Hearts were heavy late on Tuesday night when the Half Moon Bay City Council unanimously voted to deny a special events permit for the 2021 Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival after citing concerns over the contagious Delta variant and local vaccination rates.
This marks the second straight year the town’s crown jewel has been canceled. The Pumpkin Festival’s fate also resulted in another lost public event when the city decided to cancel the annual Summer’s End Festival that was scheduled for Sept. 25 at Carter Park.
Councilmember Deborah Penrose said the decision was one of the hardest and saddest things she’d ever talked about on the council, particularly for the dozens of nonprofits who rely on the festival.
“I would love for this to be over,” Penrose said. “I would love it more than anybody else in this room would love it. But it’s not over and it’s not going to be over soon.”
The council acknowledged the efforts of the Beatification Committee, led by President Cameron Palmer, who presented a plan to run a slimmed-down, single-day festival on Oct. 16. Palmer said the Beautification Committee wouldn’t advertise anywhere outside the Coastside nor post about it on social media. The committee also planned to reduce booth and exhibit space by 50 percent to allow for more distanced pedestrian flow.
The committee planned to only allow local vendors and nonprofits at the festival and reduce the size of the venue by half. The committee also had hoped for an on-site vaccination pop-up with Coastside Hope.
There is no state or county mandate canceling outdoor events, and some were optimistic the festival might go ahead given 91 percent of San Mateo County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. But some areas of the Coastside have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the county, according to the San Mateo County Health Department.
As of Tuesday night, Moss Beach is 52 percent vaccinated, El Granada is at 68 percent. Other communities are much higher, like Montara (95 percent) and Half Moon Bay (88 percent). But given this scaled-down event was geared toward locals, the council thought the science pointed in one direction.
“Even if we were able to keep it totally local it would have its risks, with some of the lowest vaccination rates in our community,” Mayor Robert Brownstone said.
Councilmember Harvey Rarback noted if large crowds still come to Half Moon Bay, they’d be in a more confined venue.
“This would be the worst of all possible worlds,” he said. “You have more people in a smaller area, and the potential for a super-spreader event is there. Maybe it wouldn’t happen, but as a responsible person interested in public safety, I can’t in good conscience encourage the festival.”
Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock pointed out that children under 12 can’t get vaccinated yet and given that schools have recently reopened, inviting large crowds into town wouldn’t be safe.
“I’m terribly sorry and upset about it,” Ruddock said. “I worry for our nonprofits and for our artists.”
The council agreed that ideally the festival would have gates at each entrance and require proof of vaccination. Palmer said implementing gates at each entry point would be a serious logistical challenge given that it’s only a few weeks away and there are multiple entry points from public city streets. So far the council is allowing the pumpkin weigh-off to return to the I.D.E.S. Hall in October after running at Long Branch Farms last year.
“There are some logistics that day as well, but not nearly as complicated,” Palmer said.