By Will Fritz
Staff Writer 

County representative meets with Fallbrook leaders about event ordinance


Last updated 3/13/2020 at 4:28am

Fallbrook locals met with San Diego County officials Thursday, March 5, to discuss proposed updates to county rules regarding special events.

The county has been working to get feedback on new ordinance governing regulations for event permits since last year.

At the Thursday meeting, which was held at 10:30 a.m. at the Fallbrook Regional Health District’s boardroom and included members of the Fallbrook Community Planning Group and local organizations and nonprofits, Murali Pasumarthi, traffic engineering manager for the county, explained that county staff were looking into revising rules that have been in place since the 1960s to make it more difficult for outside entities to come into unincorporated communities like Fallbrook and hold events that would have an impact on the area with little public input.

“Fallbrook was one of the communities that was impacted by people from outside, for-profit companies coming in and organizing the events using the same (events) ordinance as a basis and it was getting to a stage where neighborhoods were getting shut off, people had to park their vehicles overnight on side streets, walk a mile and they cannot come into their own homes or they cannot leave their homes while the events were happening,” Pasumarthi said. “It made us go back and look at that 1960s ordinance and see, does it have enough teeth to be able to have these outside entities come and engage with the affected residents?”

Some of the initial revisions, though, drew ire from community members at first, prompting Pasumarthi’s visit to Fallbrook.

“One of the things that we had said in the first draft before we heard from you all is that we wanted you to get a licensed engineer to certify that the traffic control plans were appropriate and that we would not be liable for those traffic control plans, but we heard from you and that it’s going to be very costly for you to go and get that,” Pasumarthi said. “What we are proposing now in the new revision that we have come up with is, if the event has not changed the location, if the event has not changed how it’s handled from the years before, and if we had previously approved your permit for the same type of event, we will continue to do that without asking you to go and get a licensed engineer to staff it, because we have already developed those plans years before.”

Another point of contention with the original plan was an attempt to categorize events by size.

“We had initially put into three buckets that said it’s small, medium (and) large, like french fries, but it doesn’t work like that,” Pasumarthi said.

Pasumarthi said that in working with Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce CEO Lila McDonald, he’d learned that event area doesn’t always correlate with the number of people attending events. One example he gave was the Fallbrook Avocado Festival, which can attract upward of 100,000 people but takes place in a compressed area of downtown Fallbrook.

Perhaps the issue that receive the most contention, though, was the fact that county staff included references to fees for processing event permits in the initial draft.

“The biggest concern was the perception of the word, and the wrong word that we used,” Pasumarthi said.

He explained that a county policy requires all staff, as they go about drafting rules and ordinances, to demonstrate “full cost recovery” – meaning when the ordinance is brought before the board of supervisors, they must see the exact cost of everything proposed, in terms of staff hours or other costs, even if the board ultimately decides to simply eat the cost rather than charge any fees.

“If it is a neighborhood block party or an event that has occurred over and over and over again in the previous years and we have a good history and record of it, it’s costing us about $450,” Pasumarthi said.

“If it is a large event, a bicycle event that’s transgressing through 18 different municipalities and the state and the county and everywhere else, it’s costing us about $650. That’s the real cost to the taxpayer in processing the permit … (staff are) checking to make sure that you have the CHP and the sheriff’s office approval or not. And they’re doing a lot of legwork in the background and its costing time and consequently money to the taxpayer to process these permits.”

Gas tax funds pay for Department of Public Works staff, but Pasumarthi said the board of supervisors must still be given the option to charge for costs, even though they may very well not take that option.

“The options could range anywhere from the board of supervisors directing us to say, ‘Continue using the gas tax money you have been using over decades to pay for it and have the applicants get these free permits on one end,’” Pasumarthi said. “To the other end and say, ‘No, we don’t want you to do this. We want you to charge every applicant and charge a fee,’ to something else. A hybrid option could be that you will waive the fee for all the neighborhood block parties and the nonprofits and charge the for-profits.”

McDonald said efforts have been made to make county Supervisor Jim Desmond, whose district includes Fallbrook, aware of community members’ desires.

“Our duty is to let the supervisor know that we don’t think nonprofits should be charged,” McDonald said. “And I would also recommend that we contact all of the supervisors. Not just Supervisor Desmond, but Kristin Gaspar and Greg Cox – the more they hear, because some of the supervisors, their districts are not really unincorporated areas, so they will need to hear from those of us who are in the unincorporated areas who this will affect.”

Pasumarthi said the next steps are to present revisions made to the ordinance to the Fallbrook Community Planning Group and other such groups around the county and present it to the board of supervisors as soon as August.

The county is planning to continue community outreach on the ordinance through April and asked anyone with comments to email [email protected] or [email protected]

The county Department of Public Works will also be holding a public workshop at its office, Thursday, March 19, from 2-3 p.m. to discuss the updates and address any concerns.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at [email protected]


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