How the West Beach Fest Was Won
Joshua and Jeremy Pemberton Successfully Appeal Permit Denial
Despite the predictions of many, the 2010 West Beach Music Festival will go ahead, though not quite as planned. In a split 3-2 vote, the Parks and Recreation Commission granted a special events permit — that came with a few notable stipulations — to Twiin Productions Inc., to put on the three-day live music event September 24 – 26. Twiin Productions had originally been denied a permit by Parks and Recreation staff who cited a number of problems with the 2009 festival, but, after appealing the decision, the promoters were told by the agency’s commission at the end of a three-hour hearing that the event can happen.
This year — as opposed to the 13,000 people that swarmed the beach at the height of the event — a maximum of only 8,500 people may attend per day, said the commission. Additionally — compared to 2009 when live music was played from 3-10 p.m. on Friday, 12:30-10 p.m. on Saturday, and 12:30-8 p.m. on Sunday — the promoters will only be able to host performers from 4-10 p.m. on Friday, 12:30-10 p.m. on Saturday, and 12:30-7 p.m. on Sunday.
The commission also decreed that Twiin Productions — owned and run by twin brothers Jeremy and Joshua Pemberton — hire an acoustic consultant to deal with the noise issues that plagued the 2009 event. It was eventually decided that Grant Macgregor of Santa Barbara-based Luners Pro Sound & Lighting would be the man for the job. He promised that, with his expertise and access to cutting-edge sound technology, he could “direct sound like a light” in order to drastically cut back the noise bleed that could reportedly be heard as far away as Montecito and Summerland last year. “You know me, I’m always looking for work,” he told the commission.
The decision to put the festival back on — made despite pleas from a number of hotel owners and managers in the West Beach area who said that drunken hoards hurt business and upset their guests — brought raucous applause from dozens in attendance who packed City Hall’s chambers in support of the Pembertons and their event. The brothers had argued that the festival, rather than upsetting the city’s balance, instead brings in much-needed cash and jobs. Commissioner Ada Conner closed things out by stating, “We’re going out on a limb for you guys. Make it happen.” The twins, clearly ecstatic at the outcome, hugged one another and members of their entourage. “We are very appreciative,” they told The Independent. “We take every word to heart, and we won’t let them down.” The decision, however, can be appealed to the City Council. The window to do so lasts another eight days.
Wednesday night’s hearing began with a presentation by Parks and Recreation staff that spelled out, point by point, why the agency had denied the festival permit to begin with. The issues, written in a report released to the Pembertons and the commission (and articulated in a prior Independent article), centered mainly on the unprecedented number of noise complaints city police were forced to deal with, the safety issues that cropped up due to inadequate security provided by the promoters, and a perceived lack of professionalism on the part of the twins and their team. The decision to deny the permit, they said, wasn’t just to prevent another West Beach fest from happening, but was part of a larger game plan to rethink and restructure city ordinances that deal with large-scale events because clearly, they said, some things weren’t working.
During a debriefing in October of last year, staff said, they told the Pembertons as much. They purportedly stated that the 2009 event, the largest of its kind the city has ever seen, was so eye-opening — and not in a good way — that the department was probably going to have to head back to the drawing board, and that a 2010 West Beach Music Festival was unlikely.
The police’s perspective on the 2009 concert, offered by Sergeant Riley Harwood who coordinates cop coverage for city events, was one of deep concern. Citing the festival’s improperly managed beer garden — the gates were laid out wrong, he said, and officers ticketed more than two dozen underage youths for drinking and possessing fake IDs, including a few kids with 21+ wristbands who were working at the beer garden as Twiin Productions volunteers — Harwood made clear that the security crew hired by the Pembertons displayed what he considered a “failure to perform competently.” He also noted that on the weekend of the event, police logged 74 percent more citations than they had the previous weekend. Police Chief Cam Sanchez concurred, saying that while the festival was no doubt a fun time for those who attended, the lack of safety precautions was a huge concern. “The size of the event is simply too large,” he said. “At the end of the day, the rules are made and enforced by those that put on the event.”
It even took the promoters four tries, Harwood said, to hire a company whose members were properly certified, but even that team of 31 guys — the bare minimum to man the event — clearly wasn’t up to the task. While admitting that there wasn’t an inordinate amount of criminal incidents or arrests, Harwood stated that things could have been much worse, and that there existed a “high potential for violence or riot.” In fact, he went on, the police decided to extend the 2008 event’s curfew by 45 minutes one night, allowing the final act to finish up to keep the crowd content and riot-free. Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Rapp said something similar to The Independent on Tuesday about 2009: “Things had the potential to be a lot worse,” she said.
During his turn, John Bridley from the Waterfront Department called out the twins for a fake parking permit fiasco, saying the incident shattered his trust in them and their company, especially, he said, when the check that was written to his agency in compensation bounced. The fact that Twiin Productions staff would forge city documents with an official seal was simply unforgivable, he indicated.
