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West Beach Music Festival Challenge Upheld, But Bands May Still Play

Santa Barbara council shuts down event at West Beach, but encourages promoters to reapply for Chase Palm Park

After hours of testimony and discussion at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting, the 2010 West Beach Music & Arts Festival is down but not yet out.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to uphold an appeal of the Park and Recreation Commission’s May approval of Twiin Productions’ permit application. Tony Romasanta, owner of the Harbor View Inn at 28 W. Cabrillo Blvd. across the street from West Beach, and neighborhood resident Hilary Kleger had challenged the permitting for the three-day music festival scheduled for Sept. 24-26.

But even as council members were siding with the appellants, they encouraged twins Jeremy and Josh Pemberton, founders of Twiin Productions, to submit a new application for a different location on the soccer field next to the Chase Palm Park Center, 236 E. Cabrillo Blvd., closer to East Beach and farther away from homes and hotels.

Twiin Productions has run three festivals on West Beach since 2007, and although the first two went off without incident, significantly larger crowds last September sparked numerous complaints from neighbors and nearby hotels about excessive noise and unruly concertgoers. Many residents reported revelers urinating and vomiting on their lawns after the concert, and city staff was less than pleased that counterfeit waterfront parking passes had been created by Twiin Productions during last year’s event.

“This was not the family-friendly event that we were expecting it to be,” said Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood, who described lax security, underage drinking and vandalism of private property in the West Beach residential area and hotel corridor as hallmarks of the three-day festival.

“The police and parks departments were inundated with noise complaints.”

Josh, left, and Jeremy Pemberton founded their West Beach Music & Arts Festival in 2007. The three-day weekend of concerts has grown to attract as many as 13,000 spectators a day, and drawn the ire of neighbors upset by the noise and unruliness of some concertgoers.
Josh, left, and Jeremy Pemberton founded their West Beach Music & Arts Festival in 2007. The three-day weekend of concerts has grown to attract as many as 13,000 spectators a day, and drawn the ire of neighbors upset by the noise and unruliness of some concertgoers. (Ben Preston / Noozhawk photo)

Having already sold approximately 4,000 tickets for this year’s concerts, the Pembertons gave every indication that they wanted to work with the council to ensure the festival becomes a reality this year.

“We’ll figure it out and restrategize,” Jeremy Pemberton said after the hearing. “I think the last four days have shown that we’re pretty much open to anything.”

He added that when the Park and Recreation Commission initially denied the 2010 permit in February, he and his brother had begun applying for permits in other coastal cities as a safeguard.

“The City Council has certainly introduced an opportunity for our business to fail,” he said.

Still, the Pembertons said they would like to keep the event local. “Santa Barbara is home,” Jeremy Pemberton said.

While community members offering public comment at the hearing were roughly divided among supporters and opponents of allowing the festival to move forward as planned, council members had a slightly more complicated view of the issue. Behind the constituent complaints and policing problems was a consensus among council members that the city’s fees and policy regulating large special events bear closer scrutiny.

All of the council members expressed concern about the 2010 event becoming a repeat performance, in terms of impacts, of 2009. But with the economic reality of a recession as a backdrop, they were also loath to give up revenue created by the festival, which last year attracted 13,000 patrons on its busiest day. In comparison, the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration draws about 15,000 spectators and participants and Old Spanish Days-Fiesta about 10,000 at the De la Guerra Plaza mercado alone. West Beach brought in between 8,500 and 13,000 visitors per day. City staff suggested that the music festival’s patrons stayed put longer than participants in other events.

When the Park and Recreation Commission overturned its earlier decision and approved Twiin Productions’ permit in May, it placed a number of conditions on the approval, including an attendance limit of no more than 8,500 people per day — a number that the Pembertons said would cut their revenue by nearly 43 percent.

Having already spent a lot of time studying the festival, council members requested that staff be given more control over the application of conditions to the new permit request the Pembertons plan to submit. Staff must review a number of concerns brought up about having a large event at Chase Palm Park, including disruption of traffic along Cabrillo Boulevard, protection of dune-stabilizing ice plant at the edge of the bicycle path running along the beach, and impacts to the weekly Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show now in its 45th year in the area.

“This hearing was supposed to to look at the appeals, it wasn’t meant to reintroduce all of the problems (from last year’s festival),” Jeremy Pemberton said. “The appeal process isn’t designed for staff to reintroduce their positions and come at us again, and that’s what happened.”

But the Pembertons appeared resilient, full of eagerness to create an event that both attracts concertgoers while being financially feasible. City staff pledged to have its comprehensive policy review ready to go for council consideration in three to four months.

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

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