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Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival organizer, police chief reflect on Gilroy tragedy


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Attendees of the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, an annual event hosted by the Los Altos Village Association, wander through booths filling the closed-off streets of downtown July 13 and 14. This year marked the 40th year of the festival.

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 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.”

“No doubt we will be talking about improving security at the next festival,” said Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea. “The annual Arts & Wine Festival is our largest event and poses a security challenge.  … The festival is an open venue which can be accessed from multiple entrances.”  

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.”

Galea agreed fencing is not the solution.

“Fencing the entire downtown is not practical, so security screening and metal detectors would not be an effective option,” he said. “The things we do currently do include having a very visible police presence. Prior to and during events, we check the area for anything that looks out of place and anything suspicious. We are fortunate to have our police canine Bo, who is explosives trained. ... We are in direct communication with one another and, as a result, can be available within seconds.”

Galea anticipates an enhanced police presence at future festivals.

“I think moving forward, there will be an added emphasis to the event staff, volunteers and community to please let us know if they see anything unusual,” he said. “For upcoming events, an increase in uniformed police officers will be the most noticeable thing to the community.”

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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