Business / Economy

San Benito County Olive Festival set to return in 2017

After the 2016 event was cancelled, the San Benito County Olive Festival will return in 2017 at new location, Brigantino Park
Photos from last winter's flooding. The county wants landowners to pay to repair and maintain levee system. Photos by John Chadwell.
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After a hiatus this year, the San Benito County Olive Festival is definitely on for Oct. 14, 2017, thanks, in part, to the Hollister City Council agreeing Dec. 5 in a 4-1 vote to support it and allowing the organizers to use what City Manager Bill Avera called the Brigantino spray fields, on the west side of Hollister.

“They’re (festival board) hoping to get a few things taken care of between now and that time,” Avera told the council prior to voting on the resolution. “Most importantly, they would like to have a property that’s free of gopher holes and they’d like to borrow city signage and barricades to help control the event area. They would like to have a reduced fee for using the facility; and probably the hardest for us is to try our best to make sure that we have a potable water system and power.”

Avera told the council that Bryan Swanson, the city development service director, is on the festival board, so he had been directed to make sure all the requests, if approved, take place. He added that the city most likely could not accommodate the festival organizers’ concerns about building permit and health department fees because outside agencies are responsible for those.

Concerning the request for a reduced fee, Councilman Karson Klauer asked how much the fee was. Avera told him the city had not yet established fees for the spray field on Fourth Street/San Juan Highway just past the San Benito River and that it is part of the park master plan to do so.

“The glider folks give us a nominal fee on a monthly basis so they can have their event, but we haven’t established a true fee for that," Avera said. "There is, I think, a $100 assembly fee and there has been discussions on how we charge for that facility.”

Klauer said that if the city is going to start using the area, it should start creating and implementing a plan to make park improvements. Avera said there have been talks to study the environmental impact report in order to change the facility to a public park. He told Klauer there are two functioning wells on the site that were currently turned off. He also said that because there is already power to run the wells’ pumps, it should not be an issue to extend the power out.

Councilman Roy Sims asked that if the fees were waived would it set a precedence as far as future Olive Festivals are concerned. Avera said he believed what festival organizers were really hoping was for the city to become a co-sponsor for the event and work together to promote it, and by association, the city, as well.

“I think we want to do that,” Avera said. “The idea is we would be a co-sponsor rather than a facility owner.”

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the city should help get the 2017 event off the ground and see how it grows as the city works toward the final park plan, by using existing power and water, rather than put money into utilities. Avera reminded everyone that contracts have been signed to move the reclaimed city water to nearby orchards rather than being sprayed on the Brigantino fields, which would make groundwater more available. Councilwoman Mickie Luna asked if the festival was a nonprofit organization and had nonprofit status with the city. She was told it did in both instances.

Satisfied, she commented about festival flyers that had been sent to her, “It is truly a community event. I looked at those pictures and I could identify some of the people. I want to commend you (she was addressing two members of the festival committee who were present) on that. I think it’s important that this community become more inclusive with our nonprofits. This is a start and I hope, sooner than later, that this could become another Gilroy Garlic Festival.”

Councilman Raymond Friend said he had been working with the festival organizers for the past two years.

“It’s an exciting thing and has the potential to be a rally in the winter time,” he said. “We talked about it last year how we were going to bring in a tanker and we were going to have power. It just got a little expensive, and as a nonprofit, that’s what killed it. I think it would be an excellent idea for the city to get behind this and help promote it.”

Friend said he knew that the city's Parks and Recreation Commission was going to come up with a parks master plan, but said the event could happen immediately with little effort. Sims agreed that the city could get behind the event, but wanted to know potential costs.

“We just tentatively canceled the airshow because of $20,000,” he said. “That seemed to be one of our signature events. I don’t want to be coming back in a couple years saying ‘we got behind it and it’s not doing well and we’ve got to cancel it because it lost $20,000.’ I feel 100 percent this could be a signature event for our city and county. I would just like to know some of the particulars.”

Even though he said he believed in the event, Sims voted against the resolution to support it.

Klauer compared the festival to the Hollister Downtown Association's annual downtown Lights on Parade because the city would not be running it. Avera agreed the two were similar in that the city assists with barricades and isn’t reimbursed for the time. He said volunteers help defray cost. He said the main concern for the city is to identify where sprinkler heads are located to avoid being damaged.

“I agree with the mayor,” Klauer said. “If we can kind of shoestring it to make it work until we get to the point where we know what we want to do, I’m comfortable with that.”

Cheri Schmidt, one of the seven-member festival board of directors and the festival's treasurer, told BenitoLink that the 2015 festival attracted nearly 1,700 attendees and organizers are anticipating 2,500 in 2017.

“We have over 20 nonprofit organizations that work at the festival in different capacities,” she said. “There were (in 2015) about 30 local business sponsors, 30 vendors, 10 artisans, and a cooking demonstration. All of these people are still quite interested in being a part of it next year. So, we’ve been in contact with them about setting aside the date.”

She said the biggest challenge was bringing the festival closer to Hollister. Previously, it had been held at Paicines Ranch and then at Bolado Park, which she said was fine for the local community, but because many people come from the Monterey and San Francisco, it was more desirable to have it nearer to the city.

“Councilwoman Luna alluded to it could be the next Garlic Festival,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want it to be that big, but we work closely with the executive director at the Garlic Festival. He’s been out to Brigantino Park and walked it with us, and he thinks it’s a really great spot for the festival. It’s close to San Juan Bautista, and we wanted to bring more citizens and businesses involved.”

As of Dec. 9, those who have stated they intend to participate in the festival were:

Olive Oils/Tasty Olives: Brigantino Olive Oil, Oils of Paicines, Pietra Santa Olive Oils, and The Farm Bertuccio’s.

Culinary Delights: Grillin’ & Chillin’ Alehouse, Marich Premium Chocolates, Paine’s Restaurant, R&K Gourmet Kettle Corn, and Wind Swept Farms.

Artists & Merchants: Bell Hill Farms, Bernadine Photography, Fyrecraker Designs, Gaia’s Cottage, It Works, La Dolce Vita Home and Garden Ideas, M&M Plants, McAbee Feed, San Benito Bene, The House of Wormwood, and The Last Stitch.

Wineries: Aimee June Winery, Calera Wine, Casa de Fruta, DeRose Winery, Guerra Cellars, Leal Vineyards, Pietra Santa Winery, and Wild Eye Winery.

Craft Breweries: Grillin’ & Chillin’

Community nonprofits: San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, Slow Food San Benito County.

Supporting volunteer non-profits: Boy Scouts of America, Casa of SBC, Chamberlain’s Children Center, Friends of SBC Library, Girls Inc. of Central Coast, Girl Scouts of America, Hollister Rotary, Mr. O’s Jazz Band, R.E.A.C.H., SBHS Key Club, SBC Amateur Radio Association, SBC Historical Society, SBC Oriana Corral, SBHS Girls Tennis Team, Small Steps, Women’s Club, and YMCA of SBC.

For more information, contact the San Benito County Olive Festival.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]