The Pittsburg Seafood Festival, billed as the largest annual event in Contra Costa, is in danger this year as organizers and the city struggle about who's on the hook for some major expenses.
The festival, a two-day September bonanza that draws crowds estimated at up to 100,000 people, has been a staple of Contra Costa culture for 27 years now. But despite some modest improvement to the local economy, with Pittsburg unemployment slightly down and housing prices stabilizing over the last year, both the city and the festival organizers say they need to tighten their belts again this year. The resulting conflict over who will pay for the festival's demands on police and public works could shrink the festival or even leave it dead in the water, said Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce President Ron Rives.
The chamber is responsible for organizing and paying for the annual festival, but has traditionally relied on the city to pitch in with the extra police patrolling and the strain on public works, Rives said. Last year, he added, the city pushed back and got the chamber to pay for the $31,000 in overtime earned by police officers during the festival.
This year, the city is asking the chamber to cover those costs again and pay about $40,000 for public works, Rives said.
"Last year, Seafood Festival netted about $190,000," Rives said. "We're a small chamber of commerce. We throw a seafood festival and lose $75,000, we'll be out of business."
From the city's perspective, Pittsburg is only asking for a reasonable contribution to the "significant costs" associated with the event.
"We are very, very similar in our costs to the other cities," said Pittsburg City Manager Joe Sbranti. "It's almost as though we got together and planned it. I've been talking with other city managers about their events, the CornFest, the Almond Festival, and when we asked about this, we realized, 'That's within 5 percent of what we charge.'"
The city's request is higher this year than last year because the 2011 festival was co-sponsored by the Pittsburg Arts and Community Foundation to the tune of about $25,000, Sbranti said -- money that likely won't be available a second time.
The city's revenues from sales tax this year are projected to be higher than the city had budgeted -- up almost 13 percent over expectations -- and are projected to improve again next year.
"Much of this increase is due to industrial, food products, auto and gasoline sales," Sbranti wrote in a report to the city council. "Unfortunately, Pittsburg's general retail sales have not yet rebounded," and the city's overall revenue is still down slightly.
Still, Sbranti said, the city is committed to helping find solutions to keep the festival afloat.
"Nothing is off the table. There's no place we're not looking," Sbranti said. "We're looking for cost-saving measures, revenue-generating ideas, volunteerism."
Chamber and city workers sat down this week to again try and find solutions, Rives said.
"We will be discussing how private contractors can do much of the work now done by the city and lower the city's expenses accordingly," he wrote in an email. "I see this turning into a discussion of the viability of the Seafood Festival and the need to re-examine our format and structure."
Contact Sean Maher at 925-779-7189. Follow him on Twitter at @OneSeanMaher.