State Issues

May 10, 2014

Richard Haratani: Who in San Francisco is killing Strawberry Festival?

In the “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Department,” why is a successful small business being handed the death penalty?

In the “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Department,” why is a successful small business being handed the death penalty?

East of the Valley, very near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, sits Camp Mather, which was barely saved from immolation in last fall’s Rim fire. West of the Valley is San Francisco, owners of Camp Mather, which housed the dam builders in the 1920s so that water could be captured and enjoyed by city dwellers 180 miles away. For the past 30 years, brush crews have cleared overgrowth and “fire ladder” vegetation in advance of the Strawberry Music Festival. Each Memorial Day and Labor Day, hundreds of families from every point of the compass gather to share their love of music, nature and each other.

Who paid for this clearing that helped save the historic camp from burning? The Strawberry Music Festival. Over and above hefty use fees!

Now the mystery: The same beneficiaries of having their asset saved can choose to save those who saved them. So far they are declining to do so. The fall 2013 festival was canceled just days before Labor Day because Camp Mather was surrounded by flames. Long after all the entertainment acts, vendors, support crews, health and safety personnel were lined up, brush cleared, tickets sold – poof! Up in smoke.

But wait! To pull this disaster from the ashes, here comes a small-business loan! With this government emergency loan, the festival has a fighting chance to refund ticket costs and slowly recoup its losses. But wait! The loan is contingent on there being a fall festival this year, and guess who hasn’t stepped up to help make that happen? The City by the Bay. While enjoying the bounty of nature and all who have worked to preserve it, San Francisco is sitting on its hands instead of lending them.

It cites water and safety concerns. That’s ironic. The people who for three decades ran a festival known for its safety (parents could actually let their children play!) and who have always been proactive in taking safety measures (water trucks, first aid posts, brush crews) are being thrown into oblivion over issues the festival has addressed from Day One.

There is a history of others wanting to take over the thriving, joyous tradition of Strawberry. Could this be the real motive? Did someone get to San Francisco Parks and Rec? Is this tied to the Rim fire that was started downstream by a still unnamed culprit?

In a world full of problems, this one might loom small, but it has the value of being unique. And it’s an easy fix. Unlike the weather, environment, poverty and politics, this one comes down to a public employee deciding to let a small community survive and contribute to a local economy and perhaps aid global harmony. When jobs, health and happiness are a use permit away, what can possibly excuse a public entity for stonewalling as an innocent and exemplary victim sits on the verge of dying?

Many from the Valley and surrounding areas are asking San Francisco to save the Strawberry Music Festival. The more the merrier. Otherwise someone might have to invite Cliven Bundy to have his cattle keep the vegetation down.

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