Kevin Hoover: Let’s Give Arcata Main Street’s New OysterFest Plan A Chance

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Arcata Main Street is taking a risky and necessary step with its plan to enclose and charge admission to the Oyster Festival on the Plaza. In doing so, it is adapting the event to modern times and placing it on a firm footing for the future.

If you can’t pony up the admission fee, there’s always Bebop and Brew, Lumberjack Days or Hempfest. Just kidding – those events didn’t evolve, and as you may have noticed, are no longer with us.

Main Street’s imperfect but flexible approach is a bold effort to manage the fest’s burgeoning popularity – a crowd that has swelled over the past several years to be nearly the equal of the entire population of Arcata. That many people crammed on the Plaza, with alcohol in the mix, has brought a whole host of public safety concerns, both traditional and modern.

I remember waiting in an A&MRTS bus at the stop sign at Union Street and Samoa Boulevard in the mid-1980s. We were stuck waiting for a break in traffic, and someone said the intersection needed a traffic light. The bus driver said, “No, they’ll wait until someone gets killed, then fix it.”

That’s just what happened. A few years later, teen skateboarder Vic Ferro, Jr. was struck by a car and killed just feet away from where the bus had been stalled. He was run down on the crummy, vestigial roadside that pedestrians had to traverse on the 1960s-vintage road.

Subsequently, the City secured funding to totally overhaul Samoa Boulevard from the freeway to Sunny Brae with deluxe vehicle, bike and pedestrian lanes – and a roundabout at Union Street, all landscaped.

Given the destruction and occasional violence during recent Halloween and New Year’s Eves on the Plaza, should the Oyster Festival’s sponsor just let the event drift, waiting for someone to be hurt to update a crowd management approach that dates back decades?

If criticism of this plan has been withering, imagine the furor that would ensue were someone to get hurt at the event. “You should have seen this coming and done something before things got out of hand…”

Much of the criticism of Main Street’s plan is based on incorrect assumptions and simple bad math, though some of the blowback is justified and somewhat self-inflicted. Criticism has centered on several points: the cost of admission, the propriety of privatizing the Plaza, impacts on area businesses and discrimination.

Cost

Yes, you’ll be getting dinged at the door this time. But how badly? It’s been said that the admission plan most hurts families.

Let’s a take a family with two adult parents, a teenager and a child. It will cost them $25 to get into the OysterFest. (Adults $10; teens $5, 12 and under free.)

If the parents drink beer, they’ll receive free wrist bands, which used to cost $3. Then their total admission cost is effectively just $19.

If that same family had gone to the movies at the Minor Theatre the night before, they would have paid $33.50 for a much shorter experience. (Adults/teens $9; 12 and under $6.50.)

When they go to a Humboldt Crabs game, they’ll pay $26. (Adults $8; seniors and students $6; 12 and under $4.)

If they go to HealthSPORT’s Zumbathon at the Community Center this weekend, they’ll pay $40 ($10 admission).

The point is, $25 isn’t loose change. But it buys a family of four a day’s worth of relaxation on the Plaza. And comparatively, that’s one of the best deals around.

The average cost for each of those for family members is $6.25 (or $4.75 each if the parents get beer bands) – about the cost of three oysters. How much of a dent will that ding at the door, that pinch at the palisade, that gouge at the gate really put in our family unit’s Oyster Fest budget?

In 2004, Jessica Digiambattista, Steven Hackett and Margaret Gainer of the Humboldt State Department of Economics surveyed 395 Oyster Fest attendees. A that time, attendance was estimated at 14,000. (It has since grown by at least 2,000.)

The resulting report, titled A Study of the Income Injected into the Arcata Economy by Visitors to the Arcata Oyster Festival 2004, gave estimates of how much attendees spend per capita the day of the event, including shops, restaurants, vendors and any lodging.

OysterFest Spending              Family of 4      Entry Fee      W/beer bands 

Arcata residents: $34.52                 $138.08           18%                13%

Other Humboldters: $42.73            $170.92             14%              11%

All non-Arcatans: $55.97                $223.88            11%               8%

As seen above, the admission price is a small, if not insignificant, percentage of the day’s OysterFest spending. Basically a surcharge that is equal to a little more than three oysters or one cup of beer per person.

Even if they were determined to spend no more than they did in 2004, an Arcata family would still have $113.08 left over for oysters. If they get beer bands, they have $119.08 to spend on oysters that cost three for $5 and cups of beer that costs $6.

