CLAYTON, CA (Mar. 15, 2023) — Oktoberfest. The BBQ Cook Off. Christmas with Mrs. Claus. The Art & Wine Fest. Those events are synonymous with the community of Clayton, bringing thousands of visitors to town each year. But these events – sponsored by the Clayton Business & Community Association (CBCA) – could fade off into the sunset in the near future.
In a controversial move that even surprised some City Council members, the council corralled enough votes March 7 to terminate the long-standing operating agreement between the city and the CBCA, effectively eliminating what the community organization receives in fee waivers, rentals and other city services for its 3 annual festivals.
In a 3-1 vote – Councilmember Holly Tillman was on a planned vacation – the council followed the lead of Mayor Jeff Wan, who added the item to the agenda the previous Friday without the usual protocol of announcing it as a future agenda item at the end of the previous council meeting. Such notice allows city staff and councilmembers time to prepare any needed supporting documents, said Councilmember Peter Cloven.
Councilmember Kim Trupiano and Vice Mayor Jim Diaz, both CBCA members, voted with Wan to terminate the agreement.
“This action is not a reflection on the great work done by the CBCA, but rather it is a result of an effort to ensure the city is reimbursed for the cost incurred when events are held,” Wan posted on his blog after the meeting, which was packed with nearly 100 CBCA supporters and others who were stunned by the situation.
Cloven called the move an “ambush action” in his post-meeting summary to the community. “Mayor Wan showed his character and lived up to the disgraceful campaign tactics displayed during the recent election,” he said. “None of the character traits of our ‘Do the Right Thing’ motto were modeled in this action.”
Interim City Manager Ron Bernal, a former city manager in Antioch, said that nothing he read in the city’s charter indicated that an item needed to be noticed at a prior council meeting. However, many speakers on the subject – 17, all against termination – referred to that long-standing practice and the fact that Wan broke it with such a controversial proposal.
Cloven also said at the meeting that the agenda item wording only specified that the council “consider termination” of the agreement, with no provision for renegotiating the document. That means CBCA-sponsored events could be in jeopardy if any new city proposal proves cost prohibitive.
‘Unfair and ridiculous’
While the shaky city budget seems to be at the heart of the matter, the divisive character that has prevailed in Clayton since the 2018 election and reared its head again in 2022 was on full display. Ed Hartley, an active CBCA member and the moving force behind CBCA’s downtown bocce park, called the move “a cheap shot.’”
“We raise money for the city, and we give it back to the community,” he said. “This move is unfair and ridiculous.”
Amy Callaghan, a 30-year Clayton resident and frequent event volunteer but not a CBCA member, called the move “a terrible and unethical way to govern.”
Cloven’s comments on the dais underscored that, stating that the staff report had no spreadsheet or evidence of expenses or profits CBCA events brought to city coffers.
“It’s incomplete.,” he said. “I need data to make this kind of decision.”
What was also incomplete was the council itself, as Tillman was known to be out of the country. She frequently votes against Wan’s proposals. Trupiano and Diaz typically follow Wan’s lead, giving them a clear 3-2 majority on the council anyway.
Tallying CBCA contributions
The bad blood on the council and voting blocks aside, many people were confused by the lack of budget information provided. According to accounting collected from city consultant A. J. Chippero, who was to help promote the city-sponsored Concerts in The Grove, CBCA donated $162,942 in 2018 for community benefits, much of which went to city uses and events, such as the Concerts in The Grove. The largest donation was 36% – more than $58,600 – to student scholarships.
In 2019, the CBCA donated $150,584, again with the largest chunk going to scholarships and 3%, or a little more than $4,500, going back to the city. The pandemic shut down most of CBCA’s big-ticket events in 2020 and 2021, but in post-pandemic 2022, the three events grossed a whopping $828,000. The club has earmarked $175,000 for donations back to the community.
Wan contends that while direct labor costs for police and maintenance are paid under the agreement, overhead costs such as staff time and use of city facilities were waived. This includes rental of The Grove park, temporary use permits, noise permits, special event permits and street closure fees that amounted to $7,500 per event. There was no documentation or support for this number.
While that seems like a steep amount for a small city like Clayton to subsidize, the biggest chunk of that would be for the rental of The Grove, more than $3,000 for a weekend event. CBCA leadership say the club has never rented The Grove – it is simply fenced off for safety, but still open to the public. City data will back that up.
The vote to terminate the operating agreement with CBCA without first renegotiating is not sitting well with many Clayton residents, and already there are talks of a recall election. That may never materialize, but the residents may be forced to also accept that neither will some of their beloved events.
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Peggy Spear is a journalist and frequent contributor to the Pioneer.