T: Residents speak out against Renaissance fair D: April 11, 1999 A: Imran Ghori C: (c) 1999 Contra Costa Newspapers
Some in Antioch are concerned about excess noise and traffic; if approved, the event could bring in $11 million annually
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire will host an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the west cafeteria at Deer Valley High School. The meeting will include a presentation of how the fair works and a question-and-answer period.
ANTIOCH -- Some Antioch residents who fear the traffic and crowds the Renaissance Pleasure Faire would bring have begun to voice their opposition to moving the autumn event to the area.
Most of the opposition comes from residents in the Dallas Ranch Estates subdivision, which most fairgoers would likely drive past on their way to the Elizabethan festival. The fair would be staged at the 600-acre Higgins Ranch site along Empire Mine Road.
The fair, which features jousting knights and performers in 16th-century garb, would take place over eight weekends from late August through early October. It is expected to bring $11 million annually into the local economy -- including $200,000 in sales tax revenue -- and has been welcomed by city and business leaders.
It also would draw about 175,000 people, or an average of 10,500 people and 3,000 to 5,000 cars a day.
Devin Russell, who said he plans to circulate a petition opposing the fair among his neighbors, said traffic already is bad in the area during the weekdays. If the fair moves to the area, he said, he fears residents will have to face the same congestion on weekends.
"They're going to cause some bottleneck," Russell said. "I think that's understood by just about everybody."
Russell, who moved to the area only a month ago, said he wouldn't have bought the house if he had known he would have a fair in his back yard.
"I moved there to get away from traffic problems in my old neighborhood," he said. "I certainly didn't move there to put up with thousands of vehicles on weekends at all hours of morning and night. I moved there for the views and the tranquillity."
Steve Benner, another area resident, said he and his neighbors have been meeting for the past couple of weeks over the issue and plan to fight the proposal. They cite traffic, safety and noise as some of their concerns.
Russell said he also fears the city will "slam dunk" approval of the fair.
City officials and fair representatives, however, cautioned people to wait until all the facts are in before they render judgment.
The Renaissance Entertainment Corporation, a Colorado company that runs five fairs across the country, turned in a use-permit application only a few weeks ago and isn't expected to go before the Planning Commission until May or June.
In the meantime, consultants -- hired by the city but paid for by the fair -- are preparing reports on environmental and traffic issues. The traffic report is expected to be available later this week.
"I think what we should do is let the city complete its work and publish the findings so that we are working from the same basic information, rather than from wild assumptions," said Howard Hamburg, vice president of the Renaissance Entertainment Corporation.
The initial traffic plan calls for fairgoers to travel up Lone Tree Way onto Dallas Ranch Road, where a seasonal one-mile road leading to the Higgins Ranch would be built. Another route would take fairgoers up Hillcrest Avenue, Deer Valley Road and around the back through Empire Mine Road.
Hamburg said the traffic plan would be modified based on the results of the study to minimize its impact on residents. Laura Sainz, the city's economic development director, said the fair site would be located about a mile away from the nearest subdivision and out of sight of residents.
The fair began looking at Antioch as a potential new home last fall after efforts in Sunol, Vallejo and Vacaville didn't pan out. It has been searching for a new site for the past couple of years, as its former site at Black Point in Novato is slated for development.
Law enforcement officials there said the fair brought more traffic but didn't cause a serious problem.
Novato Police Department Cpl. Dave Bettin, however, said weekend traffic did increase dramatically on days of the fair, sometimes backing up cars for a mile on Highway 37.
"There was increased traffic throughout the day, but most of it was in the morning and then four to six when people started to leave," he said.
Its disruption of traffic on city streets was minimal, he said, since the fair site was only 150 yards from the highway off-ramp. The Antioch site is at least a couple of miles away through city streets.
California Highway Patrol Officer Dave Juricich of the Corte Madera office assigned to Marin County said the fair added congestion during peak hours on Highway 37 but "nothing that would cause gridlock."
He said fair staff kept the traffic flowing.
"Even at the heaviest times, it never got really, really bad," he said.
From a crime standpoint, neither agency reported any serious problems.
Bettin praised the security team at the fair.
"For the amount of people and the density level out there, we had very few calls out there," he said.