Salinas Cowboy tries to rope in support for charitable rodeo to stop violence.

Full of Bull?: Joe Wiess (right), talking outside the Sports Complex with Matt Mullins (left), says he has flat-lined twice fighting bulls. “Them nine lives, I lost probably about six of them,” he says.

J oe Wiess raised his hand to ask a burning question at the close of Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue’s recent “State of the City” address. Donohue kept to the script and dodged the eager cowboy’s query. Three weeks later, Wiess is still looking for a straight answer.

Wiess wants to put on a rodeo, with events including open bull riding and mutton busting, at the Salinas Sports Complex to raise money for the county Gang Task Force. Wiess is fed up with Salinas’ level of violence, which reached a record 25 homicides last year and has already logged six gang-related killings this year.

“We are doing this for the community because nobody has stepped up to the plate to stop anything,” he says. “We are tired of the B.S. Straight up.”


The feisty, cursing cowboy says he has lined up several bull contractors who will donate their animals, including matador Dennis C. Borba, the bull stunt coordinator for Jackass Number Two. The Salinas resident and owner of Showtime Bucking Bulls wants to call the event Hometown Pride Bull Riding: “Whatever happened to our hometown pride? Where did it go? Now people say, ‘Where you are from?’ You say, ‘Salinas.’ They say, ‘That’s Shooterville.’”

Wiess presented his ambitious idea to city officials, Sports Complex managers, and retired Judge John Phillips from Rancho Cielo Youth Campus. (Wiess says he is still waiting for a call back from the mayor; Donohue says he has tried calling Wiess unsuccessfully.) Their consensus: Wiess has a commendable proposal, but a lot of logistics need to be harnessed.

Roger LaFountain, general manager for the Sports Complex, says the Rodeo Association’s number one concern is the time frame. Wiess proposed an end-of-April event. “To put an event together that quickly without a lot of structure is going to be difficult,” LaFountain says.

The one-day rodeo would also need an army of volunteers, security, ambulances and a sizable insurance policy, LaFountain says – especially since Wiess wants to allow anyone to ride a bull. “We don’t want to have an event out there that fails and makes us look bad,” LaFountain says.

While Donohue lauds Wiess’s initiative (“I think his passion and enthusiasm are terrific,” the mayor says), he is also quick to add stadium cleanup and insurance costs.

“In Joe’s mind everything is free, but free is never free,” Donohue says.

The city should pay for the insurance, and local businesses would be willing to donate to cover other expenses, Wiess says.

If Rancho Cielo gets involved, kids and volunteers could help set up and clean up after the event, Phillips says, so long as part of the proceeds could go to the intervention program. But Phillips – like other city power players – says it’s too early to commit to partnering with Wiess, though he and others like the idea of bull riding as an alternative to gang violence.

“What a great challenge for some kid who may be out seeking his thrills by carrying around a gun at night,” says Police Cmdr. Kelly McMillin. “Maybe he can find that thrill riding on the back of a bucking bull.”

Wiess admits that bureaucrats probably think he’s a loose cannon. But he’s confident the kinks in his charitable event can be worked out. He recalls Donohue’s Feb. 6 speech in which the mayor said the city needs more money from the state and feds to tackle the gang problem.

“Something needs to be done, not all this happy bullsh*t about we’ll wait for the state allocation and the county allocation,” Wiess says. “Pull your head out of your ass and do your own thing in your own backyard.”

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