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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 1:22 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

On Appeal, West Beach Festival Granted Permit

Event organizers agree to limit daily attendance and music hours, and to hire a consultant to address sound issues

Event organizers Jeremy and Joshua Pemberton dodged a bullet Wednesday as the Santa Barbara Park and Recreation Commission voted to let the West Beach Music & Arts Festival go forward, reversing a staff decision that denied their permit application.

Despite serious concerns regarding security, sound levels and unruly behavior by attendees both inside and outside the event barriers, commissioners voted 3-2 to give festival organizers the chance to play by the admittedly vague rules.

The hearing room — filled almost entirely with festival supporters — exploded into applause as the twins, of Twiin Productions, stood and called out their thanks.

Last year’s three-day event was the largest in a city venue, with 13,000 tickets sold for Sunday. In their plea to the commission, the Pembertons expressed a willingness to work with city staff and frustration with the process that led to their application being denied. After months of no response, they were denied then falsely told the decision was not open to appeal, they said.

Their cooperation won over the three commissioners who voted in their favor, though the panel warned them not to forget the many concerns.

“We’re going out on a limb for you guys; you better come through,” Commissioner Ada Conner said.

City policy doesn’t provide specific regulations for events so large, which was a big concern for both staff and commissioners, as compliance becomes immeasurable.

The caveat to the approval motion was that the festival must cap attendance at 8,500 people per day, stop music at 7 p.m. Sunday instead of the 10 p.m. end time for Friday and Saturday, and have organizers hire an acoustical consultant to mitigate the issues with sound pollution.

While commission members and staff alike agreed that policy changes need to be made, they acknowledged that the process could take years. Staff had decided to suspend permitting large music events until an evaluation of policies in February, according to Parks & Recreation Department Director Nancy Rapp.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez and Sgt. Riley Harwood spoke of security concerns with last year’s festival, during which hundreds of citations were issued, mostly for parking, alcohol and drug violations.

Harwood mentioned crowd surfing, mosh pits and the use of drugs and alcohol — by minors and outside the beer garden — at the event as a cause for concern, as well as the huge number of people in attendance.

Seventeen extra police officers were called on duty to patrol the whole waterfront area since security forces hired by Twiin Productions weren’t enough, Sanchez said, adding that private security holds responsibility for the rules of the event and police handle enforcing the law.

“This is where it never came together,” he said.

The event affected nearby areas as well, and several waterfront hoteliers spoke of damaged property, drunken festival-goers trampling landscaping and throwing up on their property, and parking issues.

“Neither side can control drunk people when they leave the event,” Conner said.

Jeremy Pemberton spoke about a neighborhood impact mitigation plan including public transportation and parking plans, a tripled security budget from last year, better communication with the community and city staff through an on-site command center, and hiring on an acoustic consultant to solve the ongoing issue of sound complaints.

“Why are there no chances of improving when we have a history of improving?” he asked in response to the commission report recommending the appeal be denied.

Most people who spoke on the Pembertons’ behalf on Wednesday said just that — Twiin Productions should be given a chance to do what was presented. Local event organizers, business owners and festival-goers spoke warmly of the West Beach Festival, citing benefits to local business, tourism and general cultural experience.

The Sept. 24 start date is a little more than five months away, and the Black Friday and Early Bird three-day passes have already sold out, according to the event’s Web site.

Commission chairwoman Beebe Longstreet was the most vocal about concerns, saying the event has outgrown its venue, the city’s event regulations and anyone’s ability to control it.

“We can’t afford to practice again with 13,000 people down there,” she said.

The lack of comprehensive city policy for such a large event means unclear guidelines and less ability to plan, Commissioner W. Scott Burns said.

Consensus was found by limiting the event’s attendance and hours of music, and Rapp said the 8,500 people per day figure had been mentioned by local public safety officials.

Having city staff deny the application gave the commission the opportunity to point out problems now instead of having a bad event come September, one commissioner said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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