For over 30,000 people, the West Beach Music and Arts Festival last year was a fun, long weekend of watching live bands and partying seaside. But for many Santa Barbarans, including city staff, the event was nothing more than a three-day migraine. There were so many noise complaints, say city officials, so many reports of underage drinking, issues with crowd control and parking, and a general but serious mismanagement of the entire event, that Santa Barbara’s Parks and Recreation Department decided to deny the permit for this year’s installment. The organizers, however, are appealing that denial tonight, May 19, at City Hall.
“I understand that people who attended the event had a wonderful time. That’s not in question,” said Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Rapp who will present her report to the agency’s commission and explain why a 2010 festival isn’t appropriate. “For us, it’s more about how the event impacted the rest of the community. All of the city staff involved — from the City Administrator’s office to the Police Department to Parks and Recreation — had never before dealt with that sheer number of public complaints.”
Rapp noted that during the September 18 – 20 weekend, city police fielded so many calls from disgruntled area residents that dispatchers eventually stopped logging the intake. “For that number of noise complaints to come in, it means some major things didn’t work,” said Rapp, explaining that the city got grief from residents as far away as Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria who complained about the booming bass bouncing throughout the fog bank which rolled in that weekend. And those closer to the action were purportedly quite unhappy about profanities blaring from the stage — notably encouragement to take part in “adult” activities — that bombarded the ears of kids in attendance and nearby.
The current contention around a possible 2010 event really began on October 1, 2009 when Twiin Productions, Inc. — owned and run by 20-something-year-old twin brothers Jeremy and Joshua Pemberton — submitted an application with the Parks and Recreation Department, asking the agency to set aside the dates of September 24 – 26 for the fourth year of their large-scale music fest that takes place between Stearns Wharf and the harbor. They also reportedly sat down with Rapp at some point that month to hash out what went wrong in 2009 — during which 8,000 – 13,000 people per day descended on the beach — and brainstormed how to fix it for the next time.
Two months later, the Pembertons were told that their requested dates had been tentatively set aside, but, in order for things to move along, they would have to settle their debt with the city — namely $9,249.50 owed to the Police Department for unplanned assistance in 2009 (around 20 extra cops had to be called in to help with security) and an undisclosed amount owed to Public Works for damage done to the sidewalk.
They were also asked to look into the fact that Twiin Productions staff and their vendors produced and distributed counterfeit Waterfront Parking VIP permits. The team, said Rapp, was sold 10 permits for event preparation and access, but authorities eventually discovered that counterfeited permits were being printed and used by the organizers and vendors. Waterfront staff said they confiscated approximately 26 fake permits and think a bunch more were printed.
Although making good on the unpaid bills and promising to look into the parking permit scheme, the Pembertons were denied their application on February 9, 2010. In a terse, two-sentence letter, Rapp wrote: “The City is evaluating its policies related to large special events and amplified sound. Until that work is completed, we will not be permitting any large scale music events in park or beach locations.”
Rapp explained to the Independent on Tuesday that last year’s West Beach Music and Arts Festival — in the eyes of not only her department, but also the Police, Fire, and Waterfront Departments — was such a mess that it became a catalyst for rethinking the city’s whole approach to permitting and managing events of that size and scale, especially, she said, when her office got calls from people who wanted to put on similar, ticketed music events in the waterfront area. “Initially we thought it was an issue with just this one event,” said Rapp, “but we quickly realized we needed to rethink a lot of things.” Rapp also pointed out that in her 11 years in the department, she’s seen only one other event denied.
Immediately protesting the decision, the Pembertons wrote Rapp a long letter, promising to address and rectify the issues she raised about the 2009 festival and asking her to reconsider her stance on this year’s event. They promised to triple the security budget (made in the wake of accusations that underage kids could easily buy alcohol at last year’s gig), lower decibel levels, and offer the city “an additional revenue source,” they wrote, “by establishing a facility fee for every ticket purchased for the event. This fee would easily cover the cost,” they went on, “of the salary of several staff members of the Parks and Recreation Department or other impacted departments.” The Pembertons, in order the keep the weekend more family-friendly, have also promised to include a morality clause in their contracts with performers that would fine offenders $1,000 – $5,000 per “incident” of profanity.
But Rapp had none of it, writing back that the decision to deny the permit was un-appealable: “This is an administrative decision involving the day-to-day management of the City park system made in concurrence with the City Administrator and, as such, it is not an appealable decision.” Doing their homework, the Pembertons came back with SBMC 15.05.020 — a piece of policy within the Parks and Recreation Department’s “General Policy Pertaining to use of Parks, Recreation Facilities and Equipment” which states a denied permit can be appealed to the Park and Recreation Commission, and subsequently to City Council.
