In Hollister, this upcoming Independence Day will be a mild one compared to those of the past.
On Monday the Hollister City Council voted 3-2 to cancel this year’s Hollister Independence Rally, with Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilmember Ray Friend voting in favor of holding the rally, and Vice Mayor Mickie Luna, and Councilmembers Karson Klauer and Jim Gillio voting against the event.
“I’m extremely disappointed, this rally was an important piece of our town’s history and I don’t understand why there’s always controversy,” Velazquez said. “I think there’s always a way to do it. I think the best way is to have a non-profit run it. Times have changed, but we deserve a chance to keep it going.”
As the months preceding the event started to close, it became evident that promoter, Randy Burke, would fall short of the $180,000 fee the city was seeking. Burke, and his company Roadshows Inc., through the fee, would rent the event from the city and after paying fees for police and fire, among other expenses, Burke hoped to see a profit.
“We’re not in a position as a city to operate as a promoter,” said Klauer. “In the past, we needed to know by February, and if we had someone come in last night, we might have been able to work something out. Given how much time it takes to organize law enforcement for the event, it just didn’t seem realistic.”
For Burke, the cancellation of the event came down to dollars and cents, and after one of his major sponsors dropped out he couldn’t make a proposal that the city would accept.
“It’s very disappointing for my vendors and sponsors. This is an excellent revenue stream for them,” Burke said. “We built a Cadillac of an event, with the beverages, food and entertainment, but we had to make a business decision, and I can’t afford to take a loss.”
Roadshows Inc., a Reno, Nev.-based motorcycle events promoter, entered into a $164,000 three-day contract last year with the City of Hollister to manage the event. Over the years though, the cost for promoters has fluctuated, costing $150,930 in 2013-2014, $244,950 in 2014-2015, $195,101 in 2015-2016 and $163,969 in 2016-2017.
“It’s a strange thing that we speak in terms of the city making money,” Velazquez said. “We shouldn’t lose money, but the city is not losing money on this.”
Roadshows Inc. was the only promoter to submit a bid for the 2016 Independence Rally, one year after Las Vegas-based promoter, ConvExx left the city holding a $92,000 bill after a dispute with the city. The memory of being left holding the bag has angered some on the council, and the issue of potentially enormous worker’s compensation rates, were among the reasons for the vote to cancel the event.
“We’ve had promoters come and go, but we had a particularly bad experience when a promoter left the city with a $92,000 bill,” said Luna. “The city has tried to get its money back, but so far, it hasn’t happened yet. People need to understand, that if we’re already in the hole, and a promoter asks for a reduction in the cost of law enforcement, that is further dipping into the city’s pockets.”
Of the costs to operate the event, the expense of hiring police officers to work the event is high. Police officers hired to work the event must be under the city’s worker compensation liability.
“That is a huge cost,” Luna said. “We didn’t make this decision because we didn’t want the rally. We welcome events like this in our city. But, when it’s going to cost the city so much money, people need to understand that. The picture is much larger than what people see on Facebook.”
Last year’s rally marked the 70th anniversary of the infamous 1947 biker invasion of Hollister, an event that played a central role in Marlon Brando’s iconic 1953 biker flick The Wild One. After the event was officially organized by the city in 1997, the Independence Rally became the largest annual event in the city.
“I haven’t seen this rally make any money recently and I think that number needs to reach the public,” Luna said. “For a few years, it worked out well. But when people still owe us money for prior years, I’m not ready to put the city in a bind like that.”
While the city won’t risk incurring workers compensation bills, it also won’t receive the promoter’s fee.
“We’re bummed out, but we say ‘Never say never,’” Burke said. “They figure that if we can pay $180,000, they won’t have to pay anything out of the city coffers. That’s ok with me if I can pay for it. That fee covers the police, fire, city employees, the works. We also pay for the business licenses for all of our vendors, and they all pay sales tax. That’s a lot of money.”
While the Independence Rally has officially been canceled by the city, that likely won’t stop many bikers from making the ride to Hollister. For them, it’s an annual tradition, and the friends they make, and the ride they take will still attract bikers.
“I go every year, and I have plenty of friends in the area, so I have plenty of reasons to go,” said Fernando Beltran, a retired California State University Stanislaus employee from Turlock. “The best part is the ride, and I have friends who’ll be putting up the barbeque, so there’s plenty of a good time.”