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Date of last update: 01/19/07

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Community-Based Environmental Risk Reduction

Tales from the Cities

Success Story: Controlling Alcohol Problems at Public Events

"Our carnivals in past years have been plagued with alcohol and drugs," says Mendota city clerk Brenda Carter, as she reflects on the annual community festival. "People were walking everywhere with open containers. There were fights, brawls, broken glass bottles everywhere." And the 2003 carnival? "300% better than the one last year and the one before and the one before that."

What made the difference? The "Alcohol Safe Events" section in the Community-Based Planning for Environmental Prevention binder (The Binder) provided at an EMT prevention training by Dr. Friedner Wittman the previous May. According to Ms. Carter, all she had to do was follow the easy steps in The Binder and the results were remarkable.

Mendota, the cantaloupe capital of the world, is an agricultural city located in the heart of the Central Valley.

Before Brenda applied lessons from The Binder, a local non-profit was in charge of the annual event, originally established to celebrate the harvest and provide entertainment for Mendota's permanent residents and its thousands of migrant workers who come each summer. Beer was sold freely for $1 per plastic cup, and people were allowed to bring beer of their own in glass containers. There were no restrictions on where one could take alcoholic beverages during the four-day festival. Out-of-town vendors operated booths for food and souvenirs; none of the profits were shared with the city or local community groups.

Once Brenda Carter saw The Binder, she knew what she could do. She gathered community leaders, local non-profits, and residents and asked them what they would like as a theme. The answer: "Family".

The course was clear after that. To ensure a safe and enjoyable carnival, the community needed to be involved in every aspect of the planning process. She approached the city council for a loan for the up-front costs of the event, contacted a carnival company for the rides, and then did some serious community organizing. Local groups such as Mendota youth recreation, which oversees the local soccer teams and little league, and other youth, church, and sports groups agreed to sell tickets for a percentage of the profits, after a pre-agreed amount went to repay the city for the loan and other costs. Other local organizations paid a small fee to the city for booths to sell food, non-alcoholic beverages and souvenirs. Bands were contracted. A local beer distributor agreed to pay a $2,000 sponsor fee and agreed to take back any unopened cases after the event. Local residents sold tickets, with the top two female sellers crowned queen and princess of the festival.

The alcohol policy at work:

The city set up and oversaw operations of a beer garden, complete with ID checkers, wrist bands for those over 21 and staffed with city employees. Purchases were limited to two drinks per purchaser; beer was not allowed outside of the beer garden. IDs were checked at the entrance, and no one was allowed who could not provide identification. Beer was sold in 16 oz plastic bottles, to avoid problems with glass. Hours and days of operation were limited to Saturday 1-10 pm, Sunday 1-8 pm, leaving Thursday and Friday events, including the teen dance on Friday night, alcohol free.

The event lasted four days. Thursday was opening night, at which the top female ticket-sellers were crowned queen and princess. Friday night was a teen dance open to the public; this was a no-alcohol event, with music free of charge (it cost $40 per person the previous year). Saturday and Sunday were the main days of the carnival, with rides, booths and the open beer garden.

And how did the economics work out? The city charged a $125 booth fee to all organizations who had food, game or gift booths, a substantial amount less than the previous organizer charged. The arrangement was for the city to be reimbursed for insurance, employee time, and the up-front loan. Costs included the bands (music was provided free of charge to all attendees), a play area for children, carnival vendor, insurance, and security, provided by private security guards and the local sheriff's department. Due to volunteer efforts of the community and local merchants, the low cost of booths, a much higher turnout from the local residents, beer sales and sponsorship, a local youth sports organization made $6,000, while the city made an impressive $18 and the chamber of commerce pulled in $341.88.

They had the 2004 festival recently, sponsored by the City of Mendota and Mendota Youth Recreation. This event was completely alcohol-free, and there was double the attendance of last year. It turns out that having alcohol actually isn't essential to a successful community event - quite the opposite, if Mendota is any indication. Vendors from other cities complimented the City on having an alcohol free event and stated they were going to their councils to get them to do the same. The City made a net profit from the 2004 event of $518, up approximately $500.00 over last year -- without alcohol. The improved turnout, increase in numbers of families and decrease in alcohol-related problems have proved to the city that alcohol can actually be a detraction from a successful community event.


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