This oyster-lovin’ family could devour 46 oysters  and six beers and still not break the budget. With live music by their choice of three live bands at no extra charge.

Propriety

Another objection is that Main Street oughtn’t be able to charge admission to a public park like the Plaza.

Public facilities, including the Plaza, Community Center, even parts of City Hall, are rentable. There’s a process, an encroachment or use of facilities permit, insurance and a fee. Part of the requirements are that the applicant provide for public safety and set reasonable rules for attendees. That’s why the Farmers’ Market can – and must, according to state law – ban dogs.

Main Street will be responsible for the Plaza and the people on it during the Oyster Festival. Hence the same kind of admission requirement one would expect at another Arcata park just a block away – the Arcata Ball Park. Or the Community Center or D Street Neighborhood Center.

A dilemma for businesses

Plaza businesses are in unknown territory with this new concept, and face an agonizing decision based on unknowable variables. Their dilemma: do they choose to be enclosed within the festival and accessible only to attendees, or on the other side of the fence and open to the public but blocked to festival goers?

There are up and down sides to each situation. The fact is, no one knows what will happen. That being the case, the businesses should consider marketing that day that compliments or counter-programs, but somehow capitalizes on the potential opportunity the fest and its fence present.

Some Plaza-area businesses have complained about drunks and people with drippy food entering their premises and making messes, soiling merchandise and worse. It’s reasonable to suggest that the stores on the outside of the fence will experience fewer drunk people and food slobs. It’s also fair to assume that with an admission threshold, there will be fewer drunks inside the event, so the stores open to it may not have a better-behaved clientele, and fewer problems.

Discrimination

This is the most cutting of the accusations – that Main Street hopes to lock out the poor, or the hippies or some other underclass group.

The mistake these critics are making is that the fact that people’s economic or cultural status has never been a problem on the Plaza. All kinds of people get along very well on the Plaza every day. Part of the fun of the place is that there is usually someone or something interesting to behold.

That is, until someone – anyone – goes off the rails, which sometimes happens, and only more so at events offering beer.

It’s behavior – what people do that has created public safety issues. And in case you haven’t been reading the papers, here’s a hot flash: people of any social class can and do go awry, especially when alcohol is involved.

Would it make any difference to you whether the obnoxious drunk swearing or fighting in front of your children was a beatnik, a banker, a cowboy, college student or, for that matter, a newspaper editor? No, it wouldn’t.

By the same token, would you really care if a person sitting and peaceably enjoying a pleasant OysterFest afternoon a few feet away from you was any of those kinds of people? No, you wouldn’t. Well, maybe if it was the newspaper guy.

The OysterFest admission fee applies to all races, colors, creeds and lifestyles. It’s not about who, but what they do. Or won’t do – no longer will drunks be able to just wander in, throw up and pass out next to someone’s kid, with their dog running through your picnic.

In return for the small admission fee, attendees can reasonably expect a safer and more pleasant experience on the Plaza grass.

Main Street can do better

Some of the misunderstanding here can be laid at Main Street’s doorstep. The organization doesn’t publicize its meetings or communicate very well with either its members or the public.

Its deliberations seem chaotic. Sometimes Main Street members, boardmembers, staff and guests (including City Councilmembers) show up here in Jacoby’s Storehouse for the organization’s monthly meeting, only to find that key staff or officers aren’t to be found. They mill around in the hallway, or kill time in our office, then give up and leave. This has happened several times, sometimes two weeks in a row.

When the organization does have its unnoticed meetings, they are in a closed, unmarked conference room. You could know about it and attend if you really tried, but what’s missing is inclusive outreach.

And even that outreach is not so well done. Main Street’s infrequent press releases are crude in execution, loaded with awkward typos. They don’t reflect well on the organization or inspire confidence in its grander plans.

A lot of people and businesses weren’t included in the planning were taken by surprise and even now, haven’t now the memo on the OysterFest plan. They still don’t know why the plan has been proposed or how it works.

Sunday, I heard two members of the Humboldt Crabs organization criticize the admission plan on two grounds: First, that they didn’t know why it was being proposed. That’s a common logical fallacy – the argument from ignorance – which says, basically, “I don’t understand it, so it isn’t good.”

