I’m a bit bummed that I forgot to turn the Planning Commission hearing on when it started, or even TiVo it. I have a whole lot going on right now workwise, I’m preparing to get out of town for a week and I had pretty much forgotten the whole thing until a friend sent me an e-mail asking about a bet we have going. He’s a longtime attendee (who shall remain nameless unless he outs himself) who is betting that Reggae is not going to happen this year. I say there’s too much riding on it for it not to happen, it’s too important to Humboldt County. He’s buying me dinner at my favorite top secret restaurant at Reggae this year if it happens. I will buy him dinner in town somewhere if not. Anyway, he sent me a prodding e-mail last night asking where I’m taking him to dinner. I read it at about 7 o’clock and it jarred my mind to turn on the Humboldt Access TV feed of the hearing.
I missed Undersheriff Downey, who told the commission about rampant drug use at the festival. As reported by my newsy T.S. counterpart James F.G. Faulk, Downey contends it was like hot dog vendors at a ballgame or something like that. Having attended Reggae for many years, I’d say that’s an exaggeration, but it’s not news that people get high at Reggae, and yes, there are drugs to be had, mostly pot and mostly on the fringes from my observation. Apparently the high sheriffs are planning a more high profile for this year’s fest with an onsite command post, hopefully not in the concert bowl where it blocks the view.
I also missed Taunya Stapp’s presentation. And the Mateel lawyer. I caught the tail end of the Mossman, who seems to be the new operations director. From what I heard he was arguing that the festival is safe enough, and attendance numbers should not be lowered.
I hit the record button on my DVR and was going to get back to the other work I was doing, but the hearing dragged me in. I’ve been trying not to get obsessed by the troubles of SoHum since there’s a lot of other things going on in the world, but the drama at the meeting was irresistible. Now I’m regretting the fact that I did not go in person, but what the heck, it was on TV. After I heard P.B. and Tom Dimmick speak, then the People Productions lawyer, Brad Floyd, I decided to spend the evening watching live and figured it might be a good idea to take some notes, but first there was a break, so I blogged some hot off the screen news immediately:
7:30 Break time right now. The lawyer from the Mateel just dropped some interesting tidbits: He says a referee has been enlisted to mediate, someone from JAMS, whatever that is (anyone know? thanks Bodie). This person will have power of a judge and could settle things as early as next week. (Somehow I doubt that.) The most shocking thing the lawyer said was that Reggae Rising (or will it be called RotR if they come to an agreement?) anyway whatever it’s called, it will have a zero drug tolerance policy. Really? And there will be 50 uniformed security (rent-a-cops) patrolling the grounds for enforcement. I don’t know if t-shirts qualify as uniforms — if so what color would they be?
This suggestion was in response to a report by the under sheriff (which I missed because I tuned in late) who basically said drug sales at Reggae were out of control. Apparently the cops video-taped drug sales activity on site. (Anyone know where to find the vids on YouTube?)
The lawyer also said that People Productions and Reggae Rising will honor 2B1’s Reggae on the River tickets, although he provided no details. (We’ll get back to that idea later.)
Bouncing back just a little, Paul “P.B.” Bassis addressed the board before the lawyer, saying pretty much what you’d expect, something to the effect of we’ve done a great job in the past and everything’s fine, so don’t mess with the numbers.
Tom Dimmick followed and again repeated his faith in P.P. to do a good job. One thing he said struck me, that a proposed deal with the Mateel would leave the Mateel with “the lion’s share” of money from the festival. It’s a potent image since the lion is a reggae symbol, but I suspect he’s misusing the phrase lion’s share. He has proposed giving the Mateel $10 from each ticket and that does not meet the definition as I know it.
(intermission over, from here on it’s from my notes)
Boots spoke after the break, said People Productions has done a good job in the past. Then added: “The only problem is a drug problem.” He reiterated that “absolutely no drugs” will be allowed. “No drug dealing or drug paraphernalia.” His suggested enforcement would be different: undercover not uniforms. Violators would apparently be escorted to the gate and have their wristbands confiscated. Regarding ticket sales, Boots says Reggae on the River is only going to sell 4,000 for now, since contract issues are still unresolved as is ultimate possession of the permit. Another bomb dropped: Boots says he has secured two backup venues, I guess in case things don’t work out with Tom Dimmick and the Mateel claim on the lease. (Where else would you put that many people?)
Piercy resident Cherie Porter was next, ranting about her longstanding complaints about impact on Piercy, but also suggesting that the commission “look at the Reggae chat boards” if they are still wondering about drug use. She also suggested that the sheriff or some other police agency should monitor all onsite communication, I suppose to see what emergency personnel are hearing about drug/violence problems. (Dan G. any comment?)
New Mateel board member Joe Hiney spoke next. The commission cut him off when he started to talk attendance numbers (he addressed that at the last meeting), instead Joe said, “Let’s talk about drugs!” According to Hiney, “Everybody knows there’s a lot of druggies at Reggae.” He mentioned that the medical folks have a tent for trippers, then went on to say that Ecstasy is a big problem, one that led to rapes and molestation (did it? or is he repeated unsubstantiated rumors) with X “being slipped to girls to get into their pants.”
[side note: Joe called Thank Jah Friday morning. They asked him if Boots really has two venues lined up and where they are. He said yes, but would not be specific about where. However he did mention later that the concert might not end up being in Humboldt. Where then?]
