The first meeting of Solvang’s new Tourism Advisory Committee began with a reprimand for Solvang City Council, allegations that the new committee too heavily represented the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, and a request that one sitting member step down.
“To underscore my concern for the business community of Solvang, I request that the 16-year-old student that works as an intern for the Chamber resign from the committee, and another business that offers diversification to the committee that is not related to a council member be appointed to the tourism committee immediately,” speaker Jennifer Soni, CEO of Lions Peak Vineyards and Winery, said during the Sept. 9 meeting.
Soni, who was among 13 applicants for the seven available seats, then withdrew her name from consideration. Other applicants included Sal Orona, Constance Cody, Linda Johansen, Scott Thaler and Matthew Bieszard.
Soni took umbrage in particular with the manner in which the appointment process took place, and the council’s decision to include “someone with comparatively little life or professional experience” on a committee key to what she called the city’s most important economic sector: tourism.
On Aug. 23, the council voted 4-1 with Councilman Robert Clarke dissenting, to appoint to the newly formed committee which includes Solvang Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tracy Beard, Chamber intern Alexander Grenier as well as Chamber members Max Hanberg of Danish Days Foundation, Barry Prescott of The Landsby and Kim Jensen of Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates.
Though no longer listed as a Chamber member, appointee John Martino served two terms as Chamber president and two terms on the now disbanded Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau (SCVB).
Only appointee Cheryl Shallenberger, the vice president of Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau and a Santa Ynez resident, has no apparent ties to the Solvang Chamber.
Soni also emphasized the lack of discussion during the public meeting prior to the council vote.
“The discussion of appointees never touched on applicants’ qualifications in any substantive way. Instead, one council member nominated a 16-year-old high school student working as an assistant in the Solvang Chamber of Commerce office. This nomination was immediately confirmed without any discussion of the student’s lack of qualifications or the merits of other remaining applicants,” Soni said.
The appointments unraveled years of work by the previous council to release what members then saw as the grip of old-guard alliances. Beard, the Chamber and now-disbanded SCVB were all targets of cost-cutting efforts under the previous council, most notably former council member Chris Djernaes.
Djernaes was recalled in the November 2020 election which also saw Mayor Charlie Uhrig, Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Orona and council members Jim Thomas and Mark Infanti newly seated. All were supported by the Chamber and Beard during their election campaigns. On election night, Thomas, Orona and Infanti convened on Casa Cassara Winery Tasting Room for a victory party sponsored by Dan Cassara and Tracy Beard. The Chamber provided food.
“While I believe that Solvang’s Chamber of Commerce Tracy Beard should be considered to have a seat on the Solvang Tourism Committee, I also strongly believe that the importance of this committee to every citizen and to every business in Solvang is such that every member of the committee should be selected for the most qualified applicants. However, I cannot support the Chamber having two of the seven-member committee’s positions,” Soni said.
Neither staff nor the committee responded to Soni’s comments, but moved forward with its first business at hand: hearing plans from city marketing contractor IDK Events for Solvang Julefest 2021.
Julefest will run Nov. 23 through Jan. 1 complete with a Christmas light show projecting onto existing storefronts, Santa visits to Solvang Park Nordenpolen every Saturday from noon until 4 p.m., candlelight tours Saturdays from 6 to 7 p.m., and a Christmas Market Thursdays through Saturday with extended store hours.
Committee member Hanberg requested businesses in areas beyond the Copenhagen Drive focal point be included equitably in the celebration.
“It's only fair we offer people from the other end of town and other shops not on Copenhagen the ability to set up,” Hanberg said.
The Solvang Christmas Tree Lighting will be held Dec. 3 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and the traditional parade will return the following morning.
In addition, the Nisse Adventure, a downtown scavenger hunt, will return.
The future of the Skåll Wine and Dine Stroll remains in the air pending updates to COVID restrictions and a potential retooling to discourage drunken rambles and more productively support local businesses.
“Skåll was too many drunks,” Beard said.
“It was very clear that they were coming with the sole intention of getting completely wasted,” said IDK Events President Scott Schuemake.
Grenier requested a special event to draw the younger crowd. Shoemake said IDK is considering a silent disco.
The committee’s next meeting is slated for 3 p.m. Sept. 30.