Selma continues to evolve special events approach

Selma City Council directs staff to look at special event approval process, options for cost recovery to ease burden on community

(Serena Bettis)
(Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published May 10, 2024  • 
10:00 am

SELMA – In order to receive permission from the city to host one of Selma’s longest-standing traditions, the Portuguese Festa, organizers of the event said they have to spend nearly $4,000 to obtain the appropriate permitting, insurance and traffic control requirements. 

Although the festa and its parade will continue on, these costs are eating up 40% of the Selma Portuguese Azorian Association’s budget for the festa, meaning other elements of the event may be cut down, association member Tisha Cardoza said. Selma residents say it’s these kinds of restrictions that make Selma a less desirable place for traditional and pop-up events, which used to be a hallmark of the city. 

“Everybody’s right, we don’t have enough here, we don’t have enough going on in the city, and when we do have things like the carnival, people are getting shot at and … we don’t even want to attend with our children and our families,” resident Lorena Betancourt said. “We need to bring more to the community so we can bring the community together, and all these costs – it’s just outrageous, it’s ridiculous.”

For more than a year, the city of Selma has been working to revise its special events permitting process to make it easier for residents to understand and city staff to process. Part of that work is balancing the city’s need to recover the cost of issuing event permits, as well as the city’s desire to make it possible for the general public to put on an event.

Although the city passed a new special events ordinance in October 2023, it is revisiting the topic to further review what it can do to help residents put on events while ensuring that important safety protocols are being followed. During the May 6 Selma City Council meeting, city staff looked for direction from the council on what else can be changed about the process and heard about community frustrations with the situation.

“As the community has continued to apply for special events, different circumstances have arisen that have made it clear that we need to continue to look at our policy that the council approved to be more flexible and to be more responsive to the community,” City Manager Fernando Santillan said. “Our goal here at the city as staff is to first and foremost help the residents of the community do what they want to do.” 

The special events ordinance dictates the application process, requirements and costs, along with the various elements of an event the city looks at when issuing permits, such as a need for road closures and crowd control, facility rentals, vendor business licenses and county food permits and so on. 

Santillan said that while revising the ordinance last year, the council indicated it would be willing to set aside $60,000 to $80,000 in the city’s budget to help pay for costs associated with events because they provide a general community benefit; but the way the ordinance was written does not allow for the city to do that in practice. 

Deputy City Manager Jerome Keene said the biggest roadblock the city has when it comes to helping residents with these costs is the requirement in the Selma Municipal Code that the city recover 100% of the costs associated with issuing permits for new events. The current ordinance has some exceptions that residents said are helpful, but not enough. 

For example, the special events ordinance designates certain events as “legacy” events, and waives the application fee for these events; however, Councilmember Sarah Guerra said there has been confusion in the community about this, as people have been led to believe that a fee waiver means they will not have to pay for other costs. 

Additionally, the ordinance includes a tiered system that grants some relief to recurring and legacy events — but not one-time or new events — where the city only needs to recover 75% of the costs for events that require some form of city services, and 50% of the costs for events that require no city services. Still, for small organizations, even 50% of the costs can be burdensome. 

Councilmembers agreed that they would like the city to gather historical data on how much it has cost to put on specific events and what kinds of costs the city can and cannot help cover. At a later council meeting, staff members will bring back more information on what it would look like if the city only recovered costs at a certain percentage, starting at as low as 10% cost recovery.

Also brought up was the need for city staff to streamline the special events application process and possibly create a checklist of some sort that residents can easily review. Residents suggested the city hold a workshop or community meeting with organizers of the city’s legacy events so that they can provide their expert perspectives on how the city can continue to improve upon special events. 

“I think it’s a testament to so many people coming out tonight that this is an issue that people are very concerned about,” Mayor Scott Robertson said. “I think the way this has gone has been an evolution. … This is the first step, and I think we need to take that next step that not only takes care of the liability of the city, but meets the needs of the citizens as well at a cost-effective manner.” 

Keene said the special events ordinance revision has been an iterative process, and the city will continue to take a proactive approach to solve this issue. One challenge that was brought up by residents earlier this year was also addressed at the May 6 meeting, as the city council approved an ordinance amendment that will allow vendors at special events to obtain one-day business licenses at a reduced cost of $30 instead of paying $155 for a business license for a full year.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter