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August 3, 2021

Rally finds another rebirth

The city’s signature tradition is ready for a reawakening after five years in hibernation and gained unanimous support from the Hollister council this week.

Approval of a revived Hollister motorcycle rally was such a foregone conclusion Dec. 7 that council members nearly approved the 2013 event before any of the residents packing the council chambers had a chance to speak.

Council members Monday unanimously revived the city’s signature tradition – the downtown motorcycle rally officially launched in 1997 and inspired by the Boozefighters’ so-called “invasion” of Hollister in 1947. It is yet another rebirth for the internationally famed Independence Day event, which Hollister officials canceled after the 2005 and 2008 gatherings largely due to skyrocketing, self-devised law enforcement costs and continued losses for a financially struggling city and its general fund.

With a tighter budget and plans to start low-key relative to prior Hollister rallies attracting nearly 100,000, city officials and business leaders hope to take advantage of the traffic and residual economic benefits.

A majority of the council members were open about their support for the rally prior to the Monday meeting – enough so that Councilwoman Pauline Valdivia prematurely motioned for an approval before public speakers had a chance to share their views to the packed crowd in the Hollister City Hall chambers.

Those four speakers who had signed up for public comment did have their chance to talk – which included all-out support, skepticism about hiring an out-of-town promoter and encouragement to ensure Hollister collects all of its due sales-tax revenue from vendors.

“I’m sure he’s going to make a 100 grand,” said speaker Jess Garza of the private manager hired Monday. “There’s a lot of folks here experienced with stuff like that. They have the same experience.”

As with the 2007 revival, council members are hiring a manager to run the rally – North Carolina-based Worldwide Dynamics and its CEO Mark Cresswell. Only this time around, the budgeted law enforcement cost from officials is around $114,400 – less than one-third of the bill from 2008 when retired Police Chief Jeff Miller, who oversaw a series of increased rally security budgets, was still with the city.

The mayor Monday lauded the police department and Capt. David Westrick – recently interim chief – for preparing the slimmed-down budget.

“I want to take a moment to thank the police department,” said newly elected Mayor Ignacio Velazquez. “You guys really worked hard on this. You gave us a realistic budget. It makes it possible for us to have this event.”

City officials expect the lower security cost should reduce the financial risks that led to a more than $200,000 general fund loss in 2008.

Cresswell is projecting overall revenues of around $230,000 and miscellaneous expenses – unrelated to public safety – of $58,000, City Manager Clint Quilter told council members Monday. That leaves about $120,000 to $140,000 for public safety, he said. The city’s total public safety bill, including fire and other matters, is estimated at $136,000.

Under the agreement, Worldwide Dynamics would take home 20 percent of revenues after base costs are taken out, Quilter said.

With the council’s approval, the event name is set to become the “Hollister Independence Day Festival and Gypsy Tour.” Other changes will include once again allowing motorcycle parking on San Benito Street and reducing the number of days from three to two – July 5 and July 6 this year.

One of those five votes came from Velazquez, who stressed his own sacrifice Monday by noting the state Fair Political Practices Commission informed him he could vote on the rally matters but would be restricted from earning more than $20,000 from the event.

“There is one condition they gave me. Basically I cannot open my restaurant for business that week and I’m willing to pay that sacrifice to make sure this thing runs,” said Velazquez, whose statement was followed by applause from the audience.

Many of the attendees were there to support the rally, while other nonprofit representatives attended so they could pitch council members to apply for federal grant dollars on their behalf.

After a brief presentation from the rally manager Cresswell and the statement by Velazquez, council members Robert Scattini and Ray Friend – who made up the rally subcommittee that held talks with Cresswell leading up to the approval – both underscored they were fulfilling political promises with a revived rally.

Friend said he doesn’t “see any reason” Hollister’s rally can’t become “Sturgis 2.”

“They’re in a little valley – we’re in a little valley,” Friend said. “You don’t have to drive through the Badlands to get here, unless you call Los Banos the Badlands.

“We’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.”

Scattini said he wants to make it a “safe, clean event” and pointed to the nonprofits that requested funding help earlier in the evening.

“This is a good chance to pick up some money,” he said.

Prior to the approval, the mayor did ask Cresswell about the possibility of keeping the event at three days as was tradition. Cresswell contended in his experience, the Sunday of such an event is mostly for cleanup and leaving town. He said he would consider a third day if he saw enough demand to support it.

“I’ve proposed a pretty soft return for the motorcycle rally – two days gets us started again,” he said.

While Velazquez also stressed the city cannot afford to lose any money on the rally, Cresswell responded by contending his projections were “extremely conservative numbers.”

“I don’t like happy numbers at all,” he said.

He said he had been in contact with vendors and sponsors who were waiting for the go-ahead.

“There’s a huge shortage of good, quality motorcycle rallies on the West Coast,” he said, adding how many people have “fond memories” of the Hollister event. “Not all small towns have the history of a motorcycle rally and the birthplace of the American biker.”

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