Bye-bye West Beach Music Festival. Hello East Beach Music Festival? Or Ventura Beach Music Festival?
Whatever it next becomes, what had grown into a popular three-day concert will not be the large-scale production on Santa Barbara’s West Beach that organizers had hoped for after the Santa Barbara City Council denied Jeremy and Joshua Pemberton, collectively Twiin Productions, of their fourth go at what was becoming Santa Barbara’s largest annual musical attraction.
Last year, between 8,000 and 13,000 people a day attended the three-day show, which featured multiple stages with dozens of bands. Just two years earlier, the show was one day and had an attendance of around 1,000 people. But accompanying the growth of the event was also a myriad of problems. Or, as Councilmember Grant House told the twins, the Pembertons became “victims of your own success.” In 2009, Santa Barbara police received 257 calls for service in the area, amplified music could be heard for miles around, and double fencing around the beer garden had been pushed in, leading to concertgoers carrying beer beyond the garden and it sometimes getting into the hands of underage drinkers. Area residents and hoteliers complained about drunken concertgoers vandalizing property and vomiting in front yards.
The sound and alcohol management, as well as neighborhood impacts, were large reasons Harbor View Inn owner Tony Romasanta and West Beach neighborhood resident Hilary Kleger appealed a decision by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission to allow the festival to go forward—albeit with a cap of 8,500 people per day, and an end time of 7 p.m. for Sunday. “We have no adequate policies in place,” Romasanta said. “That is the problem.” Indeed, Parks and Rec Director Nancy Rapp explained earlier at the City Council’s hearing that, following the trouble the 2009 fest caused, she decided to suspend any permitting of large-scale events with amplified sound until the city could install policies, fee structures, and regulations to prevent mistakes made in years previous. She said staff is already working on gathering information to get policies in place, and it should be a matter of months before they are back with improvements.
Despite a sharp-looking presentation and assemblage of professionals—from sound technicians to janitorial companies to security and EMT professional, all brought in by the Pembertons to deal with concerns about managing the production—the council, citing the concerns of the neighbors, decided the event was not doable at West Beach. Councilmember Bendy White said, “8,500 people is too many people for that venue in that spot.” Added Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, “I hope you reexamine a different place or different venue or a different style of music.”
The council did remain open, however, to a scaled-down version of the festival east of the wharf, on the sand and grassy area along Cabrillo Boulevard between Garden Street and Calle César Chávez. But, to do that, the twins would likely need to shut down Cabrillo over the course of setup, take down, and the show itself. Councilmembers all agreed that wouldn’t be happening, putting a huge dent in the possibility of the show taking place there.
And Rapp said there were problems with that site as well, including the possibility of turf restorations, keeping large vehicles off the sidewalk, damage to the ice plants in the area, and—perhaps most importantly—possibly interrupting the Sunday arts and crafts show. Ultimately, it will be up to Twiin Productions to work with city staff, who have the final say on whether an event could be permitted in that location. “We’ll figure it out,” Joshua Pemberton said.
In the meantime, the 26-year-old brothers, who say they already have $1 million in obligations for the show—scheduled for September 24-26—will undoubtedly lose a lot of money because of the council’s decision, or at least be at risk of losing a lot of money. The Pembertons, who have already sold about 4,000 tickets to this year’s fest but purposely under-booked the show in case the event was scaled back (their Web site shows 40 musical acts listed for this year’s lineup), said they are in the midst of negotiating with other coastal cities and have applied for some permits, though they declined to say where. The two have one other option: to take the council’s decision to court, which Jeremy Pemberton said was “certainly on the table,” adding that there were several missteps in the city’s procedure and it is “very easy to identify the damages.” But regardless of how it plays out, it’s clear that the 2010 West Beach Music Festival will not be on West Beach, despite the twins’ best efforts. “We love Santa Barbara,” Jeremy Pemberton said. “We wanted to be here.”