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San Diego to spread police event fee increase over four years under amended plan

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

San Diego nonprofit event organizers will get more breathing room on a city fee increase after the City Council approved an amended proposal Feb. 14 that calls for police fees to more than double over four years instead of two.

The amendment, introduced by Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, phases in the fee increase more slowly. The hourly rate for police officers at special events will jump from $55 to $72 in the 2024 fiscal year, then to $89 in fiscal 2025, $104 in fiscal 2026 and $119 in fiscal 2027, as opposed to rising to $119 by 2025.

The police fee is among about 50 separate fees that are slated to spike at least 40 percent in coming years, and in many cases double.

LaCava’s office said the police fee increase is the only one being phased in more slowly, and only for nonprofit events, not commercial ones.

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

But nonprofits that organize events such as farmers markets, street fairs and annual festivals have said the timing of the increases is awful because they are already facing financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.

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

“While the city needs to recover its costs in providing special services, it can reduce the sticker shock of catching up after past administrations failed to implement incremental fee adjustments over a reasonable timeframe,” LaCava said in a statement. “Our own five-year financial outlook predicts that the city will not recover from COVID-19 until fiscal year 2026, yet the original proposal imposed substantial fee increases on nonprofits in 2024. These nonprofit-sponsored special events increase our quality of life and add to the city’s economy. I crafted a solution to meet the need of both the city and our community partners.”

The council approved the amendment unanimously.

“The San Diego Event Coalition is extremely grateful for council member Joe LaCava’s amendment to the proposed fee increase for police and for acknowledging the San Diego event community’s value to the city of San Diego’s economy,” said La Jolla event planner Laurel McFarlane, president of the San Diego Event Coalition, which strongly opposed the original plan. “Council member LaCava listened to event industry professionals and the nonprofit communities as we explained the hardship the increases would be for an industry so devastated by the pandemic. He stepped up to help, and having an ally for the event industry is very much appreciated. We look forward to working further with council member LaCava on a solution that is equitable and fair with the input of all stakeholders.”

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.

The response to the amendment from the organizers of those events was mixed.

Michael Dorvillier, chairman of the La Jolla Concours, said increasing the fee over four years “gives us more time to adjust. That being said, it is still going to sting. It is still very disappointing that the city is not more willing to support nonprofits.”

But Art & Wine Festival founder Sherry Ahern praised LaCava, saying: “He was the only one that seemed to listen to us. I feel like he did right by us and thought about our needs. ...

“People come from all over to these events. People have been scraping by, and to raise fees like this … will cause some people to leave. He came to the rescue for us.”

She said she thinks some aspects of the fee hike will be revisited and that the rate of increase is “not set in stone.” ◆