SOLANA BEACH — Three Solana Beach residents attended the April 22 City Council meeting to provide input on Fiesta del Sol, a two-day street fair that will celebrate its 30th anniversary during this year’s event June 6 and June 7 at Fletcher Cove.
But their comments spread little sunshine and, according to Gerri Retman, hardly shed light on anything new.
“I don’t think I’m spilling any secrets here tonight when I say there’s been a lot of chatter in this town about the upcoming Fiesta del Sol,” said Retman, who serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission. “The interesting thing to many of us is that the discussions taking place this year are about the very same complaints that come up every year.”
Those complaints include the cost and placement of booths for nonprofit organizations and “the fact that Fiesta has lost focus on the community of Solana Beach,” Retman said.
She said the primary goal of the event seems to be making money for the Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event with the city and Belly Up Tavern.
“That’s not a bad thing,” Retman said. “After all, this is a fundraiser for their organization. They make more money renting booths to people selling sheets or hot tubs and tires than to local environmental groups and civic clubs.
“But if interest by local groups is any indication, Fiesta might be losing its luster. Some of the merchants that I’ve spoken to over the years even dread Fiesta because their sales go way down,” she said.
Retman said the event also appears to conflict with Shop Solana Beach First, an ongoing campaign encouraging residents to patronize restaurants and retail stores in the city.
Retman suggested holding a community workshop to garner public input on ways to “upgrade the event and better showcase our community.”
Victoria Cypherd, also a Parks and Recreation commissioner, said she’s heard several complaints about the quality of the vendors. She said similar street fairs throughout the county sell “the same kind of trite, junky items.”
“I don’t see why we can’t aim a bit higher,” Cypherd said. “If you build on the great music that we have and the location, it would reflect better upon Solana Beach and would draw more people, I believe, to spend their money throughout the city and not just on a few craft booths.”
Resident Marilee McLean took issue with chamber policies rather than the event. She said she tried to reserve a booth for a Democratic club that wanted to register voters, but Frida Silveira, chamber director and the only paid employee, told her “they couldn’t give us a booth because, in her words, quote, we had trouble with you guys last year.”
McLean said she asked Silveira to explain, especially since the group didn’t have a booth at last year’s event. Silveira was evasive and accusatory, McLean said, and “she continued to refer to us as ‘those troublemakers from last year.’”
McLean said she received a letter from chamber President David Carroll denying her booth request because political groups weren’t allowed at the event. However, according to a Republican Web site, voter registration will take place at the 2009 Fiesta del Sol.
“I want a straight and honest answer,” McLean said. “If they do have an official policy prohibiting political groups from renting a booth, then it should be enforced fairly, uniformly and consistently.”
Peter Zahn, chamber vice president, said political groups were banned at Fiesta del Sol about four years ago after some organizations displayed “graphic, disgusting” and inappropriate material. “The purpose of the policy is to keep the event family friendly,” Zahn said.
On April 27, however, the board of directors agreed to once again allow political groups, offering them booths at the recently reduced nonprofit rate of $75. Booths must be reserved by May 15.
Zahn said the board apologized to McLean and is “still looking into” Silveira’s comments. “The way it was communicated certainly doesn’t sound good,” Zahn said. “If it’s correct, I think the chamber handled this situation miserably.” Silveira said she preferred not to comment.
Zahn said since there are few requests from political groups, the policy may not have been clear. “The board has a responsibility to make sure we back her (Silveira) up with (accurate) content,” he said.
Mary Kuper, with Sandiegorepublicans.org, said her group purchased a booth last year but canceled at the last minute when volunteers weren’t available to register voters. She said she assumed since the group purchased a booth last year, it wouldn’t be a problem this year so she posted the registration information on the Web site without confirming participation with the chamber.
In addition to reducing the booth price for nonprofits, Zahn said the board also agreed to place them in more prominent locations throughout the event area. As for conflicts with Shop Solana Beach First, he said local merchants are involved, and the exposure the city receives “offsets any negative impacts.”
Zahn and City Council members said they supported the recommendation to hold a public workshop. Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said she heard people leave town during Fiesta, “and that’s not what we want for this and our community.”
Although Fiesta del Sol is a major source of revenue for the chamber, Zahn said the goal is “not just to raise money, but to put on an event that the community can enjoy.”