News: 1999-04.16-AntiochFairShake

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T: Renaissance group asks for a fair shake
D: April 16, 1999
A: Imran Ghori
C: (c) 1999 Contra Costa Newspapers

Antioch opponents question promoters amid charges of a 'done deal' and fears of traffic and crime problems

ANTIOCH -- Promoters of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire met with their critics Thursday night and asked for a fair chance.

About 200 residents, most of them opponents of the fair, packed the Deer Valley High School cafeteria.

The Renaissance Entertainment Corp., which runs five fairs around the country, has applied for a permit to use the 600-acre Higgins Ranch site along Empire Mine Road for the Elizabethan festival, which recreates 16th-century England with performers and attractions.

Opponents fear that the event, which draws about 200,000 people over eight weekends in the fall, will disrupt Antioch neighborhoods and cause traffic and safety hazards. Fairgoers would travel a couple of miles through city streets to get to the proposed location.

The fair expects 3,000 to 5,000 cars a day, with most of the peak traffic in the morning and late afternoon.

Residents peppered faire representatives with questions on subjects ranging from traffic and safety to finances and littering.

At times, the meeting grew argumentative, with some in the audience booing and shouting. Some confronted fair representatives with lurid allegations of past problems at the fair.

"When the fair comes into the community, it brings crime," charged one resident, Devin Russell.

The city is still processing the application and has yet to hold a public hearing on the matter. But an outcry from fair opponents prompted fair owners to hold the question-and-answer session to explain their plan.

They also announced Wednesday that a full environmental report will be included in the permit request, delaying approval for a couple months.

Howard Hamburg, vice president of Renaissance Entertainment Corp., asked that the organizers be allowed to complete the study "to show that we can do it."

"We're hoping that you stay objective and make the decision based on the study."

An environmental report would require additional public hearings and probably mean that the permit would not go to the Planning Commission until summer.

That would most likely mean that the fair would not be held in Antioch in the fall, as the company had hoped. In a statement, fair officials said they would seek an alternate, temporary location for the fall.

City Manager Mike Ramsey welcomed the fair's announcement that it would seek a full environmental report.

"I think it reflects positively on REC's genuine concern for being a good neighbor," he said. "They are certainly aware of the issues that have been raised lately, many of which they believe will be addressed once the factual information is presented."

Opponents had criticized the fair for advertising on its Web site that it would be held in Antioch in the fall, an announcement that led to charges of a "done deal." Ramsey said the fair had put the information on its Web site for marketing purposes against the advice of city officials.

The fair is leaving its home of 30 years in Novato to make way for a development. It considered in Sunol, Vacaville and Vallejo before settling on Antioch.

Supporters say the fair could be an economic boon to the city, bringing about $11 million to the local economy, including $200,000 in local tax revenues.