By Raiza Giorgi

The Solvang City Council terminated its relationship with the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau on a 3-2 vote Monday night, Aug. 27, several rounds of negotiations failed. 

The city cited lack of cooperation in producing documents for the city to review and unwillingness by the SCVB to sign a contract that would extend their service through the end of the year. 

The SCVB countered that the contract they received was not acceptable because it required them to give up ownership of their intellectual property, including website, email, marketing and distribution lists, and specified that any income would go to the city. 

Councilmembers Robert Clarke and Karen Waite were dissenting votes on the decision. 

The meeting started with former Councilman Ed Skytt asking the council to bring their committee reports and councilmember comments to the beginning of the meetings, and then a proposition from Steve Renfrow of Solvang Brewing Company and Andres Nuno of En Fuego Events to produce a family-friendly artisan and food/drink event in mid-November potentially called Solvang Fall Festival. 

The city also approved a right-of-way purchase agreement with Alisal Ranch to acquire 2.35 acres for $70,500 plus closing costs, that will be for the wastewater treatment plant water quality project. 

The council voted to give $50,000 in seed funding to Visit the Santa Ynez Valley to take over the Solvang Stomp harvest festival this year scheduled for Oct. 19, provided they get all the necessary information from the SCVB in order to produce it. Mayor Ryan Toussaint recused himself from the item. 

Tensions then got heated once again as the tourism agency was scolded by Special City Auditor Thomas Widroe about several years of taxes that weren’t filed in a timely manner and documents he requested to review that weren’t produced immediately. Widroe, who was hired in a closed session on June 17, was tasked with auditing the different departments in the city as well as contractors including the SCVB. 

In a long diatribe, Widroe questioned expenditures and why vendors weren’t categorized correctly. 

“I am frustrated with the organization. The very reasonable request in front of you, I’ve not received the answers I need to complete the audit,” Widroe said. 

An example was the vendor list for the last five years. The second largest item, which totaled $830,000, was not itemized, Widroe added. 

“I would just like to know where the money went,” he added. 

Widroe handed out a copy of an email he sent to SCVB President Kim Jensen on Aug. 21 listing all the items he was requesting, which amounted to almost 30 items, some going back more than five years such as itemizations of particular vendors, budgets, liabilities, current contracts, legal contracts, metrics presentations, and more.  

With the main people who handled these tasks laid off, including former SCVB Executive Director Tracy Farhad and bookkeeper Lana Clark, Jensen said after the meeting it was not enough time to gather all the requested information for the council meeting five days later. 

“I want to put on my Kevlar vest after all this,” Jensen said at the meeting. 

“The audit statements and every check goes to the city with the board’s approval. You see everything. You can go back and look, sorry your auditor is missing… but I resent the inference we are trying to hide anything. The City Auditor asked for vendors over $10,000 and if you add up all the smaller vendors that have done things for the SCVB for the past five years you will see those totals are the same,” Jensen added.

Councilman Daniel Johnson said that he didn’t want to go back and rehash and rehash and waste more and more time. 

“If we can’t get a contract done and an agreement on the assets, we have to move forward,” Johnson said. 

The contract that was proposed to the SCVB would have required them to turn over all assets, including intellectual property and real property, to the city. It also stipulated that any and all income the SCVB derived would go to the city. 

The SCVB had produced two events in the fall — the Solvang Stomp, which began just last October as a harvest celebration that includes a grape stomp, and Julefest, a month-long Christmas celebration. The SCVB has stated that they own the rights to both events and in the spirit of trying to make sure they still happen, agreed to turn over the Stomp to Visit the Santa Ynez Valley for this year. 

Julefest might be another issue down the road as the SCVB owns the rights to the event and didn’t elaborate if they would be willing to let the city use that name. 

The SCVB plans to hand over the keys to the Visitor’s Center on Monday, Sept. 1, and “go dark” for a while, as Jensen put it, to figure out what they will do next. 

The city will hire a staffing agency to operate the Visitor’s Center. 

The city also tabled a “building amnesty” program until more research could be done on what the parameters of what it would look like. Planning Director Holly Owen requested direction from the council as to when the program should begin, how long it should last and whether to include commercial properties as well as residential.

Toussaint expressed the importance of providing a safe space for residents to ask questions and Councilmember Chris Djernaes recommended a longer time frame such as October through May, which is Building Safety Month. Several councilmembers suggested getting feedback from the community via workshops and surveys. 

To watch the complete council meeting visit and search Solvang CityTV, and for the agenda packet visit and click City Hall. 

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, Sept. 9v at City Hall, 1644 Oak St.