Antioch Council splits on street closure for church’s annual Halloween event
By James Ott
A local church made an unsuccessful, last minute attempt to overturn the city’s initial decision to deny them the ability to close off a street for their annual community carnival this Halloween.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Grace Bible Fellowship of Antioch asked the council members to overturn the city engineer’s decision to deny the church a permit to close a section of Sunset Drive for their “Holy Eve Community Carnival.”
In the end, the city decided that there were too many issues with staging the large event at the suggested location and not enough time to resolve them so the street closure was denied.
The vote was split down the middle with council members Wade Harper and Mary Rocha for and Gary Agopian and Mayor Jim Davis against while Councilman Brian Kalinowski was absent.
Council said that the sheer size of the event and the late pursuit of permission to close the street brought on issues of public safety and potential backlash from neighboring businesses.
Last year the church said they had about 20,000 people when it was staged at the Antioch mall. In previous years people have apparently come from as far as Fairfield, Fremont, Vacaville and Pinole to attend the carnival.
The event was so big last year that the local Starbucks allegedly took in “10’s of thousands of dollars” in sales, something a church representative at the meeting was told was a better sales day than Black Friday.
According to the church’s website, the fair has been held since 2003 and it is such a success because it provides a safe, fun atmosphere for families “on a night that is typically synonymous with heinous pranks and random acts of violence particularly against those who are socially vulnerable.”
The church said they are holding the event at their own church and not a larger venue such as the mall or the Antioch Fairgrounds as in previous years because they have received far less funding from local businesses than they have in years past. As a result they had to scale back this year’s carnival by advertising less and so are expecting less people to attend.
The church said they have written permission from each business within the street closure area. Those businesses apparently gave permission to use their parking spaces for any overflow parking the event might generate.
One of the many issues that surfaced during the council meeting however, was that even businesses outside the planned closure section would likely still be affected by the large amount of vehicles and pedestrians that would potentially block customers.
That’s a problem, Councilman Agopian said, because the issues was an emergency agenda item and so those potentially affected businesses have not had time to come to a city council meeting and give their opinion to city council.
“The reason we have items agendized is so that the other interested parties can come and speak. We have a duty and an obligation to everybody in this city and everybody on this street to do the right thing, otherwise it’s just not good process.” said Councilmember Gary Agopian.
Public safety was also a big concern, especially from the Antioch police who said they did not support the closure of the street.
“The closure of that area is not conducive to public safety,” said Antioch Police Captain McConnell. The captain said that because of Highway 4 construction there is increased traffic on Sunset including heavy trucks. And although the church said they have about 30 people for security and traffic re-direction – some of whom are off duty police officers from neighboring cities – McConnell said that having untrained civilians working traffic would expose the city to “a tremendous amount of liability.”
“We really want to support this because it’s a great event,” said Mayor Jim Davis. But in the end the council just barely missed approving the street closure permit. The vote was split 2 to 2 and so no action could be taken to approve it.
The council however, voted unanimously to allow the event to take place at the new boat launch in downtown pending approval of an administrative use permit. They also agreed to waive any fees for that facility’s use up to $500.
According to the event announcement on the church’s website, the Holy Eve Community Carnival will be held in the church’s parking lot on Sunset Drive.