CLAYTON, CA (June 15, 2023) — As the BBQ & Brews Festival went up in flames last month, it disappointed more than barbecue lovers. It unleashed a meaty issue that has divided the City Council and possibly puts other city events in the firing line.
August’s BBQ & Brews Festival, sponsored by the Clayton Business & Community Association (CBCA), was suddenly and unceremoniously canceled when organizers decided new as-yet-to-be-determined city fees made it too difficult to assure the CBCA that it would make enough money to pencil out. It’s a fairly new event for the organization and profit margins are still thin.
There has been “uncertainty” since March, when the city dissolved the master event agreement with the CBCA that reduced some costs of using city services and locations for the event, said Steve Biggs, chair of the CBCA’s Barbecue Committee and a pit master himself.
“We didn’t know what expenses were going to be, and there was a chance we could lose money for the organization,” Biggs said from a barbecue event at which he was competing in Norco. Calif.
“It’s sad,” he added. “It’s a good event for the public, local businesses as well as the CBCA.”
Looking toward 2024 event – but with added fees
Council member and former Mayor Peter Cloven agreed that it was a loss to the community. “As both a Claytonian and a council member, I am saddened by the decision, but I understand it,” he said. “So much effort was put into adding Clayton’s BBQ event to the Kansas City Barbecue Society’s (KCBS) calendar. I hope momentum is not lost on future.”
Biggs said he is convinced that the event will come back next year stronger than ever. “We were the only KCBS event in the Bay Area,” he said. “We want to be able to plan an event that will benefit not only the barbecue community, but the people of Clayton.”
He says the committee is already looking at July 2024 for the next barbecue competition.
Still, the organizers of the BBQ and Brews Festival, as well as those of Oktoberfest and the Art & Wine Festival, have to start doing some new math because of a revised master fee schedule, introduced at a city council meeting last week. Although it is not yet official, there are such aspects as upping the price of renting Endeavor Hall, a community gathering spot, as well as fees as high as $20,000 for renting out The Grove Park for an event.
Although the three major CBCA-sponsored events don’t use The Grove, it must be fenced off because of rules set down by the state Alcohol Beverage Control. That results in festival sponsors having to pay for its rental.
Police and sanitary services also have risen under the new schedule.
Questions about the mayor’s motives
Despite Biggs’ optimism, he and others have been quite vocal on social media about the barbecue festival’s cancellation, blaming it on Mayor Jeff Wan and two other members of the council who vote along with Wan on most, if not all, issues – Jim Diaz and Kim Trupiano.
Many residents have claimed that Wan wants to dissolve the CBCA, while others believe he has a personal vendetta against some members who did not support him and his slate of candidates during the 2018 and 2022 elections.
Those are incendiary comments as hot as barbecue coals. Wan has stated publicly that he supports the CBCA. However, despite multiple efforts, he did not reply to inquiries for this article.
CBCA president hopes to maintain relationship with city
CBCA leadership seems determined to have a strong relationship with the city. CBCA President Cw Wolfe said that he, CBCA members, donors and volunteers are “understandably disappointed that its newest festival/fundraiser, the CBCA Clayton BBQ & Brews Festival, will not take place in 2023.” Yet, he said he is hopeful that they will be able to proceed with the 2024 event.
He also said that despite the dissolution of the fee schedule, CBCA is working with the city to keep Oktoberfest and the Art & Wine Festival on track.
Still, Wolfe said the fee agreement between his organization and the city was dissolved prematurely and without data.
“I am optimistic that the CBCA and the city will work toward the best outcome for the both of us,” Wolfe said. “The CBCA has always paid every bill presented to us by the city of Clayton and we will continue to do so.
“Our events are fundraisers that directly benefit the Clayton community, our schools, organizations, charities and businesses,” he continued. “We have pledged $175,000 to be donated back to the Clayton community in 2023 and have donated over $1,200,000 back to our community in just the past 10 years alone, including nearly $300,000 in scholarships. The CBCA will work in good faith with the city to ensure our mutual best interests and an ongoing, respectful and healthy relationship.”
Is Clayton reflecting national politics?
Cloven is also taking a conciliatory tone about the new fee schedule.
“Mayor Wan did not create the new fee schedule, an outside consultant did. I have numerous questions on how the numbers were derived,” he said. “Clayton is not analogous to other cities where the ‘comps’ may have come from. Clayton is not Walnut Creek, and the CBCA is not a ‘traditional’ Chamber of Commerce. The conversation will continue and hopefully reasonable decisions with quality collaboration will prevail.”
When asked if there is a divide in the city, Cloven called it a “loaded question,” equating it to the current political divide in America.
“While this began simply as neighbors disagreeing on direction, it has morphed into a meaner and a more bitter tone, cut along party lines. Social media has a lot to do with this proliferation, as some residents posing as illegitimate political action committees during elections,” he said.
“We all can agree that we value public safety, community events, idyllic parks and trails, and great schools, yet identity politics is preventing good collaborative conversation to benefit the whole of Clayton,” Cloven said. “I believe that as demographics change, and with hard work, we can achieve a goal of really listening to one another, trying to understand everyone’s views, with an eye toward a bright future for Clayton. After all, this is where we want to raise our children and retire. I look forward to the day when we play bocce, hike our trails, and enjoy our community along with our friends and neighbors, regardless of political party.”
Peggy Spear is a journalist and frequent contributor to the Pioneer.