During their turn to speak, the Pembertons expressed bewilderment at the staff report, saying that they felt the department’s tone now was completely different than it had been in October. They are and have been willing to listen to city staff, they said, to address concerns and rectify 2009’s issues for this year. They even went to a special events seminar in San Diego to learn and brush up on the proper procedural elements of putting on a big production. Concert sound expert Grant Macgregor also spoke briefly to the commission, asserting that with proper set redesign and placement of speakers — including a technical-talk-filled technique of piping bass through speakers so that it is more acutely directed — the festival’s sound could be kept well within compliance.
The Pembertons were incredulous of Nancy Rapp and her Parks and Recreation staff, accusing them of singling their production company out when issues the agency brought up — including profanities shouted by performers heard miles away — were nothing new to the city. The Santa Barbara County Bowl, they said, has had its fair share of similar problems, citing a Blink-182 concert during which the performers yelled to the crowd that Oprah was backstage and that, when she came out and crowd-surfed, everyone could “put their fingers inside of her.” “That was said with Santa Barbara High School less than a mile away,” they stated. One of the twins, who previously worked at the Bowl’s beer garden, said that was only one instance of performers going over the top at the Bowl, and that to target their event for similar infractions was unfair. They also cited a public screening of The Big Lebowski — famous for its liberal use of f-bombs — at the County Courthouse.
Taking issue with what they perceived as an attack on their credibility, the pair listed a number of events they had a part in successfully hosting, including Earth Day. They highlighted emails sent to them from city staff, commending the Pembertons themselves and their staff on a job well done. Calling the report more of a subjective tirade than an accurate reflection of 2009’s event, they said the report, “rarely focuses on real issues.” Instead, they went on, “an attack at the credibility of Twiin Productions’ management becomes the overwhelming theme of the document.” The Pembertons also criticized the numbers thrown around by Sgt. Harwood, saying that while city police may have isssued 74 percent more citations in 2009, authorities ratcheted up police presence by 600 percent from the weekend before, an unnecessary move they argued.
Articulating what they called “real solutions,” the two went down a list of changes they plan to make to the 2010 festival in hopes of avoiding similar issues. In order to provide easy access to themselves and their staff, they said, the team plans on installing a City Command Post where both city staffers and Twiin Productions representatives can be in “constant, direct access to organizers and decision makers.” This, they argued, would provide complete transparency for everyone involved and eliminate the miscommunications and fragmentations they admitted took place last year. They’ve also, they said, locked in a completely licensed and qualified security firm to staff the 2010 event.
With regard to the forged parking permits from last year, the twins were sheepish, but only to a point. “I am so sorry,” Jeremy said. “As the event organizer and manager, I must take responsibility.” The issue has been taken very seriously, he said, and won’t happen again. But, he went on, the counterfeiting happened for a reason: the West Beach Pedestrian Project, which blocked off entrance to the park, forced his staff to get creative in order to allow vendors and deliveries access. “People will make decisions for what’s best for the event,” he said. “We’re learning and moving forward.”
In order to cut down on negative impacts to the neighborhood, the brothers additionally promised to establish a “West Beach Community Planning Committee composed of residents, business owners, and other stakeholders to assist in planning and addressing all concerns.” They also, they said, want to come up with a West Beach Residential & Hotel Traffic Plan as well as increase waste management. Lastly, the Pembertons stated, they hope to “coordinate with hotels and provide solutions for guest policies, based on solutions implemented in other cities.”
Switching to number-based arguments, the twins again pointed to what they felt was a lack of hard evidence in the Parks and Recreation report. “You cannot allow personal feelings to govern what is best for the city,” they said. The West Beach Music Festival, they argued, doesn’t take away from the community, but only serves to strengthen it. The twins claimed that the 2009 event provided more than 2,100 jobs to area residents and that the festival itself brings to the city an undeniable chunk of revenue. Just to publicize the thing, they said, cost $182,000, nearly half of which was spent within the county. Tourism, they argued, was also a factor. Of the 622 survey responses they got from 12,000-plus ticket-buyers, 65 percent traveled from outside the city, 48 percent traveled more than 50 miles, 44 percent stayed in town all three days, 16 percent stayed in Santa Barbara hotels, and 9 percent had never been to Santa Barbara before.
The Pembertons estimated that the festival has brought in more than $785,000 in local business purchases including more than $85,000 in marketing and media. They also argued that through hotel room reservations, the company directly contributes to the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) and sales tax. A $30,000 figure in hotel expenses at 12 percent TOT, they asserted, would mean $3,000 for the city’s General Fund as well as $600 to Creeks Restoration & Water Quality. “That’s money in the bank,” Jeremy said. The duo estimated they will probably have to pay $65,000 in cost-recovery fees to the city, and said that the $47,000 owed from last year has long since paid in full. In her report, Rapp took the two to task for lagging on their bills, saying it took multiple reminders for the city to finally be paid back. “This has never occurred with other events the City has worked with,” she wrote.
