For months, Santa Barbara city staff and West Beach Music Festival organizers have butted heads over the event’s plans, permits, and insurance, and this week they smacked skulls once again in a disagreement that adds another dimension to the already contentious processes taking place behind closed doors.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Jeremy and Joshua Pemberton — owners of event management company Twiin Productions Inc. — Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Rapp demanded that the brothers submit $93,000 in fees and security deposits (50 percent of the total amount) by Monday, August 16. The previous deadline had been set a full 30 days later than that date. Shocked by the order, the Pembertons said they don’t think they’ll be able to come up with the cash in time and said the conditions are “absolutely ridiculous.”
Echoing sentiments of the less-than-cordial relationship that the Pembertons and Rapp have begrudgingly built in the last few months, Jeremy said, “They’re trying to put us out of business … We’re not in a position to come up with $93,000 in five days.” The twin brothers claim they are being unfairly singled out by the city and simply want to put on a good show for the community that will generate revenue for the area. They’re reportedly exploring their legal options, holding meetings with multiple attorneys to see if and how they can fight the new stipulations.
They’re also fuming at the fact that the city’s risk management office is now making them buy a $5 million insurance policy when it had previously agreed on a $1 million amount. This will require the twins to pay an additional $50,000, they stated, as their brokers try to track down a company to underwrite the policy, something they’ve reportedly had a very hard time doing. And the twins said such a policy is unheard of in the event-planning world; their advisors — one of whom is the head man in charge of Outside Lands and Bonnaroo — have purportedly never dealt with such a number.
Interim Risk Manager Mark Howard defended the dollar amount, explaining that, based on information gathered from past year’s shows and looking at similar events in other California cities, the policy is reasonable to protect the city from any potential liability. Last year’s coverage — which Jeremy said cost Twiin Productions around $700 to have underwritten — was “probably inadequate” he said. “I hate to be the Monday morning quarterback, but that’s what you’re asking me to do.”
While the Pembertons had until Friday to provide a certificate of insurance for the $5 million policy, they sent a letter of their own to Rapp — minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline — that said they were moving forward with the $1 million protection coverage, and daring her or anyone else to do anything about it. If the city decides to shut them down, said the Pembertons in their letter, they expect to be compensated for “serious financial losses” including expenses and profits.
The letter accuses Parks and Recreation staff — on June 18 of this year — of manipulating language within the department’s Special Event Guide & Application document that would allow the city to now raise event insurance costs as it sees fit, as opposed to requiring the blanket $1 million policy that had been in place since 2007 and necessary for any and all similar events. “It was a pretty strategic play by them,” said Jeremy, explaining staff made the move without any discussion or approval from the department’s commission and without any city council or community oversight.
The letter also claims that the justification city staff used to jack up the policy price is ludicrous. Using the L.A. Marathon — which sees tens of thousands of volunteers and participants every year as well as hundreds of thousands of spectators — as a point of comparison, the city’s risk management office is grasping at straws, said Jeremy. “Our insurance brokers couldn’t stop laughing when they heard they compared our event to the L.A. Marathon,” he relayed.
Lastly, the brothers said in their letter that the city has already purchased liability umbrella coverage to protect itself, the cost of which is included in the city’s overhead expenditures used to calculate the prices of the permits it issues. In other words, explained Jeremy, the Twiin Productions is already paying toward the cost of the city’s umbrella coverage.
During a brief conversation with Rapp — who is on vacation and couldn’t be reached for further comment — late Friday, the Parks and Recreation director reportedly told Jeremy that the brothers could keep moving forward with their planning and that the two sides would meet next week to discuss things further.
So far, said Jeremy, the company has spent around $750,000 this year to put on the show, and expects to invest a total of $1.1 million when all is said and done. Since its inception, Twiin Productions has sunk more than $4.2 million into the annual West Beach Music Festival without ever making a profit.
The festival recently took on a new incarnation when city hall in late June forbid the Pembertons from holding their annual event on West Beach, citing concerns of vocal residents and business owners who said the 2009 show was nothing short of a disaster with its overwhelmingly loud volume, unruly attendees, and blasphemous performers.
Police dispatchers received calls nonstop throughout the event’s three days from residents — as far away as Summerland and Carpinteria — complaining about the noise, and hoteliers said they lost a significant chunk of revenue when guests, unhappy with the shenanigans nearby, checked out early or didn’t come at all.
