City Will Continue Support For Oktoberfest

LA MESA – Oktoberfest, the city’s annual three-day celebration of beer, sausage and music has dodged a bullet. Members of the Downtown La Mesa Merchant’s Association and the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting prepared to issue a warning: If the City insisted on the Oktoberfest sponsors paying for 100 percent of city expenses related to the event, Oktoberfest’s future could be threatened.
“We would not be able to put it on if we have to cover 100 percent,’’ said Mary England, the Chamber president and chief executive.
But if the city is going to reduce its subsidy for the event after more than 30 years, it wasn’t happening in this election year.
The council, after reaffirming its desire to have all downtown events eventually pay their own way and cover extra city costs, agreed to continue splitting the costs with the merchants and business community.
Acknowledging that these are particularly difficult times for local businesses that benefit from the influx of visitors for Oktoberfest, the council voted 4-0 (Mayor Art Madrid was away on a trip) to continue contributing 50 percent of the extra police and fire department time the event requires.
Local resident Dexter Levy, who watches city spending closely and often comments on city issues, complimented the business community for the organized and effective way Oktoberfest is run, but he reminded the council that the city, in tough times, has subsidized that event to the tune of more than $250,000 since 2004 alone. This year's city costs are estimated at $82,000, half of which the city would pay.
England and the Chamber’s David Smiley outlined the council the literally thousands of hours volunteers contribute to the event and chronicled how the profits fuel a variety of business programs that also benefit local merchants and, indirectly, the city’s economy and tax revenues.
Still, while holding off on ending the subsidy, the council members listed a variety of events that promote the city – for example the Thursday Night Car Show and the annual Flag Day Parade – but require extra spending by the city for safety , refuse removal and street cleaning. All of these, they said, need to be treated equally and eventually need to cover all their expenses.
In the end, the status quo prevailed but council members included a promise that well before next year’s event they would discuss taking another step toward cutting the city subsidy completely.

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Comment by Russell Buckley on June 9, 2010 at 11:45pm
Certainly one can argue about just what activities a City should support - but it seems to me that La Mesa's Oktoberfest and Flag Day parade are two that make the cut. The cost of $41,000 for Oktoberfest, and I believe about $15,000 for the Flag Day parade, are relatively small potatoes compared to the enormous sums the City insists on spending to provide unjustifiable large pensions for its employees. It was only last year that the City finally got around to relieving the taxpayers of the roughly $1,500,000 annual burden of paying the "employee portion" of payments to CalPers. Prior to that time, employees paid nothing for a pension several times more generous than the Social Security that private sector workers are required to pay into. But no change was made in the obscene pension levels themselves. If La Mesa pensions were made comparable to the average of the private sector, the potential annual savings, once fully implemented, would be millions of dollars each year. Public Sector Unions have use their muscle and money and manpower to push our State and most of its Cities and special districts to various levels of financial distress. Until our elected representatives marshal the courage to face up to the Unions, worthwhile programs at every level will continue to be cut.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on June 9, 2010 at 2:10pm
I'm also surprised that this remains an issue. Especially given what the city blows on massive employee pensions. They work for us, not for the staff. This is the least they should do.
Comment by Andy Phemister on June 9, 2010 at 7:54am
As someone who was involved with the coordination of the Chamber Beer Garden from 1986 to 2008 for the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce and then the San Diego East County Chamber, I am amazed that this argument continues in La Mesa as long as San Diego talks about a location for a new airport.

Oktoberfest has become the signature event for the City of La Mesa, realizing George Felix's dream that the Village of La Mesa could compete with regional shopping centers by being the site of unique special events. Many cities throughout the country understand the long term benefits of staging events like Oktoberfest and see their support of those events as a part of doing business. La Mesa city officials for years has seen their responsibility of policing and preparation for the Oktoberfest as a subsidy to the La Mesa Merchants Association and the Chamber.

Though both organizations realize important fund raising goals from the festival, the real value of Oktoberfest is having potential new customers to La Mesa business discover the VIllage of La Mesa for the first time. This coupled with the long standing traditions of La Mesans gathering with others throughout the County to enjoy arts and crafts, ohmm pah music and of course beer makes Oktoberfest the grandaddy of street festivals in San Diego County.

Mary England is absolutely right that if the Chamber and Merchants Association had to pay for police and fire protection, and time spent by the City planning for this event, it would be a total non-starter.

I understand that with the downturn in the economy that the City is looking for every dollar that they can. That is their job. However I would love to see the City embrace this signature event that has taken so long to mature and develop, rather than see it as revenue source.

Maybe now that San Diego has resigned to having Lindbergh Field be our airport for another generation, maybe the La Mesa City Council will support its number one city-wide event.

(Andy Phemister served for 18 years with the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce_)

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