The twins stated they also want to implement a $4 facility fee to be included in their ticket prices, the profit of which would similarly go directly to the city. While they gave numbers based on the assumption that 2010’s event would bring in around 12,000 attendees per day, a quick tweaking of the figures shows that they expect the facility fee to generate close to $100,000 total. To “rent” the beach for 10 days, which takes into consideration setup time, costs around $6,800. Already, according to the festival’s Web site, the Black Friday and Early Bird 3-Day passes have sold out.
The public comment portion of the evening saw both vehement support and opposition to the 2010 festival. Those in favor cited the concert’s celebration of art and culture and commended the pair for their dedication to the community. Magda Arroyo of the Boys and Girls Club praised the brothers for their willingness to bring in 30 young people from the organization to help work the event, saying some of the kids had never been to a concert or even the beach. A few of them even came up to speak, recounting what a great time they had.
Firefighter Tony Bugatti thanked the Pembertons for helping him organize a fundraiser on behalf of the Hoffmans, who were injured in the Jesusita Fire. Chamber of Commerce President Steve Cushman also spoke, saying the twins “mean well,” that the city needs concerts, and that the brothers make “significant contributions to the community.” Steven Meade, vice president of the city’s Solstice celebration, also had nothing but good things to say about the Pembertons and their company, explaining they were great to work with. Brett Leigh Dicks, a local music journalist, commended the brothers on featuring local acts, saying the event fostered an appreciation for area artists who might not normally receive they attention they deserve. Lastly, a nightclub owner told the commission they’d be crazy not the grant the permit, citing a dramatic spike in business over the weekend.
On the other side of the fence, managers and owners of a number of hotels near West Beach — including the Eagle Inn, the Harbor View Inn, the Colonial Beach Inn, and the West Beach Inn — said the festival is anything but good for business. Likening the event guests who pour out of the beach every night during the festival to a “drunken mob,” the hoteliers said they were shocked by the amount of trampled bushes and vomit-covered sidewalks and cars they and their guests woke up to every morning last year. “The security issues are insane,” said Tony Romasanta of the Harbor View Inn, claiming that if something happened to a partier on his property, he’d be liable. The hoteliers told the commission that multiple disgruntled guests left over the course of the weekend, citing the intolerable noise and displeasure with inebriated passersby, and many of the guests who stayed asked for discounts.
Most disturbing, they said, was the lack of follow-up on the part of the Pembertons. Evidencing what seemed like a desire to work together, the twins, said the hotel representatives, would make promises they didn’t keep, then become unreachable after the festival was over when the hoteliers had serious gripes. That made it hard to trust them, they said, and tough to believe the promises made for this year.
While it initially appeared that the commission’s majority was leaning toward upholding the permit’s denial after first round questions and comments, individual commissioner’s statements of concern quickly gave way to nods of approval when festival supporters, as well as the brothers, started to speak. Commissioner Lesley Wiscomb and Chairperson Beebe Longstreet, however, stayed steadfast against granting the appeal, expressing skepticism that the Pembertons would be able to make the event happen while following the rules.
Acknowledging that city policy still had to be reworked — a process Parks & Rec’s Nancy Rapp admitted was on the back burner in the midst of budget cuts and department restructuring — that police still had to coordinate with Twiin Productions, and that there seemed to be more unanswered than answered questions, Longstreet stated, “We just can’t afford to practice again with that many people … I’m just not comfortable going forward with the event with the policies we have in place.” Longstreet also took to heart the positions of Rapp, Sgt. Harwood, and the waterfront’s Bridley, who all stood against a 2010 event. “I’ve got three department heads telling me this is a bad idea,” she said.
However, the other three commissioners — Scott Burns, Ada Conner, and Chris Casebeer — seemed to think that the Pembertons would be able to iron out all the details in the five months left before the event, and that they had a handle on what was expected. The reasoning behind their confidence, though, was not made explicitly clear. Earlier in the evening, Commissioner Burns (who himself floated the motion to approve) likened the twins to young entrepreneurs who had started a company that was now too big to for them handle, hinting they might want to bring in more seasoned managers to take the reins. The decision also came not long after Longstreet declared to the brothers, “I think you grew out of the place,” in reference to the swath of beach between Stearns Wharf and the harbor where the concert is held.
City Councilmember Das Williams, the day after the hearing, told The Independent that while he thinks the festival is a fine idea for the city, it needs to be conducted in a safe and professional manner and that serious issues need to be addressed. He also pointed to the fact that the event is reportedly a significant revenue-earner, saying that many in town want to save the jobs of police and firefighters during the current budget cuts — but don’t want to see higher taxes as a result — and that the festival might help do that. He also mentioned that while it isn’t typical for city councilmembers to consult with commissioners on an issue of this sort, it’s not prohibited. Rapp, after the hearing, was gracious in defeat. “There was a lot of public support, and the commission has the community’s wishes in mind,” she said.
As the hearing concluded and people rushed to the Pembertons for high-fives (while hotel representatives were accosted by a few in-the-face taunts by a festival supporter), Longstreet pointed her pen at the two and said, “If you get a sound complaint Friday, it better get figured out … If you get a sound complaint and you don’t turn it down, that’s it.”