STOCKTON – Loyal Stockton Asparagus Festival participants have been voicing their anger over the festival getting speared after 29 years.

CBS13 dug deeper to find out why the city’s signature festival couldn’t be saved.

According to the Asparagus Festival’s longest-serving board member Doug Wilhoit, the festival board cut $200,000 from its budget, but still spent $1.2 million putting on the event this year.

Stockton’s bankruptcy filing made it impossible for the Asparagus Festival Board to ask for loan forgiveness or an extension. The festival had to pay to close Center Street for three days, hire police for public safety and more.

“We had to pay our obligations this year, plus we want to give some to charity,” said Wilhoit. “It was about $138,000, but it went down the Friday, because we had so much rain we didn’t need that many police. Our expenses are police, fire, public works, and parks and recreation.”

Bank of Stockton’s archive manager Bill Maxwell has documented the Asparagus Festival and was a volunteer for years with the Arts Commission.

“If you had volunteers, they got credited for hours and got x-amount of dollars,” said Maxwell, who said the festival got too big at its downtown location and suggested a smaller event that didn’t need to close streets.

Wilhoit said a smaller festival benefiting fewer charities would still have big spending problems.

“You still have to do all the tents and expenses, so you’d have to charge more for the entry fee if there’s also entertainment,” said Wilhoit.

Another disappointed festival participant is David Diskin from the Stockton Area Atheists and Free Thinkers. Diskin said his group fought for years to have a booth in the Asparagus Festival. SAAF was awarded a booth the past three years and saw its own membership increase.

“I’d say every year it was consistently 10, 20, 30 new members,” said Diskin.

He suggests a change of venue for the Asparagus Festival.

“What I’ve heard from other people is that it wasn’t as enjoyable as when it was at Oak Grove Park,” said Diskin.

Wilhoit said moving the festival back to Oak Grove Park wasn’t a feasible option now that the highway was expanded.

“Once it became a four lane highway, there’s no way to close 8 Mile Road like we did before from I-5 to Thorton,” said Wilhoit, who pointed out the park would have flooded during this year’s heavy rain.

Wilhoit also said the cost of public safety would have gone up in order to pay three agencies: Stockton Police Department, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, and California Highway Patrol.

The Stockton Asparagus Festival’s board of directors said the festival’s close is not in any way related to the cancellation of this year’s San Joaquin County Fair.

“This is run by a separate board of directors appointed by the Governor of the State of California,” said Wilhoit, who said the organizations still link to each other’s websites for community support.

“They’re totally separate from the asparagus festival. We’re run by a board of volunteers. The true San Joaquin County fair is actually the Lodi Wine and Grape Festival.”

And suspending the Stockton Asparagus Festival for a year was also not an option for its board.

“The problem is, where do you get the money for the start-up?” said Wilhoit.
“We haven’t had a sugar daddy or a Fairy God Mother say, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you…’ – now, let me make this clear, we talked to several people before we made this decision. No one stepped to the plate.”


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