T: Renaissance Faire Stirs Displeasure in Antioch A: Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer D: Monday, April 19, 1999 C: ©1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Environmental studies aside, the jousting over whether the Renaissance Faire comes to Antioch illustrates the unfolding battle of the old delta city versus the new commuter suburb.
Old-timers, many of whom live near the historic riverfront downtown and have fought to make the city more prominent, find the notion of the fair locating in town irresistible. But newer residents who have bought homes covering the hillsides in south Antioch say it would just be an irritation.
Aside from hosting the Contra Costa County Fair and delta boating each summer, most residents would agree that Antioch does not offer much in the way of regional entertainment.
In Mayor Mary Rocha's own words regarding the fair proposal, ``It puts us right on the map.''
``Except for going to Walnut Creek or Concord to the movies, there isn't much going on here,'' said resident William Nelson, who moved to Antioch in 1989. ``It's really devoid of anything.''
The Renaissance Faire, which left Black Point in Novato last year because of planned development and dropped Pleasure from the middle of its name along the way, has proposed settling on the 120-acre Higgins Ranch in south Antioch. To get there, fair-goers would have to drive past the newer subdivisions in town.
Nelson, who owns a house along the route, said he is willing to put up with the traffic for the advantages of having the fair.
``I don't think it's going to hurt home prices as some of the protesters claim,'' he said. ``I think it'll do the opposite. The cultural activity would benefit the community.''
But some newer residents say they moved to Antioch to get away from the hustle, costs and crime of urban living. They enjoy quiet weekend evenings of in-line skating or pushing babies in strollers to the neighborhood Starbucks or Blockbuster Video.
``The one time I attended the fair, I didn't see much in terms of educational value,'' said resident Roy Immekus, president of a youth soccer league. ``It was a very large, for-profit arts and crafts fair and a darn expensive one at that. From a tax point of view, it could benefit the city, but they're going to have a serious problem handling that amount of traffic.''
Fair proponents project an additional 5,000 cars per day on city streets. Many of those cars will need to fill up with gas, and the kids aboard will get thirsty and want to stop for soda or pizza after the fair. Some visitors may stay in Antioch hotels, bringing jobs and sales tax revenue to the city.
Deborah Anderson, a member of a citizens group opposing the fair, said she thought a golf course was going to be built behind her home, not a congested arts and crafts fair that includes jousting knights, human chess matches and thousands of fair-goers enjoying turkey legs and tankards of ale.
``It was not disclosed to us when we bought our home four months ago,'' Anderson said. ``The area out there is beautiful, covered in oak trees. That's part of why we bought out here. We're a step away from the country. I don't want to have to be bused to go to the store because of traffic in my neighborhood.''
Howard Hamburg, vice president of Renaissance Entertainment Corp., said he is confident the fair will prove to be a good fit for Antioch.
Last week, fair officials bowed to environmentalist demands and agreed to conduct environmental studies on the event's potential impact on the Higgins Ranch property. They expect to follow up with traffic studies, which Hamburg said will show city streets can handle the additional volume.
``We're sound,'' he said. ``The wild allegations are exciting to listen to, but they're inconsistent with the facts. I hope the people who are opposing our move to Antioch will feel differently once they read the reports. We're not going to be disruptive of their lives.''
Still, some remain skeptical.
Denise Sposato, who lives in an older area of Antioch known as Gentrytown, said the fair would be ``good for Antioch.''
``It would bring the extra money,'' Sposato said. ``It would be a fun event for our family that I would probably attend.''
But she said she empathized with her neighbors to the south.
``I feel for the people who live out there,'' she said. ``If I lived out there, I'd probably be against it, too.''
©1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A13