Emails obtained by the Free Lance regarding the Hollister Freedom Rally event showed that city officials behind the scenes held talks on possibly lifting the public nudity ban, agreed to a settlement with Abercrombie & Fitch over use of the event name logo, and experienced tensions with the promoter over what he called “permit hell” and other financial issues.
The Free Lance requested all emails to and from the city’s elected leaders and department directors regarding the Hollister Freedom Rally. The city’s signature event commemorating the 1947 “invasion” of Boozefighters and subsequent biker lore has been facing question marks again over finances. The event has been canceled twice in the past decade. It lost a second promoter in two years after Las Vegas-based ConvExx promotions departed over a $90,000 dispute with the city.
Emails obtained from city accounts showed dialogue on restrictions for the “Wet T-shirt Contest,” mention of the settlement agreement with Abercrombie & Fitch that owns the Hollister Co. brand, promoter concerns over fees and private vendor sales, the city’s attempt to sell its old “vintage” T-shirts through the promoter, and queries over the possible use of Brigantino Park on the west side for camping during the rally.
Some other matters briefly broached in email included process questions over the promoter’s hanging of banners downtown, beer garden restrictions such as a question and no answer on non-alcohol wristbands for youth, and assurances over physically securing the scaffolding built into a photo tower.
Among council members, the Free Lance received email records only for Victor Gomez and Karson Klauer. That’s because Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, Councilman Ray Friend and Councilwoman Mickie Luna use private accounts for city email and are not required to submit those to the newspaper, though a pending state supreme court ruling could change that down the line.
“I get a lot of emails from people and it’s just quicker to get to them,” Velazquez said.
He said his intention was convenience for residents contacting him directly. After being pressed, he said he would examine it further.
“I’ll have to look at what works,” he said.
Though not shown in the records, Velazquez has been involved in behind-the-scenes talks over the promoter’s dissension over finances.
ConvExx CEO Chuck Schwartz was in on much of the email conversation given to the paper in which he pushed the city on restricting private vendor sales, lifting the public nudity ban to accommodate the Miss Hollister Rally contest, and even obtaining trademark protection.
In the email exchanges, Schwartz openly wondered about lifting the public nudity ban and got responses from the Hollister Downtown Association and city officials.
“NO WET TEE-SHIRT CONTEST—what a bummer,” Schwartz wrote to city official Mike Chambless, followed by a smiley face. “As for the (code) section on nudity, they better get their citation book out and just stroll San Benito during the event.”
Following his proclamation came a response from HDA President Ray Pierce to city and rally officials. The HDA was a contractual liaison between ConvExx and city for 2015.
“What would it take and how long to change the code for the wet t shirt contest,” Pierce wrote.
In the thread of emails, Chambless also suggested to Schwartz the city would need to change the code by early May before the July 4 rally and suggested the only place he could think of for a nudity event under the current rules is Granada Theatre, because “live theatrical performances” in a theatre or concert hall are exempt from the law.
Schwartz also pulled out the 2008 rally playbook and sold the city’s leftover T-shirts from that year, in which Hollister lost a six-figure sum on merchandise sales, as “vintage” wear. The promoter agreed to use his own space for the sales and ended up donating labor time to the effort, which generated a net of $2,400, according to email records.
“There are long sleeves and ball caps too!,” he wrote and later added. “Payment will be made on Monday following the Rally.”
In a later email titled “Vintage Shirt Sales,” Schwartz relayed the disappointing numbers during the 2015 event.
“Wasn’t a great program,” he wrote to City Manager Bill Avera, adding how the shirts and hats generated $2,800 minus $400 in tent, furniture and labor costs. “Sorry we didn’t generate more meaningful revenue.”
Multiple emails showed the promoter’s dissension over added costs from the city.
He responded to June 18 questions from Chambless, Schwartz indicated it was the first time he’d heard of a “public assembly” permit for running events of 500 or more people.
“We are doing our best to be good partners but it seems to me this process would be a lot smoother if we had been provided up-front a comprehensive list of all permitting that you require,” he wrote.
In response to a June 26 email from city finance official Brett Miller to the promoter, it notes how the planning department informed him it had not received planning permits at the time.
“This is news to me. What is required? I can only say this is ‘permit hell,'” Schwartz wrote back, adding a smiley-face symbol.
Miller responded by mentioning the permits came up “numerous times” during rally meetings.
Barely mentioned in the string of email, though telling, was the trademark issue with Abercrombie. Paul Rovella, a city attorney with the L&G law firm, explained how officials sought a settlement with Hollister Co. over use of the Hollister Freedom Rally logo. Essentially, the agreement makes it OK to sell shirts with the event logo specifically for a community-organized biker gathering without any enforcement action from the company, Rovella said.
The city had so-called “marketing rights” for the rally, but Rovella reached out to Abercrombie on the logo to “make sure this is OK,” he said. “And Abercrombie was very collaborative and accommodating to us.”
Hollister is in the process of applying for trademark protection on the name with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office, but it’s been held up because there’s an application ahead of the city’s in Washington State for merchandise sales at a motorcycle event there, Rovella said to the Free Lance in the interview.
Schwartz, though later accused of running from the $90,000 debt, was pleasant toward officials in email dialogue shortly after the event.
“Our first Hollister Freedom Rally is over and we thought it was a great event for the bikers, the locals and anyone else that was lucky enough to be there,” he wrote. “Being a free rally it can be challenging to determine the total attendance, but based on the number of bikes that were there each day and the traffic in the vendor area, we are estimating a number that is just North of 40,000. And, although this is the number we will share with the media, this is not a precise science. It is only an estimate. Our team worked really hard, but had a great time and enjoyed this opportunity. We want to acknowledge everyone in Hollister including all the media channels, local business leaders, the City, the Police Department, Public Works and the Downtown Association for all that everyone did. In particular we want to acknowledge Chief Westrick. His vision and leadership qualities kept the planning side of the rally on pace and was a critical element in the overall success of the event. And, special thanks to Brenda (Weatherly from the HDA) and her team who provided us with mountains of information and historical data. She was always there when we needed her.”
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