Their other reason was that an entrance fee shouldn’t be charged on the Plaza, a public park. This criticism was leveled from inside an enclosed public park, the Arcata Ball Park, at an event for which an entrance fee had been charged. And a higher one than will be charged at the OysterFest. Both are worth every penny.

Those in the dark about the plan could have availed themselves of the readily available information about the entrance fee/fencing which has been on our website for weeks – news stories and Main Street’s lengthy FAQ. Maybe they don’t consider the newspaper or the downtown business organization relevant sources of information any more. In that sense, perhaps we and Main Street are both obsolescent institutions.

Downtown businesses don’t take advantage of Main Street as they should. Back when H Street was being overhauled, there was an open Main Street meeting at Mazzotti’s to discuss related issues and impacts on business. Few to no downtown business people attended, choosing not to utilize the downtown business advocacy group to fight for their issues. They preferred to lambaste the City on Facebook with sarcastic complaints about the construction-related problems. (Even Facebook alerts didn’t draw them to the meeting.)

That may be because the biz folk didn’t have any confidence in Main Street’s leadership. This initiative could help change that.

Give it a chance

Main Street has a couple of fights on its hands – to make the Oyster Fest plan work, to win over skeptics and to reassert its relevance. With the admission and Plaza enclosure plan, Main Street is showing courage and pro-active initiative.

Doing the right thing isn’t always the most popular thing. Main Street is willfully sacrificing near-term popularity for public safety and longer-term benefit. That’s leadership.

The new approach is really a five-year plan which, if successful, could get Main Street off its shaky state subsidy, reduce dependence on beer sales and perhaps even cut the vendor fee. No matter what, though, all the revenue will be reinvested in positive downtown projects and events.

A successful OysterFest will reinvigorate Main Street as an organization, raise funds for worthy causes and future events and demonstrate one new method for organizing public gatherings for the benefit of all. Let’s give this new idea the chance it deserves.

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28 Responses to “Kevin Hoover: Let’s Give Arcata Main Street’s New OysterFest Plan A Chance”

  1. John Harper

    Well thought out and I totally agree.

    #69221
  2. I've now read the linked FAQ and neither article answers a question I have. How much does Arcata Main Street pay the city of Arcata for the plaza rental during Oysterfest? If I'm going to have my public park blocked off for yet another event, I'd like to know whether or not the city is getting their money's worth.

    Also, I hope that someone will clarify with the police and private security guards what exactly the perimiter is. I have been accosted, hassled, and threatened by security and law enforcement while in the vicinity of several events. False claims were made that the event extended to the "outside" sidewalk of the plaza block, and as such, my dogs and I were allegedly trespassing. I'll be familiarizing myself with the permit, and walking my dogs outside it. If I am harrassed and threatened as I have been in the past, I will not be as tollerant of your goons ignorance as I have been in the past.

    #69222
  3. Roger Woods

    One of the drawbacks to living in Arcata are the stupid clown festivals held on the Plaza. As someone with mobility issues If I need to do business on that day in the downtown area I can't because I can't get close enough to park near the business I need to go to. Arcata needs to do what other communities do….hold it outside of town where those who wish to attend may do so and those who wish to use downtown for shopping, business and dining may do so in peace.

    #69223
  4. Ann Youmans

    Really? You mentioned the Zumbathon along with movies and Crab games? Just to clarify – the Zumbathon was a fundraiser where 100% of the proceeds ($1800) went to the local chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I don't think it belongs in your comparisons. And it was a much healthier alternative to beer, sitting on your butt in a movie and eating junk food, and, well… I think I made my point.

    #69277
  5. Great points spoken well.

    #69280
  6. Travis, I respect your intent to give Main Street a chance to improve the Oyster Fest and make it more profitable, but I think is is just plain WRONG to fence off the Plaza, anytime, for any reason. I know you are working on Halloween plans to stop the mayhem on the Plaza. I only hope that those plans do not include fencing it off.

    #69281
  7. I am, and they do. After businesses close, unless someone comes up with a better idea. I respect that people think it is wrong. As of now, I don't agree. I will be looking at Ofest and keeping an open mind. In any case Halloween is/would be a much bigger challenge than Oyster Fest. For a slew of different reasons. You have any ideas?

    #69282
  8. Kevin Hoover

    Dave, give a better reason than saying it's "just plain wrong" to fence the Plaza. My column gives reasons for use of the fence. I didn't say it was "just plain right." Support your position with some kind of logic or factual information.