The event has since been moved to the grass of Chase Palm Park, on the beach side of Cabrillo Boulevard, and is now limited to 6,500 attendees per day for the dates of September 24 and 25. Other, smaller events will take place throughout the city during that weekend as well. More than 13,000 people swarmed West Beach at the height of the beachside bash last year, reportedly leading to issues with security, underage drinking, and the overall mismanagement of a concert that officials said had grown too large and unwieldy with current levels of staff and planning.
As the Pembertons have scrambled to put together this year’s show in a new venue — burning the candle at both ends, they said, to make sure everything comes together in the 40 short days until the festival kicks off — Rapp has been less than impressed with their progress thus far. She acknowledged that while first-round plans are inherently rough and provide more of a jumping off point for discussion and negotiation, Twiin Productions’s submitted documents on sound management, crowd control, parking organization, and whatnot are completely sub-par.
In the letter she sent to them last Tuesday, Rapp criticized the twins’ proposals (actually putting the word “plans” in quotation mark seemingly to indicate that they’re hardly plans at all) and wrote, “Across the board, we believe the materials are confusing, incomplete, and do not provide sufficient information to us to know what Twiin Productions is committing to in order to ensure that there will be no repeat of problems that occurred with the 2009 event.”
Rapp told The Independent over the phone that she wishes the brothers would spend less time complaining to the media and more time getting their ducks in a row. “I would much rather see them putting the energy into preparing the materials that we’ve asked for,” she said. “We’re very concerned … I don’t know how much more clear I can be with them.” And while the brothers made many a promise that wooed the city council and Parks and Recreation Commission, said Rapp, she has yet to see many of those assurances in writing. “They’ve done a lot of talking, but there’s not a lot on paper,” she summed up.
Rapp said her staff has spent hours and hours trying to work with the Pembertons to get all the bits and pieces sorted out, but little has come out of the effort put forth from their end. An August 5 meeting — set to get both parties in the same room to begin hashing things out once and for all — was blown off by the brothers, she said. Jeremy claimed he sent multiple emails hoping for a confirmation, but never heard back and assumed the meeting was off.
Out of the numerous, bullet-pointed issues Rapp brought up in her letter, she highlighted two in conversation: The submitted sound plan, she said — one of the largest components of any concert, but especially important for this year’s West Beach Music Festival considering last year’s acoustic debacle — was little more than a best practices document that did little in the way of laying out concrete ideas.
“If you know that [sound] is a major concern,” Rapp said, in reference to the Pembertons, “you’ve had two public meetings where that was the biggest thing that was discussed, and you’re submitting a preliminary sound management plan, I would think you would put a little time and energy into that to described exactly what you’re going to do to make sure you don’t have the same problems.”
Rapp also complained that the brothers’ preliminary parking arrangements are similarly inadequate. In the report — submitted to the Pembertons by their parking services vendor and then passed along to parks and recreation staff — the DoubleTree Resort is named as one of a few private properties near Chase Palm Park that would allow attendees to store their cars. When Rapp approached the DoubleTree as part of her standard follow-up, a representative said no such deal existed and the hotel wasn’t planning on letting any concert-goers park there.
Rapp admitted that she moved up the fee and security deposit deadlines, but said she did so for a good reason: “For the amount of staff time being put into this event thus far and the concerns that we have about this event, I’m basically looking at this as good faith,” she said. “To me, that’s reasonable for someone who is planning a large-scale event and having to contract with vendors and selling tickets. We’re needing to know the event is solid and can go forward,” she said. “There’s no trust here. It does come down to that.”
She and her staff — who manage 80-100 events per year — are being such sticklers, she said, because if anything does go wrong, it’s on them. “I need something to hang my hat on,” she explained. “If we have a repeat of what happened last year, the city council will be looking at me.”
And as far as having it out for the Pembertons and trying to shut down the show for no solid reasons, Rapp said that was just silly: “If we were going to say no, the time would have been immediately after the council meeting,” she said in reference to councilmembers’ request that Parks and Recreation staff take a look at a new game plan at Chase Palm Park to see if it was even doable.
“But we didn’t do that,” she continued. “If I and staff — including the city administrator’s office and the police department — really didn’t want to do it, we would have made that decision then, but we didn’t. What do I win by putting all this time now in trying to pull it all together, then try and shut it down?”
In response to Rapp’s claim that the brothers haven’t been as communicative and professional as they maybe could have been, Jeremy said: “Some of our mentors that we’ve talked to about this have compared this kind of dialogue to the way that politicians talk about Democrats versus Republicans and vice versa. You can always find some way to bring negative light to any communication, and I think that’s what happening here.”