‘How Berkeley’ Festival Canceled

By Rio Bauce Special to the Planet
Thursday August 13, 2009 - 10:57:00 AM

Organizers of the “How Berkeley Can You Be!?” Parade and Festival announced last week that the party is on hold for this year.  

Festival manager Justin Katz says the event has been canceled due to financial restraints, but that the parade is expected to resume in September 2010. 

The primary source of the festival’s financial problems, say the event’s organizers, was a reduction in the amount of the city’s contribution. For many years, the city donated $10,000 to the event in addition to free city services, including police and fire. In 2008, the city donated $8,000 and charged the festival for city services. 

“Just when we thought we had a balanced budget last year,” said Katz, “the city sent us an invoice that basically said, ‘We are going to give you enough money to pay us.’” 

Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio told the Daily Planet that at a recent meeting, City Manager Phil Kamlarz agreed to waive the $8,000 debt incurred from the festival last year. But the event’s organizers say it’s not enough.  

Festival manager Karen Hester thinks that certain benchmarks must be met for the festival to take place next year. She says the event, in order to be successful, needs $20,000 from the City Council and the support of a merchant association. 

“I feel like unless some merchant association comes forward and the city puts in some money, the festival will not be sustainable,” said Hester, who helps put on other festivals, such as the Earth Day Festival and the Temescal Lake Festival. 

In past years, the University Avenue Association has made contributions to the event. However, the association is not on the current list of donors. 

Calls to Maulin J. Chokshi, president of the University Avenue Association, were not returned by press time. 

Katherine Sherbel, a staff member at the Downtown Berkeley Association, said that although the association is sad to see the festival canceled this year, the group usually does not financially support large events downtown. 

In the past, businesses such as Amoeba Records, Mike’s Bikes, Reel Video, and Pyramid Brewery have been large donors to the “How Berkeley Can You Be!?” Parade and Festival. But contributions from the business community have declined along with the economy. 

City restrictions on the event also contributed to its cancellation. Festival organizers attribute a decline in alcohol sales to a recent law that requires that all festival goers with alcoholic beverages be fenced into a beer garden. The festival saw a decline in alcohol sales from $6,000 in 2005 to about $1,500 last year.  

Katz says that the Berkeley event has been “incident-free” in the past and that incidents at other city festivals led to this ordinance.  

Festival organizers applied for a waiver for the event, but the Police Department declined the request. 

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss did not return calls for comment. 

Festival manager Karen Hester believes the beer garden has to be scrapped in order for the event to succeed.  

Councilmember Maio said that with more time, a beer-garden variance could have been worked out.