Fresno City Hall’s parade policy is generating jeers in some parts of town.
The problem: A key parade organizer thinks the rules (organization and subsidies) fall short when it comes to equity.
Bill Kuebler, head of the Tower District Marketing Committee, wants City Council Members Esmeralda Soria and Oliver Baines to take the lead in fixing things.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said he will handle the rules issue with an order from his office. Arrival time for this edict? To be determined.
As to taxpayer subsidies for time-honored but privately sponsored parades … well, that’s a hot potato for the politicians.
“I’ll probably codify the process (for holding parades) in an administrative order,” Rudd told me in early June. “It will lay out the minimum requirements to hold an event. Then, if the council chooses to sponsor an event, that’s a budget discussion.”
The conflict revolves around money. The city wants more security at parades. That means more signage, barricades, insurance and police officers. That’s expensive, especially for parades without major sponsors.
Kuebler copied me with an email he sent to Soria and Baines. Soria represents District 1 and Baines represents District 3. Between them, the two council members pretty much cover the entire Tower District.
Here is Kuebler’s email:
“Dear Council Members Soria and Baines,
“Our Mardi Gras Parade has been entertaining thousands of Fresno citizens and out-of-town visitors for two decades (2017 will be our 20th anniversary!). For the first 15 years that we conducted the parade, it operated as a break-even event. That changed in 2012 when we were informed that we would have to start paying over $2,000 for additional policing for the parade. Contributions from your two offices have helped to off-set that cost a bit, but we’re still left paying over $1,500 every year from the proceeds of our other nonprofit events to cover the balance. This year, we were informed of new city regulations requiring all event-oriented street closures be ‘hard street closures.’ Even by reducing the length of our parade by 50%, this latest change will add nearly $4,000 to the cost of conducting this wonderful community celebration.
“In an effort to comply with the recent city requirements, we have been attempting to find areas where we can cut costs so that we are able to keep the parade going. In my meeting with our city manager, he made it clear that the city’s intention is to hold all events that entail a street closure to the same standards. Consequently, I have been contacting other organizations in our city that conduct events requiring street closures to see what they are doing to keep their costs down. As it turns out, some of these organizations are not being held to the same standards to which we are being held. For example:
“1) The California Classic Weekend event is not required to do hard street closures.
“2) The Grizzlies close the streets around Chukchansi Stadium during their home games, but are not required to pull street closure permits, do not have to do hard street closures, and do not have to pay for additional policing related to their street closures.
“3) From my observations, it does not appear that the Chinese New Year Parade is being required to do full, hard, street closures.
“4) The most glaring exception to the rules, however, is the Veterans Day Parade. Not only does this parade not have to pay for any policing, but they also enjoy the additional benefit of having the city pay for their barricades.
“While the California Classic Weekend and all of the Grizzlies home games are obvious, non-compliant street closures, my concern centers around our city’s 5 parades. Those of us who conduct parades in our city will confirm that police and street barricades are now the two biggest costs we have to cover. Since none of our Fresno parades are designed to make money, are widely enjoyed by our citizenry, and are significant heralds of civic pride, I believe our city would be more than justified in providing the same support for all of our parades that they provide for the Veteran’s Day Parade so that all of our parades can continue for many years to come.
“As such, I respectfully request that you pursue the creation of a city parade policy that would provide equal support to this small, handful of community celebrations that require brief closure of our city streets. Since all of the parades in Fresno occur in your two districts, you are the natural leaders of such an effort. Would you please arrange for a meeting between all of the organizations who host parades (all of whom I have copied on this email) to discuss the creation of such a policy? Thank you for your attention to this matter.
“Respectfully, Bill Kuebler, Tower District Marketing Committee”
I give you five quick thoughts on Parade Wars:
1.) In the old days, City Hall was content with “soft” street closures during a parade. This essentially meant a couple of traffic cones and perhaps a motorcycle traffic officer at each of the parade route’s side streets.
Then you’d have the parade. Hundreds of people would march along the route. Hundreds more standing along the route would watch and cheer. You’d have lots of humanity having a good time.
Well, the world has changed. Lots of humanity in one spot is a security challenge on many levels for City Hall and parade organizers. All you have to do is read the headlines to know why.
This is why City Hall in the last few years began implementing stricter security rules.
2.) City Hall at one time subsidized some parades with “service” contributions. The city would pay for police. City workers would help with street closures and/or cleanup.
For the most part, the subsidies weren’t cash. Still, the services came at public expense. Then the Great Recession hit. Those subsidies largely ended. City officials, with Rudd leading the charge, began insisting that customers – be they nonprofits or parade organizers – pay their own way.
“Somewhere along the line someone didn’t get the memo, and didn’t realize that there was an additional cost and that we were no longer going to provide that taxpayer support,” Rudd said.
3.) Rudd said the city still provides a non-cash subsidy (portable toilets, police, cleanup) to one parade – the annual Veterans Parade. Rudd said the Veterans Parade is unique, an event that attracts regional, even national, attention. This, in turn, generates considerable economic benefit to the city from visitors who shop, eat and spend the night.
Organizers of the Veterans Parade also are good at landing generous sponsorships. Rudd said organizers of other parades might learn a thing or two from the vets.
4.) The City Council last week approved Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s $1.1 billion budget for the new fiscal year. Council members successfully added a dozen or so spending measures. I don’t recall any of them involving cash subsidies to parades.
But the council with a veto-proof five votes could change its mind at any time. Rudd is fully aware that the council could donate, say, $10,000 to a parade.
“And right after that, someone will come through the door and say, ‘You gave them $10,000. I want $10,000,’” Rudd said. “Pretty soon we’re sponsoring all sorts of things. If I’m still around I’d say, ‘I appreciate that parades are important to your districts and your constituents. But so is police, so are parks, so is fire. And the check you’re writing (for parades) is coming out of the same piggy bank that is funding all this other stuff.
“Be careful when you choose.”
5.) I sense that parades and other special events in the public sphere – things like walks and runs – are becoming cultural markers much like food trucks. These special events are how groups create or solidify their legitimacy in the eyes of their fellow citizens. And these special events are becoming artistic statements, performance art, if you will. Organizers put a lot of imagination into them. Participants and observers demand it.
City Hall doesn’t have a Parade Czar. But it does have David Rodriguez, community coordinator for special events.
Rodriguez works out of Parks Department headquarters, near Dickey Playground on the north edge of Downtown.
Thinking about holding a parade, walk or run? Give Rodriguez a call.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it takes,” Rodriguez said. “I explain it to them.”
Bring a strong bank account to the meeting.