Oyster Fest '14 to be partially fenced, no admission charge: Plan given preliminary approval by Arcata city manager

There will be no 6-foot cyclone fence surrounding the Arcata Plaza for the annual Oyster Festival in June, organizers announced Tuesday afternoon, but there will be a 6-foot "snow fence" alternating with a chain-link fence in front of the bars on Ninth Street from H to G streets. There will be no charge for admission.

"We worked with the city, the board of Arcata Main Street and the merchants," said Debi Farber Bush, a project manager for Greenway Partners, a management consulting firm hired by AMS. "This is the plan that we came up with to be secure and safe."

City Manager Randy Mendosa said the special activity permit process is still underway, but he gave Greenway a preliminary approval.

"I was comfortable with what they were proposing based on the police department's needs for security," Mendosa said. "It's totally different than what was proposed last time, but I think it's a good compromise."

Final approval will be contingent upon review of the whole operation. Mendosa said he hasn't seen that yet.

This year, festival goers will enter the event on Eighth Street, and exit on Ninth Street, Farber Bush said. The festival will focus on local aquaculture, vendors, food, craft breweries, the community and music.

Greenway Partners was hired in November to help Arcata Main Street restructure after the previous executive director was laid off. The festival has been a hot topic ever since AMS decided to charge admission to last year's festival and put up a 6-foot cyclone fence that surrounded the plaza.

AMS board president David Neyra previously said the decision was made for safety reasons and to lower the number of drunk and disorderly incidents, but many downtown businesses and community members have spoken against it.

Greenway Partners surveyed the stakeholders, including businesses along the plaza, Farber Bush said, and asked four questions: Are you open during Oyster Festival? If so, how does you business compare on this day to other Saturdays? Do you feel Oyster Fest has outgrown the plaza? If yes, how do you feel about moving off the plaza?

"Pretty much all of the merchants like Oyster Fest, and they want to do whatever they can to keep it on the plaza," Farber Bush said.

Councilman Michael Winkler, who also is the council's liaison to AMS, said the board is trying to be inclusive and responsive to the community's concerns.

"I think they realized they had lost inclusiveness," Winkler said. He added this year's plan "includes more people" and "responds to the concerns."

Councilwoman Alex Stillman said she thinks this is a good solution.

"It seems like all in all it has to be good for the participants on both sides -- those that didn't want a fence and those that did want a fence," Stillman said. "It seemed very sensible and it seemed like it would meet people's concerns."

According to Farber Bush, the event has grown from 1,000 people attending the first year to an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 attendees in recent years.

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or lrodriguez@times-standard.com. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.