    #69285
  9. Kevin Hoover

    Dave, give a better reason than saying it's "just plain wrong" to fence the Plaza. My column gives reasons for use of the fence. I didn't say it was "just plain right." Support your position with some kind of logic or factual information.

    #69286
  10. Kevin Hoover

    Agreed, it is healthier. That's not the point. It was, like the OysterFest, use of a rented, enclosed public facility, charging admission for a certain period of participation. Only in that sense is it comparable.

    #69287
  11. Kevin Hoover

    Fencing in public spaces for special events is standard practice in lots of places, like Times Square on New Year's Eve. And Boston Harbor, with the same type of fence Main Street is using.

    http://www.wbaltv.com/City-To-Fence-In-Inner-Harbor-For-New-Year-s/-/9380084/8902058/-/f6bfltz/-/index.html

    #69289
  12. Downtown Long Beach is fenced off for the Grand Prix every year and that doesn't stop people from showing up. I say give it a chance.

    #69290
  13. The Plaza is our public commons. It should never be fenced. Especially, it should not be fenced in the name of increasing profit, even for a worthy non-profit. People should be able to walk across or hang out on the Plaza any time they want to. It belongs to the people. If they break the law, cite or arrest them, but don't ever fence them out of our premier public space.

    #69317
  14. Tom Sebourn It may indeed make the event more "orderly." The question, in my mind, is: "Should we ever limit access to our Town
    Commons to only those people who have paid a fee?"

    #69319
  15. OK, here's a question. Suppose Oyster Fest charged $10, with tickets offered for entry to all 4 corners of the Plaza. Suppose there was no fence. Would enough people actually go to the trouble of sneaking in to pay for the cost (let alone the bad vibes) of a fence?
    I remember very non-intrusive hay bales, somewhat limiting and focusing access at the street corners, for one of the big Plaza events. It seemed to work well.

    #69320
  16. Kevin Hoover

    The arguments agin the fence boil down to three things:

    1. A tautology – we shouldn't fence the Plaza because we we shouldn't fence the Plaza. "It's just plain wrong," or "it isn't right."

    2. An argument from antiquity – we shouldn't fence the Plaza because we never have before. That's a great argument for never doing anything new.

    3. Pointless rigidity – the Plaza must never be enclosed, not even one day a year for a special event. That reminds me of something completely different, but the same, in a way. When the area equestrians found were asked not to use snowy plover habitat on the beach, some mounted a huge pushback also using the same tautologies and logical fallacies, plus the principle that their spiritual communion with their horse was more important than the impacts to this threatened species.

    It's just an experiment. Are we so hidebound and inflexible that we can't try new things?

    #69325
  17. Ann Youmans

    So just to continue this conversation, even though it's off my original topic… can I rent the Plaza for an event that I charge money for? Or… can only AMS? Because I know part of the Community Center is to have it available for rental use – private and public. I never knew the Plaza was available to rent, close off business access, and be charged to use. I thought it was public grounds.

    #69326
  18. Ann Youmans

    And.. how about moving the Oyster Festival to the Community Center or the grass area near it like when Bebop and Brews was there (after they got moved from Redwood Park)? Just brainstorming here.

    #69327
  19. Kevin Hoover

    In principle, any organization can apply for use of public facilities in Arcata, including the Plaza, Redwood Park, the streets, – even City Council Chamber. And numerous people have suggested that the Community Park grounds would be a better location for the OysterFest. That will almost certainly be considered, depending on how today goes.

    #69331
  20. Ann Youmans

    Thanks for the info, I never knew that about the Plaza. Damn, I already celebrated my 50th birthday, but maybe, if I start saving now, I could have my 60th bd there. Now that would be a celebration! ;-)

    #69332
  21. Shiloh Notshiloh

    Mildly objectionable is an asset to this community, and one I especially appreciate, but I think we are doing ourselves a disservice by not understanding oysteria. I think one sidedness and dismissal of the opposition is inaccurate and unfair. People we respect disagree.

    The arguments against the fence and the admissions charge do not boil down to three things (and in your count #2 and #3 sound like the same thing.)

