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Gilroy
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February 5, 2023

Guest View: The City’s role in the Gilroy Garlic Festival

Two weeks ago, the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association announced that they would not be moving forward with the traditional large-scale Garlic Festival event for the foreseeable future. The news was met by all of us with sadness, disappointment and even anger. This event, a source of pride for the Gilroy community for over 40 years, will no longer be what it once was.

Much has been said about the City’s role in the Association’s decision to not move forward with the large-scale event, including statements that the event was canceled due to the City’s prohibitive insurance requirements. The Garlic Festival is a private event and, when held on public property like Christmas Hill Park, is required to apply for a Special Event Permit. Depending upon the risks involved, the event may necessitate insurance above the minimum $1 million in general liability coverage. The Garlic Festival event is one of those events.

For over 10 years, the Garlic Festival has provided $6 million in general liability coverage for the Garlic Festival event. Given the tragedy of 2019 and the 20 pending lawsuits in which the City of Gilroy is named and required to defend, the City’s insurance risk pool and legal counsel have communicated the need for increased insurance coverage to the amount of $10 million in general liability coverage going forward. This higher level of insurance provides protection for the City of Gilroy (taxpayers) related to this private event that takes place on City-owned property. Considering the current litigation, the City is following the recommendation of the insurance risk pool and legal counsel. 

The City could choose to go outside the recommendation of the insurance pool and legal counsel, but the City (the taxpayers) would have to provide the financial security for the event and then absorb the associated financial risk of conducting the event on City-owned property. That assumption of risk is not prudent, nor one that any City would ever assume, as any lawsuits or claims that the City might receive would be paid for out of the City’s General Fund—the same fund that supports basic City services including police, fire, recreation, public works, community development and many others. 

The Garlic Festival Association shared that in 2019, they paid $62,000 for $6 million in insurance coverage. For 2020, the same coverage was quoted at $98,000. It is estimated that increased insurance of $10 million would cost somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. Even with assistance from the City in trying to find an insurance provider, it was difficult for the Garlic Festival to find an insurance provider for the event regardless of what it was willing/able to pay.

Insurance challenges are nothing new to events on City property. Requirements for events range from $1 million to $10 million in insurance—in fact, the City’s recent contract for its summer swimming program requires $10 million in insurance. 

An event so cherished by the community faced the reality of challenges when private events are conducted on public facilities. The requirements for holding private events on public property continue to increase and thus many events had decided to change the scale of their event or conduct them on private property. City staff worked tirelessly with the Association and with our insurance pool to come up with solutions and options for the event. The pre-existing financial challenges the Garlic Festival Association faced and an ever-changing insurance industry proved too much for the Garlic Festival to overcome. The City did not create either situation.  We wanted the Garlic Festival to continue as well, and thus we are also disappointed.   

Jimmy Forbis is the Gilroy City Administrator.

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