‘We’ll Fight to Keep Lilac Festival,’ Community Says

  • Above, Carole Trudeau speaks passionately to about 50 people gathered to plea the need for the family-oriented Lilac Festival this year, ?of all years.? Below, members of the Pine Mountain Scrappers Quilt Guild (front row on left) said they?d been assured the Lilac Festival and parade would be held this year. They?ve already started advertising.

    Above, Carole Trudeau speaks passionately to about 50 people gathered to plea the need for the family-oriented Lilac Festival this year, ?of all years.? Below, members of the Pine Mountain Scrappers Quilt Guild (front row on left) said they?d been assured the Lilac Festival and parade would be held this year. They?ve already started advertising.

By Patric Hedlund

“The Lilac Festival is on. More when I have a plan together,” Realtor Gary Wilson wrote in an email Tuesday, March 3 at 6 a.m., adding: “Thanks for your help.”

Wilson will have the opportunity to say “Thanks for your help” many times to many people in the next two months, because it appears a 26-year mountain tradition has been rescued from the abyss at the 11th hour—and many volunteers will be needed to work together to make its 27th year a success.

At a heated private meeting that lasted until nearly 9 p.m. the evening of Monday, March 2, the board of the Pine Mountain Club Commercial Property Owners Association (CPOA) chose Wilson to coordinate the event—a task that usually begins in January, or before.

Earlier that Monday morning, at 10 a.m., a public meeting of about 45-50 merchants, realtors and community members gathered to protest what many described as a tactic by the board of the CPOA “to run down the clock,” a way of canceling the event without announcing that was their intent.

“Lilac Festival is my best weekend of the entire year,” Sweet Shoppe owner Kim Bucio told the Monday morning meeting, “I need that to stay in business.” Several people spoke of the value to local realtors of the parade and two-day family fair. “We bring friends up for Lilac Festival and they have stayed to buy houses,” three people said, many others nodded.

CPOA board member Mark Bailey called the public morning meeting. He indicated that the board of the commercial property owners association had changed composition in recent years. In a prepared statement he said, “The village merchants are just that—merchants—who are the cornerstone of our community. They are there when you need a loaf of bread, gasoline, gifts or a meal and provide many other services to the community. They are by far the larger of the two village entities, but have no control over how the village is run. The Lilac Festival was conceived by three of the village merchants and it provides a great shot in the arm to the local economy after a typical slow winter.”

But now, Bailey said, merchants are no longer the majority of the property owners. He added that members of the commercial property owners association board who are making decisions that affect the businesses and community are not merchants— and some are not full time residents.

CPOA Board Members

The current board members are Clarice Smith, who is not a merchant. Her husband, Craig Smith— who Bailey reports sits in on board meetings although he is not on the board—is an attorney whose principal practice has been based near the coast in Santa Maria (the couple is reported to own an empty piece of property in the village; they did not return calls requesting comment); Brenda Gordon (whose husband Bruce is also said to sit in on board meetings) is a co-owner of Gordon Construction; realtor/broker Emilie Wainright, who is a property owner and landlord; Roger Reece, pastor of Pine Mountain Community Christian Church; Kathy Sanchez, who owns My Favorite Things and the building housing the hardware store; Mark Bailey, who owns Madd Bailey’s Pub; and Gary Wilson, a real estate broker.

Bailey (who said he has been on the CPOA board for eight years) coordinated Lilac Festival in 2007 and 2008. Rosetta Bergelin stepped down in 2006 after doing “a superb job” for many years, he said.

In his Monday statement, Bailey explained:

“I brought back the skydivers who had been missing the previous five years. The vendors were thrilled and the CPOA made a handsome profit.”

In an email on Tuesday, Bailey said the 2007 Lilac Festival “profited about $14,000 (we had a sponsor) and the 2008 Festival had a surplus of a little over $9,000 with no sponsor.” The money is to be used to upgrade and maintain the nine-acre common area and streets of Pine Mountain Village. But Bailey’s statement continues:

“Shockingly, two members of the newest CPOA board of directors who just happen to be best of friends began grumbling about the festival. That’s when I first heard the notion of canceling the Lilac Festival. They said they felt it was ‘tacky’ and that the Arts & Crafts fair was nothing more than a ‘flea market.’ Obviously the 5,000 or so people who showed up for the 2008 Lilac Festival disagreed….

