Hollister Readies for Rally

– Like it or not, the Independence Day motorcycle rally is on
the city’s 2007 calendar.
Hollister – Like it or not, the Independence Day motorcycle rally is on the city’s 2007 calendar.

The rally’s roots date back to the 1940s and while the event has both vocal supporters and detractors, community members contacted by the Free Lance on Wednesday seemed hopeful that the new organizing committee will be able to improve the rally and overcome past problems.

“I’m excited,” local architect David Huboi said. “It’s good that they’re starting the planning on time this year, and making sure it gets done right. … If it’s done right, it can be a real benefit to the city.”

Huboi, who has lived in the city for more than a decade, recalled attending past rallies, including one where he pedaled down San Benito Street on his bicycle while motorcycles zoomed by.

“It was a real rush,” he said.

But the tone of the event has changed in recent years, Huboi said. When he toured the downtown area in 2005 – the year of the last official rally – he said it was overcrowded, and there was tension in the air.

Santa Ynez-based Horse Power Promotions has been hired by the Hollister Motorcycle Rally Committee to organize 2007’s event. Promoter Seth Doulton said he plans to change the rally’s layout to alleviate concerns of overcrowding, as well as addressing public safety issues in general.

The position of motorcycles and vendors will be reversed in 2007 – the vendors will have booths down San Benito Street, while motorcycles will be parked on cross streets. Doulton also said the booths will no longer be pressed right up against local businesses, giving the event more open space.

Police Chief Jeff Miller said he likes the new layout.

“The proposed configuration allows law enforcement to effectively deal with natural disasters and natural problems,” he said. “I appreciate Mr. Doulton’s efforts in working with us. He seems to take what we say seriously.”

Although Huboi supports the rally and acknowledged that it helps “put Hollister on the map,” he said he wishes the town was known instead for its art and culture.

It’s a common concern, Doulton said.

“It’d be nice if thousands of people came to Hollister once a year to drink coffee, but that’s just not the case,” he said.

Doulton argued that Hollister needs to capitalize on the assets it already has – namely the rally, which typically attracts more than 100,000 attendees and is the largest motorcycle gathering in California. He said other towns have asked him to start rallies in their communities, but Doulton said that without Hollister’s history, it’s a big challenge.

The new contract requires that the organizing committee – which is headed by Charisse Tyson, owner of Johnny’s Bar and Grill – cover the city’s staffing costs, which are estimated at $382,000. The committee must pay at least $100,000 by Jan. 15, $250,000 by March 1 and the complete balance by March 31. If it fails to meet any of those deadlines, the event will be canceled.

Councilmembers Doug Emerson, Monica Johnson, Brad Pike and Eugenia Sanchez voted to approve the contract, while Councilwoman Pauline Valdivia opposed it.

Emerson, Johnson and Valdivia earlier voted to cancel the 2006 rally, but tens of thousands of bikers rode into town anyway last July, and the city had to foot the public safety bill.

When the event was canceled, a number of local residents said they were glad to see it go. At the time, Rick Maddux of Maddux Jewelry said that while bars and restaurants benefited from the rally, his business – and many others downtown – did not.

Several local business owners contacted by the Free Lance on Wednesday declined to comment on the rally.

Emerson said he’s in a difficult position, because half the town supports the rally, while half the town is against it.

“All we can do is make our decisions based on the best information available,” he said. “There’s always going to be a certain group that’s unhappy.”

Emerson said he doesn’t have a strong position about the rally overall, but this year, he said, he was convinced there would be no financial risk to the city.

“I still have some concerns about safety, but I can live with them,” he said.

Valdivia, on the other hand, said she still wasn’t comfortable supporting the rally. However, if the rally does happen, she said, “Hopefully it will become an event people are happy about.”

Valdivia added that she’s received many complaints from her constituents who were concerned that the city is “funding another big party.”

Hollister resident Claudia Olson, who told the Free Lance in an e-mail that she continues to oppose the rally, has similar worries.

“Other cities are shutting down their rallies because of the problems they bring,” she wrote. “Canada has been terrorized by biker gangs. Why do we want to promote an event and invite them into our town? If you play with fire you will get burned.”

Miller said that from a public safety standpoint, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“As in previous years,” he said, “our attitude is going to be, ‘Welcome to Hollister, have a good time, but follow the rules and obey the law.'”

Anthony Ha covers local government for the Free Lance. Reach him at (831) 637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]

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