Santa Barbara County Public Health Puts Kibosh on Fiesta Car Parade

Sunday’s Annual Fiesta Cruiser Run Bike Ride Also Canceled, but Only Kind Of

County Public Health has pulled the plug on Old Spanish Days' Fiesta caravan car parade, which was meant to take the place of the Fiesta horse parade (above), canceled earlier this year due to COVID-19 concerns. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

In yet another display of last-minute dramatics, Santa Barbara County Public Health authorities ordered that the boom be lowered on Old Spanish Days’ plans to hold a 19-mile car parade this Friday, August 7, that would loop around Santa Barbara as a substitute for the annual Fiesta Parade, which has been canceled. Public health officials expressed concern that the proposed parade would draw too many onlookers, thus creating a public gathering of sufficient critical mass that aerosolized saliva infected with COVID-19 could be spread. 

According to assistant Santa Barbara city attorney John Doimas, he notified public health authorities of the proposed parade and asked whether it violated public health orders against large gatherings. Doimas said he was told it did, and he notified Old Spanish Days—which organizes the annual Fiesta event—that the surrogate celebration had to be canceled. 

“They took it exceptionally well,” Doimas stated. “They could not have been more gracious about it.” 


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Another account making the rounds suggests that it was the County Public Health Department that got the ball rolling to put a stop to the proposed car parade. Either way, the “official” Fiesta car parade is off.

Not so clear cut is the fate of the Fiesta Cruiser Run bike ride, the annual event — not sanctioned by Old Spanish Days — that sprouted up in the shadow of Fiesta about 40 years ago as a semi-anarchistic, two-wheeled fun fest that has more spiritually in common with Solstice than Fiesta. In recent years, the event has drawn several thousand riders, many coming from out of town.  

Event organizers of the Fiesta Cruiser Run have issued flyers announcing in one breath that the event has been officially canceled, but in another, that riders who show up anyway are to take another route this year to keep off State Street.

Officially, the Cruiser Run has been canceled at the instigation of Rex Stephens, a bike shop owner and a longtime organizer of the event. Public health officials and Doimas, the assistant city attorney, have likewise stated the event violates COVID-related public health orders, but it’s not clear what that means. 

Event organizers have issued flyers announcing in one breath that the event has been canceled, but in another, that riders who show up anyway are to take another route this year to keep off State Street, which in years past, the Cruiser Run riders took on their meandering way to Goleta Beach from the base of Stearns Wharf. 

Given that the 500 block of State Street is now blocked off to bikes — as well as to traffic — Stephens said the route was changed to funnel the riders along Cabrillo Boulevard, and up Castillo Street to Bath Street. The decision to ban bikes on the 500 block took place only after cruiser-riding youthful wheelie poppers proved too aggressive and heedless of the pedestrians thronging the street. 

Because event organizers did not seek permits this year, there is no permit for public authorities to yank, as was the case with the Fiesta car parade. As a result, no police have been assigned to patrol the Cruiser Run, as they have been in years past. 

Stephens has expressed frustration at what he termed the lack of response from City Hall to help him pull the plug on his own event. Even if Public Health authorities announce its cancellation — as is expected sometime Friday — Stephens said many out-of-town riders have already booked rooms in local hotels and motels and are on their way for Sunday’s ride, which begins at noon. 


At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.

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