More about the Asparagus Festival’s demise


Overstaffing? Or a necessary show of force? Six Stockton police oficers confront a gangster at the Stockton Asparagus Festival.


— An issue not touched on in the Asparagus Festival story or my column is whether the festival board should have replaced festival Director Kate Post rather than ending the festival.

Mind you, I’m not recommending that course.  But faced with drastic reduction in attendance, and two money-losing years, a board might be expected to consider a range of responses.

 But, “That was never discussed, to be honest with you,” said board member Douglass Wilhoit. “We have confidence in Kate.” 

The board’s disinclination to fundamentally re-think all the festival’s premises makes one wonder whether the board may have lost the creativity or the will necessary to re-invent the festival.

— The festival’s biggest cost was police, raising questions about possible overstaffing and ways to cut costs. Citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, a Stockton Police union rep said through the department’s spokesman that it is illegal for sworn police officers to volunteer as sworn police officers.

Also that police can’t even agree to work at a reduced rate.

I’d like to get a second opinion on that.

 — A hidden factor in the controversial decision to move the festival from bucolic Oak Grove Regional Park to downtown Stockton was the County of San Joaquin. The man then in charge of county parks, David Beadles, hated the festival’s impact on Oak Grove Regional Park … or hated the extra workload. Beadles wrote Supervisors a long, woe-is-me memo arguing that the festival was costly and destructive. Supervisors decided to jack up the cost to the city.

— But then, many city officials wanted to bring the festival downtown anyway, said Gary Podesto, Stockton’s mayor 1997-2004, whom I called.

“Mark (City Manager Mark Lewis) and I — and, I think, some of the council members, not just me -— thought this ought to be another thing to enhance revitalization downtown,” Podesto recalled.

But while leaders were gung-ho to revive downtown — for which they deserve credit — simply moving downtown alienated many Stocktonians.

From a Sacramento Bee story:

“Dan Scott, who grew up in Stockton and now runs Sacramento’s Beer Week, said the event lost its luster after it moved from a wooded park on the north end of town to the urban waterfront site. Wilholt said the event outgrew the park, and development of that area would have made keeping it there impossible.”

“I’m not surprised” that the event ended, said Scott. “I haven’t been in a decade.”

I, too, preferred the park for its natural beauty. Many other Stocktonians perceive downtown as unsafe. Perhaps still others associate it with years of bad governance — and rightfully so.  

— The key goal to my mind is to bring it back as soon as possible. Someone needs to be a leader in this effort. We should expect someone on the council to step up. This is a litmus test for council leadership.

Podesto agreed.

“There’s got to be somebody looking for a way to get things done as opposed to not getting anything done,” he said.


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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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