In closed session Monday after threat of undisclosed legal action against the city, Solvang City Council members voted 5-0 to terminate the city’s contracts with the Solvang Chamber of Commerce and Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau.
The agencies will be provided a 30-day notice of termination. The council also authorized the city attorney to meet with the SCVB and Chamber regarding “moving forward with any future action.”
The decision came two weeks after the council’s annual budget review session in which members voted 3-2 to cut drastically the budgets of both nonprofit organizations. At that meeting, two council members, Chris Djernaes and Daniel Johnson, dissented in favor of further cuts, with Djernaes calling for complete defunding. He also requested the city put services performed by these two agencies out to bid.
Monday’s contract terminations could save Solvang $750,000 if it does not renew contracts with either agency or a replacement agency.
During public comment following the announcement, David Rasmussen pleaded for the council to continue funding tourism marketing.
“You have one of the best executive directors in the state, but you haven’t been here looking long enough to really realize that. So I ask you all, Ryan as a friend, Robert as a brother, to keep the Solvang Visitors Bureau going,” he said.
SCVB Board of Directors President Kim Jensen and former city council member Ed Skytt lashed out at the council for its decision.
“Right now I have absolutely zero respect for the Solvang City Council,” Skytt said.
Jensen noted Djernaes and councilman Robert Clarke had based their decisions on information gleaned in “15 minutes of looking on an internet” and talking to unnamed sources. He requested that Djernaes provide to the public the information upon which he based his decisions and Clarke name his sources.
Jensen also addressed what he called actions the council took “on a whim” over the past two meetings: authorizing a $25,000 expenditure to an upcoming bicycle event; increasing city funding from $2,000 to $10,000 for Atterdag Village; refusing to fund Wind Ensemble at all.
“If that’s your style of how we’re going to be running this business here of tourism, because you’re doing it on the fly, I want to see your plans, because you haven’t provided one plan yet. Let’s hear what you’re going to do,” Jensen said.
Skytt barely contained his outrage.
“I am absolutely appalled by the way you people have acted today in regard to the SCVB and the Chamber. You are a bunch of chicken-ess SOBs. You have virtually no idea of what the tourism council does in the city or the amount of income that is generated by the tourist industry,” Skytt said.
He noted that he believed no sitting council member had any experience in the tourist trade.
“And now you want to … hire a new firm who has absolutely no history with the City of Solvang, has no history of what we have gone through over the last 35 year to bring Solvang to what it is,” Skytt continued. “You are going to be up ess-creek without the paddle because we will drop off on our bed tax, we will lose bed tax revenue, we will lose sales tax revenue and we’re going to lose market share to other communities in the Central Coast area, and then you’re going to wonder how come we have a shortfall of money. It might not be in the next six months, but it will be within a year.”
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office will continue serving as the police department for four cities after the Board of Supervisors approved the contracts Tuesday but not before questions were raised about subsidies and cost recovery. Meeting in Santa Barbara, supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the contracts for law enforcement services in Buellton, Solvang, Goleta and Carpinteria for a term of four years, with one two-year extension allowed.