rally if it does not cost the city one dollar,” Avera said. “All we want is to make sure that we have adequate resources to provide a safe environment. I just need the council to say we’re going to have a rally and if the council wants to commit the funds to it, they can do that. But their stance has always been they don’t want the community to pay for a three-day party.”

Councilman Friend, who is also commander of American Legion Post 69, said the Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9242, as nonprofits, were willing to take on the rally. Friend, Corbin, and Johnny’s Bar and Grill Owner Peter Lago said they were already talking with companies who regularly back rallies around the country that were willing to step up for the Hollister Independence Rally.

As the meeting evaporated rather than being adjourned Lago said that if Westrick could not get the necessary security there was no sense moving forward this year. He was still open to having a rally in 2019, despite Velazquez’s insistence that if the rally did not materialize this year it would never come back.

Even though Westrick did not have a clear mandate to reach out to other agencies, Corbin and Friend said they would continue their discussions with companies to raise money for at least a week while Westrick made his calls.

In talking with BenitoLink, Avera said once the outside officers had been cancelled back in March, it would be almost impossible and expensive to attempt to contract with their agencies at this late date.

 

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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

Too little, too late. The Hollister Motorcycle Rally is a failed enterprise which sponsors decided was not worth supporting with their dollars, thus rendering the rally promoter to advise the city he cannot meet the funding requirement to manage the event.

"This did not seem to deter some of those in the room, who claimed they had already been in talks with people willing to come up with at least $150,000, as well as nonprofits to manage the rally, and insisted they could make all arrangements in time for the July 4 rally." If this statement were true, why didn't the people with the $150k offer that money to the promoter and negotiate terms for return on investment so the rally could be managed early on? 

And then there's the proverbial 'elephant in the room' of mass media advertising and promotion to attract interest in the event beyond San Benito County to the western United States and beyond. Even then, tourists have limited places to stay in a county that has maybe 300 beds and a dismal hospitality industry in terms of restaurants and hotels to choose from.

RIP Hollister Motorcycle Rally. 'We hardly knew ye..."

On the other hand, special events catering to a younger cannabis-loving milieu are gaining in exponential popularity and attendance. If the City of Hollister fired up a High Times Cannabis Cup trade show in downtown and combined it with the nostalgia of the motorcycle rally, such an event would probably be successful beyond the wildest dreams of the city and its promoter, attracting younger audiences with disposable income and a certain social camaraderie; A SMOKING HOT GOOD TIME THAT WILL BE SURE TO MAKE MONEY!

"The High Times Cannabis Cup is the world’s leading marijuana trade show, celebrating the world of ganja through competitions, instructional seminars, expositions, celebrity appearances, concerts and product showcases. Hosted in states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, the Cannabis Cup stands as the foremost gathering place for the cannabis community to network and celebrate.

Going strong for nearly three decades, High Times Cannabis Cups are the most established and trusted in the marijuana industry, continually fighting for the political legitimacy of the plant."

It's about public safety and limiting our financial risk.  It is totally irresponsible for any politician to vote for this event unless they have both those areas covered and they go hand in hand.  They cannot bet the lives of the residents and the city's financial future on a roll of the dice. 

I am perfectly happy to let a private group run this event, provided they take care of both public safety and limit the city's financial risk.  If a private group could do it, then it may finally change from the political football it's been for years.

If this event were a big money maker for promoters they would be falling all over each other to run it, but if a legitimate non-profit wants to do it that's fine, but that does not relieve the politicians from assuring public safety and limiting public financial risk.

One of the biggest risks is the disability or death of outside public safety personnel.  If the Mayor has a reputable lawyer who will produce the law on coverage he should bring that lawyer in, not say, "It's up to a lawyers" or words to that effect. That's ridiculous. 

Using the CalPERS figures from the Safety Employee Pool that has Hollister as a member, 37% of the living retired safety members are on disability retirement to some extent and 0.9%, almost 1 out of 100, were retired due to  job-related death, those are astronomical figures.

For regular retirement their was no one retired under 50 years of age, but more than 5% (1 in 20)of retired Safety personnel had job-related disabilities that caused them to retire under age 50.