    1. "It's just plain wrong" is an appeal to first principles, so obvious to the author that they didn’t feel the need to explain further. If you don’t understand what she meant then ask for clarification, don’t be dismissal. Similar ‘this is wrong’ statements have been made by many people and without the context, I can only guess what ‘wrongness’ they were referring to. Many are variations on ‘Oysterfest is all of ours but some of us are excluding others of us’ and ‘we have a right to be in our space’. There are other reasons to be against charging and the fence but the ‘just plain wrong’ arguments seems to be about morality and the fairness of the situation.

    There are other arguments I have read, including those about taxes, public versus private ownership, manageability, community involvement, the future of Arcata, oversight and accountability, safety, practical impact, diversity and freedom, so I disagree that oysteria boils down to three things.

    2. I have not heard the argument that we should never do anything new, that would certainly be a silly position to hold. Maybe they object to the actual changes themselves not change in general.

    3. Unwilling to change does sound to me a lot like unwillingness to do anything new. There are serious issues and concerns with the Oystersterfest Classic. There are many ideas about how to address these concerns but most of the people who oppose charging and oppose the fence, as so far as I have read, are not arguing for stagnation.

    As an addendum, ‘Let’s just give this a try’ is not a good enough argument for many people. Whenever possible ideas should be evaluated on their merit, talked about and discussed, and not just implemented to see how they work out. And even if there are many positive aspects some things are just plain wrong. It’s is not that people are so hidebound and inflexible that they can't try new things, it’s that they have one or more objections that we all, as a community, should take seriously.

    #69334
  22. Shiloh Notshiloh

    Mildly objectionable is an asset to this community, and one I especially appreciate, but I think we are doing ourselves a disservice by not understanding oysteria. I think one sidedness and dismissal of the opposition is inaccurate and unfair. People we respect disagree.

    The arguments against the fence and the admissions charge do not boil down to three things (and in your count #2 and #3 sound like the same thing.)

    1. "It's just plain wrong" is an appeal to first principles, so obvious to the author that they didn’t feel the need to explain further. If you don’t understand what she meant then ask for clarification, don’t be dismissal. Similar ‘this is wrong’ statements have been made by many people and without the context, I can only guess what ‘wrongness’ they were referring to. Many are variations on ‘Oysterfest is all of ours but some of us are excluding others of us’ and ‘we have a right to be in our space’. There are other reasons to be against charging and the fence but the ‘just plain wrong’ arguments seems to be about morality and the fairness of the situation.

    There are other arguments I have read, including those about taxes, public versus private ownership, manageability, community involvement, the future of Arcata, oversight and accountability, safety, practical impact, diversity and freedom, so I disagree that oysteria boils down to three things.

    2. I have not heard the argument that we should never do anything new, that would certainly be a silly position to hold. Maybe they object to the actual changes themselves not change in general.

    3. Unwilling to change does sound to me a lot like unwillingness to do anything new. There are serious issues and concerns with the Oystersterfest Classic. There are many ideas about how to address these concerns but most of the people who oppose charging and oppose the fence, as so far as I have read, are not arguing for stagnation.

    As an addendum, ‘Let’s just give this a try’ is not a good enough argument for many people. Whenever possible ideas should be evaluated on their merit, talked about and discussed, and not just implemented to see how they work out. And even if there are many positive aspects some things are just plain wrong. It’s is not that people are so hidebound and inflexible that they can't try new things, it’s that they have one or more objections that we all, as a community, should take seriously.

    #69335
  23. Kevin Hoover

    Indeed, "let's give it a try" isn't an adequate argument in and of itself. In the column above, I detail why the concept is worthy of an experimental run.

    #69336
  24. Smokin Moses

    I gave it a chance and as a vendor my net was down by 60%! Not worth giving it a second chance. After nineteen years of selling oysters at oyster fest I'm over it. it was supposed to be an event to promote Humboldt Bays Oysters and that concept was lost long ago with the majority of oysters being sold at the event coming from Washington State. The Oyster Fest is no longer about the Oysters, it's about bottom line and profit. My profit wasn't worth being put in a cage.

    #69372
  25. As of 2007, the Arcata Plaza is for rent only to non-profit organizations. The rental fee is quite reasonable, the police fees are close to the same as the insurance fees, and the hoops to jump through to get a permit approved can be excruciating at times. But yes, it can be rented by someone other than AMS. 4th of July, North Country fair as examples.

    #69373
  26. Jim Tina Hensley

    the Salmon and whitefish BBQ. at Trinidad had a JUMP in attendance, so much they had to stop selling early ' hmmmmm wonder where they were not.

    #69374

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