North Bay race organizer fined $6K for holding race during pandemic
HEALDSBURG, Calif. - A Sonoma County race organizer has been hit with more than $6,000 in fines for holding an unpermitted foot race during the pandemic.
"This is devastating," said Matt Dockstader, owner of Destination Races. "I just don't know how we can go on, this doesn't seem fair."
Most years, the Hallowine Run 5 and 10 K, as well as and the Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon, attract about 2,000 entries on the last Saturday in October.
Runners, many in costume, run from downtown Healdsburg through the Dry Creek Valley to Lake Sonoma.
Similar events have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Dockstader tried to hold what he called a hybrid event.
He mailed race packets to participants with instructions to run "virtually" - any place and time they chose and record their results.
And he also gave out packets - by reservation- on race day for those wanting to experience the course on their own.
"Everybody wore a mask, we never had more than five people picking up packets at one time and people were spread out over five hours," said Dockstader. "To me, this was a minor, minor thing."
There was no post-race festival, no crowds like past years, but throughout the day, Dockstader says 82 people ran on three different routes.
Entry fees for the event ranged from $38 to $95, non-refundable.
"We encouraged people to run another time and place if they could, but if they wanted to run Healdsburg that day, we wanted to give them the opportunity," said Dockstader.
On race day, code enforcement inspectors from Sonoma County observed and took photographs.
A few days later, Dockstader received a $1,000 citation for violating the county's health order, restricting public events.
Sonoma County's Permit Department confirms he will be assessed another $5,128 for conducting the race without a permit.
"We had communications with this individual, both verbally and in writing," said permit director Tennis Wick, describing warnings given Doskstader in the days leading up to the event.
County staff took photos on race day that show tents at a registration area, banners along the route, and a finish line.
"There was an archway and electronic timekeeping and people welcoming them in and clapping," said Wick.
He was especially concerned that runners mixed with traffic because with no permit, there were no road closures or CHP presence.
"People were running without any controls, sometimes two abreast where there was no shoulder so they were in the travel lane," said Wick.
"It is not safe to run on Dry Creek Road without supervision, especially in numbers, they need to have at least half a lane closed."
Wick says for most operations, warnings and education have been sufficient during the pandemic.
Only twice have $1000 COVID19 citations been written, to a body shop owner and gym owner.
"We're all making sacrifices in this time," said Witt, insisting that it wouldn't be fair to other races to let the Hallowine Run break the rules.
"Most of the event community has been really understanding, after all these are people who exercise for health," said Wick. "Almost all of the race community is taking a big economic hit and we understand that, we look forward to the day everyone can come back to Sonoma County and have fun."
Dockstader also has photos from the run, showing a sparse turn-out around the tents and runners either solo or in pairs.
"We did the best we could, it's a very confusing situation, but I guarantee our event was safe," insisted Dockstader, who still has hundreds of race tee shirts and jackets to send to entrants.
For those who did come to town, he's glad he was able to provide something.
"To cancel altogether, we would still have people showing up on race day, and they would be furious, so I was in a really tough spot."
The $6,100 fine can be challenged, but Docstader says an appeal carries substantial fees on its own, so he is weighing his options.
Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU. Email Debora at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU