By Brian Cameron
In what was a standing-room-only meeting at the Rockaway Beach City Council on the evening of March 8 the Councilors moved to address the contentious issue of usage of the Rockaway Beach Wayside area for this year’s annual Kite Festival.
Recently it was reported the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce and the City of Rockaway Beach would eventually face off in regards to the usage of the Wayside, the public parking area located in the center of Rockaway Beach that provides a stylish and useful beach access to visitors to the coastal community. The meeting took place at 6 p.m. on March 8 and it was certainly an unusual sight as far as average city council meetings go.
“For almost as long as I can remember,” Rockaway Beach Mayor Joanne Aagaard said. “Rockaway has always had the ability to take the headline when it comes to county controversy.” She addressed to the crowed room, “And here we are again.”
It started with a sense of anticipation for the 40 plus folks who were filling every seat. Everyone was there to see how things would play out in regards to the Kite Festival and whether or not the City would allow the usage despite the ruling last July of Resolution 16-646 that very clearly stipulated the Wayside could not be used for any events on specific holidays throughout the summer. In early February the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce chose to advertise the Kite Festival for Memorial Day Weekend and intended to use the Wayside as the central festival area. This naturally put the event on a collision course with the City Council.
The meeting commenced leaving nothing to the imagination. During the initial comments by the Councilors it went pretty mundanely until it was Councilor Kristine Hayes’s turn to speak. She promptly requested of her other Councilors to add four items to the minutes; the stack of letters she had received in support of the festival, to revisit Resolution 16-646, to address parking in the Wayside and that the Kite Festival application be considered by the council.
Hayes brought up the issue because she herself sits on the board of the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce and the decision will directly effect her work, more so it is she who decided to begin to advertise the event on Memorial Day despite the City resolution that barred the event from taking place in that location. Because the Chamber operates as a non-profit charity group Hayes is not required to recuse herself from the City decisions regarding matters of the Chamber. Though Hayes’s role on the Chamber seemed enigmatic under further investigation as the non-profit’s documents suggested she has acted as Treasurer, Vice President and President as recently as one year ago. No public records of board votes regarding those decisions were readily available. Finishing up her comments she suggested she wanted the public to have a chance to voice their opinion but being that the meeting was not officially open to the public it would not be an acceptable venue for doing so.
“My main goal here is to simply bring people together over this issue,” said Hayes. “To me its about sustainability for our community.”
At one point Councilor Terry Walhood stated she took the time to read 38 letters that were given to her by Hayes and she suggested that only two of them were from area merchants, two from event vendors, four from local restaurants and only one from an actual kite flying contestant. The rest she said were from other people who aren’t directly affected by the Kite Festival, though she conceded that many of them were likely attendees in the past.
The mood in the room reached new heights and the contention was evident when it was suggested by Councilor Jim Doyle that no one was canceling the festival itself and that the vendors themselves were not necessarily part of the festival. Shouts and murmurs from the crowd ensued and the sound of Mayor Aagaard’s gavel shushed the cacophony.
Mayor Aagaard then made the point that during the Kite Festival it is important to have the Wayside available for handicapped visitors as well as general parking availability. Hayes tried to interrupt to address each point but was cut off by the Mayor as it was not an appropriate time to argue.
“The Chamber is bringing vendors whether we get permission to use the Wayside or not,” said Hayes. She also suggested they could potentially put vendors around the Chamber’s red caboose itself in the event they do not get permission from the city to use it.
Shortly after Doyle asked if she had permission from Oregon State Parks to use the beach itself for the kite flying part of the festival, Hayes answered that she didn’t have the actual permission but it was all but certain based on her experience in the past.
After a great deal more of deliberation Mayor Aagaard had had enough and simply ended the line of argument by asking the entire Council if anyone wished to make any sort of change to the City’s original resolution, the response was a resounding “no.”
Nearly half the crowd got up and walked out of the council chambers at that point but during the final comments Hayes again doubled down on her request to add the original four items to the agenda for next month’s council meeting. This prompted Mayor Aagaard to respond out of frustration.
“I am putting a stop to this, this is not going to continue,” said Aagaard. “All this stuff going on is just serving to make people even angrier.”
To finish up the meeting City Councilor Nathan Beeman proposed a more amicable solution.
“My hope here is that when things are said and done, as we progress forward, that we can figure out cross-acceptance between the City and Chamber regarding this issue,” said Beeman.
For this year the Kite Festival will not be allowed to use the Wayside on the day of Memorial Day though if its any indication the event will still take place in one capacity or another.