Show me the money and the protection,

Marty Richman

Once again, you nailed it, Marty. The numbers just don't add up over a three-day-long special event. This article isn't about responsible planning, financing and execution of an event that will turn a profit for an investor/promoter. The position of the subjects of this article is a desperate cry and last minute attempt to avoid pulling the plug on a money-losing event with an unacceptable risk/reward financial proposition. It's sad, but true.

The mayor appears to be adept at rallying throngs of people to follow his lead through social media to trespass at San Justo Reservoir and 'Save the 400 Block'. Where are those ardent supporters and true believers in his intrepid leadership now? It's just one more lost cause that the mayor can't manage to relinquish, and of course he's insulted and undermined the best efforts of other city council members on past issues that there is no doubt they will fail to appreciate his perspective on a losing issue at this point. Payback is a botch, as they say. 

Submitted by (Carol Feisthamel) on

As a relative newbie having lived in SBC only 21 years, I have never understood why this event could not be made into a money making proposition for the City. Having a system to charge a daily parking fee could have raised enough money for additional security. Sad state of affairs.

The problem isn't your understanding, it's that city leaders never understood why this event could not be made into a money-making proposition for the city in the first place. The motorcycle rally - or lack thereof during certain years - was never about making money. It was always about incompetent leadership with no grasp of successful public-private partnerships, risk management, proper security, sufficient insurance, vendor accountability for sales tax remittances and revenue sharing for licensed merchandise, just to name a few abject failures that doomed this event after more than 20 years. 

I am told that big numbers are being thrown around regarding the Farmer's Market.  It was reported, second hand, that it was costing the city $2,600 a week to run it which would come to $57,200 a year for the 22 weeks it is on.  If that were the correct number it would come to $578 / hour while it's in operation.

The HDA informed me that the city now says the actual number is $500 a week or $11,000 a year or only $112 / hour while it's in operation.

The Motorcycle rally, which lasts two or three days, is probably $5,000 an hour to cover city costs alone.  This year the holiday falls in a Wednesday.

I am submitting this for accuracies sake.  I have no way of independently verifying any of the Farmer's Market costs, but it's a false comparison.  They are two different events, a motorcycle rally is not the same as a Farmer's Market.  We do not hire any added public safety personnel for the weekly Farmer's Market because the risk profile is different.

There could always be a problem anywhere - no one can predict human behavior - but we are confident we can handle the FM with our Police Department and they're covered by our Worker's Comp policy.

When we tried to find a promoter for the rally we made them come in with resume's and we checked their credentials, we made them pay well in advance, and all the rest, now the Mayor and Ray Friend want to throw all those requirements out the window.  Given a year to work on it perhaps we can have a locally sponsored rally, but I for one are not about to take anyone's word for it when it comes to public safety and unlimited financial risk. 

Marty Richman

Wasn’t the airshow cancelled because it cost the city money. I went to that airshow every year. 

Yes, the air show lost about $20k every year so the city stopped doing it. The motorcycle rally has the potential to cost the city millions of dollars in liabilities, yet the mayor advocates for adopting such catastrophic financial risks. Go figure. 

The bikers will come whether or not there's a sponsored event and added police presence will be required anyway. It just amazes me that there's so many sanctioned biker events across the USA that I assume make the supporting communities additional income and Hollister loses money every year.    

annross's picture
Submitted by ANN ROSS (annross) on

What isn’t discussed enough is the real monetary losses likely to non-profits and local businesses from canceling the rally this year or any year.  If there is a factually based estimate of the total $ loss to our non-profits and our local business economy -  from any source, could these figures please be shared with our public? If not, maybe BenitoLink could evaluate this issue and provide these estimates as follow up journalism? 

Estimated monetary losses to nonprofits or other local businesses are subordinate to the requirement of the promoter to provide earnest money to produce the event in the first place. There is no logical argument or financial nexus to consider that will suddenly make a case for reviving a dying event that sponsors won't support with earnest money deposits which is a requirement to produce the event.

The event was voted down by a 3-2 quorum of responsible city council representatives who considered the potential revenue stream juxtaposed with potential fiscal liabilities during public deliberations. The time for serious people to show public support for the former Hollister Motorcycle Rally came and went...with a whimper. 

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