Keith Bowman spoke next, said that there’s no drug problem in his campground, which BTW is in Mendocino County, not Humboldt, so the Mendo sheriff is the one who deals with it. Bowman says they (the Mendo cops) do not want to be on site. They want self-policing, which is what they’ve done, and it’s worked. Bowman also supported Tom Dimmick’s earlier plea to leave attendance levels alone, not drop them. And he hinted there was some sort of movement on the Mateel v. Dimmick/P.P. front: “We’re on the verge of something good.“
One more guy spoke, I did not get his name, but he basically said the festival has gotten too big in recent years “bringing L.A.” up to Humboldt. He figures the commission should drop the numbers.
At that point to commission’s discussion began. They asked for planning staff (Michael Richardson) to reiterate recommendations . He repeated what he’d said at the prior meeting about attendance, that last summer’s count was over by around 1,400, so they should reduce sales by that much. Other issues that came up, drugs, greywater etc. should be addressed in the operations plan of whoever does the festival.
Generally speaking the commission seemed very unhappy that the issue of who gets to do the festival had not been resolved since the last time Reggae took over their bi-monthly meeting. One said flat out, “Everybody’s concerned that the dispute won’t be resolved.”
Returning to the above mentioned promise that Reggae Rising will honor Reggae on the River tix, the chairman pointed out the flaw in that concept. What if both sides sell 10,000 tickets? That puts the show way over capacity. He later suggested that trying to turn people away at the gate would lead to riots in the street.
Commissioner Mary Gearhart suggested that a proper count was needed, not just of sales, but of the total number of people there.
Commish Sef Murgia noted, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” and went on to suggest, “We’re going to mess with the permit, change the number or whatever.” His analysis for the promoters: “You may be a victim of your own success.” He also pointed out, “There is only one permit, and we’re not likely to issue another.” So: there’s just one festival.
Commish Hansis made reference to ramped up drug enforcement at the Oregon Country Fair and restrictions of drug use. (Is that true?) He says that it led to a decline in attendance by 10,000. (Again, is that true? I did a Google search and found little supporting evidence.) He wondered if Reggae attendance would drop off if drug use was banned.
Another commish (Emad maybe, I missed his name) borrowed a phrase from the renegade coordinators and said the commission has “no confidence” in the producers, at least when it comes to accurate attendance numbers. He wondered if there are people who do festival counts professionally and suggested that the county might ask the producers to pay for the county to hire an independent auditor to do a “verifiable” audit of attendance. He did not name names, but I’m guessing the commission has figured out that Bob Barsotti, who did the “independent” audit last year may not have been the most independent choice.
Boots spoke briefly in response to this, saying that there are people who do such counts, and the way they do it is by using an aerial photo, creating a grid and estimating by extrapolating. He suggested that the police routinely do it that way, and maybe they could do the count.
Commish Emad wants to set “milestones” (a recurring theme) and wants better accountability. He worried about “business as usual” with excess wristbands being issued. He quoted Sheriff Phelps as estimating that 20,000 attended last year. (Was that an official statement?)
When decision time came, the commission seemed hesitant. The Chairman (Jeff Smith?) wondered if they could put their decision off by 30 days “to see who ends up with the festival.” He added forcefully, “The B.S. needs to stop.” “Things need to get healed.” Then pointed out that, “One side or another is selling tickets to an event that’s will not occur.” He questioned, “How can we set milestones when there are two parties?” adding, “The parties involved are putting the whole event in jeopardy by dragging this out.”
Commish Kelly admitted that he “discounted half of what I heard tonight because I see a lot of greed.” He figures anyone who says everything is fine and there are no problems is lying because they’re worried about losing money. His overall analysis, “It has gotten out of the control of the producer.”
Planning director Kirk Girard agreed with the chairman saying he’s concerned about dealing with dual operators each submitting plans. “It’s really inefficient, but we can do it.” One of the commissioners suggested billing both sides for the county’s time, something that Girard said is already happening.
The chairman then suggested setting a deadline for 30 days from now for the two sides to come to some agreement about who’s doing Reggae. As Girard pointed out (quoting many others) the clock is ticking. Some signoffs are due 60 days before the show. (It’s 120 day away as of today.)
Discussion then turned to whether they should decide anything at all tonight. Someone suggested (that’s what they do at these meetings) that they could at least set a “target number” for attendance. They chewed on that for a little bit with Murgia saying they should drop the numbers as per staff recommendation, Emad repeating his “no confidence” complaint, and finally Mary Gearhart saying they should leave the numbers where they were last year at least as a target. The crowd clapped and cheered that idea. When the board finally voted on it, Gearhart’s motion passed unanimously, with the proviso that it was just a target and could be changed if the board wants to.
With that one thing decided (sort of) the commission was ready to move on to other business. You could tell they’d had enough of the Reggae crowd by the way they suggested they get out of the building as soon as possible.
So, the festival, whoever runs it, seems to have dodged a bullet tonight, an expensive bullet at that. Do a little math and you’ll see that what was at stake with the ticket numbers could easily have cost the event a couple of hundred grand.
Will the dueling parties follow the commission’s advice and come to an agreement post haste? I’d say it’s about time. (tick, tick.)