The Tuolumne County Transit Agency will use between $1,500 and $3,000 in public funds to pay for free shuttle service to and from a private, for-profit country music festival being hosted at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora next month, despite an advisory committee’s earlier disapproval.
At a meeting Wednesday afternoon, the agency’s board voted 4-0 to provide shuttle service for the Unruly Country Brew N Que Festival on Sept. 30. The event will be the first promoted by Bourbon Barrel owner Doug Kennedy’s Trado Restaurant Corporation.
Earlier in the meeting, the agency also unanimously approved raising the budget for special-event shuttles from $10,000 a year to $16,000 in part to cover rising costs of providing the service.
Those who voted in favor were Karl Rodefer, county supervisor for District 5, John Gray, county supervisor for District 4, George Segarini, a member of the Sonora City Council, and Michael Ayala, former Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce executive director.
Sonora Mayor Connie Williams recused herself from the discussion and vote because she also serves as chairwoman of Stage 3 Theatre, which is being renovated by Kennedy as part of his Sonora Armory entertainment complex on South Green Street that will include the Bourbon Barrel, a retail store and beer garden.
Agency members spoke of the event’s potential economic benefits to the county and City of Sonora in explaining their decision to fund the shuttle, something that’s typically provided only for public, nonprofit events such as the Mother Lode Fair, Mother Lode Roundup Parade and Rodeo, Historic Downtown Sonora Christmas Parade, and Father’s Day Fly-in at Columbia Airport.
“The bottom line is here’s an entrepreneur, here’s a company that’s truly trying to invest in our community in meaningful ways that’s going to help our economy,” Rodefer said after acknowledging the for-profit nature of the event.
Kennedy said in a phone interview this week that he’s invested about $250,000 to produce the event, with $50,000 going directly to marketing efforts throughout California and in the Reno area.
The request to provide the shuttle was previously approved by the agency’s Citizens Advisory Committee by a 2-1 vote, but failed to gain the endorsement of the Technical Advisory Committee because one member was opposed and another abstained from voting.
Tiffany Phillips, social media manager for Trado Restaurant Corporation, told the agency’s board that nearly 2,000 tickets have been sold so far and 4,000 to 5,000 total are expected to attend. She added 60 percent of the ticket buyers are from outside of the county, including Southern California, New York, Texas, Nebraska and Arizona.
“Bringing tourists up not only supports the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau’s vision, but also the Vision Sonora goals,” Phillips said while reading from a prepared statement.
Phillips said that Trado has taken measures to ensure the event is safe, including signing a contract with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office for four deputies to provide a security presence at the event, working with the Sonora Police Department to see if an extra officer can do regular walkthroughs at the fairgrounds, and getting California HIghway Patrol to provide a booth with a breathalyzer.
The company has also begun work on bringing a reggae festival to the fairgrounds in May, according to Phillips.
Lisa Mayo, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, said the bureau’s board agreed to be a sponsor for the event and submitted the request for the shuttle service on Trado’s behalf because of how many people from outside of the county are expected to attend.
“We want people to have a good experience while they’re here and our fairgrounds doesn’t have great parking,” Mayo said. “And if we could encourage people to park somewhere like The Junction (shopping center in East Sonora) and go spend money around the county, I think that’s a great thing.”
Darin Grossi, executive director of the Tuolumne County Transit Agency and Tuolumne County Transportation Council, also expressed his support for providing the free shuttle, which he said would help with pedestrian safety, parking and reduce traffic in town.
Glenn Caldwell, president of the Tuolumne County Business Council, also relayed the organization’s support for the agency providing the service at the event.
The lone voice of opposition came from Sonora resident Carol Doud, who questioned whether providing such a service to a private, for-profit event was appropriate for the agency and warned that it could set a precedent.
“If you’re going to extend this for this event, then in all fairness you extend it to all of the other for-profit events,” Doud said. “I would advise you to take that very seriously.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.