News: 1999-09.24-Antioch

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T: Poll Shows Support for Renaissance Faire Move to Antioch
A: Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer
D: Friday, September 24, 1999
C: (c) 1999 SF Chronicle

Over the objections of a small but vocal group of residents, Renaissance Faire officials are charging forward with their plans to relocate the event to Antioch, buoyed by a new survey that showed eight out of 10 likely voters would support the move.

Sixty-two percent of 400 likely voters interviewed last week for the Renaissance Faire poll said they would ``strongly'' support relocating the Elizabethan festival to Antioch if proponents put it on the ballot, which appears to be the most likely option.

``Win or lose, at least we'll know whether or not we're having a fair in Antioch in 2001,'' said Howard Hamburg, vice president of Renaissance Faire Entertainment Corp.

He said trying to get City Council approval could mire the process in years of red tape. The next step, he said, will be to begin the petition drive to place the matter on the November 2000 ballot.

``The voters of Antioch want us in Antioch and they want us to do the initiative,'' he said.

The poll conducted by the Sacramento public opinion research firm J. Moore Methods Inc. had a margin of error of five percentage points.

Ron Anderson, spokesman for the group Citizens Against Renaissance Entertainment, promised to continue to fight the proposal saying it will bring crime, traffic and hurt property values in the neighborhood near the site.

Anderson also said his group shared the concern of environmentalists who say the area where the fair is proposed -- the 120-acre Higgins Ranch in the hills outside Antioch -- is along the migratory path of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox.

``They're up for a battle,'' Anderson said, calling his group ``500 strong'' and ready to spend `thousands of dollars'' to fight the proposal.

``They're just trying to bypass the (environmental review) process,'' Anderson said. ``They promised the public they would do a full EIR and we're holding them to their words.''

Hamburg said the fair would not pay for an environmental impact report. He said his company will, however, take steps to ease the traffic and other environmental impacts of the fair.

State law exempts voter initiatives from the California Environmental Quality Act, which would have required the fair to conduct an environmental study if it were to be approved by the City Council, City Attorney Bill Galstan said.

The fair is seeking a new home for its jousting knights, falconry, ``olde world'' crafts and costumes because the Novato site, which it has used for 27 years, is scheduled to be developed.

Antioch Mayor Mary Rocha said she is confident that the city, fair and local residents can resolve the traffic and environmental concerns.

``Look what the Seafood Festival has done for Pittsburg,'' she said. ``They've been able to control traffic and the crowds. We believe we can work with the public and the fair to make it easy for everybody.''

Jim Moore, president of the public opinion research firm, said the fact that 80 percent of the likely voters would support the fair on the ballot was ``stunning.'' The poll found that 58 percent had attended the fair in the past, with 53 percent saying they had a positive experience.

The concerns over crime associated with the fair appear to be unfounded. Vacaville police said the fair, which has been in town since late August, has been relatively problem free.

``We're pleased it's been in our city, and we wouldn't mind keeping it,'' said police Sgt. Nelson Wakimoto, adding that there have been only two arrests for public drunkenness. ``It's low impact on our city, and it has brought added revenue to the surrounding businesses.''

The fair, which has its own security guards, is reimbursing Vacaville for the costs of traffic control and two bicycle officers assigned to back up the fair's own security, Wakimoto said.