T: Revealing some facts, figures about the Renaissance fair A: Devin Russel D: May 20, 1999 C: Contra-Costa Times
NOW THAT WE'VE had the opportunity to read the viewpoints of Steve Territo, Bill Hewitt, Jean Melton and the Ledger Dispatch editorial staff extolling the purity, safe environs and money-making potential of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, please allow me to point out some rather heartrending essentials.
Let's start with crime. During its run in Black Point, the Novato Police Department was called to the Renaissance fair no less than 84 times between Sept. 16, 1990 and Sept. 29, 1998. Of those responses, the types of crime committed and numerical breakdown is as follows:
Drunk in public, 10; assault with a deadly weapon, 2; assault, 1; battery, 1; spousal battery, 1; rape, 1; unlawful sexual intercourse, 1; sexual assault, 1; missing juvenile, 2; runaway juvenile, 1; traffic accident from driving under the influence, 1; traffic accident (no DUI), 3; threats, 1; stolen vehicles, 6 (some located, some mistakes); outstanding warrants, 2. Grand theft, 4; theft, 3 concealed weapon, 1; trespassing, 6, stalking, 2; report of human sacrifice, 1; report of child abuse, 1; dead body, 1; burglary, 3; lost property, 6; civil issues, 2; obscene phone calls, 1; medical calls, 3; other, 16.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, in whose jurisdiction the southern California Renaissance fair resides, was called 55 times over a two-year period in 1997 and 1998. Of those requests, 26 were for crimes of the following sordid nature: drunk in public, assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft auto (2), vehicular burglary (2), resisting arrest, assault with intent to commit rape, burglary in progress, stolen purse, grand theft, petty theft, trespassing and lost property.
Keep in mind, good citizens of Antioch, these are crimes that were reported to the local law enforcement. How many additional crimes went unreported? How many crimes were simply handled and then dismissed by fair security? Regrettably, we may never know. You good citizens of Antioch are intelligent, informed and not at all ignorant. You can draw your own conclusions.
Let's turn to traffic congestion. Even some proponents of the fair agree that it will be cause for concern and I believe everyone agrees on that point to some extent. Police agencies in Kenosha, Wis., Stafford County, Va., and Tuxedo Park, N.Y., were contacted and solicited for information. Each agency indicated that traffic is a concern.
A sheriff's public information officer in Kenosha stated that traffic was a bona fide problem when the fair was popular there.
A police dispatcher in Tuxedo Park stated, "Keep them (cars) out of the residential area!" She also indicated that there have been fights and some burglaries when the fair was open. The fights, however, were confined to the fairgrounds.
A Stafford County sheriff's dispatcher said traffic was a real problem, even for a four-lane highway.
These three fair locations are within rural settings, a good distance from suburbia. All are served by major highways or an interstate freeway. In Tuxedo Park for example, the main highway (much like Highway 4) runs through the middle of town. The fair, however, is located five miles outside the community in Sterling Forest. Traffic does not traverse city surface streets!
Yet, a "fact" proponents would have us Antiochans gleefully swallow is that the fair is only to be open on "eight weekends." Well, to that claim I can only offer a quote from the Renaissance Entertainment Corp.'s (REC) 1998 year-end report, referring to the Northern Faire, the one proposed for Antioch:
"The Company's pending lease agreement, if completed, would allow these structures to remain in place year-round and provide the opportunity for additional income-generating events other than the Renaissance Faire."
Given this statement, the "fact" that the fair will generate traffic on Antioch streets on a year-round basis appears more likely than the reverse.
One more very important item of interest: If one were to look meticulously at each year-end financial report, beginning with 1996, of REC, one would notice a glaring similarity. REC is bleeding red ink! In just over three years, this corporation has lost roughly $5.9 million. As a result, REC has been forced to mortgage property in order to fund the Northern Faire, liquidate property to pay off debts and borrow almost $1.25 million for operating capital because it is $147,726 in the hole. Its stock is now trading at 43 cents per share, down from an all-time high of almost $35 per share. This company has never paid a cash dividend on its common stock. This information is verifiable on the REC Web site.
Our city leaders want us to believe that this financially struggling corporation will provide Antioch with some much-needed sales tax dollars. Poppycock! REC will provide us Antiochans with a major traffic, crime and pollution headache that the hollow promise of a measly 200,000 in sales tax dollars will not relieve. This paltry sum will not fix one mile of city roadway damaged by the thousands of additional vehicles attending this preventable affair. Does anyone remember the ferryboat fiasco? Does this fair scenario sound strangely familiar? I wonder if our city leaders have agreed to fund any of the fair's infrastructure-related costs?
Finally, the editors of this newspaper would have us believe that REC is doing the right thing by conducting a full environmental impact report that is, in the words of the newspaper, a "good idea." It is not just a good idea, it's the law! Our city leaders were probably going to allow REC to conduct only a partial EIR. That was until Citizens Against the Renaissance Environment (C.A.R.E.) caught wind of this and stepped forward with its attorney and demanded a full accounting of the environmental impact of the fair. "Too bad," as the April 20 editorial would have you believe? I say, please, take as long as necessary so that we may have all of the facts. In the meantime, maybe the fair will find a home elsewhere. One can only wish.
Devin Russel is an Antioch resident.