Council OKs new Fiesta Hermosa contract
by Ryan McDonald
The Hermosa Beach City Council approved a contract Tuesday night that will allow the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau to put on Fiesta Hermosa on Memorial and Labor Day weekends for the next three years.
The unanimous vote provided a sense of stability for the chamber, which relies on the three-day street fairs to fund the bulk of its activity advocating for the town’s businesses. And it solidified the annual slate of civic events that the chamber is contractually obligated to provide, including the Saint Patrick’s Day parade next month.
Councilmembers and chamber representatives said the agreement, hammered out in negotiations over the past five months, represented something of a reset of the relationship between the two bodies. The chamber operated under a one-year contract in 2018, unlike the five-year deals it had relied on in the past, after the expiration of the previous agreement in 2017 coincided with criticism from some residents that the events had become overly commercialized and no longer merited closing off downtown streets on two of summer’s busiest weekends.
This perspective was far from universal, though, and disagreement among residents about the worth of the Fiesta shadowed discussions between the council and chamber. With the chamber on a one-year contract for 2018, it became difficult for it to plan for 2019 events, and rumors circulated that this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade was in jeopardy.
Shortly before the start of negotiations in the fall, a council subcommittee presented a variety of suggestions to improve the Fiesta. The resulting recommendations, including featuring more booths with local artists, served as guideposts for the eventual agreement.
“We have been able to align those interests between [the city] and the chamber. We are moving toward things that we all want. We all want to improve the experience,” said Councilmember Jeff Duclos.
But despite the agreement, it was evident that some division remains.
In comments to the council, Carolyn Petty, vice chair of the chamber’s Board of Directors, lamented that the organization was being financially squeezed, with growing fees passed on from the city for services such as security and sanitation, and diminishing revenues from its efforts to meet city demands for fewer commercially oriented booths, which contribute more revenue.
She also said that the board had been hoping for a five-year deal, not three. Nico De Anda-Scaia, assistant to the city manager and one of the city’s lead negotiators in contract talks, said that staff were more “comfortable” with a three-year agreement, and pointed to ongoing efforts to hold the chamber to implement improvements, such as better communication with brick-and-mortar businesses in the downtown.
Perhaps aware of these ongoing tensions, a roster of community groups that have been helped over the years through the Fiesta, both in exposure and in fundraising, showed up to the meeting to express their support. Lisa Leonard, co-founder of the Surf City Theater Company, said that participating in the event has greatly expanded awareness of the group’s productions.
“[Fiesta Hermosa] has been a life changer for my theater company,” Leonard said.