On Thursday, March 12, the city of Highland has canceled the 24th annual Citrus Harvest Festival scheduled for Saturday, March 28, following orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors that mass gatherings be canceled or postponed as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
The cancellation follows an announcement made by Newsom on Wednesday, March 11, that the state’s public health experts recommend the cancellation of non-essential gatherings of 250 people or more until the end of March.
The festival usually draws an attendance of approximately 6,000 spectators and hundreds of vendors.
“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” said Newsom. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease. Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects — saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now. The people in our lives who are most at risk ⎯ seniors and those with underlying health conditions ⎯ are depending on all of us to make the right choice.”
The next day the county board issued a similar order “until further notice” upon the recommendation of the county’s public health officer.
“Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the county, numerous cases have been confirmed in neighboring counties,” the county board stated in a press release. “Large gatherings that attract travelers and other people who don't routinely congregate with each other increase the risk of COVID-19 appearing within San Bernardino County.”
These orders do not apply to regular school classes, work or essential services, the county release states.
"Certain activities are essential to the functioning of our state and must continue," the order states. "Hence, this order does not apply to essential public transportation, airport travel, or shopping at a store or mall. This order also does not apply to congregate living situations, including dormitories and homeless encampments."
Prior to these announcements, the city of Highland’s Historic and Preservation Board, responsible for planning the festival, briefly discussed canceling the event during its meeting of Thursday, March 5. At that time the board decided to prepare additional precautions, such as arranging sanitation stations throughout the festival, and continue to monitor the situation anticipating a possible cancellation.
According to Assistant Community Development Director Kim Stater, the city decided on a cancellation rather than an indefinite postponement.
“If the council decides it’s appropriate to reschedule this at a later date we’ll start fresh and reorganize the event,” Stater said.
The city then began to notify the event sponsors, demonstrators and vendors. The city will also have to work out refunding 142 vendors that had already paid for vendor space. Vendor booths were $200 for food vendors and $40 for non-profits, activities and direct sales.
The last time the festival was disrupted was 1998 when the event was postponed from March to May due to rain. That year the city refunded some of the vendors while many others attended the rain-date event.
According to Stater, it will be some time before city staff will know just how much the cancellation will cost the city.
The festival budget had $18,396 in expenditures. There was also a surplus of approximately $2,000 left from last year's event.
The city had approximately $2,500 in retail vendor booth sales and approximately $2,000 in food vendor sales. An additional $11,000 was raised in sponsorships.
This year’s rain date was for Saturday, April 4, but the city does not anticipate changes in circumstances by then.