ALOHA, HIGHER COST; ALOHA, VENTURA

Chipper “Bro” Bell and wife Kelly have hosted the Aloha Beach Festival for nearly three decades in Ventura. Come this September, when the festival typically takes over Promenade Park downtown for a weekend full of surfing, music and art, they’ll be going to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef instead. Not for a lack of passion for their passion project, but because of an unbearable increase in cost to host an event in the city of Ventura.

In 2015, permit fees for the Aloha Beach Festival were $9,513 total. In 2016, a week prior to the festival, Bell was surprised to find that the total price had skyrocketed to $13,705, due to a $4,000 increase in the cost for use of Promenade Park.

“Wow! This went from $800 [for use of Promenade Park in 2014] to $5,500 [in 2016] and you just told me?” Chipper Bell recalled saying to the clerk at City Hall upon arriving to pay for his permit in 2016. “It was kind of funny; I kind of raised my voice. I said, ‘Who makes these decisions?’ And they sent a security guard out.”

What Bell had not been aware of prior to purchasing his permit were two new policies adopted by the city in 2016, one bumping the cost per hour of park use for nonprofits from $55 to $75, and the other requiring event organizers to rent the park for the entire time utilized, rather than specifically for the hours of the event, according to information provided by Denise Sindelar, the city’s Community Partnership Manager.

The Aloha Beach Festival may or may not return to Ventura, says Bell, adding that the city of Oxnard has expressed interest in hosting future iterations of the fest, which coincided with the C-Street Classic. He isn’t sure, though, what the future holds for the festival, a nonprofit that donated all proceeds to local charities and causes.

“I just feel defeated,” said Bell.

Bell isn’t the only event organizer in Ventura to express such feelings, nor is he the only one to have taken action in response to what some are saying are unreasonable requests by the city of Ventura.

The Lexus Ventura Marathon moved its finish line and after-party to the San Buenaventura State Beach after four years at Surfers Point. Jen Livia, co-organizer, says that the “requirements are straightforward” at the state-owned beach.

“Last year, my biggest headache was that I found out we needed a whole lot of different insurance we didn’t need before; I found this out a couple weeks before the event,” said Livia. “It was really hard for me to get what was needed and it was all brand-new things.”

Worker’s comp insurance for vendors, individual policies and an increased cost in permitting were just a few of the hurdles Livia says she has had to deal with.

Vincenzo Giammanco, organizer of the California Beer Festival and Champagne on Main as well as other events offered a statement.

“Because of rising permit fees and new insurance requirements, we are considering moving our established events to other cities,” said Giammanco.

Giammanco purchased insurance for his Champagne on Main event on April 8 for around $2,000 and provided paperwork showing that, should the city adopt new, higher insurance requirements, his insurance cost for the same event in 2018 would be $7,925.

PLANNING FOR DISASTER

All events held in most every city in the nation are required to have insurance that covers costs associated with possible accidents or injuries. The most basic requirement are “general liability per occurrence,” which is the maximum amount an insurance provider will pay to an injured or affected individual, and “general liability aggregate or combined single limit,” which is the maximum the provider will pay for all claims for the length of a policy.

In neighboring Oxnard, the general liability insurance requirement is $1 million. In Los Angeles County, it’s the same, and in Santa Barbara, the same, though each retains the right to require more. Ventura City Manager Mark Watkins says that on April 10, his office will meet with the City Council to recommend new, higher insurance requirements for events within the city to $2 million in general liability per occurrence insurance and $4 million aggregate, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Even city sponsored events are being affected. Denise Sindelar, Ventura’s community partnerships manager, says that the city is working on ways to accommodate vendors who only recently have been required to purchase separate event insurance policies.

“My department is putting on the Fourth of July Street Fair in which we have 300 vendors, and all of them are being held to a higher level of insurance requirement,” said Sindelar. “It impacts our bottom line and we need to make sure to find a way to insure those vendors and not have to raise our participation fees so high that they can’t participate.”

Ventura’s Risk Manager, Lisa Oland, says that the insurance requirements are “guided by its insurance broker and the Public Agency Risk Management Association,” otherwise known as PARMA.

“Should an unforeseen incident occur, the city and its taxpayers need to be protected by adequate levels of insurance,” said Oland via email. “Like other cities, Ventura is continually staying abreast of changes within the insurance industry and practices to keep our community safe.”

Watkins says that there have been no incidents locally to support an increase in insurance coverage requirements, but points to incidents elsewhere around the nation and worldwide as reason enough.

“We go back to the Santa Monica’s farmers market [in 2003], more recently the St. Patrick’s Day parade up north; in New Orleans and the Mardi Gras parade where somebody inadvertently drove on the parade route. In all those cases it wasn’t an intentional act,” said Watkins. “Then you go overseas where people are intentionally using their vehicles … that’s really what’s prompted us.”

Watkins says that the city’s insurance requirements haven’t changed in 30 years and that they are in need of being updated, and that the city has taken measures to make events safer by placing new barriers, fences and vehicles in sensitive areas.

To help cover the cost of putting on an event in the city, a $10,000 grant fund exists to help organizers with costs. Watkins says that part of the recommendations his office will make will be to boost that fund to $30,000.

“If there’s any specific event where their costs have gone up, we’d be happy to look at and see what that is,” said Watkins.

TOO LITTLE TOO LATE?

“There is no way the city of Ventura’s insurance should cost, in my opinion, more than any other city. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Kat Merrick. Merrick owns the California Blues Festival, hosts the Taste of Local and the Totally Local VC Dinner Series. “It’s two to three times higher than any other city that I have ever dealt with,” said Merrick, noting that she has worked in Santa Monica, San Diego and the San Luis Obispo area.

Merrick says that she had been looking at bringing the Blues Festival and another large music festival to the city until she looked at the cost to do so. In 2016, she hosted the Taste of Local event at the city-owned Olivas Adobe Historical Park, where she says the cost of the insurance was “more than the entire event,” seven-times greater than the year before.

For the Blues Festival, Merrick says that she estimates the cost for insurance alone would be upward of $9,000, based on the city’s new requirements, which she admits “being very confused by.”

“An entire event should cost you $10,000,” said Merrick, adding that a music event could run up to $20,000. She says that she doesn’t believe the event will be in Ventura this year because she can’t afford it. “We’ve started scouting and talking to other cities.”

“The goal of the city is to balance managing risk with event planning and successful business development. That is a sometimes difficult balance but it’s one we strive to achieve,” said Ventura Mayor Erik Nasarenko. “I don’t hear as mayor from vendors, promoters saying that they want to go elsewhere. I do hear, however, that on a select basis they’ve encountered a difficulty usually because it doesn’t make financial sense to host the event here.”

Nasarenko says that he and the Council will have to study the new insurance recommendations before giving comment, but notes that events such as the Fourth of July Street Fair, St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Rotary Club’s fireworks show have worked successfully with the city.

The mayor says that it’s “incumbent on the city to apply the guidelines and contractual details uniformly, with a degree of predictability and certainty” and that it is important to explain why changes have been made, if they have been made, to the organizers.

“I can only commit to doing my due diligence,” said Nasarenko. “Comparability to other cities is important to me; we have a fantastic beach and promenade, but we want to maintain that as a desirable location for events and special functions.”

Ventura City Council will hear recommendations on the special event permitting and grant program from City Manager Mark Watkins on Monday, April 10, during the regular Council meeting starting at 6 p.m. Council chambers are located at City Hall, 501 Poli St., Second Floor.