In Palm Springs, California, city officials and a group representing most of the city’s hotel owners and managers pulled the plug on American Heat, the almost-annual downtown fall street festival attended by several thousand motorcyclists.
They did it because they were worried that Palm Springs could have an incident similar to the one in Waco, Texas, in May, when fights between outlaw motorcycle clubs resulted in nine deaths, 18 injuries, about 200 arrests and the confiscation of a large number of weapons.
Years ago, Canon had a popular series of camera commercials claiming that “image is everything.” That’s still a debatable theory, but apparently a lot of people believe it.
The American Heat weekend does not cater to the outlaw element. It is designed as a family event built around stunt shows, retail vendors, live entertainment and a variety of activities and a portion of the proceeds is donated to area charities. One regular participant said it is “kind of like a swap meet” and while some members of outlaw clubs do attend they generally are well-behaved.
There have been no violent incidents during the events and Palm Springs Police Sergeant Harvey Reed told The Riverside (California) Press-Enterprise newspaper that there had been five arrests last year and eight in 2013. But, Reed said, “the potential is there, whenever you get a certain mix of individuals.”
That seems to have been an underlying belief among community and law enforcement leaders over the years. The event was cancelled in 2002 following a fatal fight between outlaw clubs during the Laughlin (Nevada) River Run but was held in 2008 even though the police again expressed worries about violence.
This time, that reasoning apparently swayed Palm Springs Resorts as well. Aftab Dada, the chairman of the corporation that represents the major hotels in the area and is one of the American Heat sponsors, said in June the police department had discouraged holding the event because of the scepter of violence.
Dada, who’s also the general manager of the Hilton Palm Springs, said Palm Springs Resorts was concerned because “if there was a fatality either to one of our citizens or one of our tourists that will not bode well for our brand.”
The Palm Springs City Council at its meeting on July 1 requested a staff review of the event, scheduled this year for October 23-25, and shortly afterward announced that it was withdrawing its $26,500 share of the $40,000 sponsorship package it shared with PS Resorts.
The neighboring community of Cathedral City offered to provide a new home for American Heat, on either a temporary or permanent basis, but could provide only limited financial support.
Roadshows Entertainment promoter Randy Burke said there was not enough time remaining in which to secure the additional sponsorship needed to cover the costs of security (about $40,000) and other expenditures to hold the event at either venue this year. Burke is focusing on Street Vibrations Fall Rally coming up this September 23-27 in Reno, NV.
Cathedral City Mayor pro tem Greg Ellis feels American Heat would be a positive addition to the annual community calendar. He told the Palm Springs Desert Sun newspaper that “the people who ride and participate in these events are doctors, lawyers, dentists. These are people with a lot of disposable income. They are not the gangster gangs that I think is a fear that people might have.”
Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet evidently fits in that category. He called the decision to withdraw support of the event “a wise move at this time.”
The postscript to this is that all sides have said they would like to see American Heat return next year. Evidently the image will be different then.