As such, the Pembertons — now backed by over 12,000 Facebook supporters — have vowed to take on the Parks and Recreation Department’s commission Wednesday night at 7 p.m. They argue that their permit, as it has been the past three years, should be approved on the grounds that they’ve adequately addressed all the issues the city has raised about 2009’s festival, and that modifications have been planned for this year’s event to keep everyone happy.
Admitting that he and his brother are notoriously hard to get a hold of — a fact that Rapp said ruffled some feathers when authorities were trying to track down the brothers last year — Joshua Pemberton said they’ve proposed an on-site command center at which police, fire, waterfront, and parks and recreation personnel can coordinate from. The issue last year, said Joshua, was that, “They’d show up to make sure everything was okay. They’d look around and go, ‘okay, cool,’ and then they’d feel kind of out of place, I think. I think if they felt more welcome and part of the program that the general attitude would change.”
Rapp though, said its going to take more than a few minor tweaks to convince her and the city that the Pembertons are up to such a large undertaking. Pointing to the fact that 2009’s concert was much larger than 2007’s or 2008’s, Rapp thinks the twins might be in over their heads and uncertain what they need to do to be in complete compliance. “They’re required to have state permits, county permits, city permits,” Rapp said. “This year it became glaringly clear that, for an event of this size and scale, they were unprepared. They didn’t know what they didn’t know,” she summed up.
For instance, said Rapp, the promoters changed the concert’s line-up in 2009 at the last minute but failed to let the proper folks know about it. “They should have known enough to come to the city and police department,” she said, explaining that different bands and different music genres bring different crowds that necessitate specific management game plans. Rapp also hinted at the fact that the twins — after being told multiple times over the course of the three days in 2009 to turn down the music — failed to heed the city’s orders, which may not bode well for them in the appeal process.
“We told them on Friday night when we first started getting complaints, ‘Hey, you need to manage your sound and keep it within the permit terms and conditions,’” said Rapp. “We had to do that again on Saturday and again on Sunday. A good event management team doesn’t have to be told twice because they know what that means. Would the County Bowl still be in business today if they didn’t manage their sound at their venue?”
The Pembertons, for their part, say they’re ready for a showdown. “We are ready and prepared to face the report on Wednesday,” they said in an email to the Independent on Monday. Taking issue with Rapp’s language and general tone in the report, they wrote, “The report is a full on attack of our credibility and ability to carry out the event. It is not a report and should be viewed as an opinion piece…The director has crafted a report that is dishonest and unfair.”
The twins also allege that there is more to the issue than meets the eye, accusing City Administrator Jim Armstrong of orchestrating some kind of power play in the permit denial process. “We believe the city administrator has his hands in the endorsement of both Fire and Police Chiefs,” they wrote. “We believe this is one of the underlying reasons for the ballot initiative to delineate powers from the administrator and have the PD & FD report directly to council. Both the [Police Officer’s Association] and Firefighter’s Association do not stand behind their chiefs’ endorsements.”
“This isn’t about a music festival permit,” they went on. “This is about bureaucratic power undermining due process and fiscal irresponsibility.” The twins, through Facebook, have organized a rally to take place in De La Guerra Plaza an hour before the hearing begins.
Lastly, the brothers criticized Rapp for bringing other departments into the discussion and having them sign off on the report. “What’s most troubling is the close of the report,” they wrote. “The parks & recreation director Nancy Rapp has not signed the report alone, but brings in 3 other departments: Fire, Police, & Waterfront. This is supposed to be the Parks & Rec director’s denial report for the commission, not the entire city’s report.”
Rapp, however, explained that every single event that takes place in Parks and Recreation facilities involves the Police, Fire, Public Works, and sometimes Waterfront Departments, and that while Parks and Recreation is the lead coordinating agency, it is merely standard operating procedure to have other department heads in on the discussion and final verdict.
[UPDATE:] In a 3-2 vote the Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday evening decided to grant a permit to Twiin Productions for the 2010 West Beach Music Festival. The event, however, will be limited to 8,500 people per day and live music will be played for fewer hours over the course of the three days. The promoters also promised to bring in an acoustic consultant to deal with the sound issues they experienced last year. Check independent.com tomorrow for further details on Wednesday’s hearing and the reactions of both parties.