by Burris DeBenning
Pyrotechnics, the big kahuna of the Fourth of July Fair and Fireworks event at Ventura College, is a costly and risky affair. A few years ago, several people were injured when fireworks went awry at the July 4th Simi Valley show. Parades, food and beverage festivals and concerts pose degrees of risk.
Both the City and event planners agree to require insurance to cover potential injuries suffered by the public, volunteers and other participants. But just how much insurance is necessary and when are the rules overkill? This is a dilemma that has faced Ventura event planners for a while and does not appear resolved.
Last April, local clubs, businesses and civic groups urged City Council to rethink the levels of liability it requires for property damage and personal liability. According to several organization representatives, the cost of purchasing what the City demands is prohibitive.
To Vincent Giammanco, the promoter of the California Beer Festival hosted by many cities, Ventura asks for the “impossible.” Ellyn Dembowski, Rotary Club president, told the Breeze that the City has an “extreme fear of terrorist dangers at every event that are a serious financial burden for non-profits.” She said, “last year the City was supposed to give us a report on its progress on fixing insurance but hasn’t yet,” and went on to say that the City could lose its beloved fireworks show at the college because of the expensive insurance.
The City begs to differ, however, claiming that its insurance requirements are fair and normal given the kinds of dangerous activities at certain events and the real risks to the public, ranging from fireworks snafus to slipping on a sidewalk curb. The Breeze reached out to Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Foushee who said “we have seen throughout the country that accidents do happen related to festivals, parades and street fairs.” Public agencies typically ask event providers to have an additional insured endorsement to the general liability policy to ensure that the agency has added liability protection should incidents occur. “It is important to understand that without a special events policy with the endorsement, the City takes on risks and any claims that may arise,” said Foushee. Miss Foushee also stressed that the City never wants non-profits to cancel their events, but mandates certain liability policies so these events, where crowds are unpredictable, and alcohol is served, are thoroughly safe.
Councilmember Jim Monahan, a longstanding member of the Elks Lodge that puts on the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, told the Breeze that the Elks have no intention of cancelling or moving this huge Ventura tradition. “The insurance amounts may be a little excessive,” Monahan said, “but it is up to the Council to decide, and right now things are fine.” He said that City Risk Management follows the insurance ordinances passed several years ago, which are in line with the City Attorney’s directions as well.