UPDATE 2:43 pm. The Kite Fest may not be dead yet. In an email from Mayor Jesse Arreguin this morning, the mayor said, “This was a decision made unbeknownst to us as it was at the operational level. I am working on getting the City Manager to waive these fees. Kate’s item in March gave the City Manager the authority to waive or reduce fees for special community events in city Parks.” Stay tuned.
According to local online daily Berkeleyside yesterday, the popular Kite Fest, a fixture at Chavez Park from 1986 until the pandemic, will not recover from its Covid suspension. The City of Berkeley, lifting the curtain on its event expenses, has raised the fee to a price the organizer, Highline Kites, cannot afford. Tom McAlister, owner of the kite-shop-in-a-truck seen most weekends at the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way, told Berkeleyside yesterday that the City used to charge him just a couple of thousand dollars, but is now demanding $45,000 to stage the event, more than his business and event sponsors can pay. And so, unless financial angels step forward, it’s good-bye to this event, beloved by many. This website fondly covered the gathering in 2015, 2017, and 2018, and we had an exhibitor booth in the 2019 event, the last time it was held.
The announcement shed light on a topic that has become controversial with the recent BMASP (Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan) proposal to create a permanent “Large Event Space” on the central meadow of Chavez Park. The BMASP claim is that the proposed facility would bring in money. The consulting firm that made the proposal estimated the City could take in about $170,000 a year. Unnamed City staff were quoted with a much higher profit estimate of $1 million. The City Manager, Ms. Ridley-Williams, cited the Kite Fest and the big July 4 events as models showing what the proposed Large Events Space could achieve. Thanks to the Berkeleyside story and other sources, we now know that these events are models indeed — models for losing money. Parks Director Scott Ferris is quoted saying that the City’s costs in 2019, the last time the Kite Fest was held, added up to about $105,000. Ferris told Berkeleyside that “Big events ‘stress Waterfront infrastructure,’ including ‘parks, streets, parking lots, pathways, and restrooms,’ and are ‘impactful on baseline services performed by Waterfront staff…'” Ferris could also have mentioned the impact of big events on nature, wildlife, and the peace and quiet of park visitors. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the cost of installing the proposed Large Events facility — leveling, paving, erecting structures, utilities, storage, seating, sewage, and so on.
Given these costs and related negative impacts, the only way that the proposed Large Events Space in Chavez Park could make money is by embedding these costs in ticket prices. Assume hypothetically the proposed Large Events Space can hold 1,000 seats. To cover the City’s $105,000 event costs, just to break even, the tickets would be priced at $105 on top of the fees that the event performers (say, a rock band) normally charge. Those would be very expensive tickets — much more expensive than tickets to see the same performers at an established concert venue. Why would performers agree to appear in such a noncompetitive venue? Why would people even come? For park visitors, a ticketed big event would mean no access. You couldn’t drive in, you couldn’t park. If you walked or bicycled, you’d be shut out if you didn’t have a ticket. Far from opening up the park to a broader spectrum of people, the proposed Large Events Space would close down the park to all but an elite group of the affluent. That’s not what a park is for.
One Park visitor had this comment on the transportation issue:
Has no one noticed the modest amount of parking at Cesar Chavez Park? The ‘solution’ for Kitefests was to have folks park at Golden Gate fields and then take a bus to and from CC park. But the long lines for the buses meant that folks had to wait up to an hour for a ride each way…
And public transportation to the park via the 51B is also modest: once every 30 min to a stop .6 mile from the park…and after 10, the closest stop is 1.4 miles from the park…
Those ‘affluent folks’ you mentioned who might attend shows in the park will NOT be willing to spend 2 hr waiting for a bus to get back & forth to their cars… or in walking a mile each way to use a bus…
I suppose that some event-goers might try to call Uber or Lyft for drop offs or pickups, but the resulting traffic congestion and confusion near the park after a concert would be hellish…worse than the arrivals zone at the airport at the end of a holiday weekend!
I will miss the Kite Fest. I thought it was the happiest place in Berkeley while it happened, and it had a light footstep on the habitat. But the Kite Fest was never meant to happen more than once a year. And the joy of the Kite Fest cannot transfer to a commercial event with big ticket prices and the required park closures. That kind of event would turn the park into the awfulest place to be while it lasted. And its impact on the habitat would endure for weeks, if not forever. The BMASP proposal for a Large Events Space in Chavez Park needs to be withdrawn. It’s death for the park, and it’s a losing venture for the City.
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