“When the subject of canceling Lilac Festival was brought up, Gary Wilson, now president of the CPOA, asked ‘But what about the revenue that the Lilac Festival brings to the CPOA?’ That’s because due to the small number of commercial properties, the assessments collected aren’t enough to run the CPOA and it needed Lilac Festival income. These new board members answered ‘from the Wine Festival.’

“The CPOA had just completed its first Wine Festival and the profit was substantial. The Wine Festival was previously put on by the Pine Mountain Village Merchants’ Association, but was taken over by the CPOA. The Wine Festival income now makes Lilac Festival financially expendable in the eyes of the CPOA board of directors….”

Some mumbling about boycotting the Wine Festival was heard in the room at this point in the morning meeting. Most said they wished both events to thrive, but would choose Lilac Festival if they had to choose only one.

Some spoke about the need for affordable family fun in hard economic times. Tamara Smith, co-owner of The Screaming Squirrel restaurant and McClish’s Coffee said, “The Lilac Festival weekend is the kick off for our business year after a long hard winter….” Merchants and members of the community, including the Pine Mountain Scrappers Quilt Guild, said they depend on Lilac Festival for their annual plans.

The Scrappers said they have already invested in advertising for their bi-annual quilt show on television and radio—and that they’d been assured by Wilson that the Lilac Festival would be held this year.

“Our quilt show draws families from throughout Southern California to Lilac Festival,” Linda Morton said.

Christy Cregut of Lockwood Valley said that her family runs a horse rescue operation and that the pony and train rides they bring to the Lilac Festival each year raises funds to take care of abandoned horses. She also said that the Future Farmers of America have a booth there. “This [Lilac Festival booths] is a way for groups to introduce themselves to the community.” Others said it is a place to meet friends, share information and gain support for community causes.

One person suggested that members of the church speak with Pastor Reece, because “he’s a member of the board.”

Richard Hood, of Robin Hood’s Jewelry, said “time is the enemy now,” wondering aloud if there is still time.

Frank Sanchez said, “19 of the 23 property owners aren’t here; they need merchants to be able to pay their rents. You need to talk to your landlords today. If you don’t have business, you can’t pay them rent.”

One woman said “the Red Hat Society is already planning to come here to march in the Lilac Festival parade; that’s already arranged….”

Those who attended the meeting said they wanted to write letters to tell the community and the CPOA how they feel about the need for Lilac Festival.

[Letters from 22 community members can be read here].

Best Lilac Festival Ever

After the dust had settled following the late evening CPOA meeting Monday, Gary Wilson finally broke silence and responded to numerous calls and emails from The Mountain Enterprise seeking comment.

He said, “I am committed to making this the very best Lilac Festival ever.”

Wilson said he needs to efcall upon community volunteers with a wide range of talents, and invites them to write him at Gary Wilson10@gmail.com with the word “Lilac” in the subject line if you are willing to help.

In an email Tuesday morning he wrote: “We have a lot of history to draw upon, and I intend to do so. During these troubled times for everyone I would like to pledge that I will do my best to make this the best Lilac Festival ever and anyone who can help me with that goal would be most welcome. If they want to share their email address with me and their thoughts, that would be great….If they have strengths like making fancy flyers, being able to write good script or have useful connections… etc., I sure would like to know about them. Tell me what they liked about past Lilac Festivals, and what they didn’t like and I will try and incorporate this into the plan.”

In an interview Tuesday, Wilson said he was still drawing up plans as we go to press, but the website for Lilac Festival has been restored.

The question of whether it will be a two-day event with a parade is still being decided, he said.

Two Days or One?

At the Monday morning community meeting, merchants indicated that there is a significant economic difference between a one-day and two-day festival for the vendors.

“The first day pays the vendors’ expenses, the second day gives them their profit,” some merchants explained. They also said they doubted many vendors would keep Lilac Festival “on their annual circuit” if it is changed to a one-day event, leading some to observe that reducing the number of days is “a death by two strokes rather than one,” meaning that by reducing the length of Lilac Festival, it would fall off the vendors’ annual circuit, undoing the efforts of 26 years to establish relationships with vendors.

Local merchants spoke of the need for “a critical mass” of vendors in order to attract the crowds that make the event successful, and which brings traffic into local stores and restaurants.

Realtors and property managers also observed that cabin rentals will suffer if Lilac Festival is not a multiday affair, and that two days gives time for house hunting “when people see what a beautiful but well-kept secret this place is.”

Letters poured into The Mountain Enterprise shortly after the public meeting Monday, March 2 at 10 a.m. to protest the possible cancellation of the 26-year Lilac Festival tradition. Read the letters here.

This is part of the March 06, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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