Half Moon Bay has denied permits to hold the annual downtown Pumpkin Festival, effectively canceling the popular October event, with the City Council citing the COVID-19 delta variant and associated risks.

“We are struggling with delta. Delta has become very contagious, especially among children. This is not over,” Councilmember Deborah Penrose said.

The festival’s beautification committee submitted a special events permit application to close city streets to hold the festival that the City Council denied at its Sept. 7 meeting.

A scaled-back Pumpkin Festival was scheduled for Oct. 16 on Main Street, focused on coastside residents. The 2021 festival was originally canceled in May due to COVID-19 concerns before festival officials announced a scaled-down version in June. The 2020 festival was canceled for similar safety reasons. Since the June announcement, the delta variant has caused an increase in cases and concern about large events. The festival is one of the city’s biggest events and serves as a major fundraiser for local nonprofits and helps local businesses through tourism. Popular events include the annual pumpkin run, pie-eating contest and pumpkin carving. The city’s Summer’s End Music Festival scheduled for Sept. 25 at Carter Park has also been canceled.

Festival spokesperson Tim Beeman said everyone was still digesting the decision, with no plans to announce a virtual event. Volunteers have been working since June 23 to put the pieces in place for a great festival, such as bringing in local artists or working with nonprofits to set up food and beverages.

“It’s really sad on all fronts. It’s the unfortunate reality that we have to live with,” Beeman said.

He said the pumpkin weigh will still occur Monday, Oct. 11. Festival officials have dealt with the uncertainty of festival cancelation since the pandemic, a reality of trying to host large-scale events.

“That’s the thing with COVID. No one knows what’s around the corner,” Beeman said.

Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock said she goes to the festival every year and was disappointed to deny the permit. She cited COVID-19 and the difficulty of controlling spread with a large event.

“In this particular situation, we can avoid harm by canceling the event. My concern is asymptomatic people can still spread the virus, and the current variant, delta, is highly contagious,” Ruddock said.

Councilmember Harvey Rarback said the local July 4 parade this year had more people than ever before due to pent-up demand to celebrate.

“It’s a horrible shame that we must be responsible and, unfortunately, the nonprofits are going to suffer for it,” Rarback said.

He noted having a festival would lead to thousands and thousands of people attending in a smaller space due to the scaled-back nature.

“This is like the worst of all possible worlds. You have more people in a smaller area. The potential for a super spreader event is there. I don’t know; maybe it wouldn’t happen. But as a responsible person who is interested in public safety, I can’t in good conscience encourage the festival,” Rarback said.

Councilmember Joaquin Jimenez said it had been a few years since he last attended a pumpkin festival and had been looking forward to going this year. However, he noted more people, particularly essential farmworkers, are seeing more positive COVID cases.

“We have to think about the health of our community, thinking about how this could affect our community if we had a spreader event,” Jimenez said.

Mayor Robert Brownstone noted a majority of similar festivals in other cities have also canceled events, with no way to guarantee the safety of attendees.

“It’s a public safety and public health issue,” Brownstone said. “The bottom line is this is an unbelievably highly infectious airborne disease.”

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