Fencing Paso Wine Festival may risk city deed

July 28, 2008


A six-foot-high chain link fence erected around the perimeter of Paso Robles City Park for the city’s annual Wine Festival appears to contravene a key component of the benefactor’s original deed requirements.

Event sponsors and officials, however, say they remain unconcerned and plan no changes.

James Blackburn, brother of Daniel D. Blackburn, one of Paso Robles’ founders, gave the land to the city for use as a public park in 1886. One of the grantor’s requirements for transfer of the deed to the city was that the parkland always be available for public access and use. Violation of the deed’s provisions would jeopardize the city’s 122-year stewardship of the property and could even cause the park’s ownership to revert to the grantor or his heirs.

Any commercial use of the park is specifically prohibited, according to one of James Blackburn’s granddaughters. Carolyn Maxwell wrote to city officials in August 1947, at a time when the very same issue was being debated in a much smaller Paso Robles.

Mrs. Maxwell addressed the question in her letter and said her opinion was shared by her sister, Maymie Burns. The letter read in part: “I have been asked if there were any restrictions as to what [the city] could do in the park. The park was given to the city of Paso Robles when the town was laid out for park purposes only. It is not to be commercialized in any way. If such should happen, it [the park] would revert to the original owner or heirs. Knowing the interest that the people of Paso Robles have for the park, I would not want to see them make a mistake.”

The fence has been part of the festival for the past two years, and the event has undergone significant and controversial changes during that period.

In previous years, the Wine Festival was an open event, with park access for all, and participation in festival tasting was by ticket purchase. At the outset, seven tastes from different wineries was the limit. That limit was later increased to 10 as the number of North County wineries mushroomed.

In 2007, sponsors of the Wine Festival– with City Council endorsement – made several significant changes to the event, including the fence; tiered admission prices ranging from $55 to $125; prohibitions against baby strollers and ice chests; and initiation of an all-you-can-drink policy for top-pier ticket holders. The event evolved from pedestrian and public to patrician and private.

Many of the festival’s changes have generated controversy among many local business owners, but none have had more impact than the fence, and what some are calling the “the drink-‘til-you-drop theme.” A number of restaurants, saloons and other businesses adjacent to the park close down during the festival rather than deal with human fallout from the event.

“They get drunk over at the park and then want to use our facilities. Every year some of them throw up on our premises,” said Ron French, co-owner of the historic Pine Street Saloon, one of the businesses that shutters during the wine event.

Paso Robles city officials work with a wine and tourism industry panel called the Wine Festival Committee to plan and operate the festival. Fencing the Wine Festival is attributed to lobbying by two committee members, the late Tom Vaughn and Paso Robles attorney Tom Madden, during lengthy discussions about adapting the festival to the future. Madden said the decision was “a communal one.”

“We all decided to make the event more pleasurable for those coming to the Wine Festival. It just makes it a whole lot more manageable,” said Madden. “People were even bringing their own alcohol under the old rules. We’ve come a long way” since the festival started in 1983.

Madden said he doesn’t see the park’s fencing or use during the Wine Festival as a commercial enterprise.

“We don’t sell a product. The purpose is to promote the Paso Robles area,” he said. “This is not an abusive audience. We have had no history of that. This is a very sophisticated audience, people who want to educate themselves about Paso Robles wine. There is no problem for police.”

One longtime Paso Robles resident said there is room for reasonable disagreement about the fenced festival.

“It is and it isn’t (a commercial use of the park],” said Dick Reddick, former owner and editor of the Paso Robles Press. “I do not like to see government facilities misused. But in this case… well, you’ve got strong arguments on both sides, very strong.”

Reddick reported on early meetings in 1983 when plans for the original Wine Festival were discussed.

“It was a little different then, when we only had a few wineries,” said Reddick recently. (Seventeen wineries poured at the first event; this year, there were 99.) “At that time, everyone was interested in it, seeing it as a good way to help the town. It would help the tourist income, people thought, and it certainly has. It was a good idea and project back in the beginning.”

Reddick said he understands why some people are upset by the Wine Festival’s fencing of the park.

“Is the Wine Festival a commercial use? Yes, it is,” he said. “But there are other factors to be considered. The event certainly is important to employment, and to the progress and prosperity of the area. If another location would be better, I don’t know.”

Christopher Taranto, communications director for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, said he “certainly understands” why some residents might be unhappy about the fence, and that the decision to fence the park was “made by the City Council.”

“We presented it to the city. Then it was up to them to make their decision,” said Taranto. He said the grantors of the original park deed “probably didn’t envision anything like the Wine Festival. It would have been hard to imagine back then what this event would become.”

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Member Opinions:

By: Anonymous on 8/23/08

Next time they fence off the park, they should throw all the "medical" potheads in with the winos. And then lock the gates. And never open them again.

Just a thought.

By: Anonymous on 8/16/08

"…the rule of wealth–the religion of gold. This is the obvious and natural idol of the Anglo-Saxon."

–The House of Lords

By: Anonymous on 8/1/08

"People say law but they mean wealth."

Ralph Waldo Emerson American essayist, poet and philosopher (1803-1882), and thats the way it is.

By: Anonymous on 7/30/08

Thanks Karen and Dan,

I notice that you just deleted the "I always dreamed of living there post". I'm glad you are starting to administer this site. When a post serves no purpose what so ever it's a good idea to delete it.

By: Anonymous on 7/30/08

To Administration – take it easy. I'd bet ten bucks that the poster in question does, in fact, live in the north county. Take it for what it is – harmless words. You encourage 'em by getting upset.

By: Anonymous on 7/30/08

There is "I always dreamed of living there" again!!! This post serves no purpose and should not be allowed. This has come up many times. This person simply attacks all North County residents and degrades the integrity of this site. You have to start implementing "some sort of rukes". You have great reporting and the bogs are interesting but people like the above stated make SLO county look like a bunch of deep south trailer park trash. New peopel are logging on here all the time. You have to adminstate this site to some degree.

By: Anonymous on 7/30/08

I'm still waiting for one of the "south of the grade" crowd to condemn this asshole. Where is the love?

By: Anonymous on 7/30/08

As a former, disgraced, impeached President of the USA might say, "It depends on what the words 'Always be available for public use' means."

I'm sure that he would also be able to explain how the word "sophisticated" could ever be associated with the wine festival.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Let's schedule the car show and the wine festival on the same weekend. Evidently from reading this blog the wine people have been declared sophisticated. I guess it's ok to drink wine and then puke all over the city. I guess I'm to assume that the car folks are unsophisticated. The difference I see is that the wine sophisticats don't know what they are doing and can't handle their wine. But then we have the unsophisticated car folks. By looking at their beautiful cars it's evident that they really are the sophisticated ones. Bring the car folks back to town and the sophisticated wine tasters can stay at the wineries.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

This sort of reminds me of Cal Poly, the "dry" campus. If there is an opportunity to make a buck, the campus suddenly is not dry anymore. I guess a major tool that administrators use to loosen money from potential donors is to get them drunk first. It's really sad that there is always a way around the rules if there is a buck to be made.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

How about we bring the car show back and send the winos to Santa Maria?? Just a thought.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Build the fence and they will come!

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Can the gang bangers come in if they have the $125?

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Paso Guy is easily amused.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

I find it ammusing that this blog is all about the north county. Why is that? Is there nothing newsworthy happening south of the grade?

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

With the fence and crowd control, the next event could be Adult World tasting.

After all they go hand in hand. Que Paso, Robles, no es natural para familia.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Drunk in public is drunk in public, fence or not, (unemployed) street washer or chief of police.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

If the profit goes to charity or the city it is not a commercial event. If the profit goes to the wineries or to an organization to promote the wineries business then it is a commercial event. If it is commercial take it to the Mid-State Fairgrounds.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

this is not news…is there a word for "cyber-fishwrap"?

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

The park is for everyone. The fence is in violation of a trust.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

They could upgrade the fence with an electrical feature. Then install it around the tent city jail that they need to build to control their gang bangers.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

It would be nice if Wal-Mart would donate the land that the city bullied the land owners into selling to the Rottman Group for a vineyard.Sounds like Paso could use a little help with it's landuse.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

At least somebody is buyilding the freeking fence!

Ask them to go to our borders and do the same!

These illegal alliens are destroying America!

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Too bad Ronald Reagan isn't still around.

Wouldn't it be nice to see him give a speech at the Carnegie Library and repeat his famous statement. "Take down this fence,"

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

"“They get drunk over at the park and then want to use our facilities. Every year some of them throw up on our premises,” said Ron French, co-owner of the historic Pine Street Saloon, one of the businesses that shutters during the wine event."

I find that statement very funny . Paso has a moratorium of business owners hosing off the sidewalks to save water. The drunks that exit the Pine street Saloon are all the time barfing on the sidewalk of the neighboring businesses and the city will not allow them to clean it off by hose. Pot, meet the kettle.

By: Anonymous on 7/29/08

Let me see if I've got this right: Paso Robles gets rid of a family-friendly, fun-for-the-masses event like the cruise night. Then, we find out they've fenced off the PUBLIC CITY PARK to hold an event that costs AT LEAST $55 TO ENTER. Anyone willing to come up with $125 can drink till their eyes bubble, under the benevolent sanction of the powers that be.

I take two lessons from this story: 1) Wine rules Paso Robles, and 2) As long as you have enough money, the city government is willing to put up with almost any amount of piggish behaviour.

Interestingly enough, I don't recall any businesses having to close down during cruise night; in fact, most business owners were outraged that the city cancelled the event.

Oh, one more lesson learned: it seems the plebians have a lot more self-respect and decency than the "sophisticated audience" attending the bacchanal in the park. At least the car show was never confused with a Babylonian orgy.

By: Anonymous on 7/28/08

I used to be very into the whole Paso wine scene. Then it got to full of itself and with issues like the fence they are driving people away.

A lot of the so called sophisticated wine people are full of themselves. Take down the fence or move the event. The old days of hanging out with Art Norman and some of the other oldies is long gone. Too bad.

Have the event at the fair grounds and leave the pakr open.

By: Anonymous on 7/28/08

“They get drunk over at the park and then want to use our facilities. Every year some of them throw up on our premises,” said Ron French, co-owner of the historic Pine Street Saloon, one of the businesses that shutters during the wine event.

Mmmm, that's good irony. Maybe the fence should be topped with razor wire so the park can also serve as the drunk tank.

The event evolved from pedestrian and public to patrician and private.

That's some precious alliteration, but I don't know. Tossing your cookies onto the floor of the Pine Street Saloon restroom because you've been guzzling the 2008 Martin and Wyerich white zinfandel sounds pretty pedestrian to me. Patrician breeding would have taught them to unleash their technicolor yawn over the side of the S.S. Monkey Business into Cape Cod Bay, then set sail for Chappaquiddick Island. When I've viewed the Wine Fest (from a discrete distance), it looks plenty retail to me, which after all is the main disaster that's befallen the wine industry: Joe Sixpack has become Charles Shaw.

By: Anonymous on 7/28/08

Don't you find it interesting that they call the people at the Wine Festival sophisticated, but they have to fence them in, hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

But, I am sure there is a good reason……So they can keep track of them or is it to keep those that are unsophisticated out?

By: Anonymous on 7/28/08

I am related to the founder Blackburns only if there is a piece of the park on the line. Otherwise, no.

By: Anonymous on 7/28/08

Is the author of this article related to the Blackburns who donated land for the park? Should this be disclosed?