News: 1999-04.17-AntiochII

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T: Fair's opening in doubt
A: Imran Ghori
D: April 17, 1999
C: (c) 1999 Contra Costa Newspapers

ANTIOCH -- Promoters of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire got a welcome to politics Antioch-style this week.

What they encountered raised serious doubts about whether the fair will be able to open here this fall.

Twice in the past several days, hundreds of opponents packed meeting halls to angrily denounce the fair.

Many raised concerns about what kinds of traffic problems the festival, which generates about 3,000 to 5,000 cars a day during the eight weekends it operates, would bring to their neighborhoods.

Some have gone on to make lurid allegations on subjects ranging from criminal ties to involvement in witchcraft.

Howard Hamburg, vice president of the Renaissance Entertainment Corp., told the crowd at Thursday night's meeting that he would handle all questions.

"Let's hear it all," he said.

At one point, as an opponent questioned him confrontationally, fair supporters booed the questioner.

In response to the concerns, the fair has decided to seek an environmental impact report, a process that would require public hearings before reaching the Planning Commission this summer.

The process could delay the fair's approval for months and probably will mean that the fair won't come to Antioch this fall.

In a statement released Thursday, fair officials said they are prepared to seek a temporary site for the 1999 season.

Fair representatives asked opponents to give them a chance to compile information and show that they can answer their concerns. And if they can't, Hamburg said, the fair probably won't be approved by the city.

"We are 100 percent committed to not having those problems," Hamburg said.

Walter Bartlett, a rancher who lives on Deer Valley Road, one of the proposed access roads to the fair, agreed that residents shouldn't "jump the gun."

"I want to see the studies," he said "I want to see what they say the traffic will be before I make an honest opinion."

Many opponents, however, say they remain unconvinced that it will not cause problems with traffic winding its way through city streets.

"I can't see a fair of this magnitude coming into a residential community," said Greg Dutton, a resident opposed to the fair.

But he said he was encouraged to hear that the fair will conduct an environmental report.

Although most of the crowd at Thursday's meeting appeared to oppose the fair, a large group of supporters also made their viewpoint known.

One woman praised the fair, saying it could put Antioch on the map and provide economic benefits. She accused opponents of scaring businesses away from the city.

"We keep this up, no one will want to work, live or play or anything else in Antioch," said resident Joan Melton.