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Rising Expenses Force Cancellation of Santa Barbara French Festival

Longtime director Steve Hoegerman says there isn't time to pull off the July event after efforts to sell the festival fall through

The Fusion Dance Company danced the can-can during last year’s Santa Barbara French Festival. Th two-day event, featuring a variety of entertainment, would have marked its 24th anniversary in July but has been canceled for a lack of time and resources.
The Fusion Dance Company danced the can-can during last year’s Santa Barbara French Festival. Th two-day event, featuring a variety of entertainment, would have marked its 24th anniversary in July but has been canceled for a lack of time and resources.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

By Alex Kacik, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews |

This year’s 24th Annual Santa Barbara French Festival has been canceled, former event director Steve Hoegerman told Noozhawk on Friday.

The event is one of the largest and longest-running French festivals in the world that has drawn about 20,000 people each year. The two-day festival featured a variety of entertainment, including a grand opera, folk dancing, Cajun and classical groups, can-can and Moroccan belly dancers, Tahitian dancing, a poodle parade and cabaret music in the tradition of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. Hoegerman organized the festival for 23 years but recently passed the gauntlet to Michelle Rodriguez.

“It’s personally devastating; it doesn’t make me happy,” Hoegerman said. “It’s my legacy. It’s unlike most jobs because it’s an extension of what I love and who I am. I would like to see the festival go on into the future.”

He said the event, scheduled for July 16-17, was canceled because of increasing government fees, less sponsorship and the ailing economy. Susan Jang-Bardick, Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation facilities and special events supervisor, said Hoegerman was in the process of selling the festival but the buyer backed out.

“I was hoping to offer a transition that didn’t quite work out, and now it’s too late to pull it off for this year,” he said. “There are ever-increasing expenses from both the private sector and government fees and more paperwork. The nut gets bigger and bigger, and it isn’t a cheap thing to put on.”

Beginning in 2009, the city charges for-profit organizations 20 percent more than nonprofits, which amounted to a $540 difference compared with the two-day Santa Barbara Greek Festival last year, Jang-Bardick said.

“This was at the time the West Beach Music Festival was occurring and people were asking why for-profit companies were paying the same as nonprofit companies, so we adjusted the fees for that,” she said, adding that the French Festival would have cost $3,485 this year compared with $2,715 two years ago. “There are permit fees not only for the park but for county health, electrical and other permits. With all these combined, sure the cost has gone up; everything has gone up over the years.”

The festival not only provides jobs but brings in tourists who spend money locally, generating $3,000 in revenue last year, according to Hoegerman. The city, not only the community, will be missing out, he said.

“It makes people happy,” Hoegerman said. “A French word describes what I am — an entrepreneur, which makes the cogs of this economy run. This year there will be a whole bunch of people whose incomes will go down because there is no French Festival.

“Last year the city raised my fees during the biggest recession since before the Great Depression because the city is looking for more money, and look how much money they will make this year — zero.”

Hoegerman said that when he broke the news, people were saddened and their “jaws dropped,” but he is hopeful the event will happen next year.

“It’s heartwarming to see how beloved the festival was,” he said. “There is a groundswell of people and support, but it’s too late to do it for this year.”

In 1988, the event held at Oak Park featured one stage that Hoegerman had to work to fill. Now, there are three stages that entertainers have to fight for.

“It’s something different and unique,” he said. “It’s an event that has a diverse and quirky personality.”

The festival brings in different cultures that have been influenced by the French, such as the Ivory Coast and Vietnam.

“My goal of the festival is like a multilayered onion — every time someone would turn around and something different would happen,” he said.

Anthony Rock, project superintendent for Cottage Health System, has worked with Hoegerman and the festival.

“The French Festival adds a lot of character, and it’s one of Santa Barbara’s finest events in that really diverse people show up and it has a long-standing history,” he said. “It’s sad it won’t happen this year.”

Hoegerman said he will continue to run his business taking people on trips through Paris, but the French Festival will always be his baby.

“I love France, and I love my festival,” Hoegerman said. “It’s in a real sense my baby and has matured and is beautiful, and I’m proud but sad of its premature end. Sometimes it’s time to let some things go, but last year’s festival was packed, and despite the money flowing through the economy it’s difficult to put on.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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» on 06.17.11 @ 07:18 PM

This really sucks. All because a few people didn’t want the music festival. You reap what you sow Santa Barbara.

» on 06.18.11 @ 01:30 PM

Congratulations City of Santa Barbara for contributing to the demise of another event. Instead of trying to maintain events that help the local economy the City seems intent on just trying to help themselves. When will they learn that these events generate money for everyone - including themselves. Guess they never heard of what happens when you kill the Golden Goose.

» on 06.18.11 @ 02:27 PM

This is really sad. I’m sure they will find another way to do it next year!

» on 06.18.11 @ 09:51 PM

Government fee’s are destroying this nation..Unions are destroying the American work ethic..

Taxes Insurance Trial lawyers and fee’s are killing business, and driving company’s to other states and countries.

All these leeches make a living on your hard labor..

» on 06.20.11 @ 05:57 AM

OH NO!! I was planning on going without a shower for a week prior to the event. What other festival can you do that at now?

Someone want to buy a white flag?

» on 06.20.11 @ 01:35 PM

Validated: That would have to be the German festival - maybe why there isn’t one.
Raising fees - how else can the city afford 200 mile road trips to see the financial data that enabled Santa Monica to reduce their homeless population by 20% between years 2005-2007 and have it unchanged between 2009-2010? (we might use the internet or teleconferencing, but we’re not spending other people’s money)
Raising fees (plus Hornemann’s $150 permit) also enabled Schneider and the city council to drive to the Mesa for a photo op to refuse to allow removal of a tree from a front yard before it’s roots grow through a gas pipe and it destroys a wall and neighbor’s roof. Probably also help pay for Sanchez’s second office on Anapamu and housing for potential police thug recruits.

» on 06.21.11 @ 09:13 PM

It is ironic that the French Festival cannot take place this year because of govt fees. Besides French food and culture, the festival is also demonstrating the consequences of French socialistic policies and big govt ineptitude.

» on 06.26.11 @ 02:45 PM

I’m very surprised to learn that this festival, so badly organized, was “for-profit”. It profited who?

This festival should not be for profit. For theast 23 years, most employees - that is, everybody except the owner - have been volunteers. From the organizers to the sound engineers to the entertainers are unpaid. Also, the entrance is free. Isn’t it the definition of a non-for-profit business?

Someone else should start a new Festival. Either, for-profit or not-for profit. But, if it’s for profit, charge $5 at the entrance and pay the people who help organize and the entertainers who come from all over the country.

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