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Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival organizer reflects on Gilroy tragedy

Los Altos Art & Wine Festival” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Attendees of the 2019 Los Altos Art & Wine Festival stroll down Main Street. Following the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival Sunday, Los Altos Art & Wine Festival organizers say they will discuss the possibility of enhanced security at future events.

The July 28 shooting rampage at the 41st annual Gilroy Garlic Festival served notice to open-air festivals locally and afar that such events run risks of reoccurring – no matter the level of security preparation. 

The mass shooting, which left three people dead and more than a dozen injured, occurred on the final day of the festival, a popular three-day affair that draws thousands of visitors from the Bay Area and beyond.

The impact of the tragedy was not lost on organizers of the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, which held their 40th annual event July 13 and 14. The Los Altos festival made headlines last month for its lack of criminal activity, despite hosting tens of thousands of attendees.

“We were shaken by the events in Gilroy,” said Scott Hunter, executive director of the Los Altos Village Association (LAVA), which puts on the festival. “LAVA staff was there (at the garlic festival) on Saturday (July 27) and found a well-organized, well-planned, seemingly safe event."

Hunter said security is always a high priority.

“All of our events are open to the public, and the safety of attendees, sponsors, vendors and volunteers is top of mind,” he said. “Every year, we work with (the Los Altos Police Department) to create an emergency plan for the Arts & Wine Festival. In light of Gilroy, we have reached out to (Los Altos police) to start talking about next year, and plan to meet within the next month.”

Hunter added that LAVA staff has discussed how to tighten security and expects that to be a topic of conversation at next week’s Arts & Wine Committee meeting.

“I foresee the discussion to begin now and then be revisited following our meeting with police and when planning starts for the festival in 2020,” he said.

How enhanced security would take shape is yet to be determined, but LAVA officials don’t anticipate measures to include fencing off the festival.

“It is not feasible, nor desirable, to fence in the downtown,” Hunter said. “Based on reports, it doesn't look like fencing at the garlic festival stopped this crime. Hate, unfortunately, seems to find a way.”

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, some garlic festival visitors said they would not return, and some even questioned whether the festival should continue. But numerous summer festivals remain on the calendar, including the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival in September, and will go on as scheduled.

Meanwhile, Los Altos Community Foundation officials issued a call to their supporters to donate to the Gilroy Foundation in the wake of the tragedy.

“We are deeply saddened by the recent shooting that occurred at the Gilroy Garlic Festival and the impact it has had on the families of the victims as well as the entire Gilroy community,” LACF Executive Director Joe Eyre said.

The Gilroy Foundation has established a charitable fund to provide relief to victims and their families, as well as for local nonprofit organizations providing financial assistance to those affected.

To donate, visit gilroyfoundation.org.

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