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San Diego Event Coalition rallies against city’s planned fee increases

The La Jolla Concours d’Elegance car show is among events that would be affected by planned fee increases.
(File)

A coalition of San Diego event organizers is focusing on stopping planned increases in city fees, with La Jolla event planner Laurel McFarlane at the helm.

The San Diego Event Coalition — formed in 2020 to “create a voice for the event industry” at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions on gatherings caused many events to be shut down — aims to present a united front against what it considers excessive fee increases.

A city of San Diego proposal would sharply raise fees for police and other support at events in La Jolla and across the city. More than 50 separate fees are slated to spike at least 40 percent.

Nonprofits that organize events such as farmers markets, street fairs and annual festivals say the timing of the increases, which in many cases would more than double fees, is awful because they are already facing financial challenges from the pandemic and inflation.

City officials say most of those fees haven’t been raised in many years and that the increases are needed to cover the city’s costs for supervising such events, which have gone up sharply as worker salaries have risen more than 30 percent since 2019. The increases are projected to generate $8.4 million in annual revenue for the city.

More than 50 fees are slated to rise at least 40 percent; the city says higher fees are needed to recover costs.

McFarlane Promotions manages the outreach and promotion of events such as the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance car show and the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival.

“Events were the first thing to shut down and the last thing to open,” McFarlane told the La Jolla Light. “In the beginning, we were working … to get fees waived for the event industry and get events going again. ... We come together as producers when we see something that is going to be detrimental to our industry.”

Enter the proposed fee hikes.

“Raising rates right now when costs are already 30 to 40 percent higher … is devastating. It’s not the time for us to take another hit,” McFarlane said.

The coalition’s executive director, Kevin Leap, issued a statement urging “that these fees are not implemented in the current suggested timeframe and amount.”

“We understand that the city needs to recover costs, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of an industry that is still struggling to rise from the ashes of the pandemic,” Leap said.

The coalition plans to have meetings with San Diego City Council members, write letters and present to the council when the item is heard on Monday, Feb. 14.

“They are taking a big chunk of our profits. ... It will backfire for them and lead to fewer events.”

— Sherry Ahern, La Jolla Art & Wine Festival founder

While acknowledging that San Diego police officers who work the events “should be paid what they deserve,” McFarlane said “the city should supplement some of the fees because these events bring tourism dollars to the city, do nonprofit work that the city doesn’t have to pay for and provide quality-of-life events in San Diego.”

Nonprofit events would be hit especially hard, McFarlane said.

“Ideally, the city would offer a discount for nonprofits,” she said. “The intent of these not-for-profit events is to draw people to an area, and some free events won’t be free anymore with these fees. The only way to offset these is to charge a fee for entry. That’s not what anybody wants.”

City officials say they know of no other major city that gives nonprofits discounts compared with for-profit event sponsors, and they emphasize that the increases would be phased in over three years and that nonprofits would see no spikes at all until July 2023.

A nonprofit presenting a special event would see its hourly cost per police officer rise from $55 to $89 in July 2023 and to $119 in July 2024 and beyond. Thus, a nonprofit sponsoring a parade that requires eight officers for six hours would see its cost for police climb from $2,640 now to $5,712 in 2024.

“For some larger events, it’s a huge increase,” McFarlane said.

For example, she said, police fees for the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival would go from $9,397 to $16,235 in three years, a 72 percent increase. Fees for the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance would go from $8,368 to $14,072, a 68 percent increase.

Art & Wine Festival founder Sherry Ahern said: “[Multiply] that by many years and they are taking a big chunk of our profits. ... It will backfire for them and lead to fewer events. Many events can’t afford all these fees.”

Michael Dorvillier, chairman of the La Jolla Concours, previously told the Light that “it is especially disheartening to see that this proposed fee increase is being presented at a time when we are all just now getting back up on our feet post-pandemic. ... [It] will jeopardize the future of many events.”

McFarlane said event planners are “trying to have meaningful conversations and recommend [that] the phase-in be over six to eight years, not three. We want to know if there are other options. We don’t want to avoid fees; we want to work together so it is not so detrimental.” ◆