The trouble with putting on a bike race in San Diego.

The problem with putting on a bike race in San Diego: Why are there so few bike races in San Diego?  It’s pretty simple:   The city doesn’t support them in any way.  In 2010, I wrote about why it costs $10,000 to put on an industrial park crit, in 2011and 2012, I wrote about how it costs $12,000 and then $13,500 to put  on an industrial park crit.   I’ve stopped writing one of those blog posts each year, but I assure you the costs have not gone down.   I’m lucky that I have a good spot on the calendar, and I get enough entries to make the event successful.   Yes, I put a little money in my pocket each year, but it really isn’t much.   Without the support of Spy Optic as title sponsor,  I probably would have called it quits a few years ago.  But recently, I’ve had some additional problems.


Problems after 10 years of racing the “Top Gun” course.

Shortly after the race in 2013, I got a call from the San Diego city permit office, asking me to talk with a business owner who was unhappy with the race.  Lou owns one of the buildings on Top Gun, where the Red Trolley Classic course had been for over 10 years.  He had called the city to express his displeasure at the closure of the road in front of one of his buildings, and claimed that one of the lessees had complained.   There are two businesses on Top Gun that are open the day of the race (typically the same Sunday as the Superbowl), a caterer and a cleaner.  Both businesses had minimal traffic that day, but they and their customers needed to get in and out.   I remedied this by putting up appropriate signage on Flanders that fed the customers through the alley and around in front of the business.    This seemed like a minimal impact of the business and the customers, as the total number of drivers coming in and out was fewer than 20, but this still wasn’t acceptable to Lou.   He was also upset that some of the racers had parked in his parking lot.   I had put up signage (that was summarily ignored by  many racers), but promised to put a person standing there all day in 2014 to be sure that nobody parked in his lot, but that was not acceptable to Lou either.   He made it clear that he wanted us gone, and would fight me every step of the way through the permit procedure.   I later called the City of San Diego permit office, and told them that I thought Lou was being unreasonable, and that I would do whatever I could to mitigate any impact to his business, but that he made it clear that he was going to fight me over the permit no matter what.  The special events administrator at the city basically told me that the permit office would side with the business owner by default; that the business owner didn’t have to prove his business was impacted; that it would be very difficult to get the permit if he wanted to fight me;  and  the fact that I have been holding this event for over a decade carried no weight whatsoever.   She also suggested that I use “the  course that the Cyclovets use” also known as the Hunnekens course.   I’m a very principled man and it ate me up inside to give into this bully, but I decided I would make lemons into lemonade.


Hunnekens and CAF

In 2014 I moved the race to the Hunnekens course.  I worked with Nico Marcolongo, the program manager for CAF Operation Rebound, to use the CAF parking lot as a registration and expo area.  There was only one business owner or representative on the racecourse that had concerns and that was Chris Nicholson, the manager of a lab that was inside the course.   Chris told me that they tested biological samples for Scripps hospitals and that samples needed to be delivered 24/7.    I addressed his concerns by reserving parking for his employees and couriers directly across the street, as well as providing a 4 seater golf cart to offer rides and to help couriers with any large containers.   We didn’t track the number of times a courier needed access to the building that day, but I’m positive that it was fewer than 10.   The event was a great success.  We had record participation numbers, we made a small but meaningful donation to Operation Rebound, and I heard no complaints from Chris Nicholson or anyone else on the course.

Trouble Ahead

I turned in the permit for Red Trolley 2015 in mid-September.   In years past, I would sometimes wait until as late as November to turn in my paper work.  However  a lawsuit against the city over the Sea World fireworks and a subsequent agreement requires an environmental study for each and every special event permitted in the city of San Diego.  These studies take time, and so the permit needs to be turned in earlier than in years past.  I assumed everything was going to go just as well as 2014 until I got a call from Cindy at the special events office.   Apparently Mr. Nicholson was unhappy about the Cyclovets Summer Classic Criterium on September 21, and was asking that no more permits for bike races are approved on Hunnekens street.   Cindy suggested that I find another course and that for all intent and purpose the city was highly likely to side with the Scripps Lab Manager.   I was again informed that neither 10+ year history of the race nor the mutual support between the event and CAF would count for anything.  I immediately called Mr. Nicholson and asked him how I could address his concerns.   Chris told me that the races were disruptive and that walking across the street and getting a ride in the cart was not working.   After a few minutes of discussion, it came down to the fact that he didn’t want his employees to be inconvenienced in any way.  He claimed that the lab had grown, the system we had put in was not working, and that those samples had to be delivered in a timely manner.  My insistence that the samples would still be delivered faster than they could be on any weekday fell on deaf ears, and Chris promised to fight the permits for all future cycling  events on the street in front of the lab.

On the 21st, I was present at the Hunnekens course to volunteer for the race.   I spent about 5 hours out on the course doing whatever needed to be done, and trying to make myself useful.   I spoke with the race organizer after the race and he confirmed that there were a few samples delivered to the lab throughout the day, but that it was fewer than 10 trips made be the courier that day and there did not seem to be any problems.   We also spoke about how we would stick together in an attempt to continue using the course.   On Monday, 9/22 I received a call from a police officer that works with the special events office.  The officer told me that she had heard from the lab manager last week, and she “strongly suggested” that I find another course.   I spoke wither again on 9/23, and she reiterated that if I were to fight for my permit I would most likely lose,  and that I wouldn’t even really get a chance to offer my side of the story any further.

What to do for 2015?

So the officials at the city made it clear that a business owner or manager simply has to claim that they are negatively impacted by a small special event and that the city will side with the business owner by default.  The complainant doesn’t have to prove or substantiate any sort of loss, they simply have to say that they don’t support the event and the event promoter has to prove otherwise.   So now I’m stuck.   If I fight the business manager and lose, I won’t have enough time to apply for a new permit in a new place.  My other option is to give into another jerk, give up on Hunnekens, and search for a new spot:  A spot that is as fun to race as Hunnekens or Top Gun, but where not a single business owner will complain.  I’m open to suggestions.

Do you know anyone that works in high level management at Scripps?

Do you have any ideas for a race course?

Share your thoughts with me via email.